FEAST OF ALL SAINTS – Rev 722-4, 9-14 lJn 3:1-3 Mt 521-12.
Role Models, Heroes, or Celebrities? What Are You Looking For?; Act Now, Before It’s Too Late. Which would you prefer to have as a guide for your life: a hero, a role model, or a celebrity? Heroes are people who possess a noble task and who perform it for the sake of God, or country, or fellow human beings, and, in doing that, become larger ﬁgures. In today’s mixed-up world, not many people agree upon who heroes are.
Virtually the last literary frontier for the Western hero is mystery and crime fiction. Its male and female heroes aren’t always as shiny as their mythic models. Even the “persons of honour” who would walk down these stories’ mean streets often adhere to a code of behaviour that plays fast and loose with the law. Their allegiance isn’t necessarily to the law, but to something else — perhaps order, or a sense of the way things ought to be.
To modern fictional detectives, the law often appears impotent, its minions often corrupt, and the universe in chaos. Readers just want them to be people who see that something has gone badly wrong with the social structure and fix the mess we have made of our world — reminiscent of the Naval ofﬁcer’s daughter who, when asked what she had learned at Sunday School, replied, “We studied about the ten commanders. We learned that they’re always broke.”
When people talk about heroes, they open small doors to reveal their own private visions of the world. A boy who says his hero is Batman “ ‘cause he can’t die” teaches something about his fears. A woman who says she never thought of having a hero because heroes are for boys teaches something about her thoughts on gender. A role model doesn’t have the same grandeur as the hero.
Because many people consider hero-worship and role-model pursuit too bland, they have come to putting celebrities, instead of heroes, upon a pedestal. Celebrities are people who get a great deal of publicity, but aren’t necessarily any better than anyone else — in wisdom (in which they may in fact be extremely poor), in intellect (in which they may be inferior), or in moral life (in which they may be only selﬁsh pleasure seekers). In our culture, celebrities — singers and actors and athletes — are shipped into our children’s schools to deliver brief inspirational talks and then disappear into their limousines.
Nevertheless, we have so many negative images bombarding us that it is essential to have something positive to guide us. Hence the importance of reminding ourselves of the saints — how they got to be what they became, and how we can become the same. In this connection, we easily understand today’s Second Reading, in which St John reminds us of our privilege to be called God’s children, and the Gospel, where Jesus informs us that practicing the Beatitudes is the way to heaven.
Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation is more difficult, but dramatic. The type of literature to which this book belongs is called “apocalyptic”. We don’t have this kind of writing now, any more than ancient writers ,knew about comic strips or westerns. Apocalyptic was written during a time of crisis as a survival manual, to strengthen and console. For protection, it pretends to have been written by some venerable person as a “prediction” of the future, but that “future” is actually unfolding in the author’s Own time. Revelation’s two visions in today’s reading contain material that is simultaneously a warning, an assurance, and a promise.
The first vision pictures the People of God on earth placed under God’s protection against coming adversity. The vision is based upon a Jewish concept of the world at the time the book was written. They thought of the earth as ﬂat, resting on the sea, and square. Picturesquely, at the earth’s four corners awaiting God’s command as His agents were winds of potential destruction — especially the dreaded Sirocco, the blast of hot air from the southeast that destroyed vegetation. The ancient Israelites knew nothing of secondary causes like variations in atmospheric pressure or land conﬁgurations causing winds and rain. To them, God does it all. They are correct in the sense that God does act through the laws He put into His universe.
In the East was the protecting angel. The East is, ﬁrst of all, the source of light. And it was from the East that the Messiah was expected to come. The protecting angel in the East held “the seal of the living God” with which to mark God’s people. To the minds of early readers that seal would conjure up concepts of importance — like a king using his special seal on his Signet ring, guaranteeing royal power; or a merchant putting his seal on a package of goods to certify his ownership; or a vineyard owner putting his seal on jars of Wine to provide his personal guarantee that they came from his own vineyard.
“The living God” has put His seal on us because we are precious to Him. This is an encouragement: in times of difﬁculty we can realize that He is with us. Being God’s, however, doesn’t imply our escape from difficulty or death. The bad angels who have power to damage the land and the sea and all living things are still with us.
The number of God’s sealed persons, the saints, is great. “How many people are going to be saved?” is a perennial one among us. Else where, Revelation mentions 144,000, which is a symbolic number, not an actual one — standing for perfection, completion, and all-inclusiveness. Those called to be saints come from every nation, race, people, and tongue (v. 9) — all people through the ages, right down to ourselves. ‘
Our view of the saints is not as a ladder, some sort of lesser deities upon whom we must climb to get up to God; we view them as in a circle, together with us in and through and with Christ, all of us giving praise to the Father. We’re all kinds — smart and dumb, tall and short, fat and lean, young and aged, rich and poor, royal and peasant, lay and religious, quiet and loud, mystical and down-to-earth.
Many of the canonized saints can boast only of their suffering, martyrs to sickness and misunderstanding, or martyrs in times of persecution. The validity of St Bernadette Soubirous’ visionary experience at Lourdes was ratified in her heroic suffering with tuberculosis of the bone. At the end of his life, St Alphonsus Liguori found himself at odds with the members of the very Religious Order he had founded, the Redemptorists. All the saints show that those whom the world considers the movers and shakers, the top brass, holders of the Gold Card, and the “beautiful people” don’t necessarily have the inside track in the race of life. We are all members of the Communion of Saints. We pray for one another, assist one another, care for one another, and afﬁrm one another. And our union doesn’t cease with death.
The short-range purpose of Revelation’s second vision was to hearten Christians then undergoing persecution in the Roman Empire; its long-range purpose is to encourage all of us servants of God to persevere unto death. Even as it was being written, Christians were being martyred. One of the few pictures of heaven that Scripture offers, it is a vision that wonderfully sees the Church in heaven after the terrible trial on earth has passed and the saints have come through it. They are a people at peace, with joy and satisfaction in the presence of God.
The vision of them wearing white robes and holding palm branches (v. 9) signiﬁes their triumph. In the Bible, white robes stand for purity — a life which is cleansed from sin — and for glorious victory, a life which has won over all the powers of evil. A Roman general always celebrated his triumphs clothed in white. Palm branches were a sign of the victory and thanksgiving.
A triumphal entry into a city of a Caesar or an Alexander would make a Hollywood producer jealous. For a Caesar or an Alexander, the parade would start with 1,000 lancers on the finest horses, followed by 2,000 trumpeters who could be heard for miles. Then would come the charioteers with their polished armour and helmets glistening in the sun; then 1,000 swordsmen followed by 40,000 foot soldiers marching in unison, followed by 2,000 more trumpeters. Then would come the great conqueror, riding a white stallion robed in crimson. Preceding him would be soldiers spreading the garments of the conquered enemies; and following them would come the defeated army in chains.
At the beginning of Holy Week, however, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem in peace on a donkey. For Jesus, the crowds of the saints loudly give (v. 10) a triumphant shout of salvation — which means not a victory of escape, but ‘of conquest; the sense of- victory doesn’t save people from ‘trouble, but brings them through it; it doesn’t make life easy, but makes life great. All the angels joined the shout of the saints (v. 11). These are all the members of the Church who have remained faithful and have survived the time of distress (v. 14).
The highly symbolic language of the Book of Revelation puts before us as heroes and role models those who, with the same difficulties and the same weak ﬂesh as ours, have become saints. Unique as every one of them is in their different life journeys, they have walked the world’s path in simple garb and now wear the white robe of purity and victory. Like all the saints, we grow strong or weak not on one great occasion. but silently and imperceptibly; and at last some decisive event comes to show us what we have become. Let us each of us allow the saints to guide us and let us do what we can to join their ranks.