Thursday, October 31, 2013

Solemnity of All Saints- homily

Readings: Rev 7:2-4.9-14; Ps 24:1-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt 5:1-12a

What is "the seal" to be placed "on the foreheads of the servants of our God" (Rev 7:3)? It would seem that "the seal" put on our foreheads is the oil of sacred chrism, with which we are anointed when we are confirmed. What did your confirmation confirm? Or, stated another way, Who are you?

What was confirmed when you were anointed was nothing other than the identity given you at baptism; your identity as a child of the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ identity as the only begotten Son of the Father was confirmed by the descent of Holy Spirit in the form of a dove and, at the same time, by the voice of the Father, who said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17), as He emerged from the Jordan River after being baptized by John.

My brothers and sisters, on this glorious day let us not fail to "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God" (1 John 3:1).

Now that you are perhaps a bit clearer as to who you are, you may well ask, "Who are the 144,000 we heard about in our first reading?" Let’s start by noting that one hundred forty-four thousand is 12,000 x 12. Of what symbolic significance is the number 12 in Sacred Scripture? Twelve were the tribes of Israel and twelve was the number of apostles called by Jesus. It was the apostles, the ones sent (apostle means one who is sent) by Christ to "make disciples of all nations," to baptize "them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit" (Matt 28:19), who around whom formed the Church, the new and true Israel.

Hence, one hundred forty-four thousand, the square of twelve multiplied by a thousand, is indicative of the new Israel. It is not, as some suppose, a literal number, but a symbolic number, indicative of the "great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue," who "stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands" (Rev 7:9). Their white robes and palm branches are symbols of joy and victory.

Our reading from Revelation, also called The Apocalypse, both of which mean to unveil, to show what was hidden, is fitting as we gather this evening to celebrate the joyful solemnity of All Saints, or in older English, All Hallows. So we are gathered to rejoice in our participation in the communio sanctorum (the communion of holy people and things).

I cannot help but note that it was on the Solemnity of All Saints, 1 November 1946, that a young Karol Wojtyla, who will be raised to the altar as a saint next April under the name Pope John Paul II, was ordained to the priesthood, in which ordination he received, as do all priests at their ordination, another anointing with sacred chrism, but this time on their hands, which are used to carry out their priestly ministry.

Most of all, the solemnity of All Saints exists to remind each of us of our vocation, our divine call, to holiness, which call we received in Baptism and had strengthened in Confirmation, is renewed in the Sacrament of Penance, and for which we are strengthened and fortified by our reception Christ in the Eucharist. It was Pope John Paul II who taught us that holiness, Christ-likeness, arising from our Christian initiation, is our primary vocation, and that the means to this end are our state of life, whether lay or ordained, married or single, along with the work we engage in daily.

In our Gospel this evening, taken from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and familiar to us all as "the Beatitudes," which constitute the core of Christian discipleship, we are taught in detail how we are to live our vocation, which is not an easy row to hoe.

I realize that this can easily come across as very anodyne, very easy, very coherent. But let’s be honest, the Beatitudes, at least for most of us, are a huge provocation, one that often throws life into chaos because how Christ calls us to live is so much at odds with how we are inclined to live, with how we are conditioned to live, very often with how we want to live. To be provoked is to be called out, to be challenged to live our calling, which is to holiness, to Christ-likeness. To cite only one example of many that could be cited, how many times, when you find it difficult to live your vocation in the world because it puts you at odds with others, instead of being angry, combative, argumentative, do you say, "Thank you, Lord Jesus."? Living in this way is evangelism!

As Léon Bloy observed in his novel The Woman Who Was Poor, "There is only one sadness, and that is not to be saints."

My dear friends because of the Father’s great love for us, "we are [His] children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed" (1 John 3:2). It is the saints who not only show us who we are to become, but they show us how we are to become who God intended us to be. So, on this glorious feast of hope, as we celebrate this Eucharist, with the psalmist let us say, "Lord WE are the people who long to see your face," or, in the words of the still-popular song, played and sung so enthusiastically by the great Louis Armstrong, which undoubtedly refers to the “great multitude” from Revelation, "O Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in."

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