ALL SAINTS (2020)
(Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12)
Today we are celebrating all the saints who are beloved of God and the glory of Mother Church, be they renowned or unbeknown to us; those who now join with their fellow angelic choristers in giving Him eternal glory. Let us, therefore, now try to learn from those most successful of all human beings by considering as closely as time allows the readings Mother Church has chosen for us today, that we may perhaps be able to discern and learn the way Jesus traces out for all those who wish to share with Him and them in the blessedness of the Father’s kingdom.
You heard in that first reading something of the glory of heaven, so far, that is, as human, earthly, words can describe it:
I had a vision of a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 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, but people from all nations and all times, together forming a great multitude; and they are one because they are all stood before the throne with the Lamb their leader and saviour. All in heaven are praising God for the victory He has won for this multitude saying:
Amen! Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honour, power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen!
And -- note this well dear People of God -- it is there we all aspire to join with them when this, our earthly pilgrimage, is ended.
You will most probably have heard non-believers mockingly speak of heaven in such words as: “I can’t imagine me enjoying anything like that; and all the time, too, nothing else but that!”
Though such words are expressions of nothing better than ignorance concerning God and the spiritual life, nevertheless, they show us how important it is for us to have some real awareness of what we are aspiring to as committed Catholic disciples of Jesus, and the only way to understand and appreciate something of heavenly joy is to recall some moment when you yourself were totally delighted in something. For example, try to remember when you were, perhaps, first in love: recall how your delight in just being with the one you loved made time fly. Recall when you experienced, something wonderfully beautiful and remember how it seemed to lift you up above ordinary events and again made time fly. Again, on a much more mundane level, imagine a football supporter whose team has just won the Cup or the championship: that instant of utter and complete joy!
Now the happiness, the blessedness of Heaven is something of that nature: total wonder, uplifting and ecstatic joy; and such recollections will also help you to realize that in heaven there is no such thing as time, that wondrous joy never becomes wearisome, for there is no time to drag on in heaven. Heavenly joy, 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.
Such heavenly blessedness, however, is not restricted to heaven. It can be felt in its beginnings here on earth by those who have become deeply aware of the great goodness that God has shown to them in the course of their life thus far: secret blessings, timely helps, mysterious peace and comfort unwarranted but most gratefully embraced:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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 children of God now, what we will 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 in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
We who believe in the only Son of God Who died for our sins, rose again, and is now seated at the right hand of power are already blessed with the beginning of eternal blessedness; and we are meant by God -- through prayer and faithfulness in the way of Jesus – to deepen our awareness of that blessing, and begin to experience something of the joy which is contained within that treasure we have received through faith.
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
If you would grow in that awareness of beatitude, if you would like to experience something of that heavenly joy, you must now turn with me to the Gospel and try to understand something of the way Jesus opens up for each of us in and through the course of our life.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness …
There we have the virtues of the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed servants of God mentioned in our first reading. It is a wonderful compendium of whatever was good and best under the old covenant: the truest fruits of the Law, the inspirations of the prophets and meditations of the sages, all finding sublime expression in the ecstasies and laments, the humble prayers and joyful songs, of the Psalmist, before finally culminating in what was to be the fulfilment of everything that had gone before: namely, the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, sent by God:
Not to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfil them. (Matthew 5:17)
With Jesus, the time of fulfilment has ultimately arrived; and so, instead of simply recalling the teaching of the Old Testament, Jesus goes one unique and immeasurable step further, He now addresses His words directly to His disciples standing around Him:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you … ON MY ACCOUNT
It is as if He was saying: such were the virtues of the OT, but now, for you who are My true disciples, your true title to heavenly glory is the fact that you are My disciples. It is no longer enough to say that you are among the gentle, the poor in spirit, the merciful, for you who listen to Me and who believe in and follow Me, are all of that and more: you are disciples of Mine; and that is how you will enter heaven, that will be your title to eternal glory.
Yes, People of God, I am sure that you will understand that, in heaven, before the God of all holiness, it is not possible that the meekness, the gentleness, of any human being could be admirable in His ‘eyes’. But ... the fact that someone has, in this sinful and most deceptive world, recognized as true, loved and served as Lord, the man Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only-begotten Son made flesh, that does indeed draw down upon the disciple the admiration, gratitude, and love of God the Father. He is most assuredly pleased to see human virtues of gentleness, humility, patience, mercifulness, or whatever, but He is all-holy and He sees the limitations of our virtue. However, the fact that someone here on earth has seen, recognized, and supremely loved His dearest Son – though wrapped in the veil of flesh like ours -- surpasses all human virtue in His eyes.
Perhaps we can picture it best if we think of a sculptor. God chose His material, the People of God, the nation of Israel; and through the Law and the Prophets He formed -- as does the sculptor with his chisel -- that 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. He finally 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, and from there He sent the Holy Spirit, His Spirit, to be with His disciples, to make them into one Body, His Body, His Church.
The Holy Spirit was 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, and thus forming a living likeness of the Christ, for the Father:
I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this He meant the Spirit, Whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)
That, People of God, is the glory of our calling and the joy of all the blessed in heaven. As living members, and living likenesses (not plaster-cast copies) of the Son, to share in His glory and to bathe in the Father’s love which is totally lavished on His only-begotten Son, Who has indeed become our all:
(For) you (who) are in Christ Jesus, (He) has become for us wisdom from God, that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)
In our first reading we heard questions being asked about the blessed in heaven:
Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?
In answer to the first question "who are these dressed in white robes?" we can recall that we heard St. John tell us:
Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He, Jesus, is pure.
So, we know now why the blessed are dressed in white robes, they are disciples of Jesus who have purified themselves as Jesus is pure, they are in heaven as true disciples of His.
But what about that second question, "where have these people come from?"
Here we must bear in mind what Jesus has already told us:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
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: we who are privileged to be disciples of Jesus. We have been offered already a share in heavenly life and blessedness, and we can experience ever more of that blessedness if we purify ourselves, as St. John told us: by trying to walk ever more faithfully in the way of Jesus, by seeking to appreciate the beauty of His truth, and the mercy and compassion of His great goodness, ever more deeply. The final washing of our robes, however, will only be brought about by our suffering with and for Jesus, just as God wills for each and every one of us in our life. And yet, even here, such is the blessedness already given us, that we can come to rejoice in our sufferings for Jesus as did our apostle Paul:
May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. ((Gal. 6:14; 2 Cor. 1:5; Rom. 8:18)