The saints are happy, even in this world, in spite of all their uncomfortable goings on. But happier still when they leave this world, and draw the curtains of Heaven around them. Our Lord talks about them sitting down to table in the Kingdom of Heaven, with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. We are to think of Heaven as a great comfortable family meal, where everybody has his allotted place, and there is no starvation corner.
Only, let us always remember that the curtains of Heaven are transparent curtains. Not in the sense that you and I can look in. Ah, if only we could! What a world of good it would do us!
No, but the saints can look out. They can see you and me still ploughing our way through the mud and the darkness of this earthly existence, feeling our way with difficulty and falling, every now and again, into the ditch. And they can help us; not only because the light of their example shines down on us, and makes it easier, sometimes, to see what we ought to do. They can help us with their prayers, strong prayers, wise prayers, when ours are so feeble and so blind.
To Be a Saint Yourself
What exactly is it that you’ve got to do in order to be a saint? The first thing is, to be dead. I mean that the Church isn’t going to be rash enough to call you a saint until you a saint until you are dead. The Church calls nobody a saint while he’s alive, for fear that he should stop being a saint and go to the bad, and then where should we all be? She waits until you’re in your coffin, and then she says, now, let’s see, what kind of person was he?
And what kind of person have you got to be before the Church says, “That was a saint, that was”? Why, you’ve got to be absolutely eaten up with the love of God: that’s the only thing that matters. Our prevailing idea of the saints is that they were people who made themselves very uncomfortable. They wore hair shirts and slept on broken bottles when they slept at all, and generally laid themselves out to give themselves a bad time.
But all that, you see, was only by the way. If the saints seemed to enjoy suffering, it was only because they could think of no better way to prove their love for God. The point about the saints is not the sufferings they underwent, but he consuming love of God which made them do it.
And there’s a third thing the Church ordinarily demands: that you should do miracles. Either you must perform miracles in your lifetime, or miracles must be performed through your prayers after you are dead. God means the saints to be an unmistakable proof of the Christian religion; they are to be beacon-lights to the world. And because He means them to show up like that, He doesn’t take any risks. They aren’t just very good people; the whole of their lives is lived on the supernatural plane, and the supernatural keeps on breaking through.
“You are the light of the world,” our Lord says to them; “a city cannot be hidden if it is built on a mountaintop.” And so, when a soul reaches really high up in the following of Jesus Christ, God adds a kind of finishing touch: the power of doing miracles. Then everybody will be able to say, without feel of contradiction, “That was a saint.”
One of the most famous of early twentieth century converts, Ronald Knox become one of the Church’s cleverest and liveliest public spokesmen, as well as a profound and witty teacher and theologian. This is adapted from an All Saints’ Day homily given at a boys’ school in 1950 and published in his Pastoral Sermons. See also his Five insights on death and dying.