One summer when I was teaching catechism, I found myself in charge of a classroom of first- and second-graders. This was the youngest group of kids I had ever taught and I was struggling to explain to them a rather abstract topic: the theological virtues. When I was teaching them about the virtue of hope, I put the ball in their court. I asked them each to draw a picture of heaven. I must admit that I knew I had set before them an impossible task and I was expecting nothing more than stick figures playing in the clouds. Much to my surprise, I was humbled by one little girl’s picture and her explanation of it. She drew a church-like building in the clouds. When I asked her about it, she told me, “It’s a house-church. People live there. You open up the door of your room and you are just right there in church.”
I think that this is the way to approach today’s feast. The Solemnity of All Saints is not just a day for the Church to celebrate all of her lesser-known saints that do not have their own place on the calendar. Today is a day when the mystery of our final end is put before us. Heaven is eternal life with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be in heaven is to dwell with God. That little girl had this insight. She knew that “People live there.” “Their rooms are in church,” that is, they live in the immediate presence of God. They behold him face to face.
Our Lord said to his apostles on the night before he died: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (Jn 14:2-3). The saints live in the rooms prepared for them by the Lord; that is, they dwell with him and see him as he his.
This feast is not just for those in heaven already. This is a feast in which we rejoice in our hope of dwelling with God, of being in heaven. When that little girl said, “people live there,” she said implicitly, “I want to live there, too. I want one of those rooms.” This is what today is for. Today the Church puts before us the vision of the multitude of saints worshiping God, and we are able to say, “I want that. That is where I belong.” Thinking about the eternal happiness that the saints in heaven possess is meant to make us long and yearn to share in it too. “My soul is longing and yearning, is yearning for the courts of the Lord” (Ps 84:2).
Image: Gustave Dore, Empyrean Heavens