Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12)
Some time ago, someone asked me: “Why do you pray to dead people? The Bible teaches us that it is wrong to call on a dead person. In 1st Samuel Chapter 28, Saul consulted the spirit of Samuel through a medium at Endor, and the outcome was not palatable.” In response, the first point I raised was that the saints are not just “dead people.” They are living souls. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says: “For your reward is great in heaven.” How else could we explain the reception of a reward in heaven if death makes a permanent end to one’s existence?
Today, we celebrate that great, uncountable multitude of souls in God’s presence. We cannot call them “dead people”, just as we cannot refer to the multitude in our first reading today as dead people. They must be more than dead people if they can cry out and praise God. Anyone who says the saints are just dead people probably hasn’t read today’s first reading.
This brings us to the next point: Why pray to the saints? We do not pray to the saints because they are not deities; we ask them to intercede on our behalf. Just as we ask our fellow humans (friends, colleagues, pastors, parents, etc.) to pray for us, we ask the saints to pray for us. Do we honour the saints? Yes, just as we honour our ancestors, friends, mentors or stars who have lived inspiring lives.
We immortalise our stars by naming streets, civic centres, universities, parks, etc., after them. We even erect huge statues of these great men and women to honour them. Do we worship the saints whose statues are found on our church premises? No. Only God deserves worship. If looking at the statue of a hero inspires me to tell the truth when I am tempted to lie, then that statue has served its purpose.
Today, we particularly remember the saints we know: fellow Nigerians, relatives, heroes and heroines. They may not have been officially declared saints, but we believe they are in heaven, given how they lived. That is why a day like this is set aside to celebrate not just the Europeans whose faces appear each time we type “saints” on Google but also the many Africans who may have been forgotten due to our poor record-keeping culture.
Asking the saints to pray for us is completely different from the action of Saul, who consulted a medium to invoke the spirit of Samuel. We are not consulting the dead or trying to wake them from the grave. Today’s celebration serves one purpose: to make us think of heaven and increase our longing for heaven. Don’t just be a Christian; strive to be an exceptional Christian; live according to the beatitudes, and follow what today’s psalm says—generations after you will continue to celebrate you. Your name will be heard on the lips of many long after you have gone. This is what it means to live forever.
Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, as we remember the saints today, grant that we may walk in your light to be counted among the redeemed in heaven. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14, Ps. 24:1-6, 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12a).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu