Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints: An Invitation to All

Every year on Holy Thursday hundreds and hundreds of priests gather with the Holy Father for the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s. The sight of such a long line of white-robed priests streaming into the Basilica is nothing short of amazing.

But if you think the sight is amazing, imagine what it’s like to be in the procession!

In 2007 I was in Rome on Holy Thursday. I was one of those hundreds of priests processing into St. Peter’s. And I can tell you, being part of the action beats watching from the aisle.

The first reading for today’s great feast of All Saints describes a procession vastly more majestic than anything on earth. The white-robed multitude are not priests, but men and women who now stand before the very throne of the Lamb of God.

There’s no doubt: to join their number is incomparably more wonderful than even the vision given to St. John of their heavenly triumph and glorious worship.

The Solemnity of All Saints, certainly, honours the great heavenly company and gives thanks for the victory of so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But this annual festival is also an opportunity for us “to implore the Divine Mercy through this multitude of powerful intercessors” and to make up for any failure or lack in honouring God in His Saints throughout the year. If we’re honest, most of us will admit that we pay too little attention to the individual saints whose feast days occur throughout the year. And so we have this one solemn day, as “an image of that eternal great feast which God continually celebrates in heaven” with all his saints [Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Nov. 1st].

But amidst all these wondrous aspects of today’s feast, one stands out above all. Today we’re called and challenged by the example of the saints—especially those whom we have known and loved. Today we’re called to imitate their virtues so that we might share in their reward.

I’ve already said that it’s far more exciting to be in a procession than to watch it. And though our second reading is less dramatic than the first—instead of triumphant white-robed martyrs John calls us ‘children of God’—surely that’s even more exciting, even more worthy of our deepest longing and serious effort.

And so we come to the question: what do we have to do to join the great multitude in heaven? What do we have to do be called God’s children?

The Gospel today gives two simple answers. First of all, accept your sufferings in poverty of spirit—which is to say in a spirit of surrender, accepting life’s hardships as the pathway to peace.

Secondly, strive for righteousness, show mercy, live purely, make peace, and persevere through persecution.

Two simple answers, but are they all that simple? Two weeks ago I spoke about facing suffering, and a week ago about prayer, an essential ingredient in that process and in obtaining purity of heart. But what does it mean—really mean, in daily life—to strive for righteousness, show mercy, make peace, and persevere through persecution?

Well, it won’t be long before some of us learn how to persevere under persecution as the state increasingly turns its power against the vulnerable and those who defend the vulnerable, especially Christians. But that’s for another day. Let’s just look at righteousness, which is another name for justice, mercy, and peacemaking. How do these virtues help us join the ranks of the heavenly host? How do they form us as children of God?

Today is the second Sunday of the three our parish is devoting to the themes of stewardship as part of our Covenant of One, an extra hour of prayer, service and sacrificial giving offered to God.

Last week we spoke of prayer, a gift of time. This week we turn to talent, the gifts we have received ourselves. An inventory of our talents, and a willingness to share them generously, is the fastest shortcut to the practical answer “what can I give?”

None of us can devote ourselves equally to the battle for social justice, to merciful compassion to the poor or to the making of peace in a world of conflict. But all of us have God-given gifts we can put to work in one or another of the works of mercy that have traditionally defined the Christian’s service to God and neighbour.

What do I have that equips me to be the hands and feet of Christ? With an answer to that question and a generous spirit, I can make a covenant of one hour that will draw me straight into the mystery of the communion of the saints.

Of course, we need to know not only what we have to give, but also what needs to be given. What we have to offer we learn from self-knowledge; but what is needed we learn from reading the signs of times. In the last few weeks, many members of our parish community have responded to the most startling human crisis of recent times, the implosion of civilized life in Syria and other war-torn countries with the consequent exodus of refugees.

Our parishioners have offered time, talent, and treasure; but a significant number have placed their talents at the service of the refugee families we intend to sponsor. Accountants, language-tutors, pickup-truck drivers, dentists, retirees, lawyers, and many others saw the needs and responded to them. One elderly parishioner came to our refugee meeting and said “I’m going to pray!”

As a pastor of this generous community of Christians, it touches my heart to see this response to the refugee crisis; but as a Christian, it moves me even more because some of those we hope to support are precisely those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We will be peacemakers and comforters for these brothers and sisters, helping to fulfill the promises God makes to them in the words of Jesus we’ve just heard.

There are, of course, numerous other ways to share your talents for the good of others in a covenant of one extra hour each week, and we will suggest some next Sunday.

But this Sunday we focus on the best reason for making a gift of ourselves—because it is a sure path to holiness of life and an eternal inheritance with all the saints. Our generous service will hold us a place in the great line of saints streaming to the throne of God.

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