All Saints’ Day

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., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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