All Saints: So great a cloud of witnesses

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All Saints: Nov. 1, 2011
Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; Ps 24; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt 5:1-12

Actors have televised award ceremonies, like the Oscars. Athletes have championship trophies and rings. Soldiers have ranks and medals. Journalists have the Pulitzer; scientists have the Nobel. Mothers have Mother’s Day. Employees have… Employee of the Month awards. All of these are ways of publicly giving honor and expressing gratitude for a job well-done—and to encourage others to do the same job and so to hope to achieve that honor as well.

Today is the day that we honor All the Saints.

On other days, we focus in on one saint or a group of saints. So, in the past month, we remembered

  • St. Francis of Assisi and his radical devotion to holy poverty;
  • St. Teresa of Avila and the depth of her prayer;
  • the North American Martyrs and their courage in spreading the Gospel even at the cost of their lives;
  • and many more.

With each saint, we listen to their words, learn from their example, and ask for the support of their prayers. We do this day after day.

But today we are blown away by the immensity of all of them together. St. John tells us in the first reading: “I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” It naturally demands the question: “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” “These are they who follow the Lamb.” (Rev 14:4) “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”

What a picture it is! For we know that each of these saints has been courageous; has loved God and every human being with a powerful love; has striven hard to become completely good and never to do wrong. Each one in their earthly lifetimes became completely free, in the way that our Lord Jesus describes in the Beatitudes of the Gospel reading—no longer enslaved to having possessions, or good feelings, or earthly power, or a good reputation. And instead they were pure of heart; kind and merciful; peacemakers, who hungered and thirsted for righteousness. “These are they who follow the Lamb.”

And they are countless in number—now joined together in perfect glorious joy, face to face with the Lord Jesus, whom they have loved above all things, and in delightful communion with each other, singing his praises in profound worship. (CCC 1028)

Now that is an awards banquet! For memories of our earthly awards fade; trophies and medals gather dust. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Every athlete exercises discipline … to win a perishable crown”—of laurel or olives or some other kind of leaves—“but we an imperishable crown.” (1 Cor 9:25) The honors of this earthly life last only so many decades; the reward of heaven given to the saints shines for all eternity.

And so, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1-2):

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

The saints of the Church Triumphant urge us on—to conversion of heart; to faith, to hope, to love. “You can do it!” they say. “You can do it in Christ! Salvation comes from our God! Come and join us!”

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