FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
Rev. 7: 2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
By: Jude Siciliano, OP
There is a group of
diligent lay Christians who minister to children with physical handicaps. They
provide opportunities for summer camp, field trips, classes, periodic worship
services and Masses. They have a newsletter which they e-mail to a list of
benefactors and people interested in their ministry. It’s in the form of a
letter and begins, “Dear Saints.” I squirm a bit whenever I receive that
salutation from them. They may be saints; but me? It’s too soon!
But the title “saints” was used in the early church to describe those called and in covenant with God through Christ. The church has an elaborate and careful process to determine whom we officially call “Saints.” (On October 14, 2018, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI were canonized in Rome.) Many of these we incorporate into our liturgical calendar. But even as we venerate certain “acknowledged” Saints, let’s not dismiss our own identity and dignity received through, what the Book of Revelation describes as, “the Blood of the Lamb ” – the life, death and resurrection of Christ. His risen life blood flows in our veins and so we can truthfully call each other “saints.” In doing so we would not be claiming anything we have done or deserve for ourselves, but have received through the gift of grace. We have been called to holiness by God and are given the gifts we need to live holy, sainted lives.
If there is one biblical book even regular readers of the Scriptures tend to avoid, it is the Book of Revelation. Someone said, “It’s so bizarre! Who can understand those hallucinatory images and strange creatures?” Even today’s reading from Revelation has strange details that could confuse the modern reader’s need for literal exactness.
As a teenager at Mass on this feast I would be stopped dead in my tracks by what seemed an obvious absurdity. How could those wearing robes get them white by washing them “in the Blood of the Lamb?” Wouldn’t that turn them red? I couldn’t get my mind around that image and figured, I’d leave the interpretation to some Bible scholars. I should have reflected on this reading not as a high school student in a physics class, but as a reflective reader in English Literature 101, because the Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature and has more in common with poetry than science.
Towards the end of the first century Christians were under the severe persecution of Domitian and were tempted to feel abandoned by God. In his poetic style the author tells them – “Quite the contrary.” This vision is a promise of future glory for those who remain faithful to the Lamb. Glory isn’t only a future reward, but even now we share in God’s holiness through Jesus Christ. “Dear Saints” might well be the perfect appellation for those of us gathered in worship today; so saints we are, because we are held “dear” by our God. Our baptismal robes are made white by the life force of Jesus, his blood, at work in our lives.
I like this grammar school story. A religion teacher asked her second-grade class, “What’s a saint?” A little girl, probably remembering the stained glass images in her parish church responded, “Saints are the people the light shines through.” The big or “public lights” are up there in the church windows. Their light shines through in a rainbow of colors. Their biographies tell us that no two were the same. You can say: there are no identical twins in God’s house. Each shone their unique light in one or many dark places in the world.
Because their light has been so brilliant, we raise them up for all to see so that the rest of us can be enlightened and have hope. If God could shine such light through Mary, Joseph, Dominic, Catherine of Siena, Francis and Clare, then God can do that even in us! Keep us: strong in times of trials and doubts; courageous when challenged; compassionate to the broken; wise for those who are searching; outspoken when others hold a fearful silence; anonymous in performing loving deeds; persevering when struggles will not just evaporate; defending justice when the world ignores or presses down those on the margins; gentle and strong in the face of what opposes the gospel.
Where did I get that list of saintly virtues? I grant that it is incomplete, but I came up with it when I reflected on the lives of my favorite Saints – like the ones I named above. They are the “Big S” – Saints. But I also reflected on the “little s” saints I have known and loved and frequently felt in awe of. They remind me what is possible in my small, particular, daily life. I am sure that you have your favorites and are able to draw up your own list of the virtues that make a saint. When you make your own list you will find it parallels what Jesus enumerated in today’s gospel – the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes aren’t a list of commandments we have to live by if we want to follow Jesus. Instead, they show how we can live when the source of our life is Jesus. Because of him we are “Blessed,” our lives reflect a profound change in us, the result of his grace, which enables us to be: poor in spirit, gentle, merciful, peacemakers, etc.
In our second reading, John puts it another way “... we are God’s children now.” This feast is about Now; about our union with one another and the great “cloud of witnesses” who have preceded us. Today’s feast reminds us of those who are now gazing on God’s brilliance and that we are in communion with them through our prayers and memory. And, because of their lives, we can have hope for our own!
My four-year old grandniece gave me a drawing she made of me. “Here
Uncle Jude, this is for you.” The simple pencil-stick work of art made me look good, with a round warm face, wide-open eyes, a huge smile, listening ears and outstretched arms. (She even filled in my bald spots!) A psychologist would say, “That’s a drawing of a healthy and secure child.” I would add that my little niece has a touching and wonderful view of who I am to her right now. I would also say, she’s drawing me as God sees me – graced – the fruit of God’s handiwork.
The next time I get that “Dear Saints” e-mail, instead of squirming, I’m going to say, “Right On!” – because God’s grace is already at work in me and God isn’t going to give up on me until I get to my proper home. There, someday, I’m going to meet all the stained glass Saints in the flesh. I’m also going to meet all the others – no-less-holy, saints, “the great multitude which no one can count.” We are already the saints of God, not because we have earned a great reward or have gone through life unblemished by sin, but because of the mercy of God manifested in Jesus. “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb.” When Paul addressed the Christians as the saints in his epistles, he was not only talking about their future glory, but their present status.