Solemnity of All Saints

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Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12a

Today is All Saints Day, a great solemnity of the Church and our parish feast day. All Saints Day is set aside by the Church to celebrate those unknown saints, or those saints known only by a few, or only by their loved ones: the fathers, mothers, grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, pastors and priests and religious who lived the gospel faithfully and heroically in the ordinary circumstances of their lives, but who remained the unnoticed ones, whose lives of sanctity have been left unexplored by the Church, but are known and remembered by those who benefited from their faith, their hope, and their love while on earth; those known only by God, who holds them in His heart, and who shares with them the glorious victory of Christ.

This is also our feast, for we are saints of God by virtue of our Baptism. We are the saints militant, still working out our salvation in our daily lives, struggling to be faithful by God’s grace.

John’s visions recorded in the Book of Revelation show him the glory that awaits the saints who are sealed with the mark of Christ and who persevere through the time of distress and wash their robes clean in the blood of Christ.

Four angels are given power to bring judgment on the land and the sea. The land is a symbol of Israel, called by God to be His own people, but corrupted by infidelity. The sea represents the nations of the world, who have rejected God and persecute His faithful. As such, they are under judgment. But the angels are instructed to hold off their destruction of the land and sea until the servants of God are marked with a seal.

What is this mark? What is this seal? The word for “mark” in ancient Hebrew is the letter taw, which is written as an x or a +. The Church Fathers, then, identified the mark with the cross traced on the foreheads of Christians. Think of Ash Wednesday, when we have our foreheads marked with the sign of the cross in ashes, then go about our daily lives while the cross on our forehead gives a silent witness to our dedication to Christ.

The notion of a seal also calls to mind our Baptism. The Catechism explains that Baptism confers “a sacramental character or ‘seal’ by which the Christian shares in Christ’s priesthood and is made a member of the Church …” (CCC #1121). So, John’s vision is one of God protecting His people through the waters of Baptism by which we become His sons and daughters.

In John’s first vision 144,000 are marked from every tribe of Israel. This isn’t a literal number, of course, but represents the restoration of Israel and the new Israel, the Church. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and 144,000 is twelve squared times one thousand, a number that symbolizes completion and wholeness. The number, then, represents the whole Church – all those sanctified in Christ.

A second vision of the Church is given to John, this time of a great multitude that cannot be counted, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stand before God’s throne, before the Ancient of Days, and before the Lamb, who is Christ, the one who offered Himself for the forgiveness of sins. They wear white robes, which represent their righteous deeds, and they carry palm branches, which represent victory. The Jews of Jesus’ day would carry palm branches as they processed into the temple in Jerusalem. Just so, the saints in heaven carry palm branches as they process into the heavenly temple not made by human hands.

They sing the praises of God: “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” One of the twenty-four elders who sit at the throne of God identifies who these are: They are the ones who have survived the time of great distress. They remained faithful in time of torment and persecution. They testified to the salvation won by God and the Lamb. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Salvation comes from God, surely, but human freedom plays an essential role. That is why the elder says they have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb. How did they do this? By accepting the gospel, believing in Jesus, repenting of their sins, and being baptized.

Jesus, too, identifies those who are blessed in His Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. To these belong the Kingdom of heaven. To these belong the promise of salvation, of sharing in the victory of Christ.

Then Jesus changes the subject of His beatitudes from “blessed are they” to “blessed are you.” “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.”

This promise is for us. We are the saints of God. Even now, we are saints by virtue of our Baptism, of the seal by which Christ marked us as His own. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now.” We are God’s children now. Not when we die. Not when we join the saints in heaven. We are saints now. We are His children now. Eternal life began for each of us at our Baptism, and we live that life now. He has given to us the grace of eternal life. It is only for us to wash our robes in His Blood by embracing the life of the gospel, repenting of our sins, believing in Jesus, and living our lives as if our lives did not make sense except that God has called us to be His own, called us to be His children, called us to be His saints.

Live as if you are a child of God, for that is what you are. Live as if you are a saint, for that is what you are. Live in the hope of the glory of the kingdom, for that is the promise of Christ given to His faithful ones. “Remain faithful until death,” Jesus says, “and I will give you the crown of life.” Amen!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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