The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Homily: The Solemnity of All Saints (November 1)

Readings: Rv 7:2-4, 9-1; Ps 24; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12

"Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?" [Rv 7:13]

I just love that verse from the Book of Revelation, because it’s the kind of question you or I might ask. Who are these people? Who are these saints? Where did they come from? How did they manage to live such holy lives in this weird world of ours? Yes, it’s these people and their lives of heroic virtue, these saints, that we celebrate today on the Solemnity of All Saints.

One of my theology professors, who taught me the New Testament many years ago, was a priest who had spent years in a Communist Chinese prison. Once, while speaking of St. Peter, a man filled with doubts and fears and so often lacking in faith, this saintly Jesuit said, “All saints are sinners, but not all sinners are saints.” The difference, he went on to tell us, is that the saints recognize, understand, and repent of their sinfulness because they accepted God’s grace and recognize the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. More than anything else they desire union with Jesus Christ and so they struggle mightily in the lifelong process of conversion that God offers us all. The others, he said, not only don’t recognize the Son, but too often don’t even recognize their sinfulness for what it is. And that, he believed, is an eternal sadness.

Yes, brothers and sisters, all of us are called to be saints. All are called to be one with Jesus Chirst. And we’re united with the saints and with Jesus in the whole family of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church in heaven and on earth. In this way you and I are actually a part of All Saints. By our baptism we were sanctified, made holy, deep down, in grace. We’re no longer banished from paradise, like Adam and Eve. We’re no longer the absent children, those outside the family. The gates of heaven have been opened to us by the redemptive act of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

No, indeed, we’re now in! We’re in God’s family as adopted children of the Father. We are in God, all of us together, because we are in Christ Jesus. And in our hope we pray that every human being will be born again through Baptism into that adoption as children of God. Yes, although we remain sinners, sinners striving to be saints, we are still God’s children.

But there is so much we don’t know. As John tells us, “what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” And so we find ourselves in the midst of that “cloud of unknowing,” as the mystic calls it. The world still moves within us and will continue to do so until we rise with Jesus Christ to be something we do not yet understand. Now, I’m not talking about the world of creation, the great universe-wide creative act of God. No, I mean the world of a fallen race, the world of worldliness, a world that refuses to recognize Jesus Christ and so will not recognize us. It’s a world that tries to extinguish the light of Christ, to drown out the Gospel with the cacophony of its meaningless noise. It’s a world that ignores this All Saints day, preferring instead Halloween, the eve of All Saints, by celebrating zombies instead of saints. But despite the world’s attempts, God continues to raise up saints, and He wants each one of us to be among them.

And so He gives us a guidebook of sorts, he provides the map so we can find our way to His Way. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel brings to us the essence of Jesus’ teachings. And the Beatitudes offer us the essence of the essence..

When we first hear them, our tendency is to select one or two qualities as applicable to us. Oh, yeah, that’s me, the merciful peacemaker. I guess that means I’m okay, living the life Jesus wants for me. But that’s not what the Beatitudes are. They’re not items in a cafeteria from which we can pick and choose what we like while ignoring the rest. They’re really a manifesto for the complete, normal Christian life. They are all of one piece, eight different facets on the same stone. Each is a necessary waypoint on our journey, a journey that leads to the fullness of blessing.

To be blessed means we will find wholeness, joy, well-being, and to experience the true peace of Christ. This fullness of blessing belongs to us when we come to a sole dependence upon God.

Feeling poverty in the center of our being, we have no confidence in our own achievements and so we cry out to God for his affirmation and acceptance.

We’re blessed as we weep over spiritual failure as if we were mourning for the dead. Sorrowing, not only for our own sin but the sins and injustices of the world, we discover the deep abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

Blessings come to us as we exercise wisdom and self-control in bringing God’s love to others.  Meekness is not weakness. Meekly, we walk with a humility that recognizes Jesus Christ in everyone we meet, reminding us that we are called to love.

We move not as prophets filled with vengeful anger but as evangelists filled with compassion. Through a deep life of prayer we are blessed as we experience a rightness in our relationship with God, with others, and with creation. By growing spiritually we lose the arrogance and self-righteousness that can taint piety; and then we begin to achieve real holiness in our lives.

Yes, we’re called by Jesus to give to others the same mercy upon which we have come to depend.

Walking with integrity, unmixed in our motives, we’re blessed as Jesus is kept ever in our vision.

While longing and working for peace in our lives, we feel God’s hand gently upon our head and hear him speak to us as if we were his favored child.

Having received a sevenfold blessing we enter into the perfection of Christ. And so, being like Christ in his life we’re not surprised that we also share in the likeness of his suffering and death.

And for this, like the Saints we honor today, we will be greatly blessed.

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