Feast of All Saints (31st Sunday) November 1, 2009

Revelation 7:2-4,9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

Today when we celebrate the feast of all the saints God’s holy Church rejoices with those members of the church who have gone before us and are now in Eternal Bliss and in lasting peace. In Jesus we are all called to holiness and to have the reward of the heavenly kingdom. There are those who lived the full way of perfection and we choose to rejoice with them on this feast day. This Feast was instituted in the Eastern Church during the 4th century for the purpose or remembering all the martyrs of the early Church. Gradually, it developed to also include the non-martyrs. As such, it can be said that the purpose of this Feast in the Holy Catholic Church serves to commemorate all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, known and unknown, who have moved on to their heavenly reward for their fidelity in Jesus. The word saint is taken in a wider sense to beyond those recognized and canonized by the church. It refers to all those baptised Christians who have died and are now with God in glory. It also certainly includes all those persons who have sincerely pursued the search for the ultimate and have lived a holy life. Further there are those who are living in hope for their final redemption and awaiting for the moment of glory. St Paul writing to the Romans, tells them that they are “called to be saints.”  Again to the Corinthians he says that “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, are called to be saints…” In several other passages of the New Testament, we read of the invitation that we are called to be saints, and also, that we are saints.

The First Reading from the book of Revelation presents an apocalyptic vision of those who have died in Christ. They are numbered at 144,000, the number which is clearly symbolical indicating innumerable number of people who could not be counted. It simply represents the total of all those who have died faithful to Christ their Lord. They represent “every nation, tribe and language” for access to Christ is open to all. They are dressed in white robes symbolising purity, and with palms in their hands. They are the robes of goodness and integrity. The palms of victory are a reference to the joyful Jewish feast of Tabernacles for these are the ones invited to live in God’s tent or tabernacle.  Together with them are the angels, the 24 elders and the four living creatures, and they all prostrate in adoration before the glory of God. The song they sing has been magnificently set to music by Handel in his “Messiah”. Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honour, power and strength are seven attributes of perfect praise. They have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb”. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which brings salvation and makes them clean.

The Second Reading from the First Letter of John, reminds us of the great love of God who has chosen to call us His children. The word children of God refers to those who believe in Jesus and have received the life of God.  The life will come to full bloom when God’s children enter into eternity.  Then we shall be like God because we shall see him as he is.  During our sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. “What we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  Because we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, those of the world do not and cannot possibly know us. For the worldly seek fame, pleasures, wealth; they do not know Jesus. Not knowing Jesus, they cannot understand our love for others, nor the fruit of the Holy Spirit that shines through us. To them, we are “strange” beings. Saints are not self-made people. They are people who have responded generously to the love of God showered on them.

The Gospel of today begins with the Sermon on the Mount. The general message is that those are really blessed when they know their dependence on God and on their sisters and brothers; when they commit themselves totally to the Way that Christ invites them to follow. The entire sermon is addressed not merely to the disciples but also to the crowds. It is very significant that the sermon is delivered from a mountain because other important aspects of Jesus’ ministry take place on a mountain: temptations, feeding the multitudes, the transfiguration and the final commission to the disciples. In the Old Testament, Moses the Old Israel had received the ten commandments on a mountain and now Jesus the new Israel proclaims his new teaching from the mountain. The Beatitudes consist of nine blessings addressed to those who are in various states of sufferings, hardships and conflict.  A Beatitude is basically a blessing given by God in connection with the recipient’s situation or ways of acting. Beatitudes are also found in the Old Testament especially in the Wisdom books and the Psalms. The difference is that the Beatitudes of Jesus is the reward that points to the future and is intimately linked with the fullness of the kingdom of heaven. The word that is used in the beatitudes is blessed. The word ‘blessed’ is sometimes translated ‘happy’. It might be more accurate to translate it as ‘fortunate’. In other words, people who have these qualities are really in an envious position. All of these beatitudes are indications that we belong to the ‘kingdom of heaven’.

The Gospel says that particularly blessed are: Those who are poor in spirit. They are the poor of Yahweh, those anawim who are open to receive the word of God. They are the ones who are detached to the things of the world and are attached to God and are ready to receive him.  Blessed are those who are gentle: These are the people who reach out to others in care and compassion and tenderness, who constantly are aware of the needs of others. There are those who mourn: those who are in grief or sorrow for whatever reason will be assured of comfort from the loving community in Christ they have entered. Those who hunger and thirst for what is right are those who care for Justice and are ready to stand with those who face injustices and human selfishness. Some may have paid high price and what they may have to pay could be high, very high, even life itself.  Again there are those who are merciful. They are the ones who extend compassion and forgiveness to all around them. Those persons who are pure in heart are those live in  simplicity and in total absence of duplicity, of prejudice or bias. Not surprisingly, Jesus says that they are able to see God. For such people God’s presence is all too obvious in every person and experience. The peace makers have a special place and in fact it is one of the most beautiful of the Beatitudes that Jesus speaks of. These are people who help to break down the many barriers which divide people – whether it is class, occupation, race, religion or anything that creates conflict between individuals or groups. That is why these people are called “children of God”. This the role of every follower of Jesus and he sends them out to the world to break the walls and make a new community based on justice and peace. They are the ones who build bridges and not walls. Jesus also speaks of the persecution on account of the right cause. They are the people who suffer pain and even martyrdom in defense of truth justice and love.  Finally, Jesus says blessed are those who are insulted, persecuted and falsely accused and they are to rejoice for greater  reward awaits them in heaven. While we are being rejected by those who are of the world, we should rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in Heaven.

In these Beatitudes of Jesus, the rewards promised are generally a reversal of the current negative situation or action experienced by his hearers. The rewards and reversals promised are not going to happen just because someone has experienced the negative. They are in reality meant to encourage people and tell them that the current reality is not everything but one has to hope for the better things yet to come and that will be their reward.   In this way we might say that the Beatitudes are an example of that fulfilling. The Beatitudes go far beyond the Ten Commandments in what they expect of a follower of Christ and yet the sad thing is that one hears of relatively few Christians saying that they base their lives on the Beatitudes. There is no command to say must but a positive encouragement to live the life of Christ.

Today’s feast for us is an occasion for great thanksgiving. It is altogether reasonable to think that many of our family, relatives and friends who have gone before us are being celebrated today. We look forward to the day when we, too, can be with them experiencing the same total happiness when “they will never hunger or thirst again”.  This will be the moment when God will wipe away all tears from their eyes”. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us keep in mind that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who bear their crosses, those who persevere in their living faith, those who fix their eyes on the Lord Jesus.

A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, “Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.” The little girl said, “No, Dad. You hold my hand.” “What’s the difference?” Asked the puzzled father.  “there’s a big difference,” replied the little girl. “If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go.” Similarly God will never let our hand go free. He will hold it all the while.

Fr Eugene Lobo SJ Rome

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