All Saints 2014
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, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Today is the Solemnity of All Saints, the great holy day on which the Church praises God by honoring all His saints in Heaven, that “great multitude, which “no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” who have achieved their life’s goal, the blessedness that consists of seeing and possessing God in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is this blessed happiness and purpose of our life that Jesus points to in today’s Gospel on the Beatitudes. Throughout the liturgical year, the Church honors her exemplary saints, who she canonizes for our admiration and imitation so that we too can make our way to Heaven with their assistance.
However, today the Church greatly enlarges our vision so that we can focus on all the saints in His Kingdom, the tremendously greater “multitude” who are also marked with the seal of God, holding up their palms of victory and wearing their white robes of holiness. This great feast of All Saints is given to us precisely to stir up our admiration of this greater communion of saints, and to kindle our hope to one day be among their number. At times the great saints we honor throughout the year, the virgins and martyrs, the confessors and others marked by great sanctity already in this world, may perhaps seem too elevated for us to hope to be like them. But today the Church holds up all God’s saints, those whom we may see as more like us in our weaknesses and failings, but triumphant nonetheless. We gain hope when we confess that these human beings, who were much like ourselves, clung to God, received his Grace with which they struggled against their weakness and failures and at last, though by God’s mercy and grace, triumphed to become glorious members of that great body of saints who prostrate themselves before God and cry our eternally, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
It is that great victory and blessedness that is truly our life’s objective or goal, for we have been made children of God by our Baptism, and we have thus been called to be among that Heavenly Communion of Saints and enjoy God forever and ever. But today we need to ask ourselves if that objective goal is also subjectively my personal goal? Is that glory and happiness in heaven my true goal in life, your true goal in life, or are we too caught up in, or distracted by, the world and its promises and earthly goods to truly live for Heaven as our life’s goal?
Perhaps many Christians can identify at times with those now famous words from William Wordsworth’s Sonnet: The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! Surely Wordsworth was not just a pagan romanticist who was caught up in the love of nature. Clearly he knew that the divine beauty was to be discovered in nature by the sensitive soul. He is quite insightful in insisting that we do not see that divine beauty because “getting and spending” too often lays waste our powers of seeing in nature and in ourselves what is only hinted at in terms of its unique grandeur and beauty.
But as a Christian, we also know that the damage to souls is far worse, for not only have many Christians today lost their capacity to see the glory of God in nature, but more importantly many have also lost their desire “to see” the infinitely greater glory of the God in Christ, who personally created nature and whose beauty is only dimly reflected in the great beauty of the natural world. Indeed, the worldly Christian today might change that third verse of Wordsworth to “Little we see in God that is ours!” And that above all is why we do not set our life’s goal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh truly, as Wordsworth concludes “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
Contrarily, the saints in heaven, all the saints from the greatest to the least, definitely at some point in their lives made heaven’s glory, the vision of God, their life’s quest. It may not have been in a dramatic moment of conversion as we see in the lives of certain saints, but there had to be a turning point, a deep turning toward God that was reflected in the practical way they lived in this world. Thus there are certain markers that at least we should be able to note in ourselves as to whether our life’s goal is truly and effectively to be among the Communion of Saints or something less, a sordid boon, as Wordsworth puts it.
Today especially we should ask ourselves this question, what does God see in me as my goal of my life, what does my life, viewed objectively, reveal to God, if not to me, about the true nature of my set purpose in life? Does God see me taking aim at heaven and living accordingly, or does God see me living primarily for this world, that is, does God see that the world is too much with me to give God much more than lip service day by day.
More concretely, we can see indicators in the way Catholics approach their faith on a daily basis. For instance, how many Catholics today see skipping Mass on Sunday and holydays as just a minor issue, as if the worship of God is objectively less important than some earthly good, like sleep, or golf, or a picnic, or whatever? Can a person with this attitude honestly believe that his or her life’s goal is truly Heaven, that God and God’s Kingdom is first in his desires and needs? Or if one rarely prays, but spends countless hours on sports and other forms of entertainment, or if one rarely goes to confession, or rarely reads or watches anything for the purpose of nourishing his soul in faith, hope and charity – is this not an indication that the world is more important that one’s relation to God?
Objectively, by baptism you and I are already a member of the Communion of Saints, and the heavenly saints will join with us in every act of worship, especially the Mass, if we make the effort. They pray for us, but do we pray to them? How could we say that Heaven is our true goal, if we blithely ignore the company of Heaven here on earth? And so on.
But hopefully, sooner or later one is jolted into seeing that life is more than eating and drinking, entertainment, the pursuit of wealth, whatever is of this earth, and that jolt is often some form of suffering, a death of a loved one, a serious illness or personal setback. Indeed, some people are telling pollsters today that the economic problems of our nation have had at least one good result in their lives. These problems have made them rethink what life is really all about, what really counts for happiness, what is really worth pursing as the goal of life.
To repeat: you and I have been made God’s children by our baptism. We all, as St. John says in today’s second reading, are God’s children now, who should hope to be with God, to see God face to face, to enjoy God with the Heavenly saints forever. Any other final goal but this is unworthy of a true child of God. In heaven, our victory song will be eternal and it will be based upon the fact that we have “survived [the test] the time of great distress; have washed .. [our] robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” And so even now, here on earth we should do today, especially on All Saints Day, as Jesus commands; “Rejoice and be glad…!” And why should we rejoice? “For your reward will be great in heaven.” That is our true life goal and true hope, to be among the heavenly saints and to sing forever the words we heard tonight from the Book of Revelation: Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Sunday: a Reflection on All Souls