All Saints & All Souls

Readings: All Saints | All Souls

“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.”

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.”

This weekend we celebrate two closely-related feasts: The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, which we commonly call All Souls Day. I say they are closely-related feasts because they show the journey we are on to our salvation. We know that we are not at home in this world: our true citizenship is in heaven, and we are but travellers through this world, hoping to come at last to the Kingdom of Heaven. The people that we know for sure are in heaven are saints, and so it is our quest in this world to become saints. Our goal is to come to perfection and get caught up in the life of God, so that we can live forever with him one day.

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates all those men and women who have lived heroic lives and have attained the goal of perfection in holiness and complete unity with God. We know they are in heaven either because they died a martyr’s death, giving their lives for Christ and pouring out their blood just like he did, or we know of miracles that have been attributed to their intercession that occurred after their death, indicating they are with God in heaven. These saints may already be canonized saints, or perhaps they are people we don’t even know about who have attained that perfection. It is conceivable that we don’t know every saint, because ultimately God knows whether one has attained perfection or not. All Saints Day allows us to celebrate all those saints we don’t know about in addition to the ones we do know.

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, or All Souls Day, is an opportunity to pray for all those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, as well as those whose faith God alone knows. On this day, we especially pray for those who have not attained full perfection in this life, either because of venial sins or attachment to mortal sins, and we endeavor to help them through prayer and through the Sacrifice of the Mass. This is what Purgatory is about, and far from being a punishment, Purgatory is understood to be a gift through which a soul is cleansed through the sanctifying action of our Lord so that they can fully enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

As I said, these feasts are closely related, and during their observance we as a church remember three ranks of saints. There are the saints associated with the Church Triumphant, and these would be the saints in heaven, those who have overcome the power of the evil one and have been perfectly united with God. There are the saints associated with the Church Suffering, those who are in purgatory and especially those who have no one to pray for them, for whom we pray that our Lord would give them the salvation and rest they long for. And there are the rest of us, the saints associated with the Church Militant, including you and me, who are doing our best to overcome evil in this world, and to unite ourselves with our God so that we may come to everlasting life.

What we really celebrate in these days is the joy of salvation. God made us all for himself, and he wills that every single one of us would be saved. He will not rest until all of this is made right, and all have had a chance to enter into eternal life. This journey of salvation, the quest to become saints, is what our faith life is all about. The goal is not so much to “graduate” from faith formation by receiving all the sacraments. The goal is not to jump through hoops and check off the requirements of the Church. The goal is to become saints, because as far as we know, there are only saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Kingdom of Heaven is where we long to take our rest.

This journey of salvation is wonderfully expressed in one of my favorite hymns, “For All the Saints.” Here is one of the verses:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

So, there’s our mission statement for Lent: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Our righteousness needs to exceed that of everyone else, or we will be missing out on the kingdom of God.

So how far do we go with that?  Love our enemies?  Pray for those who persecute us?  I mean, that’s real easy to hear until we actually think about it, isn’t it?  Those people who gossip about us, cut us off in traffic, make a ruckus in our neighborhoods until all hours of the night, tell off-color jokes in social situations – well it’s nice to hold onto a grudge against them, isn’t it?  And are we supposed to be forgiving of terrorists, and all those people who hate us and our way of life?

Well, yes we are.  We are if we want to be called children of our heavenly Father.  And who doesn’t want that?  Who knows: maybe when we stop letting them irritate us and instead begin to pray for them and even forgive them, maybe then we will start seeing them in a new light.  They might not change, but we will, and we need to be concerned about our relationship with God – that’s what’s really at stake in all these situations.

Who do I need to forgive today?

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Fall is one of those times when we really notice creation.  Leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler, the hours of sunlight are rapidly diminishing.  It makes us grateful for the bits of life that we still see, because we know that the winter is coming and we will be groaning in eager anticipation of spring.

So maybe we can resonate with what St. Paul is saying in today’s first reading.  His basic message is that nothing is perfect yet; we are not where we should be – perfection is still in the future for all of us.  We see that our own lack of perfection has repercussions that touch all of creation.  There will come a time when God fully reveals everything and we will see ourselves and the entire world through God’s eyes.  That is the reward of the Kingdom that we all eagerly hope for. But we are not there yet.  We, along with all of creation, groan in anticipation of what will be revealed in those days.

In Masses for the dead, the Third Eucharistic Prayer says, “There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes.  For seeing you, our God, as you are, we shall be like you for all the ages and praise you without end, through Christ our Lord, through whom you bestow on the world all that is good.”  That’s the promise.  It will be like the mustard seed, come to full growth, that becomes a large enough bush to provide shelter for the birds of the sky.  It will be like yeast mixed through three measures of flour until it leavens the whole batch of dough.

Put very simply, the best is yet to come for all of us, and for all of creation. In these waning days of the Church year, we continue to long – no, groan – for the day when everything will come to fruition and the Kingdom of God will be revealed in all its glory.  We have this as our hope – we don’t see it yet – but as St. Paul says, who hopes for what one sees?  We have hope that one day we will enter into the glory of the Kingdom because we will have become holy by being caught up in the One who is holiness itself.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, abbot and doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Learning to follow the path of perfection is the most important goal of the spiritual life.  How do we get our relationship with God right so that we can live with him forever in heaven?  That was certainly the goal of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, whose feast we celebrate today.

In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux.  His five brothers, two uncles and around 30 of his friends followed him into the monastery.  Within four years a that monastic community, which had been dying, had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot.  The zealous young man was quite demanding, particularly on himself.  A minor health problem, though, taught him to be more patient and understanding.  The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light.

His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known.  More and more he was called upon to settle long-standing disputes.  On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome, and at one point he received a letter of warning from Rome.  He replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece.  If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know.

But his long-standing support of the Roman See was also well known, and shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope.  The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe.  His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured.  The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster.  Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade.  This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.

In striving for perfection throughout his life, Bernard responded to the call of today’s Gospel reading: “Come, follow me.”  That’s our call, too, and reflecting on the life of the saints, like Saint Bernard, can help us to follow that rather demanding path.  One day, we hope that striving for perfection will lead us to eternal life, the goal of all our lives.

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading is one that gives me pause, to say the least.  The whole notion of the measure that we use will be the measure that God uses to measure  is more than a little a little scary. Think about it: how often do we fail to give people a break? How often do we forget that the person who just crossed us may be having trouble at home, or might be facing the illness of a loved one, or any number of things.  Those mitigating circumstances may not excuse bad behavior, but they may explain a lapse in judgment.  God gives us grace when we go through those things; we should do no less.

 

We confess our sins and long to be forgiven, just like Daniel did in today’s first reading. And our God longs to forgive us those sins. But God’s expectation is that the mercy he has shown us will be the mercy we show to others.  We are called to the same perfection that is present in God himself.  The crux of that perfection is love and mercy.  We know what it looks like, because God has given those to us.  We then need to imitate that in our lives.

 

If we would pray with the Psalmist today, “Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins,” then we should be willing to let go of the sins others have committed against us.  It’s not easy, but the letting go frees us in much better ways than vengeance ever could.

 

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

 

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is one that’s certainly very familiar to us.  But if we’re honest, every time we hear it, it must give us a little bit of uneasiness, right?  Because, yes, it is very easy to love those who love us, to do good to those who do good to us, to greet those who greet us.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is right.  There is nothing special about loving those we know well, and we certainly look forward to greeting our friends and close family.

But that’s not what the Christian life is about.  We know that, but when we get a challenge like today’s Gospel, it hits a little close to home.  Because we all know people we’d rather not show kindness to, don’t we.  We all have that mental list of people who are annoying or who have wronged us or caused us pain.  And to have to greet them, do good to them, even love them, well that all seems too much some days.

And yet that is our call.  We’re held to a higher standard than those proverbial tax collectors and pagans that Jesus refers to.  We are people of the new covenant, people redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so we have to live as if we have been freed from our pettiness, because, in fact, we have.  Our parish theme this year is welcoming, and, in the light of today’s Gospel, that means welcoming whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, welcoming all those who are in our path, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.  And we welcome that way because that is how Jesus has welcomed us.

We are told to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That’s a tall order, but a simple kindness to one person we’d rather not be kind to is all it takes to make a step closer.

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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We have been reading the last several days from the very challenging portion of Matthew’s Gospel in which we hear Jesus use the formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you…” Basically, in all of these instructions, Jesus is taking the old Jewish law and cranking it up a notch.  We heard that anger, vengeance and libel are as disastrous as murder.  We heard that lust is as morally reprehensible as adultery.  Today’s take on the formula is a bit different.  It’s more of a positive expression.  We are not to love only our neighbor and hate our enemy, but instead we are to love everyone, just as God loves all of us.

In our first reading, we see what’s at stake here.  Ahab had murdered poor Naboth and taken his vineyard.  He hated his enemy enough to kill him and steal his ancestral heritage.  But the Lord noticed what happened, and through the prophet Elijah brings the consequences of Ahab’s evil to bear.  But because Ahab repented of his evil, God does not bring the evil upon him, but does vow to bring it during the reign of his son.  Which is kind of bad news for his son, I guess.

God is a God of justice, and no evil deed can go unpunished.  The problem, though, is that we don’t have to be as conniving as Ahab to merit the wrath of God.  We are all sinners, and in justice, there must be punishment.  But, thanks be to God, he sent his Son Jesus Christ into our world to take our sins upon himself and suffer the punishment we so richly deserve.  We have been granted grace and mercy through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, and it’s a debt we cannot hope to repay.

But we redeemed and forgiven people have a command from Jesus today: “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  We must strive for perfection in our thoughts, words and deeds.  Will we get there completely?  Not this side of heaven, I think.  But many saints have come very close by joining themselves to Jesus and showing mercy to their brothers and sisters.  Perfection is the goal for all of us, the goal for all of us redeemed and forgiven sinners.