After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Today is the Solemn Feast of All Saints, on which day the Church praises God by honoring all the saints in Heaven, that “great multitude, which “no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” who have achieved their life’s goal, the beatitude of seeing God in the Kingdom of Heaven, the goal Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel on the Beatitudes. Throughout the liturgical year, the Church honors her exemplary saints, canonized for our admiration and imitation so that we can make our way to Heaven with their assistance.
However, today the Church enlarges our vision so that we focus on “the great multitude” marked with the seal of God, holding their palms of victory and wearing their white robes of holiness, all the saints in His Kingdom. This great feast of All Saints is established to stir up our admiration of this great communion of saints, and to kindle our hope to one day be among their number. At times the great saints we honor throughout the year, the virgins and martyrs, the confessors and others marked by great sanctity already in this world, may seem too elevated for us to hope to be like them. But today the Church holds up all the saints, those who we may see as more like us in their weaknesses and failings. We gain hope when we confess that these ordinary human beings like ourselves clung to God, received his Grace, and struggled against their weakness and failures and at last won though by God’s mercy and grace to become glorious members of that great body that prostrates themselves before God and cry our eternally, “Blessing and glory, wisdom
and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Is that not, objectively, life’s goal for every child of God, reborn by Baptism, to be among that Heavenly Communion of Saints and enjoy God forever and ever? But is that goal also subjectively my personal goal? Is that my true goal in life, your true goal in life, or are we too caught up in, or distracted by the world and its goods to truly have Heaven as our life’s goal?
Perhaps many can identify at times with those now famous words from William Wordsworth’s Sonnet:
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Of course, Wordsworth was not just a Romanticist who was caught up in the love of nature; he knew that the divine beauty was to be discovered in nature by the sensitive soul. He is quite insightful in saying that “getting and spending” lays waste our powers of seeing in nature what is ours in terms of its own grandeur and beauty. But as a Christian, he knows that the damage is far worse, for not only do we lose our capacity to see the glory of God in nature, but more importantly we lose our desire to see the infinitely greater glory of the God in Christ, who created nature and whose beauty is only dimly reflected in the great beauty of the natural world. The worldly Christian might change that third verse to “Little we see in God that is ours!” And that is why we do not set our life’s goal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh truly, as Wordsworth concludes “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
The saints in heaven, all the saints, from the greatest to the least, definitely at some point in their lives made heaven’s glory, the vision of God, their life’s quest. It may not have been in a dramatic moment of conversion as we see in the lives of certain saints, but there had to be a turning toward God that was reflected in the practical way they lived in this world. Thus there are markers that at least we should be able to note in ourselves as to whether our life’s goal is to be among the Communion of Saints or something less, a sordid boon, as Wordsworth puts it.
Today we should ask ourselves this question, what does God see in me as my goal of my life, what does my life reveal to God, if not to me about the true nature of my goal in life? Does God see me taking aim at heaven, or does he see me living primarily for this world, that is, that the world is too much with me to give God much more than lip service?
How many Catholics today, for instance, see skipping Mass on Sunday and holydays as a minor issue, as if the worship of God is less important than some earthly business, like sleep, or Golf, or a picnic, or whatever. Can a person with this attitude honestly believe that his or her life’s goal is truly Heaven, that God and God’s Kingdom is first in his or her life? Objectively, we are already a member of the Communion of Saints, and the heavenly Saints join with us in every act of worship, especially the Mass. They pray for us and we pray to them. How could we say that Heaven is our true goal, if we ignore the company of Heaven here on earth?
Or then there is the matter of confession. If a person is willing to live in serious sin for months or years, because confession would mean having to change one’s life, what does that say about the person’s ultimate goal in life?
Or if I rarely pray but spend countless hours on sports and other forms of entertainment, what does that say about my purpose in life? Do I think Heaven is just another form of entertainment and God is the one who is to entertain me? And so on.
But sooner or later, hopefully, we are jolted into seeing that life is more than eating and drinking, entertainment, the pursuit of wealth, whatever, and that jolt is often some form of suffering. Indeed, some people are telling pollsters that the economic problems of our nation has had at least one good result in their lives; it made them rethink what life is really all about, what really counts for happiness, what is really worth pursing as the goal of life.
You and I have been made God’s children by our Baptism. We are already, as John says in today’s second reading, children of God, who hope to be with God and with the Heavenly saints forever. Any other goal but seeing God one day face to face is unworthy of a true child of God. In heaven, our victory song will be eternal and it will be based upon the fact that we have “survived [the test] the time of great distress; have washed .. [our] robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” And so even now, here on earth we should do today, on All Saints Day, as Jesus commands, “Rejoice and be glad…!” And why should we rejoice? “For your reward will be great in heaven.” That is our true hope, to be among the heavenly saints and to sing forever the words we heard tonight from the Book of Revelation: Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”