Today, November 1, is the Solemnity of All Saints, and, as in past years, Pope Francis gave a special noon Angelus address to mark the feast. Today, as he does most years, he spoke about the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), the Gospel reading for today’s liturgy. He said that the Beatitudes “show us the path that leads to the Kingdom of God and to happiness: the path of humility, compassion, meekness, justice and peace. To be a saint is to walk on this road.”
He focused on two themes: joy and prophecy, which he said were important parts of the saintly way of life. On the link between the path to sainthood and joy, he taught that holiness “is not a life plan made up only of effort and renunciation, but is above all the joyful discovery of being God’s beloved sons and daughters. And this fills you with joy. It is not a human achievement, it is a gift we receive: we are holy because God, who is the Holy One, comes to dwell in our lives. It is He who gives holiness to us. For this we are blessed! The joy of the Christian, then, is not a fleeting emotion or a simple human optimism, but the certainty of being able to face every situation under God’s loving gaze, with the courage and strength that come from Him. The saints, even in the midst of many tribulations, have experienced this joy and have borne witness to it. Without joy, faith becomes a rigorous and oppressive exercise, and risks ailing with sadness. Let us consider this word: ailing with sadness.”
On prophecy, he added, “The Beatitudes, then, are the prophecy of a new humanity, of a new way of living: making oneself small and entrusting oneself to God, instead of prevailing over others; being meek, instead of seeking to impose oneself; practicing mercy, instead of thinking only of oneself; committing oneself to justice and peace, instead of promoting injustice and inequality, even by connivance. Holiness is accepting and putting into practice, with God’s help, this prophecy that revolutionizes the world.”
More than eight years into his papacy, he’s had the opportunity to speak to us about the saints in the context of this solemnity many times. Recently, I re-read all of his past Angelus addresses and homilies for All Saints’ day, and I found a few themes that he touched on multiple times from year to year. I’ll share some of them here.
The Universal Call to Holiness
In many of these addresses, he stresses that the communion of saints reflects our universal call to holiness, which was taught by the second Vatican Council in the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium. As paragraph 40 of the document states, “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”
Pope Francis reminded us of this call in his Angelus address on this day in 2019:
“But holiness, besides being a gift, is also a calling: it is a vocation common to all of us Christians, to Christ’s disciples; it is the path of fullness that every Christian is called to follow in faith, proceeding towards the final goal of definitive communion with God in eternal life. Holiness thus becomes a response to God’s gift, since it manifests itself as an assumption of responsibility. From this perspective, it is important to make a daily commitment to sanctification in the conditions, duties and circumstances of our lives, trying to live everything with love, with charity.”
His 2015 Angelus, touching on a theme that he would later stress in his 2018 exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, he spoke about “saints next door”—those who live their call to holiness in their everyday lives. He said,
“Let us note: not only those who are canonized, but the saints “next door”, so to speak, those who, by the grace of God, strive to practice the Gospel in their everyday lives. Among these saints we also find ourselves; perhaps someone in our family or among friends and acquaintances. We must be grateful for them, and above all we must be grateful to God who has given them to us, putting them close to us as living and contagious examples of the way to live and die in fidelity to the Lord Jesus and his Gospel. How many good people have we met and do we know, about whom we say: “This person is a saint!”. We say it, it comes to spontaneously. These are the saints next door, those who are not canonized but who live with us.
Imitating their gestures of love and mercy is a bit like perpetuating their presence in this world. These evangelical gestures are indeed the only ones that can withstand the destruction of death: an act of tenderness, generous aid, time spent listening, a visit, a kind word, a smile…. In our eyes these gestures might seem insignificant, but in the eyes of God they are eternal, because love and compassion are stronger than death.”
This idea is also reflected in his 2013 Angelus for this feast:
“The Saints are not supermen, nor were they born perfect. They are like us, like each one of us. They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived normal lives with joys and sorrows, struggles and hopes. What changed their lives? When they recognized God’s love, they followed it with all their heart without reserve or hypocrisy. They spent their lives serving others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace. This is the life of a Saint. Saints are people who for love of God did not put conditions on him in their life; they were not hypocrites; they spent their lives at the service of others. They suffered much adversity but without hate. The Saints never hated. Understand this well: love is of God, then from whom does hatred come? Hatred does not come from God but from the devil! And the Saints removed themselves from the devil; the Saints are men and women who have joy in their hearts and they spread it to others. Never hate but serve others, the most needy; pray and live in joy. This is the way of holiness!
Being holy is not a privilege for the few, as if someone had a large inheritance; in Baptism we all have an inheritance to be able to become saints. Holiness is a vocation for everyone.”
In 2016, All Saints’ Day took place during his trip to Sweden. He gave his Angelus address following the final Mass of the visit. Here he describes the Beatitudes and the “identity card” of Christians who responded to the call to holiness:
“The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus. We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus. Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy. Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others. Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians. All these are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness, and surely they will receive from him their merited reward.”
Those who mourn
In many of these addresses, he speaks about some or all of the beatitudes. My attention today was drawn particularly to his comments on “Blessed are they who mourn.” Tomorrow is All Souls’ Day, and my family will be going to a Mass of remembrance at our parish in the evening. In the last year, we lost a baby to miscarriage over the summer and my sister passed away unexpectedly at the age of 42 in May. Mourning is a strange thing, I’ve been told there is no “right way” to do it, and this brings me some comfort because with my father dying in 2016, my mother in 2019, after the two deaths this year, while I want to grieve properly, I’ve too often been gripped by what feels like a mixture of numbness and acedia. And honestly, those feelings have caused me to experience much less “comfort” than the profound sense of loss I felt when my parents died.
In 2015, he said in his homily for the Solemnity:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. How can those who weep be happy? Yet, those who in life have never felt sadness, angst, sorrow, will never know the power of comfort. Instead, happy are those with the capacity to be moved, the capacity to feel in their heart the sorrow that exists in their life and in the lives of others. They will be happy! Because the tender hand of God the Father will comfort them and will caress them.”
During his 2020 Angelus, Francis said,
“‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted’” (v. 4). These words seem contradictory because mourning is not a sign of joy and happiness. Death, illness, moral adversity, sin and mistakes are reasons for mourning and suffering: simply everyday life, fragile, weak and marked by difficulty, a life at times wounded and pained by ingratitude and misunderstanding. Jesus proclaims blessed those who mourn due to this reality, who trust in the Lord despite everything and put themselves under his shadow. They are not indifferent, nor do they harden their hearts in their suffering, but they patiently hope for God’s comfort. And they experience this comfort already in this life.”
One year he spoke specifically on All Saints’ Day of our loved ones who have died. During his 2017 Angelus, Francis added another beatitude to the eight listed in Matthew chapter 5, drawing from the book of Revelation:
“I would like to quote another beatitude, which is not found in the Gospel but at the end of the Bible, and it speaks of the end of life: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord’ (Rev 14:13). Tomorrow we will be called to accompany with prayer our deceased, so they may be forever joyful in the Lord. Let us remember our loved ones with gratitude and let us pray for them. May the Mother of God, Queen of the Saints and Gate of Heaven, intercede for our journey of holiness and for our loved ones who have gone before us and who have already departed for the heavenly Homeland.”
A family of saints
The third theme that stood out strongly in Pope Francis’s All Saints’ Day lessons was his emphasis on the familial nature of the Communion of Saints. He regularly calls the saints “our brothers and sisters,” and refers to this feast as “a family celebration.”
In his 2018 Angelus, he spoke about the unity of the saints—those well-known and the “saints next door”—in a familial context:
“And we are united with all the saints: not only the most well known, from the calendar, but also those “next door”, our family members and acquaintances who are now part of that great multitude. Therefore, today is a family celebration. The saints are close to us, indeed they are our truest brothers and sisters. They understand us, love us, know what is truly good for us, help us and await us. They are happy and want us to be happy with them in paradise.”
In his 2017 Angelus, he also mentioned the family celebration, but in the context of the Beatitudes and the journey of faith:
“These are the Beatitudes. They do not require conspicuous gestures; they are not for supermen, but for those who live the trials and toils of every day, for us. This is how the saints are: like everyone, they breathe air polluted by the evil there is in the world, but on the journey they never lose sight of Jesus’ roadmap, that indicated in the Beatitudes, which is like the map of Christian life.
Today is the celebration of those who have reached the destination indicated by this map: not only the saints on the calendar, but many brothers and sisters “next door”, whom we may have met and known. Today is a family celebration, of many simple, hidden people who in reality help God to move the world forward. And there are so many of them today! There are so many of them! Thanks to these unknown brothers and sisters who help God to move the world forward, who live among us; let us salute them all with a nice round of applause!”
Mary is at the center
The fourth and final theme for reflection is Mary’s revered place among the saints. As he said in his 2014 Angelus address:
“In the great assembly of saints, God wanted to reserve the first place for the Mother of Jesus. Mary is at the center of the communion of saints, as the singular custodian of the bond between the universal Church and Christ, of the bond of the family. She is Mother, She is our Mother, our Mother. For those who want to follow Jesus on the path of the Gospel, she is a trusted guide because she is the first disciple. She is an attentive and caring Mother, to whom we can entrust every desire and difficulty.
Let us pray together the Queen of All Saints, that she may help us to respond with generosity and faithfulness to God, who calls us to be holy as He is Holy (cf. Lev 19:2; Mt 5:48).”
In his 2015 Angelus, Francis spoke of her role in helping us to pursue holiness and in interceding for us:
“May the Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints, help us to trust more in the grace of God, and to walk with enthusiasm along the path of holiness. Let us offer our daily efforts to Our Mother, and let us also pray to her for our dear departed, in the intimate hope of finding each other one day, all together, in the glorious communion of heaven.”
In his 2016 Angelus address, he spoke about her help and companionship along the way:
“In our life, we are not alone; we have the constant help and companionship of the Virgin Mary. Today she stands before us as first among the saints, the first disciple of the Lord. We flee to her protection and to her we present our sorrows and our joys, our fears and our aspirations. We put everything under her protection, in the sure knowledge that she watches over us and cares for us with a mother’s love.”
He did so again in 2019:
“Brothers and sisters, the memory of the Saints leads us to raise our eyes to Heaven: not to forget the realities of the earth, but to face them with greater courage, with more hope. May Mary, our most holy Mother, accompany us with her maternal intercession, as a sign of consolation and sure hope.”
And finally, in his Angelus address on this day in 2020, he spoke of how Mary is both our queen and mother, and the mother of all the saints:
“This immense family of faithful disciples of Christ has a Mother, the Virgin Mary. We venerate her under the title Queen of All Saints; but she is first of all the Mother who teaches each one of us to welcome and follow her Son. May she help us nourish the desire for holiness, walking the way of the Beatitudes.”
Lord Jesus, Holy Mary, Mother of God, and all holy men and women, Pray for us.
Image: The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, 1423-24 (egg tempera on wood), Angelico, Fra (Guido di Pietro) (c.1387-1455)