01 Nov, Tuesday, Solemnity of All Saints
Rev 7:2-4, 9-14. The great number of people whose foreheads were sealed with the sign of the Living God, and who sang a joyful hymn of praise to God and to the Lamb (Jesus).
1 Jn 3:1-3. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Yet our future is even greater.
Mt 5:1-12. The Beatitudes are our guide to the Kingdom of Heaven.
A Glorious Band
The life to come is beyond our ken, for “no eye has seen, no ear has heard” [1 Cor 2:9, ] yet images give a foretaste of what lies in store, beyond this world. Those in heaven are no plaster saints, no gloomy killjoys, but a glorious band of decent people who have lived life with such love, they went went straight back to the God they loved so well.
They went “marching in” – happy to be meeting face to face with the One who always held them in the palm of his hand. Heroes and ordinary people. Some who have inspired the church for centuries, and other unsung heroes, living a quiet life of family, work and friendship, in the spirit of the Gospel, as peacemakers, pure of heart and gentle of spirit.
“A great multitude that no one could count” – because God is rich in mercy, and in the Father’s House there are many mansions.
There’s place there for all of us, and the surest way is to cling to “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Many of us have weird notions of what a saint looks like. Years ago, at the funeral in England of Princess Diana, Diana’s brother cautioned against making her into a kind of a saint. Addressing his dead sister he announced: ‘indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humour with the laugh that bent you double, your joy for life transmitted wherever you took your smile’.
But is it really true that the saints never broke the rules (St Augustine?), never experienced the dark night of the soul (The Little Flower?), never had a sense of humour? (‘God save us from sullen Saints’ – St Teresa of Avila), never broke into a great smile? The answer is, ‘of course it is not true’. The saints were fully human. They struggled with temptation; they savoured life’s joy.
On All Saint’s day I think of all the good people who have crossed my path and enriched my life – parents, class mates, parishioners here in the parish. They were not perfect, but they were in their own way great human beings.
The priest asked the class: what do you have to do to become a saint? One hand shot up: ‘die, Father’ said the little boy. I disagree. I know many living saints!
For evidence of this, all you need to do is attend several funerals, or pay close attention to the media’s coverage of the death of a celebrity or well-known public figure.
In many churches (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) people are now canonized at their funeral services-even if they lived lives that were outwardly hedonistic and materialistic. Instead of praying for the repose of their souls-which is what we should do-we’re invited to pray to them, as if we have absolute certitude that they’re already enjoying the Beatific Vision (which we do not!).
And then there’s the typical media coverage of the death of a celebrity or other public figure. This, at times, borders on the absurd. Remember, for example, the things they said about Princess Diana when she died back in that Paris car-crash, back in 1997? They put her in the same category as Mother Teresa, who happened to pass away the same week. Of course, some of what they said was true: Diana did many wonderful acts of charity during her all-too-brief life. But she was no Mother Teresa of Calcutta!
And the real sick irony of it all is that some of those who were “canonizing” her in this way after her death, were probably some of the same people in the press who wrote and said terrible things about her while she was alive! Talk about hypocrisy!
All this shows that we really do live in a world of pint-sized saints. In other words, as a world we have “defined sanctity down.” We’ve lowered our standards concerning holiness to such an extent that the term is applied to almost everyone, except for a few noteworthy exceptions like Hitler and Saddam Hussein.
Today’s first reading reminds us that sanctity is possible for everyone. Praise God! Every human being has the opportunity to become part of that vast crowd St John sees in his vision. But this text also reminds us that sanctity is not easily attained.
Holiness-sanctity-requires submission to God and his will (and let’s face it, no one of us likes to be submissive to another person – not even a Divine Person!). Holiness requires ongoing repentance and conversion. (That’s why it shouldn’t surprise us that many of the canonized saints went to confession frequently-some nearly every day!) Holiness requires going the extra mile; it requires self-sacrificial love; it requires a reliance on God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments. And it requires perseverance in the midst of trial.
In today’s first reading from Revelation, St John sees a vision of the saints in heaven – the canonized and the un-canonized (all of whom we honor at this All Saints’ liturgy). And what does the “elder” say to John when he asks who these people are? The elder says to him, “These are the one who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” In other words, “John, these are the people who have persevered and remained faithful to Christ on earth, even in the midst of their many trials and sufferings.”
These are what might be called the “gallon-sized saints” – i.e., the real ones – who are praying for us, and who want to inspire us to be just like them someday. Applying this now to our spiritual lives: If we take the “pint-sized saints” of this world to be our models of holiness and discipleship, then we will probably become just like them – which means we won’t end up among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (if we get there at all!).
But if we allow the “gallon-sized saints” (i.e., the real ones) to inspire us, then we will probably become as hungry for heaven as Tiger Woods is for the Masters title every year. Now for those who may not be golfing fans, that means we will be very, very HUNGRY for holiness-and it also means that we will be very, likely to win the crown of eternal glory which is given to all God’s saints.
Sanctity: Know It and Live It
At the head table in the cafeteria, of a Catholic boarding school, one of the nuns had placed a big bowl of bright red, fresh, juicy apples. Beside the bowl, she placed a note which read, “Take only one. Remember, God is watching.” At the other end of the table was a bowl full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven. Beside the bowl, was a little note scrawled in a child’s handwriting which read, “Take all you want, God’s watching the apples.”
We have been taught to believe that a person is only a saint when that person is declared as one by the church. St Paul and the early church members have a different understanding regarding saints. In fact, one of the names that the early church members used when speaking or writing about those who had experienced the gospel was “the saints.”
When we celebrate the feast of all saints we are not celebrating those who have died. This way of thinking causes us to believe that sanctity can only happen after a person has died. No, we are celebrating all who have experienced the gospel message and know that God dwells with them now. Death is not the criterion required for sanctity. Neither is perfection. Often, in fact, the road to wholeness/holiness is through imperfection.
Sanctity isn’t something we achieve. It is something with which we participate. It is much too big, as is sin and death, for us to experience alone. As we participate in sin and death, so too can we participate in holiness and life. We each have within us at this moment the power of God. The only thing that prevents us from living the power of God is that many of us are not aware that we have it. We are all children of God, not later when we die, but now, this moment.
First Reading: Book of Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Second Reading: First Epistle of St John 3:1-3
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.