NOVEMBER 1, 2011- FEAST OF ALL SAINTS : 1 JOHN 3:1-3

 

We are living at a time that is characterized by rapid and increasingly radical change in our society. There has been in recent years a marked increase in attacks on religious practice in our country, and increasing criticism of our Catholic Church along with legislation that would make the practice of our faith move to the margin of society. In fact, there are indications that such marked unrest associated with alterations of the forces and structures that shape the world we live in are being felt the world over, most strikingly in the middle east where uprisings have proved to be violent and destructive Outright persecution of the faithful in Iraq and Egypt has not stopped short of murder and destruction of Church buildings. And so the words of today’s liturgy that set the tone of our celebration of the Feast of All Saints are all the more impressive in their calm and joyous affirmation that we hear in the second reading:  SEE WHAT LOVE THE FATHER HAS BESTOWED ON US THAT WE MAY BE CALLED CHILDREN OF GOD.

 

When saint John wrote these words to the Catholic community toward the end of the first century, life was dangerous and uncertain for his fellow Christians. Not many years later, the Catholic bishop of Antioch, Ignatius, was publicly put to death in the Coliseum, to provide entertainment for the pagan populace. Moreover, already there was division and internal strife that the Evangelist noted and criticized. Yet, behind all the threat and changes there is a firm basis for calm trust and hope. Saint John insists that God remains our loving and protecting Father. In his Gospel he had portrayed Jesus as humiliated, mocked while dying on the cross, yet on the third day after his death he showed himself as victorious, and confident of being received by his Father , now glorified in body and in Spirit.

 

In the course of his ministry, our Lord had predicted, more than once, that he himself would be rejected and suffer. He foretold this well in advance of his passion in order to prepare his disciples for the trials to come. He made it clear that for those who accepted him and his teaching there would be times of troubles. Moreover, fundamental in the dispositions required of those who would belong to him and live by his teaching, he stated, is the willingness to lose all, including life itself, in fidelity to his word. “He who finds his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:39)

 

The men and women whose holy life and death we honor today on this feast of All Saints had taken our lord’s teaching to heart. They were convinced of the need to accept the word of the cross that Jesus had inculcated in the course of his preaching, and to live by it. Had not the Lord explicitly affirmed that “the one who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me?”(Mt 10:38) For each individual believer the specific form the cross takes differs according to circumstances, character, and gifts, as we can observe in the highly varied histories of the saints. How different in temperament and varied in personal development were, for example, Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome. While, at the same time both were highly gifted by nature and grace, yet they had any number of difficulties in their personal relations with one another due to misunderstandings. Although Augustine was highly endowed with skills of communication, he found Jerome more than he could manage at times so that tensions arose between them. Due to Augustine’s humility and patient perseverance their mutual understanding and appreciation won out in time.

 

It would be easy to find many instances in the long list of saints that reveal how the cross assumes highly different shapes in even the lives of saints, and yet how, at a deeper, interior level their trials and sufferings were experienced in similar attitudes. Among them all was the conviction that Saint John sought to impart in his letter, as we heard a few minutes ago, namely, that God, present and active beneath the surface of life in the human heart, sustains us with a Fatherly love and in doing so makes us intimate members of his family. Whatever time and circumstance separate us from the saints who have preceded us, whatever the differences of personality and opportunity, yet even we here today, are invited to be united with all of them through putting our faith, trust, and hope in the Lord Jesus. In making him the meaning of our daily life, in carrying our cross by adhering to his we can know, as Saint John tells us, that we are children of the loving Father who is our creator and who loves us. This love is the chief gift we thank Him for as we offer this Eucharistic sacrifice, in which He gives his beloved Son for our sake. Even now He renews the offer of that gift so that through communion with our Lord we are brought more fully into the family circle of God Himself.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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