My mother died on this feast 9 years ago. I admire her for her timing! This is a great feast. It’s beautifully timed itself. It comes after the feasts of the Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension, after Mary’s Assumption, after celebrations of many individual and occasional clusters of saints. Today, crowning all that, we have the totality, all the blessed, all those, impossible to count, who stand before the Throne. Tomorrow our vision expands to all the dead still being purified, on their way to the beatific vision. And in three weeks the liturgical year ends with the solemnity of Christ the universal King – to make us sure of the final transfiguration of everything there is. There is a whole catechesis, a mystagogy, in this sequence, in this working out of paschal grace. And in the northern hemisphere, All Saints is beautifully timed too: the leaves are falling, a sign of our mortality, and the days are shortening. But this feast lifts up our hearts. It points us to the unending summer of eternal life. It’s yet another way of saying the one and only thing the Church and Christianity have to say: Christ is risen!
As you know, the Holy Father has written a fine encyclical, Laudato Sì, encouraging us to hearken to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and to have, as Christians, an ecological conversion. Next month in Paris there will be a UN Conference on Climate Change, called COP21. It’s a major event. Many hope there will at last be a binding universal agreement on the need to limit further global warming to 2 degrees or less. If not, many say, we and the planet are in for big trouble. If you listen to what’s being said, it is like reading the book of the Apocalypse / Revelation: a devastation of land and sea. It’s a description of meltdown, of cities, like Manila or Hong Kong, falling into the sea, of 30 million Bangladeshis having to move elsewhere, of rivers drying up. It reminds me of the descriptions we used to hear of the effects of a nuclear war. It’s Apocalypse Now.
And it’s true: in a real sense, our world is always on the brink of its end, just as we, one by one, are only a hair’s breadth from death.
Faith can help us here. Even while we do what we can, while we care for our common home, faith can integrate these dark prospects into a wider vision and allow hope to outgrow fear.
‘I, John, saw…’, begins the 1st reading. ‘Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us’, begins the 2nd. What the Greek says is not ‘think’ but ‘see’. Then, the Gospel begins with Jesus ‘seeing’ the crowds, seeing us, and opening the way to the kingdom of heaven where we shall ‘see God’. In this morning’s Divine Office, St Paul prayed, ‘May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory…enlighten the eyes of your mind, so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit, and how infinitely great is the power he has exercised for us believers’ (Eph 1: 17, 18-19).
‘See the love’, says St John. That is what this feast helps us do. It helps us see what awaits us, what lies beyond our natural horizon, beyond the end of the world or our life. And it isn’t darkness. It’s a new heaven and a new earth. It’s the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother. It’s what Jesus promises in the beatitudes: comfort, fullness, mercy, vision. It is the victory of God’s love. It is the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all who live in him.
‘See’ it, says St John. Imagine after Mass we could take a coffee in Café Nero with any one of those in heaven. What would he or she have to tell? Not, I think, the story of what they did or suffered or of how good they were. It would be the story of how God loved and loves them. To be precise again, what St John says is: ‘See the kind of love the Father gives.’ It’s not our kind, or our kind with a dash of divine cream or whisky in it. It’s a love different in kind, God’s own, limitless. The Greek word St John uses is one that always implies something astonishing. This is the tale our saints would tell us over coffee: the tale of the love they now see face to face, the love that astonishes them. And they would tell it with shining eyes. They would tell how God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had never failed or disappointed them, had always turned evil into good for them; how the sufferings and frustrations they and their loved ones endured on earth were nothing, nothing compared to the glory that now surrounded and embraced and flowed through them. They would say: listen to what Jesus says in the Gospels, listen to the apostles. Believe! They would say, Paul is right: ‘eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love him.’ In the end, they wouldn’t have the words. They would only be able to take our hands and let their joy, for a moment, run through us.
And then, still over the coffee, we’d realise we are not just listening to a single saint and a private story. There’s a common voice. It is all of them seeing this love, ‘a huge number impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language’. It is a whole, a totality, a choir, a family, a universe; the people of God arrived at their goal; it’s the heavenly Church, the Church triumphant, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, our mother – each member loved one by one and loved all together, each and all speaking with one voice. Singing, indeed. Singing of a love that’s unique and shared all at once. It’s a long procession of dusty, dirty pilgrims, so often of no great account in history, so full of individual weaknesses, so self-defeating at times, so prone to quarrelling, jeered at by others, often made homeless or killed, as in the Middle East today, but carried by the beatitudes, graced by the sacraments, upheld by the Spirit: it’s that humiliated body transfigured to the pattern of the risen Christ, bringing a multitude in its wake and ‘shouting aloud, “Victory to our God, who sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb!”’ Today is a feast of holy women and men, each unique, and a feast of all together, of our holy Mother the Church – for which the world was made.
‘See the love’. There’s the grace of this feast. We see it in Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist and all the saints. We see it with the eyes of faith the saints help us keep open. And we see it even here – standing before the altar of the Lord and the Body and Blood of the Lamb. Amen.