Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints and All Souls

The two follow each other in sequence.  The day of the saints and the day of the dead. This is as it should be.  Attached is a short homily for All Saint's Day. The photos are in memory of the souls of all those who have died.  Cemeteries can be places that lead one into contemplation and prayer.   These are a few from around the world.

All Saints 
1 November 2011

Rv 7:2-4, 9-14
Ps 24: 1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
I Jn 3:1-3
Mt 5:1-12a

The practice of venerating and invoking saints is an ancient one in the Catholic Church.  The actual beginning of such veneration is uncertain but it spread rapidly from the 4th century on.  At times the veneration of saints degenerated into superstition, and indeed it is still superstitious in the minds of many on the left and right: think burying a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the lawn so as to sell the house.  That is a difficult one to understand.  The Church sets the first day of November as a holy day of obligation in honor of all the saints.  Indeed the etymology of Halloween is holy eve; rather like Christmas Eve but with cross-dressing overtones.  All Saints honors ALL saints, those who have been formally canonized and those known only to God.   The readings help to explain why, what sainthood is.

The reading from Revelation is fascinating.  Revelation is the most wildly misunderstood and misused book in the entire canon.  It is part of the extraordinary and difficult genre of Biblical literature known as apocalyptic.  One of the characteristics of apocalyptic literature, a literature that was meant to engender hope during times of persecution, is that the symbolism is dense.  The meaning of some of the symbols and allusions is, and will remain, unknown.  Numerology is part of that symbolism.  It cannot be taken literally. 

Sainthood, seeing the face of God, is not limited to the 144,000 described in Revelation though certain fundamentalists would argue that one to the death.  In Revelation the number 1000 signifies an immense number, the equivalent of a bazillion today. One hundred forty-four is the square of twelve (a number which carries its own symbolism within the tribes of Israel).  Thus, 144,000 signifies a multitude beyond counting or an infinite number.  Though few of us will be canonized we are all called to sainthood.  And, despite the claims of the rapturists, there is room for everyone. 

Who can hope to be numbered among the saints?  Who can hope to ascend the mountain of the Lord? :  One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. 

As John notes in his letter, God the Father has bestowed such love on us that we are the children of God; we are His beloved because of Jesus’ radical self-surrender that brought sinful humanity to redemption; an act that opened the path to those who wish to ascend the mountain of the Lord.  The stepping-stones of that path are outlined in the portion of Matthew’s Gospel that is far and away the most well-known part of the much longer Sermon on the Mount.  Read through these “Blesseds are” some time today.  They are an expansion on the psalmist’s answer to his own question.  The Beatitudes tell us how to be ones whose hands are sinless, whose hearts are clean and who desire not what is vain. 

We truly do not yet know what we shall be.  We do not know what it will be like to be in God’s presence, to be numbered among the saints.  But Matthew tells us:  it will be great.  There is no reason to quibble with that.     

The first two photos are from the cemetery in Sevenhill, South Australia.  The color photo shows the tombstone of a prominent Polish woman (there is a large Polish community not too far away) whose gravestone has half of the Polish falcon and half of the papal seal.  I got this directly from the man who carved many of the stones in the cemetery when we ran into each other as I was taking photos. 

The next is the cemetery attached to St. Mary of the Angels Church in Port Lincoln, South Australia.
Here is an overgrown cemetery in the Mekong Delta of Viet Nam. 

Below is the Jesuit Cemetery in Taiwan at the retreat house and former novitiate in Changhwa.  
The Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown University after the blizzards of '10
This last is the Jesuit cemeteries (the old one is seen in the background) at Campion Center in Weston, MA.  This is where I will most likely be buried.  
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord . . . . 

+Fr. Jack, SJ

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