Sunday, November 2, 2014
All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days
Matthew 5:1-12 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.2He began to teach them, saying:
3“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
6Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The fact of having both feasts on a weekend, when we have more time to spare (the truth is they are the busiest days of the week), made me think of the possibility of joining the readings and the ideas of the two days into a single Lectio. In fact, in Spain and a great number of Hispanic Catholic countries, people usually speak of ”el día de los Santos,” meaning in most cases, the day of “All Souls.” That popular expression reveals the deep unity that exists in such a dual celebration. As for the texts, those for All Saints’ are imposed by the liturgical calendar, but those for All Souls’ are chosen by each celebrant or community. The combination of readings is intended to convey a message that brings together the double dimension of our celebration into one Lectio. In fact, we are dealing with a single reality - that of Christians who are on the other side of human existence. The group of “saints” is composed of the men and women who, according to the traditions of old, or the solemn declarations of the present, we believe to be already in the presence of God, contemplating his glory. The group of “souls” is that of the men and women who have already left this world – those whom we commend to God´s mercy, in the hope that they will also share in Christ’s resurrection. In any case, both groups have already partaken of Christian faith and have followed Jesus through the commandment of love. The Gospel texts complement each other, putting together the radical calling Jesus pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount with the hope on which we build our confidence in him. Life for believers can be risky. Just like Jesus, we may be under the menace of persecution and death; or subjected to dire trials and situations, like choosing poverty or defending justice, or sharing the lot of the poor and humble. No matter what may happen, however, the certitude that “the Kingdom of God belongs to us,” that God’s promise is the warranty of happiness, will always sustain us in every moment of distress. There is nothing to fear, for “God is our light and salvation” (Psalm 27). Neither is there anything to fear about ourselves and our own departure, or about those whom we love who have already departed. Jesus has returned to the Father, going before us to prepare a place where we may be with him (John 14:1-3). Let us remember that just as the new Temple is not a building, but Jesus’ body, the house or abode he has prepared for us is not a particular place either, but the reality of “remaining in him just as he remains in the Father” (John 15:1-10). We can anticipate that state in our common life. The fact of belonging to Christ’s body (let us be precise: we are the body of Christ) enables us to anticipate the image used by the prophets to announce and describe God’s calling to all peoples. It is God’s call to sit and enjoy a meal of communion (Isaiah 25:6-9) which we do in our sharing of the Eucharistic supper. Our walking together, following Christ and his commandment of love, also anticipates the multitude spoken of in the text from Revelation, for we, too, bear the seal of our baptism as a sign of belonging to the Lord. In any case, those who preceded us and are considered “saints” by the Church, are a token of our own calling to sanctity and salvation.
There has always been (and it is here all the time) a real temptation to conceive of salvation, the meaning and destiny of our life, as some kind of business, an “investment” in good deeds. It is as if we are good boys and girls, obedient to the orders and commandments we have received, so that in the end we will be rewarded with a nice dessert or a toy. But eternal life, life “in the Lord,” is something more serious than all that. We should ask ourselves: how do we understand the Beatitudes? As a calling to look for sacrifice as such, as if poverty and persecution were the aim of our Christian life? Or rather as an invitation to put our confidence in God’s love? For if this is our understanding of our salvation, then we can be sure that neither “anguish, distress, persecution, famine… nor death will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (see the whole text from Romans we red today). But if we think salvation is a prize to win or a reward for our merits, we are far from understanding that it is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:1-10). I think these two simple hints are more than enough for our Meditatio today.
Pray for those who mourn and weep in despair for the loss of their loved ones: that they may understand that it is through Jesus’ death that we are saved, and find comfort in the risen Christ. Give thanks that through baptism we have been called to partake in Jesus’ resurrection, and pray that we may be witnesses to him and bring a message of hope to others.
We sometimes think that our hope in the resurrection should make us insensitive to the pain and grief of loss. We may even consider that Jesus was immune to such feelings. I think we have a beautiful example of how these two dimensions of death, distress and grief, together with a deep faith in the resurrection, are present in John’s Gospel. Read again 11:17-44. Trying to give an answer to verses 25-26 can be a good way to assess our own faith.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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