Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Solemnity of All Saints

Since the beginning of the Church her people have always recognized those who were models of holiness and piety.  They were given the tile “saint,” and what began as a local custom developed into a more structured practice under the Holy See beginning in the 10th century.  In recognition of the Solemnity of All Saints falling on a Sunday, we forego our usual readings in favor of these chosen specifically for this special holiday:

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

Our first reading comes from the Book of Revelation… probably one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and confusing books of all the Bible.  And it’s no wonder… with its apocalyptic style thick with symbolic images and numerology, it can be hard to follow.  So let’s try to unpack our passage for this week.  The passage opens with John seeing an angel, speaking with God’s authority, to the four other angels charged with Earth’s destruction.  This angel tells them that the Earth cannot be destroyed before the “servants of God” can be marked with the seal of God.  John tells us this will be 144,000, or 12,000 from each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  This follows another vision of a “great multitude which no one could count” standing before the Heavenly Jesus (the throne and the Lamb) in their white robes.  John tells Jesus that “you are the one who knows.”  These are the followers of Jesus.  Why are they here?  Our Psalm has the answer:  “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

Our second reading comes from the First Letter of John.  Our passage reminds us that we are in fact, children of God.  While this is a wondrous and important understanding, John also tells us that he’s not entirely sure what this means, but that this will be revealed when we become like him (Christ), and in doing so “become pure as he is pure.”

Thus far our readings might give the impression that getting into Heaven is near impossible.  Only a saint could qualify.  Least we get discouraged, our Gospel from Matthew has Jesus teaching us the Beatitudes.  The word “beatitudes” is an anglicized form of the original Latin, beātitūdō, which means “happiness.”  In other words, Jesus is giving us a roadmap to happiness.  When it comes to reading the Beatitudes, however, we tend to breeze through them too quickly.  They eight blessings are short and concise, each being rich in meaning on their own.  When viewed as a whole, they form our understanding of the Christian ideal in how we should treat others and how we carry out Christ’s mission.  Note well that purity and perfection are not in the requirements.  Instead, we are taught to treat everyone with dignity, with mercy, and with love.

Final Thoughts:
While we look to the saints as examples, we also have a tendency to put them, both literally and figuratively, on a pedestal.  While we give them a place of honor, we also tend to think of them as better than us… that they possessed something that makes them better than us.  In doing so, however, we forget two important things.  First, we tend to assume that they were perfect.  They were not.  Second, we forget that our Catholic understanding of who is a saint includes everyone in Heaven, whether they are recognized as saints on earth or not.  The “communion of saints,” as we profess in our Creed.  We are all saints in the making.  Similarly, we are also all sinners, so how can we possibly be counted as one of the saints?  The answer to that is through God’s mercy.  Jesus gave us a good roadmap to Heaven, with the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule as our guide.  We may struggle, we may stumble, and at times we may lose our way.  But that’s OK, because we can always learn from our mistakes, seek the Lord’s forgiveness, continue our journey with Christ as our guide.

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