Today is the joyful day when we remember and celebrate all the saints – all our brothers and sisters who are with God in Heaven, those we know by name, and those we do not. These are members of the one Church, but already in glory. For, as the Catechism tells us, the Church exists in three states. “When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (CCC 954). Those in this third category, sometimes referred to as the “Church Triumphant,” are the focus of today’s celebration.
Today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, tells of St. John’s vision of a great multitude, all dressed in white robes, standing before the throne of God and the Lamb. It is a vision of Heaven, and John sees the saints in glory. He is told who they are: “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” The period of great distress refers to their time on earth.
We may find the washing of their robes to be at first a puzzling image. If we wash something in blood, it will turn red, not white. But the Blood of the Lamb has different properties from any other blood. The Jews were familiar with the power of the “blood of the lamb” because of their Passover tradition. The Passover lamb marked the homes of those who were under the protection of God. As Christians we believe that Jesus himself is the true Lamb of sacrifice, offered to God in atonement for sin. His Blood takes away every sin that stains our souls; it is the only blood that can make us truly pure and holy – and only what is holy can enter Heaven.
The Psalm refrain is, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” The saints in Heaven do see the Lord’s face; they enjoy the beatific vision. The Psalm, then, is speaking about us. We are still on our journey, still longing to see the Lord’s face. We long to be with Jesus. We want to “ascend the mountain of the LORD” and “stand in his holy place.” The goal of our whole life is Heaven! For the sake of reaching this goal, we strive to keep our hands sinless and our heart clean.
This goal is also St. John’s focus in the excerpt we read from his First Letter. He reminds us first of all that we are already children of God. Although the world does not recognize us, it is important that we recognize our true selves, because then we will strive to live as God’s children and long for the home he has prepared for us. The goal, as John describes it, goes beyond anything we could imagine on our own. It is to become like God and to see him as he is. “Everyone who has this hope based on him” makes the effort, does the work, to keep himself pure, as the Father is pure. In this way, we continue to grow more and more like him. Pure-hearted is another way of saying single-minded. We have only one goal, Heaven, so we need to be single-minded about doing whatever is necessary to get to Heaven, and let nothing distract or prevent us.
Holiness requires firm decisions. We may think that we simply need to avoid the big obvious sins to get into Heaven, but that is not what we learn from today’s readings. We are required to choose, to act, and to take the consequences of our choices. The “poor in spirit” who attain the Kingdom of God are not wimps. They have made a decision to set aside their own spirit, infected with sin and pride, in order to be more like the Father. The “meek” choose not to bristle with self-righteousness when wronged, or to assert their rights. There is room available in their soul for God. “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Looking at the Gospel, and the ways Jesus says we can be called “blessed,” we can compare those experiences to what we know from stories of some of the well-known Saints. When our parents named us at Baptism, they probably gave us at least one Saint’s name. We know that those in Heaven, the Church Triumphant, can pray and intercede for us. Our parents wanted the best for us! They wanted Saints with characteristics they admired to take special care of us. We are not alone on the journey. We are part of the Communion of Saints!
How am I coping spiritually in “this time of great distress” as I await my death? As I strive for the glory of heaven daily, what enables me to keep my hands sinless and my heart clean? In what ways have I decided to put aside my sins and my self-righteousness to make room for God in my soul?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.