Sunday, November 1, 2009

Solemnity of All Saints

Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12aIn his Revelation, St. John gives us a vision of the saints in heaven:
“a great multitude, which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
This redeemed multitude
worships before the throne of God, crying out,
“Salvation comes from our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
It is a glorious vision of the saints
caught up in the worship of God.
And one of the most striking things about it
is the way in which the saints are envisioned
as being not just in the presence of God,
but in the presence of each other.

Our Catholic tradition tells us
that heaven is an eminently social place:
it is not a matter of the isolated soul
alone with God for eternity.
Rather, part of the joy of the saints in God’s kingdom
is the joy that they feel in being with each other.
St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Italian mystic,
wrote that the saints,
“rejoice and exult,
sharing each other’s goodness with loving affection. . . .
For when a soul reaches eternal life,
all share in her good and she in theirs. . . .
They experience a new freshness in their exultation —
a mirthfulness, a jubilation, a gladness —
in knowing this soul” (The Dialogue, ch. 41).
So the great multitude rejoice not simply in knowing God,
but in knowing the incredible varieties of goodness
that God’s grace has made possible in human beings:
the mother rejoices in the martyr’s courage
and the martyr in the mother’s patience;
the pastor rejoices in the scholar’s knowledge
and the scholar in the pastor’s prudence.
The saints bring with them the particular gifts
that God’s grace has poured into their lives
and then they share those gifts of holiness with each other,
so that each may delight in the goodness of others.

In our family there is an All Saint’s tradition that, to me,
embodies this sharing of gifts that we find in the saints.
On the eve of the solemnity of All Saints
our children go (or, at least did when they were little)
from house to house in our neighborhood
while dressed in costumes representing the multitude
drawn from every nation, race, people, and tongue
(you know: pirates, princesses and zombies)
and collect gifts, known as “treats,” from the neighbors.
Perhaps you have heard of such traditions;
your families may even have similar customs.
The highpoint of this traditional celebration of All Saints
has always been the point after the gifts have been collected
and the children gather at someone’s house,
dump out their bags on the floor,
and begin trading:
Kit Kats exchanged for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups;
bars of dark chocolate for bars of milk chocolate;
Circus Peanuts for. . .
well, you might just have to hang on to those.
And what is most remarkable is that,
aside from occasional bickering,
this exchange is characterized by great excitement and happiness.
And it is not just the excitement and happiness
of trading up for better candy,
but it is really the excitement and happiness
of being together with friends
and of both giving and receiving.
To borrow words from Catherine of Siena,
it is an occasion of mirthfulness, jubilation and gladness
as people rejoice and share in the gifts that others have received.
What more appropriate way to celebrate the saints
than to joyfully share our gifts with one another,
for this is what the saints do for eternity.

Last week Fr. Rich spoke about how our financial support of our parish
ought be something that we do not out of guilt, but out of gratitude.
I would go so far as to say that it should be an occasion
of mirthfulness, jubilation and gladness,
because it is a chance to take what God has given us
and to share it with each other.
Both our first and second collections are ways in which
we acknowledge God’s gifts to us
by sharing them with others.
In our second collection we share them with those outside our parish
who are most in need of material assistance,
and in our first collection we contribute to supporting the parish structures
that make our ministries possible:
keeping salaries paid and lights on and boilers heating.
The money we give makes it possible for us
to gather as a community of worship,
to be an image of God’s kingdom,
where the saints cry out in concert,
“Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever.”
Indeed, it not only makes this worship and community possible,
but in the offering of our gifts to God and to each other
we are engaged in an act of worship
and the building up of our community.
We are doing what the saints do for all eternity in God’s kingdom.
So it is appropriate that we do it together.

In a minute the ushers will pass out offertory pledge cards
and I will ask you to fill them out.
You are, of course, free to do so or not:
no one will twist your arm;
God will not spurn you;
the parish will not have to close its doors.
But what if we think of it not as paying our dues or paying a bill
or even making a contribution to a good cause,
but rather think of ourselves as children sitting on the floor
sharing their Halloween candy;
think of ourselves as the saints in heaven
sharing the gifts of God’s grace with each other.
It is an occasion of mirthfulness, jubilation and gladness.
Why would we not want to join in?