Oct 31, 2015

Sunday: Our Communion with the Saints

"I had a vision of a great multitude . . .
from every race, nation, people and tongue
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands . . .

(1st reading: Revelation 7: 9)

On our recent trip through Italy one thing our pilgrim group found, as always on such trips, is that you spend a lot of time walking.  And walking and walking. It certainly is one way to work off all the pasta and bread. 

Many of the towns you visit still preserve and use the old medieval narrow streets, the tightly packed buildings for a kind of economy of space, and the many steps you climb into Churches, up streets, into restaurants, in sanctuaries up to the altar to celebrate Mass.  The Italians seem to love steps.  While there may be a practical reason for them I think on this beautiful annual remembrance of our saintly brothers and sisters, we are reminded of our own spiritual journey. 

At times it may be long, at times we may feel we are going down rather than up as we struggle with sin, at times we may be tired and just want to stop and rest, and at other times we may feel like we can just sprint up to the top with little effort.  But, in the end, our desire to become holy people is all about the journey and our climb up steps is, I think, a good analogy of our growth not only in this life but also towards the next. Our life is a walk up steps each time finding ourselves closer to the top. 

 The origins of this beautiful feast lie in the time of the early Christians whose lives were very different than our own.  Today we live, at least in a good part of the world, in relative freedom.  And certainly in this Country, we have come to expect total freedom to exercise our faith openly.  Our Churches thrive, our healthcare institutions provide a significant contribution to American society, our educational institutions identified as "Catholic" are allowed to instruct according to our Catholic/Christian formation, and we can openly wear religious signs without fear of reprisal or arrest. Yet, those early Christians, many of whom were martyred for their faith, found a courage and trust that we too need to emulate.  And there we begin to remember our connection with those heroic Christians before us.

First, is the spiritual family remembrance.  The “communion of saints” we proclaim in our Creed recited every Sunday:  “I believe in the communion of saints.” It is a way of saying that we are united; that there is a unity of connection between the living and the dead.  Those who walked this earth, who now enjoy eternal bliss in the vision of God, are united with us.  Although there remains a great unknown between this life and the next, we know through God’s mysterious will, they and us remain one in Christ. 

We pray, for example, and our prayers are heard.  We aren’t just speaking in empty air or to walls.  And, they hear us and their prayer for us affect our lives here.  Today, we remember this great community of saints and the great ability to communicate to those gone before us. It isn’t magic or sorcery.  It is faith in action. That is why prayer is so essential to our spiritual growth.  Those steps we walk.

The beautiful Gospel passage (Mt. 5: 1-12) present 8 Be - attitudes which lay out for us the character of our Christian lives. The way in which we recognize honorable behavior towards each other and that which brings honor to God.  As Jesus was poor in spirit, kind, humble, merciful, of a single- heart, a peacemaker so too must we be as well.  Yet, like all the saints who stand as our cheering squad in heaven, urging us to never give up on the Christian life and to embrace it with boldness, we are called to do what God asks of us.  But, we know, as well did those saintly brothers and sisters, that only through God’s grace can holiness become active in our lives. For those of us who feel so flawed and recognize our sin we have hope that with God all things are possible. It is God's work, not ours, which graces all of us according to his desire. 

At the same time, tomorrow and for the entire month of November, we remember to pray for all those who have died.  Those who may yet be in a state of further purification (purgatory) and are being prepared to enter the glory of union with God. Our prayer for them, we believe, has an effect as all the good we do for each other brings benefit to the entire Christian common good.

In essence, then, we might say that we climb those steps not alone but along with all those whose ultimate home is in heaven. This is a feast of the entire Church those in this life and those in the next.  It is a celebration of God’s desire to bring all to himself and a mark of God’s abundant mercy that forgives and purifies rather than condemn.

We are all called to live holy lives; to form our lives by the Gospel and to come to know, love and serve the Lord.  Let us pray, with all the holy ones, our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

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. 

(Collect for Solemnity)