Sixtieth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of All Saints
Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most kids seem to tire of that question fairly quickly – and adults don’t have any easier relationship with it, since most of us are still trying to grow up. What we want conflicts with what we need on a regular basis, there are voices everywhere around shouting at us to try this, that and the other thing, the spectral hallucination of “me time” nags at us like a mental illness, and the thing we look forward to the most is retirement so that we can go back to being the kid we had to stop being in ours 20s (or earlier). Well, I don’t know about you, but I did finally figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I actually figured it out a while ago, and I’ve been eagerly waiting through most of this Jubilee Year to get to this post, so I can share my discovery with you.
I want to be a Saint.
Unrealistic, say you? Boring and a bit silly, perhaps? And yet, isn’t this the ultimate calling, the vocation of our destiny – that we all become Saints? One of the most ancient beliefs of the Church is that of the “Communion of Saints” we speak of in the Apostles’ Creed, the mystical union of the Body of Christ across the physical and spiritual dimensions. This communion is comprised of the groups traditionally called 1.) the Church Militant, the faithful here on earth journeying towards destiny; 2.) the Church Penitent, the souls in purgatory readying themselves to see God face-to-face for all time; and 3.) the Church Triumphant, the blessed in heaven who enjoy eternal life with God. And these three groups are all the Church. They are all the Body of Christ, they are all alive, and they all help and support each other insofar as they are able. And on today’s great feast, my favorite holyday – the Solemn Feast of All the Saints – we here on earth celebrate our heavenly brethren and ask for their aid in helping us, and those in purgatory, to get to where they are.
Already from its first decades, the Church knew itself to be just as much as union of heaven and earth as anything else in creation in the wake of the Redemption – if not moreso, as God’s renewed and transdimensional Israel. In the First Reading, the author of the Book of Revelation is allowed a glimpse of a heavenly liturgy, the praises sung in heaven before the throne of God just as His praises are sung on earth before His altars – a reminder to us from the 1st century that the Mass is celebrated both there and here. And just as on earth, there is a vast multitude in heaven of martyrs and witnesses to the faith, those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” On earth, these altars were raised upon the site of their mortal remains, or relics of their remains were (and still are) embedded into altars across the globe. Now in heaven they surround the throne of God, literally all the world gathered as one in spirit, singing the power of God’s salvation and glory alongside the Angels. In this vision of John of the Apocalypse, we see a vision of the destiny that awaits us too when we grow up.
And who are these witnesses? How did they get there? And how do we know them among ourselves? Jesus Himself, the incarnate union of heaven and earth, provides the answer in the Gospel reading with those words of wisdom we call the Beatitudes. The Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount” from Matthew’s Gospel has acquired legendary status (even among those who have never read through the whole thing). And the most famous part of this new Torah for the new Israel is its very beginning, these proclamations and promises of blessedness. The poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers – the lowly and quiet ones of this world are the ones who grow up to celebrate it and rejoice over it and thank God for it. The world pushes against it because it doesn’t celebrate itself in the same way, or even for the same reasons – which just makes these quiet and humble souls party all the harder, being low enough to the ground to see the true beauty of the earth. So great is that beauty, so fierce is that celebration, that death can’t even stop it – the party continues in the spirit world with the Creator of that beauty.
“The reason the world does not know us is that the world did not know him.” This is what Saint John, the beloved disciple, tells his own beloved disciples (us included!) in the letter that gives us our Second Reading today. And let’s face it: the last thing the world wants us to do is grow up. It doesn’t matter what our vocation is, or what we think it is. The world likes it when we rely on it instead of ourselves, and it certainly takes exception to us relying upon God. One thing the powers of the world do not like is competition. Our God may be a jealous God, but the world is a stalker ex-lover with daddy issues. When Saint John tells us, who are the children of God, that “what we shall be has not yet been revealed,” it is a smack to the unhealthy comfort of status quo, that unchanging and comfortable place the world loves to cling to. We only need to look at the upcoming U.S. presidential election to see that. For all the talk of working for the people and changing Washington’s “business as usual,”.at the end of the day the top two candidates for the highest office (Latin officium, duty) in the land are career amoralists promising to fix everything.
God loves all His children, but He loves them too much to let status quo be good enough. He wants us to grow. He wants us to grow up. He wants us to be Saints. He wants us to change the world by changing ourselves. And really, isn’t that the great unexpected gift of being “merciful like the Father”? Isn’t that the unexpected result of conforming ourselves to God’s pattern? We change ourselves. We find our vocation. We grow up. We “see him as he is.” This is our “time of great distress,” and God is pulling for us to succeed.
Happy All Saints’ Day! May it be our triumphant feastday too.