Solemnity of All Saints Lectionary: 667
Reading 1 Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
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. They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “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.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Reading 2 1 Jn 3:1-3
Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall 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 based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.
Gospel Mt 5:1-12a
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.
“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.
Lax stopped him in his tracks.
“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”
Merton was dumbfounded.
“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.
Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…
Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.
Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.
His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.
But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.
Like Thomas Merton and Lax — we don’t want to be good Catholics. We want to be saints. And the saints before us show us how. By leading good lives. By living the virtues and obeying God’s law and God’s word. By seeking God’s will for us and then doing it!
If we life righteously with humility and gratitude and joy — we will someday be among the Communion of Saints.
The Church today celebrates All Saints Day. Together with the whole Church, the communion of saints, we rejoice with all those members of the Church who have arrived at their destiny. Where they have arrived at is also our calling and destiny as well. But the fact remains that in the minds of many of us, we feel unworthy about this call. Indeed, if ever someone says to us, that “you are a saint”, we would react almost defensively by saying that we are no saints because we know how imperfect we are. The implication is therefore that all saints are perfectly holy and sinless. Yet, it would be against our faith to think that we are not called to sainthood because this is our very and ultimate calling in life: to be saints and to be in fellowship with all the saints in heaven and with the Holy Trinity. So if we feel diffident about our vocation to be saints, it is because we have a false notion as to what and who is a saint.
Who then is a saint? The first thing we must realize is that saints were not perfect until when they were canonized or when they were admitted into heaven. In other words, saints were very human and ordinary people just like you and me. Saints too had to go through much struggles in their lives. They too had their weaknesses, sinfulness and lack of charity to contend with.
What then is the difference between the saints and us? We too have our weaknesses like them. But the difference is, as St John tells us, they “have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.” It is clear then that before they became saints, they were sinners but through their faith in Christ, they were able to wash their robes white again. They have attained victory over sin, symbolized by the palms they held in their hands. With the grace of God, each day, they become more and more like Christ. By so doing, they are sealed by God, Christified, so to speak, and thus recover their likeness as the children of God. In fact, that is the very reality of all of us, as St John remarked, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”
So the difference between the saints and us is that they have purified themselves to become more like Christ and therefore come to their consciousness that they are God’s children during their sojourn on earth. In our case, however, many of us, in different degrees are still not aware of our true identity as the children of God. Thus, we live our lives in such a way that does not reflect God’s life or His love. We do not bear the seal of His presence and light. And how is that so? Because St John says, “the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.” When we refuse to recognize Christ and accept Him into our lives, we are unable to see our true calling and identity. But when we accept Christ and recognize our sonship in Him, then St John says that although “what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed … we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”
Furthermore, the saints are those who not only become like Jesus, but they see God and Jesus face to face. This encounter with God face to face is what the Church traditionally called the gift of beatific vision of the saints. Of course, we know that God has no face except Jesus Christ since He is pure Spirit. Beatific vision would therefore mean that we see God face to face so fully in Jesus, in the communion of saints and in ourselves. This privilege is reserved of course only to the saints and no mystical encounter on earth can be compared to the beatific vision in heaven. Why is this so? Because it is possible to see God who is without face only through Christ who is the image and likeness of God in person! But to see Christ also entails that we share in His same likeness. Hence, if all saints bear the likeness of Christ, then, necessarily, to have a beatific vision is to see God in himself, in Christ, in the communion of saints and in ourselves, since we are in communion with each other and with God, the Trinity.
The implication for us, according to St John, is this: “Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.” Yes, if we were to see God face to face and to see God in others and in ourselves, then we must restore our status as God’s children, and this is, as St John reiterates, who we really are already, even if we fail to realize this completely. The way to this purification process is of course concretely spelt out in the beatitudes found in today’s gospel. The beatitudes are the blueprint for us to perfect ourselves in the likeness of Christ. After all, we must realize that these guidelines of the Kingdom life are culled from the very life of Jesus Himself. He had lived these beatitudes in His own life even before preaching to us.
Briefly then, these beatitudes urge us firstly to cultivate a disposition that is humble and poor in spirit, since poverty and humility is the gateway to all other virtues. Only through humility, can we become compassionate like the Father towards others, being gentle and merciful, empathizing with them especially when they suffer injustices and persecutions. In this way, we demonstrate that we are truly sons of God since we reflect the purity, mercy, love, justice and righteousness of God in our lives. In identifying ourselves with others, especially those who are suffering, we indirectly recognize them as sharing in our common calling as children of God in the communion of saints.
But the question remains as to how we can live out the beatitudes in our lives much as we want to. We know how difficult it is to be true to ourselves, to what God has created us for. This is where today’s celebration is important. When we rejoice with those members of our Christian family who have arrived at their destiny, they also inspire us. For they are saints today not because they were born perfect but they perfected themselves through trials, struggles and sufferings and, for some, over many long years. So we do not become a saint overnight. That is only wishful thinking. But it is nevertheless not a far-fetched hope to be a saint one day. For if they could arrive at their destiny in spite of their imperfections then we certainly share that same hope as well.
But the saints are remembered not simply as models of hope for us, but because they are in heaven, they are still in communion with us. Being filled with the love of Christ, they too will have compassion for us. They are in solidarity with us. They are as it were in heaven cheering us along whilst we are still struggling in our race on earth. So we must turn to them not only for inspiration but also for support and prayers. We should ask them to intercede for us so that we too can be reunited with them, some of whom we knew and loved personally on earth. Yes, the thought of the multitude of saints who have reached their goal and their union with us in prayer cannot but motivate us further in our purification process to become more and more like Christ.
Finally, let us remember that the victory of the saints is in the final analysis not simply a question of disciplining ourselves in the way of the gospel through our own human efforts. Nay, the victory over evil and sin is not within our power but all is dependent on the grace of God. It is not through our efforts that we will become saints but only through the grace and power of God. This is made clear in St John’s vision, for the saints were declaring victory not for themselves, as if they had won or made it, but to God.
Hence, to be saints we must rely ultimately on God’s grace. Only He can empower us to be His saints and give us the grace to purify ourselves in Christ. And the good news is that such grace is freely given to us if only we are receptive to His love. For good reason, therefore, St John exhorts us, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.” Indeed, even before we reach our destiny, we who live the blessed life according to the beatitudes would already have had a foretaste of the life that is to come. That is why St John says we are already the children of God. Our basis for our final hope to be with the Saints in heaven and with the Trinity is founded on the joy of the blessed life we live now.
In the meantime, since we are really God’s children through the grace of God, we can be certain that God will grant us the grace that is necessary to realize our divine dignity and calling. All we need to do is to be in union with Christ, Mary and the communion of saints so that His grace can come through them.