Pope John Paul II on the Saints

Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter on the Proclamation of Co-Patronesses, October 1, 1999 formulated a great summary of the importance of the Saints —

The officially recognized Saints are but the towering peaks held up as a model for all. For through their upright and honest lives inspired by love of God and neighbor, countless Christians in a wide range of consecrated and lay vocations have attained a holiness both authentic and widespread, even if often hidden. The Church has no doubt that this wealth of holiness is itself the secret of her past and the hope of her future. It is the finest expression of the gift of the Redemption, which ransoms man from sin and gives him the possibility of new life in Christ. The People of God making their pilgrim way through history have an incomparable support in this treasure of holiness, sensing as they do their profound union with the Church in glory, which sings in heaven the praises of the Lamb (cf. Rev 7:9-10) and intercedes for the community still on its earthly pilgrimage.

Pope John Paul II says much in this preface to his Proclamation of Co-Patronesses of Europe. I will attempt to unpack a few lines.

All Saints show “a holiness both authentic and widespread, even if often hidden” — authentic holiness is seen in an authentic human life; the love of God imbues some aspect of human excellence; these examples of holiness are widespread, but perhaps hidden. The world will still pass them by, or deny the holiness, or calumniate the saint. But the Church will cherish them and learn from them.

All Saints reveal “the secret of her past and the hope of her future” — we look to the past and see these “towering peaks” of true greatness, living out the beatitudes; their gifts of knowledge, charity, prayer, healing continue to inspire us and feed us; with the witness of the saints, the past is not an object of nostalgia but a secret source of wisdom and power for the present; and a hope for the future because  the Holy Spirit is still poured out. Augustine says in Book XIII.8 of the Confessions that just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the depths at the beginning, so the Spirit lifts us up:

How can I speak of the weight of concupiscence which drags us downward into the deep abyss, and of the love which lifts us up by thy Spirit who moved over the waters? To whom shall I tell this? How shall I tell it? For concupiscence and love are not certain “places” into which we are plunged and out of which we are lifted again. What could be more like, and yet what more unlike? They are both feelings; they are both loves. The uncleanness of our own spirit flows downward with the love of worldly care; and the sanctity of thy Spirit raises us upward by the love of release from anxiety — that we may lift our hearts to thee where thy Spirit is “moving over the waters.”

Augustine was also fond of citing Rom 5:5: thy apostle with his understanding says, “Thy love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us”

All Saints remind us that the Redemption grants . . . . “the possibility of new life in Christ” — this is a key — if they have done it, then it is possible. Most people see too many challenges, too many difficulties, too many sacrifices, too many reasons to say no, it is not possble to live a life in harmony with the gospel. With God all things are possible. Newman speaks about the influence of “antecedent possibilities” on our response of faith.  We bring to the concrete situation a sense of what is possible and judge in light of our disblief. Consider the beatitudes — blessed are the pure of heart. Do we think purity is possible? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Do we give up on justice?

All Saints provide us with an incomparable support in this treasure of holiness — we are in communion with the Saints and we can learn much from them and benefit from their intercession..

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