It was by faith our ancestors received approval. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitteness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears. Let mutual love continue.
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
In the early years of our independence, Irish schoolchildren were taught to admire ancient Ireland as "an Island of Saints and Scholars." While I could hardly claim that title for our country today, we can still look back with pride on many heroic Irish Christians of times past. The Feast of All the Saints of Ireland was instituted in 1921, by Pope Benedict XV. Here are three points to ponder on this feast:
1) Only four canonised saints: Up to 2017 only four individual saints, Saint Malachy (1094-1148), Saint Lawrence O'Toole (1128-80) and Saint Oliver Plunkett (1625-81) and Saint Charles of Mount Argus (1821-93), have been officially canonised. All the other Irish saints, such as Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille, became saints by the acclamation of the local Church.
2) Many other saints: This feast, while it includes canonised saints, has a wider scope. It includes those who had a reputation for holiness and whose canonisation process has not yet been completed, such as Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy (1455-92), the seventeen Irish martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) and the Servant of God Matt Talbot (1856-1925) and people like Legion of Mary envoys Edel Quinn and Alfie Lamb, whose causes have already been introduced. But it also includes those whose lives of sanctity were known only to their families, friends or members of their parish diocese or religious community.
3) Island of Saints and Scholars: The feast echoes the theme of "the island of saints and scholars" which was so strong in Ireland up to the middle of the twentieth century, but which might be somewhat harder to illustrate in 2014. Still, even today we can pick out points of fraternity, tolerance and concern for the disadvantaged among our fellow citizens; and signs that concern for scholarship has not perished from our sainted isle!
Today we remember and celebrate all those Irish men and women from the time of Saint Patrick onward, who witnessed to the gospel by the way they lived. We thank God for how they kept the flame of faith burning, often through difficult and dangerous times. They enjoyed a living relationship with the Lord, and that relationship shaped all that they said and did. They are like many witnesses in a great cloud around us. Innumerable people have lived holy lives in every generation. Some are canonized, some are on the way to it; many others will never be canonized at all. They are an incentive to us to keep running steadily in the race we have started, (see today's first reading.)
The witness of our saints encourages us to be faithful to the Lord in our own time, to keep walking in his way. We look to them for help to keep the faith and to share the faith. In looking to them we are looking to the Lord who revealed himself through them in a special way.
Today, in a godless age, we all need each other's witness to the faith. Each one's efforts to reach sanctity make it easier for those in our circle to follow in the way of the Lord. As the great Saint Paul says, everyone's life and death influence others. We easily forget just how much our own struggle to be faithful to the gospel can have an impact for good. To the extent that any one of us grows in holiness, we make it easier for others to do the same. Today's feast encourages us to be part of that great crowd of witnesses who help others to keep going in the race they have started. ([MH])