ALL SAINTS (2015)
(Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12)
Today we are celebrating all the saints, all those, that is, who -- known and unknown -- are beloved of God and share in His eternal blessedness by a supremely fulfilling gift of God that can never be lost or taken away, for He is almighty and His will is eternal. Let us now, therefore, look at those blessed ones we are celebrating, and also look closely at the way Jesus traces out for all who would share with them in like blessedness.
You heard in that first reading something of the glory of heaven:
After this I had a vision of a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb … They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God Who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb!"
No racism, no sexism, no privileged groups there, but people from all nations and all times; all of them standing as one before the throne of God and the Lamb, their Lord and Saviour, and praising God for the victory He has won for them:
Amen! Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honour, power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.
It is there, People of God, we, as disciples of Jesus, aspire to go when this our earthly pilgrimage is ended. Don’t think: “I can’t imagine me enjoying an eternity of nothing else but that”, for the only way to appreciate something of heavenly joy is to recall some special moment when you felt yourself both uplifted and supremely delighted: how time then passed by unnoticed and so, so, quickly, as you later realized! Now the happiness, the blessedness of Heaven is something of that nature: totally overwhelming, uplifting and ecstatic joy that obliterates time! Such recollections should help you realise that in heaven there can be no such thing as weariness or boredom, for heavenly joy and blessedness is an eternal instant of total ecstasy which has its origin in the vision of the infinite beauty, goodness and glory, of God Himself.
That blessedness, moreover, is not exclusively reserved for heaven; for those who come to some appreciation of the beauty of God’s truth and an awareness of His goodness to all believers in the name of Jesus, can begin an analogous experience of it even here on earth, as St. John tells us:
Behold what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called children of God! Yet so 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 shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.
We who lovingly acknowledge the only Son of God sent to die for our sins and rise again, we who hope in the promises of Him Who is now seated at the right hand of power, are -- by His Spirit given us -- being purified even as He is pure. And in that purifying -- through our increasingly prayerful commitment to Jesus and faithful service along His way -- God’s great goodness can, at times, secretly shine upon our minds and inflame our hopes, so that we find ourselves surprised beyond all our normal measure of awareness and delighting in an earthly anticipation of that heavenly joy so intimately bound up with the gift and treasure which is our Faith.
If, then, you would know more of the heavenly joy to which we are all called as Christians, turn your attention now with me to the Gospel and try to understand better the way through life that Jesus has marked out for His disciples.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the clean of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
There we have the virtues of the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed servants of God mentioned in the first reading. It is a wonderful compendium of whatever was best in the Old Testament: the truest fruits of the Law, the inspirations of prophets, and the meditations of sages; all finding sublime expression – both human and divine -- in the ecstasies and laments, the humble prayers and joyful songs, of the Psalmists; and finally culminating in what was to be both the fulfilment and the crown of everything that had gone before: the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, Who came (Matthew 5:17):
Not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them.
Now, therefore, in fulfilment of all that the Law and the Prophets had been able to effect in Israel, Jesus goes one unique and immeasurable step further: He reveals Himself both as God in His Personal flesh and blood, and as the supreme glory of the disciples standing around Him:
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of Me.
It is as if He was saying: such, indeed, were the virtues of the Old Testament; but now, for you who walk with Me, your true title to heavenly glory is that you are My disciples. It is no longer enough to say that you are among the gentle, the poor in spirit, and the merciful; for you who listen to Me and follow Me are all of that and more: you are My true disciples, and that will be your sovereign passport for heaven and title to glory (John 16:25–27):
I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father. On that day you will ask in My name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have come to believe that I came from God.
Yes, People of God, I am sure that you will appreciate that, in heaven, it is not possible that the meekness, the gentleness, of any of the blessed could be admirable before the God of all holiness. He is pleased to see such virtues of gentleness, humility, patience, mercifulness, or whatever, but being Himself all-holy, He therefore and most necessarily sees also the limitations of our virtues, and loves them best of all as anticipations of Jesus’ grace, preparations for Him.
The fact that someone has personally responded to His incarnate Word in Jesus, that someone has loved and served His beloved and only-begotten Son Personally, that does indeed evoke the Father’s love. For, in His Father’s eyes, to love His Son supremely here on earth is the summit and culmination of all virtue, including and surpassing all that has gone before. You who are parents will understand.
Perhaps we can picture it best if we think of a sculptor. God chose His material, the nation of Israel, and through the Law and the Prophets He formed -- as does a sculptor with his chisel -- this block ('stiff-necked people' the prophets called them) gradually into some likeness of the Christ who was to come. This work, however, was always done from the outside, so to speak, just as the chisel of the artist always chips away from the outside. When Jesus the Christ -- the Son of God made flesh -- came, however, He gave His divine word to His disciples to take root in their mind and heart, and His example to inspire them. Finally He gave His human life for them; and then, having risen from the dead in the power of the Spirit of God, He ascended to the right hand of His Father, from where He sent the Father’s promise -- His own most Holy Spirit -- to be with His disciples, making them into one Body, His Body, His Church. The Holy Spirit was given to remain with His Church, guiding her into all truth and protecting her from the snares of the enemy, and in that continuing task the Spirit works from the inside, in the minds and hearts of the disciples, constantly forming them into a living likeness of Christ, their Lord and Saviour, for the Father:
Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’. He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in Him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (Matthew 11:11; John 7:37s.)
People of God, the glory of our calling, and indeed the joy of all the blessed in heaven, lies in the fact that, as living members and likenesses (not plaster-cast copies) of His Son, we are destined to share in His glory, and rejoice in the Father’s love:
You are in Christ Jesus, Who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
In our first reading we heard questions being asked about the blessed in heaven:
Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?
In answer to the first question "who are these wearing white robes?" we can recall that we heard St. John tell us, Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure. So we know now why the blessed are dressed in white robes: they are disciples who, in Jesus and by His Spirit, have purified themselves as He is pure.
But what about that second question, "where did these people come from?" Here we must bear in mind what Jesus has already told us:
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
That is where those dressed in white have come from; as the elder in heaven said:
These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Today we have great reason to celebrate: as disciples of Jesus we have already been given a share in heavenly life and blessedness, and we can experience some measure of that blessedness if we purify ourselves, as St. John told us, by trying to walk ever more faithfully in the way of Jesus, and to appreciate ever more deeply the beauty of His truth. The final washing of our robes, however, will only be brought about through suffering with and for Jesus, as indeed so many of our Catholic and Christian brethren throughout the world are now suffering , as and how God wills for each and every one of us in the adulterous and sinful world we are now experiencing.
Even here -- such is the blessedness already given us -- we can, in some degree, come to rejoice in our sufferings for Jesus as the apostle Paul assures us:
As Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. (2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 8:18)