The Catholic Thing
All Saints' Day Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Monday, 02 November 2009

As you may have noticed, the Mass readings on All Saints’ Day are among the most beautiful of the liturgical year. The first reading is from Apocalypse 7: “After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe, and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb.” The refrain of Psalm 23 is “The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness, the world and all its peoples.”

The second reading is from 1 John, with a sober reminder: “Because the world refused to acknowledge Him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.” John adds: “My dear people, we are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not been revealed, all we know is that when it is revealed we shall be like Him.” The Gospel, from Matthew, simply recounts the Beatitudes with their refrain, “Blessed are those….”

I seldom think of All Saints’ Day without recalling Belloc’s walk in 1902, recounted in The Four Men. The walk took place in his native Sussex County from October 29 till All Souls’ Day (November 2). It is about our homes and our heavenly home, two things so intimately related.

Each of the “four men” is Belloc. On All Saints’ Day, the “Poet,” in a timely theme in the context of the failures of universities and ideologies, says: “For men become companionable by working with their bodies and not with the weary noodles, and the spinning out of stuff from oneself is an inhuman thing.” I quite love that passage. The spinning out of theories as if what is did not exist is the greatest of the sins.

In old English, All Saintsis “All Hallows’ Day.” ‘Tis a better name, I think. The “hallowed,” we hold in awe. We do not do the hallowing, the Lord does. We think of the Eve of All Hallows’ Day. This eve disturbingly reminds us of those who are not saints, even of the damned. Leon Bloy once said that the only sadness was not to be a saint.

But in this regard, Belloc’s “Sailor” was right when he said to the “Poet and Myself: ‘Let us go hence, my children and drink in the bar with common men, for the Devil will very soon come in by the window and fly away with these philosophers.’” The Devil, evidently, knows that they are the easier prey, the ones that do the most damage when they go wrong.

That the Lord came also to save common men is what the Feast of All Hallows is about. John Paul II evidently canonized more saints than all the rest of the popes put together. He had a livelier appreciation than most of us for those who work with their hands and not their noodles. When the Devil flew out of the bar, he did not take the common men, nor “Myself” (Belloc) nestling among them drinking his Audit Ale. The Devil only took the philosophers, who, it seems, also occasionally inhabit the pubs of Sussex County, though they are more comfortable in the universities, to which the Devil has little need to fly.

Belloc records that on his walk: “The air was clear and cold as befitted All Hallows Day.” The four men find an inn later in the day and are ushered into a dining room in which “some fifteen or twenty men, all hearty, some of them old, were assembled, and all were drinking and singing.”

These men finished their meal: “We ordered ours, which was of such excellence in the way of eggs and bacon, as we had none of us until that moment thought possible upon this side of the grave.” Lest the reader doubt, Schall is recalling these earthy deeds of an All Hallows’ Day because they prefigure the resurrection. That is the point. It includes our bodies and hence our companionship.

“The cheese also…was put before us, and the new cottage loaves, so that this feast, unlike any other feast that yet was since the beginning of the world, exactly answered to all that the heart had expected of it, and we were contented and were filled.”

This eating and drinking is the very opposite of materialism. It defies it, in fact, by showing us the souls of men in bodies that together are hallowed.

The four men light their pipes. They call for drinks. “Myself” drinks “black current port.” Grizzlebeard drinks “brandy.” The Poet has “beer,” and the Sailor drinks “claret.” “Then, these before us, we sat ourselves at the great table, and saluted the company.” This is the “worldliness” that is Christian, the one that is happily content that the Word did indeed become flesh to dwell amongst us.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is
The Mind That Is Catholic.

(c) 2009 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: info at thecatholicthing dot org

The Catholic Thing
is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Watcher, November 03, 2009
That is beautifully written and timely. Having been exposed to Dawkin's rant in the Wahington Post yesterday (the devil has a full bag) an antidote was required. He knows not fellowship. In his fullest dignity and power, he is less than flicked spittle.
A \"Poet\" for our time
written by Ars Artium, November 03, 2009
Perhaps those who live in a troubled age tend to think theirs the worst that has been. Still our time must rank with the best of the worst, and therefore these words bring solace. Thank you to Fr. Schall.
written by David, November 03, 2009
This is beautiful imagery for an early 20th century writer. I hope that God has a 21st century sense of irony and sense of humor, however. So when I (hopefully) arrive to join the feast, I fully expect to join my father, brothers, Popes and priests in the and washing dishes. The lucky ones of us will serve the ladies in the dining room (my mother, grandmothers, wife, Our Lady, Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day among them), who are joining Jesus for a sumptuous feast.
Amen to that, David!
written by Kevin in Texas, November 03, 2009
A beautiful sentiment and image from you, as well, David. Would that all men were able to serve Our Lady and other women as they feast with the Lord in the Hereafter!
A Contrarian View
written by Ars Artium, November 03, 2009
While recognizing the generous impulse that inspired the posts from "Kevin" and "David", I hope that we have not lost the possibility of understanding how beautiful it once was for women to embark with their husbands on the great adventure of homemaking and the making of a family. Because this was in the past understood as a thing of value and permanence, it was no more a burden than was the masculine adventure of providing for this home and family life.
Reply to Ars Artium
written by David, November 03, 2009
My point was not to denigrate homemaking. (In fact, I am blessed to have a wife who left her successful career to make our home and raise our children, and she is my full and equal partner in marriage, in life and in faith.) Rather, it is to highlight the complete absence of women in Belloc's narrative, which reflected broader societal and, in some ways, church norms of his time. Whatever "men" get wrong in this life, I trust that God will make right at the eternal banquet.
written by Joseph, November 03, 2009
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
written by Pio, November 03, 2009
Joseph, the Church has said it has "no authority whatsoever" do ordain females as priests. I think you just figured it out.
written by Achilles, November 04, 2009
Thank you Fr. Schall, I am not alone in being deeply moved.
Down to Earth-the Angelus
written by debby, November 04, 2009
The WORD became flesh, and dwelt among us.......PERFECT WRAP UP, FR!

Can't you see Him eating bacon and eggs in the pub, drinking really good wine? i loved this post. i've read it 4 times wonderful that Belloc picked on the philospher and not the writer within! he stays real with his heart toward Heaven and his feet on the ground. LOVE IT!
thanks, Fr.!!! you brought me such joy today. i can't wait to listen to you and Arch.Fulton Sheen in Heaven. Can you imagine THAT language?
About 'what is'
written by Leonard_K, November 05, 2009
Schall's offering gentle criticism of the idea that religion is only about how we feel and nothing else. He's saying that it is about something that is objective and true -- or if not -- then it's not worth much -- not for living and dying anyway.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


Other Articles By This Author