The month of November is sometimes called the month of the dead. As we look around we see the leaves falling from the trees, the sun riding lower in the sky and setting earlier and earlier. Animals are preparing for the long, cold winter.
The Church year also follows the cycle of nature. We begin November with the great feast of All Saints, and then remember all the departed today on All Souls day. Throughout the month we will remember our beloved departed, and at the end of the month we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King when we will come face to face with the end of the world and the Last Judgment.
This month’s two great feasts deal not with death, however, but with triumph over death. The first reading for All Saints day is taken from the Book of Revelation. In his vision, John sees an angel who holds off the powers about to destroy the world.
Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Rev. 7:3).
John numbers these servants as 144,000 but who takes time in a vision to count? Twelve is the mystical number that signifies completeness, and 12 times 12 equals 144, as if to say completeness squared. Multiply 144 times 1000 and we realize that the vision includes a multitude. John says as much in a following verse:
After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. (Rev. 7:9)
The second reading for All Saints is from the first Letter of John. John identifies the saints not as marble or plaster statues but as the children of God. He says “we are God’s children” (1 John 3:2) and, as such, holds out the hope that we all can become like our Father in heaven.
The Gospel for All Saints is the account of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus identifies the “Blessed” who will inherit the Kingdom. They are the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
High up on the wall in the back of many churches, we can observe a great stained glass window that is often called a rose window because it is shaped like a flower with a central core surrounded by twelve petals. In the core there will be either the figure of the resurrected Jesus, or the symbolic Lamb of God. Symbols of each of the twelve Apostles will be found in the petals. There is that number 12 again signifying that the Apostles represent all the saints. Like the Apostles, the saints were ordinary men and women who, by the grace of God, were able to overcome their weaknesses, and become good and faithful servants.
In a small chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, the great painter Caravaggio portrayed two of these ordinary men across from each other. He portrayed St. Peter about to be crucified at the end of his mission and St. Paul at his conversion, the start of his mission. He portrayed them as ordinary human beings like us or our brothers and sisters being persecuted even today all over the world.
PHOTO (left): The painter Caravaggio portrayed St. Peter, about to be crucified at the end of his mission. Omitting the customary halo, the painter emphasized that the Apostle—like all saints—was an ordinary man who, by the grace of God, was able to overcome his weaknesses and become a good and faithful servant.
PHOTO (right): Rose Window at Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres