All Saints Day
Preached November 1, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
I will begin with a comment on Halloween. There is a lot of controversy about Halloween. Some Christians say that celebrating Halloween is a sin. I will put it this way, celebrating Halloween without celebrating All Saints Day and without ordering the celebration of Halloween to the celebration of All Saints Day is a sin. The celebration of Halloween without All Saints Day is the celebration of this world, without the hope of heaven.
Halloween has become one of the most popular holidays in the country; vast amounts of money are spent on the celebration of Halloween, a celebration that is anticipated and prepared for the whole month of October. Yet, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of those who celebrate Halloween have little or no idea that the name means “The Eve of All Saints (Hallows) Day.” And the vast majority do not celebrate All Saints Day and do not even believe in the reality of the Saints; the vast majority are really clueless when it comes to eternal life and even if they have some faith, their lives show little real desire for heaven.
Some celebrations are more innocent in character some less so, but the general direction is away from innocence towards the darkness. Yesterday I read an article about Halloween by a Catholic writer who observed that the adult costumes, at least, found in the Halloween stores fall into three main groups: “deviant sex, twisted torture, and jaded heroism”. (“Dressing up as ourselves for Halloween”, Sean Fitzpatrick, www.crisismagazine.com, October 31, 2019) We could sum up this dark spirit of Halloween by reference to the new movie “The Joker”. It reflects a fascination with evil and identification with evil as what is truly interesting, what is truly exciting, what is truly ‘living’ – even though many of the characters are rather ‘undead’ than alive. Indeed, evil must have a certain surface fascination, the glitz of fool’s gold, in order to attract, but in the end, evil is quite dull, lifeless, and boring, like a rotting corpse. Indeed, the ‘diversity’ that is so celebrated today turns out to be dully uniform, all that is truly interesting and beautiful is excluded from this meaningless ‘inclusiveness’.
I have before me a copy of the Roman Missal that I use for the prayers at the chair and it contains for All Saints Day a beautiful icon of the saints. They are not cookie cutter saints, a white robed but faceless army. Rather we see them clothed with splendid garments, each one distinct, their faces revealing their character, but united by the gold of the glory of God. The icon shows us the splendor that was hidden in the lives of the saints as they walked their path in this world and is now revealed in their heavenly splendor. This is the splendor that should be shown forth in the Mass vestments of the priest.
The saints are truly men and women of character and having true character have full and rich personalities; they are most fully human, with a humanity that has been made godlike according the pattern given us in Jesus Christ, God and Man.
Our Psalm response today is: Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Those who celebrate Halloween without All Saints Day do not long to see the face of God. Contrariwise, the saints are the people who made their pilgrim way with an ardent longing to see the face of God. They are no longer in this world and their presence in heaven stands as a judgment and condemnation of this world and those who make this world to be the whole of life.
In this light, let me now make a few comments on the readings we have just heard.
The first reading shows us two groups of saints; the ‘elite’, the Marine Corps of the saints, the 144,000, and the vast multitude that no one can count.
Elsewhere we learn that the 144,000 are characterized by the perfection of chastity, the truthfulness of the speech, and their conformity to the Lamb, Jesus Christ. (cf. Rev 14:4-5) Here we learn that they are sealed by the holy angels, the messengers of God, the ministers of God. The seal speaks of the baptismal character, an indelible mark on the soul; this is not the bare character of baptism, that can be betrayed by sin, but the character as a sign of the inner life of sanctifying grace, received in baptism; in them the life is so full that it radiates outwardly in character of the person’s life and conduct. Their life on earth was deeply marked, indelibly stamped, and truly characterized, outside and in, by the character of baptism. This is the sort of person who, during the course of his earthly life, people truly declared, “He is a saint.”
We should aspire to such a life, it is a most noble ambition, the only truly noble ambition, and indeed God is worth it. Nevertheless, when we contemplate these saints we could easily be discouraged. When, however, we look to the great multitude that no one could count, our hope is renewed and lifted up.
This quality of this multitude is revealed in their white garment, another symbol of baptism, as indeed we received a white garment in our baptism. The white garment stands for the purity and innocence of the life of sanctifying grace. Nevertheless, their garment has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb. That means that the garment had been stained after being received in baptism and needed to be washed and restored to its original purity.
If the 144,000 are characterized by the purity and perfection of their baptismal life, from beginning to end, the great multitude is characterized by their life of repentance whereby that purity is restored. Correlative to their repentance, which is practiced sacramentally in confession, is their passing through the great distress, the great purification, the trial of suffering, whereby they are conformed to the Lord’s Cross. The Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, washes them through the grace of the sacrament and through the grace of the suffering.
Elevated over both the 144,000 and the great multitude we need to mention the Queen of all the Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in place of baptism had the much greater gift of her Immaculate Conception.
These are all the people who during their earthly pilgrimage longed to see God’s face.
Towards the beginning of his Gospel, St. John writes: No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him. (Jn 1:18) Yet this is what is promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the vision that the saints now enjoy in heaven.
In today’s 2nd reading we heard about this promise. Through the grace of baptism we are now truly the children of God, but what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. We will not see him with our eyes, but we will see him with our minds, just as we now see clearly that 2+2=4.
The life of the Christian is a pilgrimage from baptism, in which we are reborn as children of God, to the vision of God’s face in eternal life. It is a pilgrimage filled with hope characterized by the longing to see God’s face.
St. John adds, Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. He washes his robes in the blood of the Lamb. Our pilgrimage is a path of purification.
All of this, then, points us to blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God, as the center of all the beatitudes.
A little girl once asked me, “What does God look like.” I answered that God can only be seen by pure minds; a pure mind is the mind of a person in which mind and heart are one in the love of truth, Jesus Christ. (cf. Jn 14:6) The mind is what makes us open to reality and God, the creator and origin of all things is the supreme reality; the heart directs all our desire towards the goal.
The obstacles to purity are the blindness of pride and the turbulence of passion. Pride and passion turn our hearts away from the love of truth and sends our desires astray in the pursuit of egoistic agendas. As a result, our mind becomes fogged up or even blinded, closed off to the fulness of reality, a slave of our pride and passion. Instead of living understanding, we are left with robotic calculation.
When we are purified of pride and passion, we will become like Jesus Christ, meek and humble of heart. (cf. Mt 11:29)
The first beatitudes mark out the path of purification that must begin in total dependence upon God (poverty of spirit), repentance of sin (the sorrow that is blessed), control of anger (meekness), hunger to do God’s will as Jesus fed upon doing the will of his Father (this is true righteousness) (cf. Jn 4:34), and the practice of mercy that opens our hearts to receive the mercy of God.
The remaining two beatitudes flow from purity of heart. Pride and passion set men one against the other in conflict. Only the lovers of truth, who are freed of pride and passion, have the peace of Christ in their hearts and radiate that peace to others.
Nevertheless, those who only celebrate Halloween, those who belong to this world, those who are slaves of pride and passion, will always be filled with envy and hatred towards the pure of heart. Hence the pure of heart will always be persecuted.
That very persecution is one more reminder that we do not have a lasting home here. We have been made for the life of heaven and the company of the saints.
Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.