A Cycle – Feast of All Saints
I know you have heard politicians say their position on a hot button topic “has evolved.” Simply stated it is a way of saying they have changed their position on a very controversial topic normally to appeal to the majority view. You must give a politician credit when their evolving position is in opposition to the popular view. By now you are wondering why I am even making a reference to politics, especially when the one coming up is so polarizing.
I was thinking of how we view saints and how we came to believe certain people, although not named saints by the church are worthy of that title. The apostle Paul wrote, “…when I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I was a man, I did away with childish things” He said those words to help us understand we must change how we think and relate to God. Paul said those words just after he spoke powerfully about the things of God but stated if he lacked love, he was just another wishy washy Pharisee (my interpretation of what he said). Paul is saying our evolving spirituality should move us from a fear of God to a deeper understanding of how much we can and should respond to the gift of Jesus and the Spirit.
In one way it is and in another way it is not. Let me make this clearer for you as we celebrate a belief in how each of us is destined for sainthood. My generation grew up in a post Vatican II church where we were taught by memorizing concepts from the Baltimore Catechism and homilies were centered on the need to avoid the punishment of hell for our sins. Confession was a means to avoid punishment not to receive forgiveness, therefore the sooner one went to confession the better you had a chance of getting to heaven. For sinners like me, purgatory was the most likely route to heaven for a direct admission was reserved for saints not sinners.
The coming of Vatican II did little to change that foundation view for many opposed the churches return to the views expressed in the gospel and the early church. Sin remained a cloak of dishonor that condemned and forgiveness seemed to only happen if one paid a price for their sin by being cleansed through the purification of sin while in purgatory. How can anyone change a foundational view without ever having those views challenged. If you look at the life of Paul, his views were challenged by an encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. Total opposition to Jesus Christ as the Messiah became a total commitment to proclaiming Jesus Christ as not only the Messiah but as an instrument of understanding out penalty for sins committed was borne by Jesus.
It took a revelation and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to move Paul from his foundational views. The amazing thing is that same revelation was promised to us by God and spoken about by Jesus in that upper room the night before he died. God desires to reveal to us his deepest desire for us is intimacy with him. The scriptures invite us to open the eyes of our hearts to the promise of God to forgive and forget our sins, to never abandon us, to fill us a sure and certain hope that we are loved by our God who desires to embrace us not condemn us. God desires us to move from childish ways of thinking to a new spiritual way of thinking by revelation through the Spirit who will guide us to all truth (Jn. 16:13).
Understanding who we are called to be begins with a desire to discover what God has in store for us. That begins by putting aside a long held view about sin and punishment and about how forgiveness works. God wants our hearts not our obedience and to give God our heart is much harder than to make restitution for our sins. Giving God our heart means we must not only honor God by our attendance at Church, by our tithe, by our service but by our willingness to seek a deeper union with him guided by the Spirit speaking to our hearts. Just being an obedient, law following, church attending Catholic is not enough. We are called to be disciples who know who we follow and proclaim as Lord.
When we were children these thoughts never entered our minds but now, God’s words should be challenging us to search the scriptures and discover the merciful, loving, slow to anger, rich in kindness, forgiving God (EX. 34:7) who invites us to call him Abba. Revelation does not come by study of the scriptures it comes by an action of the Spirit opening our minds to hear God’s voice speaking to us through his word. The scriptures touch our hearts so we like Paul can now see them and apply them to our lives and understand our call to discipleship and a life lived honoring God.
Like Paul it begins with changing what we believe and showing us what is God’s approach to sin. He wants to remove it from our minds and hearts, causing us to rejoice rather than fear the punishment due us. Just think of these few biblical scenes and you will see how God approached sin. David’s sin was forgiven even before he acknowledged his sin to Samuel. The woman caught in adultery sin did not cause her to be condemned and if you remember she never asked for it to be forgiven or for mercy. The paralytic lowered down from the roof had his sins forgiven and he never asked for that to happen and that was before he healed him. The woman at the well in Samaria sins were revealed to her by Jesus and not another word was mentioned about them, but Jesus did say he had water that would satisfy her thirst.
Paul tells us every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ is Lord (Phl.2:10-11). That will happen to all of us, either early in life or later in life but it will happen. At that moment we have a choice to acknowledge Jesus and his saving act on the cross or to deny him. One thing we should learn is that standing before Jesus Christ, clothed in our sinfulness, we are truly unworthy of absolute and complete forgiveness. Yet, it is ours and we will willingly embrace it when it is offered. At that moment we all become saints worthy to receive our place in the Kingdom of God both on earth and in heaven.
Today I give thanks for that grace and to the saints in my family who are celebrating with all the saints in the Kingdom of God.