Posts Tagged ‘communion of saints’

Homily for All Saints Day (replacing the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time), Year B 2015 (Nov. 1)

October 24, 2015

Homily for All Saints Day, Year B 2015 (Nov. 1)

At a recent New Testament Study group, someone asked the question “Did the idea of praying to saints come about as to appease  those converts who had come from religions with many gods and many holidays for them?” A good question. While I imagine that praying to the saints might have been appealing to new non-Jewish converts because they were used to praying to different gods, the Christian use of ‘saints’ in our prayer life and in the life of the church really more stems from the idea of the Mystical Body of Christ, a term for the idea of the Church being the body of Christ with Christ as the head. Those who have died in the state of grace and have achieved that perfect union with Christ are the body of Christ who have achieved the state of heaven with God. These are the martyrs, the miracle workers, the pious, the men and women of simple faith who have gone before us into eternal life with God. Some of these we have recognized ourselves, but the wonderful things they have done while on earth, their complete faithfulness to the Gospel, and our surety that they are with God, is why we give them the name of ‘saint’, acknowledging their virtuous lives and our belief in their closeness to God and Christ. We do not worship these people – they are people, just like we are, not gods, but they have fought the good fight, to quote Paul, and because they are so close to God, we pray to them to intercede for us if they are so able.

There are, of course, many saints who are not acknowledged by us or whom known about. That is why we celebrate this feast today. It is a to publicly acknowledge all those who have lived and died in Christ through the centuries, known and unknown, but who are close to God now.

So, in preparing the liturgy for today, the Church has chosen readings which reflect these teachings. In our first reading from the book of Revelation, John has had a vision of heaven. Now when we try to describe something which is totally unknown to us, we have to use a metaphor, because we have no actual words for that description. A person from the past who was able to visit us today and saw a television or a cell phone would have no words to describe those things, and so they would have to say it was like something else that people might be familiar with. So here with John, we get a metaphorical description of what he saw in heaven. In this vision, he saw a great number of people who wore seals on their foreheads- one hundred and forty-four thousand – who wore what looked like a seal that a king or important person might put on a letter, etched into their heads. This number is not an exact number; it just means a lot of people, as though we might say we went to a park and there were thousands of people there that day. The seals meant that they were of God – “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages…robed in white” who bowed down and worshiped the Lamb, symbolic, of course, of Christ. When John asked who all these people were, the answer he is given is that “they have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, and interesting paradox in itself, and who had come out of the great ordeal – which may have meant persecution, but which I think is just life itself. The wonderful thing about this from my point of view is that although there are people there from the tribes of Israel in heaven, there are others too – from every country and language. We can all hope to be saints one day!

In the second reading, John also gives us hope in that we have become, through our baptism, children of God, and at the time of our deaths or at the end of time as we know it, we will finally understand, and we will see God as God is. We will become saints, too. It is our hope in God that purifies us, says St. John, and that purification is the same as the white robes that the saints wore in Revelation.

So how do we get to become saints? Well, the Gospel states this very clearly in Matthew’s description of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus gives his strongest teaching on what it takes to be a Christian, and it is not a list of “Do not’s” like Moses received with the Ten Commandments, but more a list of “Do’s”. We know these as the Beatitudes, and we are very familiar with them because we read them many times during the church year and we sing them in our hymns.

So Jesus tells us what to do to be blessed, to be a saint: be poor in spirit, mourn for the dead, be meek in our actions, be passionate about righteousness and justice for all, be merciful, have pure minds, strive for peace, and if you are persecuted, know that God will be with you. That’s what it takes to be a saint, and that’s what we celebrate in the many men and women over the centuries who have lived their lives in such a way that they exemplify those beatitudes. We honor these men and women, we pray to them to make a case for us, we strive to become like them. Their reward is great in heaven right now and we trust it is ours is to come.  It should give us all great hope that we too will wear the white robes, washed in Christ’s blood. We need to go out today, remembering what we have to do. And being a saint  is possible – we have the saints today who have proved it to be so in great number.

And that is the really Good News that our honoring the saints reminds us of today. Work on those white robes!

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Homily for the Feast of All Souls, Year A 2014

October 26, 2014

Homily for the Feast of All Souls Day, A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

Today is that special day of the year when we commemorate all those who died and reached the heavenly kingdom – those saints whose names we do not know, but are saints nonetheless. And since we need all the help we can get, we pray that we may be helped by those who have gone before and have already received their reward for staying true to the faith.

There are a number of possibilities given to us today for various readings and it is up to the celebrant to pick and choose from them. I have chosen readings from Isaiah, Psalm 23, Revelation and St. Luke.

I want this Mass today to be a celebration – a celebration of what awaits us and a celebration of those who have gone before us and are already experiencing it. Isaiah is certainly celebratory today, foreseeing what Christ was to accomplish and proclaiming in very human terms and imagery what heaven will be like – “a feast of rich food, of well-aged wines.” But it isn’t just the food and drink, but God will wipe away all tears – there will be nothing to be sad about, and there will be no more death. But best of all, we will be with our God – “our Lord for whom we have waited.” Those who have died in Christ are experiencing this now, and the hope is that each of us will as well.

Today’s well-known Psalm, the Lord is my Shepherd, describes not the journey after we die but our journey during this life. The Jews did not at the time of the Psalms believe in an after life the way we do. Most of the Psalms are centered on God doing his good during the lifetime of the individual. And so, in Psalm 23 we walk through dark valleys in life but are not afraid because God is shepherding us, leading us, feeding us, anointing us. We are taken in by the shepherd and dwell in God’s house while we are alive. As Christians we know that this Psalm also refers to what will happen to us after death as well, and that our cups will continue to overflow and we will always be comforted as are the unnamed saints of old.

The short second reading from John’s Revelations tells us that those who have died in the Lord and have done good things while they were alive, will merit the results of those deeds after death and death will be rest from all the good they have done. This hearkens back to the “comfort” offered in Psalm 23. “Blessed are the dead” proclaims God because they have merited their rest and can see God.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke today is a longer one and is a retelling of the story of the apostles walking to Emmaus after the death of Jesus. It is interesting that this reading was recommended because it seems to have nothing to do with those people who have died and gone to heaven. It is the story of Christ’s appearance to two men who were leaving the area because they were fearful of the events happening after Jesus’ death and rumors of the resurrection of Jesus were being circulated. They do not recognize Jesus but invite the stranger to accompany them on the journey. As they journey they talk about recent events and tell Jesus of their fears and what they have heard. Jesus then begins to explain to them why all of these things had to happen, why it was necessary that Jesus die. Unfortunately we do not have much of this conversation narrated to us, but we can imagine Jesus opening up the Scriptures to them, reading backwards, we might say, and explaining how Moses and the prophets had all prepared the Hebrews for the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus, and how because of that death, was able to enter into the glory of heaven, saving us, and opening heaven up for all who have faith in him to follow. It is, then, the story of how heaven can now be understood in the imagery of Isaiah, as a rich feast, and how Christ has taken away our tears and destroyed death itself. So it is a very appropriate reading for our understanding of how it is possible that we, too, can share in the heaven of the faithful departed who have gone before us.

Coming as we do after the coming of Christ, we are able to participate in this wonderful hope of ours – the kingdom of heaven, that has begun with Christ, continues and will be finally established at some point in history. We know that if we remain faithful, that we too, will share in this heavenly banquet, and we pray today to all those of our families and friends who have faithfully gone before us, will help us, sustain us, give us the strength we need to continue our journey on the right path and intercede for us to God – the God that have before them eternally.

When we say in our Creed each week that we believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, we prove our hope in this great event that is in process now and will each fruition in the future.

Let us pray that those who have gone before us in faith help us along the way and let us rejoice in their victories over death.

And this is the good news of the readings today, and the Good News of our salvation.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A or Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”] They are different than the ones which will be published here.