Rev. Joseph Keating
Today the Universal Church celebrates the feast of All Saints. Many saints are known to us by name. These men and women are examples of a holy life, and they are worth imitating in our own lives as Christians. Many of them have their own special feast day, which we celebrate throughout the year. But today we celebrate not only the Saints whose names we know, but all Saints. That is, every man, woman and child who has died in the state of grace and is now adoring God in the Kingdom of Heaven. Today is their feast day.
These men and women we call Saints exercised heroic virtue in their earthly lives, and that virtue sprang forth from an identity rooted in Christ. They understood who they were, and their humble obedience to the will of God won them a place around the throne of the Lamb. Therefore, it is a good day to reflect on our own identity as Christians. For, if our lives are rooted in Christ, then one day it will be our feast day too.
In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches us the beatitudes—the traits of a blessed person, or in other words, a Saint. Today I’d like to focus on just the second beatitude: Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
There are so many reasons why we may be mourning today—some serious, some not so serious. Perhaps we are remembering the loss of a family member or friend. Perhaps we’re mourning the loss of a job or even the family pet. Maybe your favorite team lost last week’s game. Whatever the reason, we mourn and grieve whenever we experience some kind of loss.
I think it’s important, especially when our grief comes from the death of a loved one, to let ourselves grieve. It’s very, very sad. And you know who gets sad? Human beings. Yes, if you are human, then you, too, will experience sadness. We all experience sadness; we all need time and space to work thru our grief. It would be incredibly inhuman to rush ourselves or someone else thru the grieving process—to “just get over it and get on with life.” To pretend that everything is fine. No, it takes time for everything to be fine again. The grief often comes in waves of emotion, ebbing and flowing.
When we are in the midst of grief and spiritual desolation, we may think we will never get out of it. We think it’s going to be like this forever. But it doesn’t last forever, and that is the good news we hear in this beatitude. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
From where will this comfort come? “How long, O Lord?” we tend to ask. I think it comes to us in the form of hope—and not just some vague optimism that things are going to get better any day now, but a firm and founded theological hope.
The Theological Virtue of Hope is that by which we have certainty of the existence and goodness of Heaven. It is a joy in the present about a good thing in the future. It brings comfort and peace to the confused and mourning soul. In Christian art, Hope is symbolized by a ship’s anchor, and that is a perfect symbol, because it is by hope that we grab onto something secure and immovable in the midst of turbulent and stormy times. Hope grabs onto the reality of Heaven and keeps us from drifting away in the waves of grief.
This virtue of hope, which we all receive at our baptism, gives us joy in this life that the blessed souls of the just are already experiencing the Beatific Vision—gazing forever upon the unveiled face of God. They are already experiencing that comfort promised by Jesus.
The virtue of hope reassures us that we belong in their company, and they so greatly desire for us to join their ranks. They desire it so much that they constantly pray for us, and we rely on their prayers. This hope also reassures us that, by the mercy of God, we will see our loved ones again in that Communion of the Saints.
The virtue of hope belongs particularly to this day, for we celebrate all the saints who have finished the race and won the unfading crown of glory. Thru hope, they have conquered this world, and so can we.
But where did the saints draw their hope from? Certainly, most of them had much harder lives than any of us. Why, then, in the abundance and comfort of our time, do so many lose sight of their goal, that is, lose hope in Heaven? It is because we don’t really believe who we are. We forget all too easily, with so many distractions, who we are as creatures and as children of God. We get sidetracked by our jobs, our sports, our hobbies, or our addictions. We live by the motto: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” instead of living by the second beatitude—blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
The truth is that we are not created for unbridled pleasure in this world. We are not in a race to check off all the experiences on a bucket list. And that’s because we know that we don’t fade into oblivion when we die. We have an immortal soul, and that soul belongs to Jesus Christ. We have an identity, and that identity is rooted in Jesus Christ.
Christian, remember who you are! If we have been baptized in Christ, then we belong to God the Father as his adopted sons and daughters. Our identity is that we are children of God. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1)
As we heard in the first reading, God singles out those servants who are marked with his seal on their foreheads, and he instructs the angels to save them from the coming wrath. Brothers and sisters, we are those servants. We each received that sign at our baptism, when the minister traced the sign of the cross on our foreheads, claiming us for Christ. Furthermore, at our baptism we wore a white garment—a precursor to the white robes we will wear in the kingdom heaven, before the throne of the Lamb, singing: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne and from the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:10) It is the Lamb who tells us who we are.
Now, I have been speaking in a lot abstract terms, but it has real meaning in concrete events. Today, so close to Election Day, we live in a political climate that is increasingly marked by “identity politics.” Politicians and activists rush to pigeon-hole voters into categories defined by race, gender, and sexual orientation. Their goal is to separate us from one another, appeal to our base instincts of tribal loyalty, and then pit us against each other.
But that’s not Christianity. That’s not Catholicism. The word “catholic” actually means “universal.” And so, the words “Catholic Church” are perhaps best translated as “The Church for Everybody.” We are a body that welcomes people of all races, both genders, and even those who struggle with abnormal sexual orientations. We are united as one body, despite holding varying political ideals. And the reason we still hold together, despite all this potential for discord, is that we share something much more fundamental, much more rudimentary than even our DNA. We are children of the Most High God. We share a Father in God. We share a brother in Jesus. We share a soul in the Holy Spirit. We share a mother in Mary. We share a body, the Body of Christ, and we are all individually members of it. That’s who we are. That’s our identity. We are Christians, and we are invited to sainthood.
Brothers and sisters, do we fall for the trap of trying to define ourselves? Do we define ourselves by our possessions, our job, our children’s extracurricular activities, or our political party? Do we define ourselves by our nationality, race, gender, or sexual orientation? Do we define ourselves by our friends, our position on the team, our height and weight, our girlfriend or boyfriend, our Instagram photos? If all of that were taken away in an instant, could you say with confidence, “I am still a child of the Most High God”?
Christian, you are marked with the seal of salvation! You have worn and you will wear the white robe of the saints. You belong to Christ. Don’t let those other things define you, for those things are passing away.
This All Saints’ Day, be who you were meant to be: flourishing, virtuous, holy. Be God’s son; be God’s daughter. Be a saint!