Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
All Saints Day 2015
November 1, 2015
Rev 7:2-4.9-14, Ps 24, 1 Jn 3:1-3, Mt 5:1-12
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The Point of Human Life
Today’s feast is 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 who 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, “making themselves pure as [God] is pure,” holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect. 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 are 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.” The first thing we celebrate today is God’s free gift of salvation. Holiness and Heaven are always and exclusively a gift of God beyond anything we can merit. 24 years ago today, in a homily to the first Sisters of Life, Cardinal O’Connor stressed that we cannot make ourselves holy. He compared the process of our sanctification to what he had observed happen to the Sistine Chapel, when the centuries of corrosion, grime, candle soot and leaks that had deteriorated Michelangelo’s frescoes had finally been cleansed to reveal a tremendous colorful, dazzling, luminous freshness. A similar process has to happen in us, he proclaimed, and it happens through his mercy: “All the power of the Christ who was ripped to shreds on the Cross just pours into our souls, washes them, scrapes them, cleans them, purifies them and does what to us? Makes us saints. That’s what holiness is. That’s what being a saint is. Having the power of Christ just pervade our very beings, wash our very bones, scrub our souls clean to the point of dazzling whiteness.” He went on to add, “Holiness does not consist of never having sinned. Holiness consists in letting Christ redeem us. … We can’t make ourselves holy. All that we can do is to open ourselves up to Christ to let Him scrub us clean, to let Him make us bright, shining.” We prayed significantly in today’s opening Collect, “Almighty ever-living God, by whose gift we venerate in one celebration the merits of all the Saints, bestow on us, we pray, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you for which we earnestly long.” And the Lord longs for that total reconciliation with us more than all of us alive today for it with him!
But as much as Heaven and holiness are God’s gift that we cannot earn, God out of love has made them the result of our choice, the result of our acting on that longing. 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 attempt to seduce 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 chosen him who already had chosen them. They are the ones whose example the Church puts before us today and who are interceding for us that we might choose as they did.
Following Jesus on the Path of Holiness
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers us around him and presents to us anew 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 majority of people in the world believe will make us happy. Jesus’ words present us with the choice on which our lives now and forever hinge. Let’s listen to him as if we’re hearing him for the first time:
- 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 their own and 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 spiritually worldly shout 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 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,” and “Make them never stop regretting getting on our bad side,” 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 summarizes, “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!” 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, who seem to be throwing away your lives compared to those who are obtaining fame, and property and power: Blessed are you, Jesus says, because the kingdom of heaven is yours!”
Jesus’ words about the path to heaven present a constant challenge that demands a deep and abiding conversion of spirit, because so many, including so many of us Catholics, so many priests, so many consecrated men and women don’t really strive to live this way, don’t really stake our lives on what Jesus says, 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 many blind guides calling us to follow them down various earthly dead ends and the voice of the Good Shepherd whispering to us to take his hand and he leads us through the dark valleys to the eternal verdant pastures where he seeks to rejoice with us forever.
Consecrated Men and Women: Icons of the Beatitudes, the Choice for Holiness, in the World
Consecrated men and women are particularly important in helping the whole world to learn how to follow Christ along the path of the Beatitudes to eternal beatitude. During this Year of Consecrated Life, it’s key for those who are consecrated as well as for the entire Church to ponder this connection between the consecrated life and the beatitudes, between the consecrated life and holiness.
In St. John Paul II’s great apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, he wrote, “A particular duty of the consecrated life is to remind the baptized of the fundamental values of the Gospel, by bearing ‘splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transfigured and offered to God without the spirit of the Beatitudes.’ The consecrated life, by its very existence in the Church, seeks to serve the consecration of the lives of all the faithful, clergy and laity alike.” The consecrated, St. John Paul II added, “not only make Christ the whole meaning of their lives, but strive to reproduce in themselves, as far as possible, ‘that form of life which he, as the Son of God, accepted in entering this world.” Christ as we know not only proclaimed the Beatitudes but lived them. In a special way, consecrated men and women are supposed to reproduce Christ’s blessed life. Consecrated men and women are summoned and strengthened by him to manifest the paradoxical and surpassing happiness that comes through:
- Spiritual poverty for the sake of the pearl of great price of the kingdom of heaven;
- Evangelical chastity and purity of heart that allows them to see God in others and reverence him;
- Holy obedience through the strength of meekness;
- The power of Christ’s reconciliation through becoming icons of his mercy, through following the Prince of Peace in becoming peacemakers themselves and mourning over the lack of peace in souls, in families, in communities, in the Church, in the world.
- The longing to see God’s face, the longing for the kingdom of heaven, through hungering and thirsting for holiness and through recognizing that it’s worth it to suffer everything, including persecution and martyrdom, out of love for him who has suffered everything for us, and who has shown that no suffering at all can separate us from his love.
The Consecrated Life is all geared toward this beatitude. It’s meant to open us up to the power of Christ and his holiness radiating through a man or a woman who says fiat to Christ in all of these ways, not just once but continuously. Pope Benedict noted that when Jesus prayed to God the Father during the Last Supper, saying, “Consecrate them in the truth. … I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth,” that the word for “consecration” can also be fittingly translated “sanctification” and “sacrifice.” Jesus sanctifies himself so that we may be sanctified in truth, the truth of his Word, the truth of the real, real world that will last forever. Jesus sacrifices himself so that we might become part of that sacrifice of love, that perfection of charity (perfectae caritatis) that is holiness. And Jesus during the first Mass, into which we enter every Mass, is praying to the Father precisely for our sanctity, so that this day, November 1, may forever be our feast with him and all his holy ones.
To enter into Jesus’ consecration is a call of all the baptized. It is especially important, however, that those who through the evangelical counsels have entered conspicuously into Jesus’ consecration make visible in the world their union of love with the poor, chaste, and obedient Bridegroom who came so that we might have life to the full, the Good Shepherd who gav his life to promote and defend our lives. St. John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata, “All are equally called to follow Christ, to discover in him the ultimate meaning of their lives, until they are able to say with the Apostle: ‘For to me to live is Christ’ (Phil 1:21). But those who are called to the consecrated life have a special experience of the light that shines forth from the Incarnate Word. For the profession of the evangelical counsels makes them a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the community of the brethren and for the world.”
Eschatological Signs that Respond to Today’s Greatest Crisis
And consecrated men and women do this in a special way by showing all of us a longing for Christ’s kingdom, to try to leaven earthly life with the values of the kingdom and even more importantly to become signposts pointing toward God, toward heaven, toward eternity.
St. John Paul II said in Vita Consecrata, “It is the duty of the consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendor before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty that alone can fully satisfy the human heart. In the consecrated life, then, it is not only a matter of following Christ with one’s whole heart, of loving him “more than father or mother, more than son or daughter” (cf. Mt 10:37) — for this is required of every disciple — but of living and expressing this by conforming one’s whole existence to Christ in an all-encompassing commitment that foreshadows the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time and in accordance with the different charisms.”
And so today as we celebrate all the saints who have come before us, we need to recognize that they’re all encouraging us, in unison, to allow Christ through his consecration to make us the saints of our era just as much as they allowed him to make them the saints of their own. Every crisis that the world and the Church face, St. Josemaria once said, is a “crisis of saints,” and the problems that the Church now faces requires that you and I eventually trade our prefixes of “sister” or “father” for the only one that in the final analysis really matters, “saint.” St. John of the Cross once told young Carmelite novices in his “Degrees of Perfection,” “Remember always that you came here for no other reason that to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul that does not lead you to sanctity.”
This call to continual conversion and holiness, St. John Paul II wrote, “in the first place challenges the consecrated life. In fact the vocation of consecrated persons to seek first the Kingdom of God is first and foremost a call to complete conversion, in self-renunciation, in order to live fully for the Lord, so that God may be all in all.” And he stressed how urgent and important it is for consecrated men and women to die to themselves in this way so that the Risen Christ may live within them. “Today we have a tremendous need of saints,” St. John Paul II said, “for whom we must assiduously implore God. The Institutes of Consecrated Life, through the profession of the evangelical counsels, must be conscious of their special mission in today’s Church, and we must encourage them in that mission.” He went on to say that this is the only reason why various Institutes of Consecrated Life exist, to make saints and to form those who can help lead others to sanctity: “The Church has always seen in the profession of the evangelical counsels a special path to holiness. The very expressions used to describe it — the school of the Lord’s service, the school of love and holiness, the way or state of perfection — indicate the effectiveness and the wealth of means that are proper to this form of evangelical life, and the particular commitment made by those who embrace it. It is not by chance that there have been so many consecrated persons down the centuries who have left behind eloquent testimonies of holiness and have undertaken particularly generous and demanding works of evangelization and service.”
I’ll never forget one of the most powerful, indeed shocking lines I ever heard. It was in the early 90s, while I was working in Washington, DC, and generally spending most of Sunday praying at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. One afternoon I went to the crypt where Cardinal Hickey was celebrating the final profession of several Missionaries of Charity. At one part of the ceremony, according to the approved rite, he told them that if they keep the rule and live by the vows they had professed, “I promise you heaven.” That’s what the Church essentially says to those in every institute when it approves a rule, that it is a path to sanctification and to the sanctification of others, and if a person keeps it not just on the outside but on the inside, heaven, by God’s mercy, is guaranteed.
And so today as we come to enter into Jesus’ consecration for our consecration, his sanctification for our holiness, his sacrifice for our life-long holocaust of charity, we ask him through the intercession of all the saints, to give us all the grace he knows we need so that we may become men and women who are living signs of true Beatitude and so that the work of sanctification he has begun in us might be brought to the fulfillment on the day of Christ Jesus! The Holy Spirit through St. Paul told us, “This is God’s will: your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3). On this unique All Saints Day taking place within the Year of Consecrated Life, we respond to God with confident prayer and filial cooperation saying “Thy will be done!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14
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
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
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.
Alleluia MT 11:28
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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.”