All Saints Day and Willing the Path to Heaven, November 1, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
All Saints Day 2014
November 1, 2014
Rev 7:2-4.9-14, Ps 24, 1 Jn 3:1-3, Mt 5:1-12

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

This is a feast about the whole point of human life. We’re made for heaven, to spend eternity with God in His kingdom of love. Jesus came down from heaven to show us the way to heaven where he awaits us. Today we celebrate those people who followed Jesus all the way there, the great and famous saints we know about, and the countless quiet saints, probably many of those who passed on to us the faith, who died in the love of the Lord and now live in His love. These are the multitude who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” as we heard in today’s first reading, and brought those white baptismal garments “unstained into the everlasting life of heaven,” like they were instructed to do on the day of their baptism. These are the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,” who have not just been called “children of God” through baptism, as St. John told us in today’s second reading, but have lived as children of God throughout their lives. These are the ones who as we prayed in the Psalm have longed to see God’s face, whose hands were sinless, whose heart was pure, whose desires were not for vain things but for the things of God. These are the ones who have ascended “the mountain of the Lord,” the eternal Jerusalem, and who “stand in his holy place.” These are the ones who who singing today in that holy place the beautiful endless song glimpsed in the passage from Revelation, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

“Salvation belongs to our God.” Yes, heaven is always and exclusively a gift of God beyond anything we can merit. But God out of love has made heaven the result of our choice. To get to heaven, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, we need to will it, we need to desire it, we need to choose it. All who get to heaven choose it and all our choices here are earth are forks leading toward or away from God, in which we set our feet on or away from the path to heaven, to God, to eternity. It is a choice between true, lasting happiness and momentary pleasure; a choice between light and darkness; a choice between good and evil; a choice ultimately between life and death. Jesus came down to show us the way to choose well, and to help us to choose well, but there are competing voices that tell us to choose against what God wants. The saints are those who have chosen well. They are the multitude of men and women, just like us, from every nation and language, who have responded to God’s grace and made it. Today we recall their example and call upon their intercession so that we might follow their good example.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers us around him and presents to us the way to heaven, the way to happiness, the way to holiness. The path that he shows us stands in stark contrast to the path that the world tell us will make us happy. Jesus’s words present us with the choice on which our lives hinge. Let’s listen to him with both ears:

  • The world tells us that to be happy, we have to be rich. Jesus says, rather, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
  • The world tells us we’re happy when we don’t have a concern in the world. Jesus says, on the other hand, “Blessed are those” who are so concerned with others that “they mourn” over the others’ miseries, “for they will be comforted” by him eternally.
  • Worldly know-it-alls say, “You have to be strong and powerful to be happy.” Jesus, in contrast, retorts, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
  • The world says increasingly more each day, “To be happy, you’ve got to have all your sexual fantasies fulfilled” and our culture promotes people like Hugh Hefner and promiscuous, sexy Hollywood vixens as those who have it made. Jesus, however, says “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
  • The world preaches, “You’re happy when you accept yourself,” and espouses an “I’m okay, you’re okay,” brand of moral relativism. Jesus says, though, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness, for his grace and justification, for they will be filled.”
  • The world says, “You’re happy when you don’t start a fight, but finish it” and people from professional wrestlers, to boxers, to generals, to armchair or back-seat presidents shout “No mercy,” Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
  • Our American culture increasingly says, “You’re happy when everyone considers you nice, when you don’t have an enemy in the world” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and “blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” “for their reward will be the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you!”, the Lord Jesus says, “you who are poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, you who mourn, who care for what is right, who are pure in heart, who make peace, you who are persecuted! Blessed are you!” The words of Jesus may seem very strange to us. Jesus exalts those whom the world generally regards as weak. He basically says to us, “Blessed are you who seem to be losers, because you are the real winners: the kingdom of heaven is yours!” Jesus’ words present a constant challenge which demands a deep and abiding conversion of the spirit, a great change of heart, in all of us, because so many, including so many of us Catholics, don’t really strive to live that way, don’t really make the choices that will lead us to eternal blessedness. All Saints Day is an occasion for us to recognize the two voices competing for our hearts, the voice of the Good Shepherd and the voice of blind guides. Putting one’s faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what he says and to act on it — no matter how strange. And choosing to follow Jesus means choosing to reject the seductive claims of the world and of evil, no matter how sensible or attractive they may seem.

Since last All Saints Day, we have had a chance to celebrate with the whole Church some very noteworthy beatifications and canonizations, those whose presence in heaven God has certified, so to speak, by the working of miracles through their intercession and whose recently proclaimed sanctity makes All Saints Day even richer. Their words and their lives are poignant reminders to us that we, like they, are truly called to holiness.

The first is St. John XXIII. He became a saint because he longed for God’s face, he desired holiness. At 16, he wrote in that spiritual diary, “I must always be convinced of this great truth: Jesus wants from me… not just mediocre but supreme virtue. He will not be satisfied with me until I have become, or at least have done my utmost, to become holy.” A few years later, he noted, “From the wonderful graces that God has poured out into my soul from my childhood until now, it is quite obvious that … God wants to make me entirely holy. I must always remain convinced of this. So I must be holy at all costs.” Right before his priestly ordination, he glimpsed that God was calling him to be Saint Angelo Roncalli, not a hologram of any other holy one. “The concept of holiness that I had formed and applied to myself was mistaken,” he wrote in his Journal. “The method was wrong. From the saints I must take the substance, not the accidents, of their virtues. … I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect. God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own lifeblood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances.” After his papal election, he was still hard at work trying to convert the vital sap of the sacraments and the saints into his own spiritual lifeblood. “Everyone calls me ‘Holy Father,’ and holy I must be and will be,” he penned in 1961. “I am indeed very far from attaining this holiness, although my desire and will to succeed in this are wholehearted and determined.” His determination certainly paid off and is an inspiration to us to remember God wants to make us entirely holy, too.

The second figure is St. John Paul II, who beatified and canonized as many people as all his papal predecessors in the previous 500 years combined. Back in 2001, he wrote that he had no hesitation at all in saying that everything the Church does “must be set in relation to holiness.” He added, “It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of … the ‘universal call to holiness’” announced by the Second Vatican Council. “The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. … To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized. But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: ‘This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians.” To say that everything the Church does must be geared to holiness, he said, “is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: ‘Do you wish to receive Baptism?’ means at the same time to ask them: ‘Do you wish to become holy?’ It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48). As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few ‘uncommon heroes’ of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. … The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction.” He went on to describe six different pillars of holiness, gifts of God that if fully lived will help us to obtain that “high standard of ordinary Christian living” that we celebrate today and to which God calls us: grace, prayer, Mass, the Sacrament of Confession, listening to God’s word, and sharing and living God’s word. Today is a day to recommit ourselves to these holy and sanctifying practices.

The third and final figure I’ll mention is Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, the New Jersey native who was beatified less than a month ago. She died as a Sister of Charity at the young age of 26, but the priest who was her spiritual director grasped that she had received great graces from God and so, in order to give testimony to those graces, had had her anonymous write various of the spiritual conferences he was preaching to the sisters in her convent. Those conferences were published after her death in 1927 in a book called “Greater Perfection.” In them she talks about the path to sanctity in simple and straightforward terms. She reminds everyone of us that God’s will for us is not to be a bad Christian, or a mediocre Catholic, but a saint. “The imitation of Christ in the lives of the saints,” she wrote, “is always possible and compatible with every state of life. The saints did but one thing — the will of God. But they did it with all their might. We have only to do the same thing — and according to the degree of intensity with which we labor shall our sanctification progress.” The saints said yes to God and with all their heart and strength sought to respond to God’s help to follow through. And the saints said yes to God not fundamentally out of obedience but out of love. “The reason we have not yet become saints,” Blessed Miriam Teresa said, “is because we have not understood what it means to love. We think we do, but we do not. To love means to annihilate oneself for the beloved. The self-sacrifice of a mother for her child is only a shadow of the love wherewith we should love the Beloved of our soul. To love is to conform oneself to the Beloved in the most intimate manner of which we are capable.” The path to sanctity is to learn how to follow through on Jesus’ command to love others as he has loved us first. And she used to make that love concrete in the way she would appraoch Jesus in Holy Communion. She wrote, “In partaking of the Blessed Sacrament,” she said, “we have a most powerful aid to sanctification. God Himself comes to perfect us, if we but so will.” She did will it and is intercedeing for us to do the same.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness.” Through the Eucharist in which Jesus comes to make us holy, together on this great feast day, surrounded at Mass by all the saints in heaven, that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who are cheering us now on to victory, we ask the Lord help us have that hunger, to have that thirst, that desire for holiness, for living the beatitudes, for saying yes to Christ and no to the standards of the world, so that one day with St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, St. Bernadette, Blessed Miriam Teresa and all the saints we will indeed be filled in heaven forever. Together with St. Paul, all the saints together are shouting to us now, “This is God’s will for you: your sanctification!” (1Ths 4:3). May we will what God wills for us so that we might come to share their eternal joy!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 rv 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”

All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:

“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Reading 2 1 jn 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
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.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Gospel mt 5:1-12a

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”