Saturday, November 2, 2013

In Domum Domini Ibimus!

Homily for the Solemn Feast of All Saints Day
Parish of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Union Street & Rosa Road)
Parish of Saint Joseph (Troy, NY)

November 1st, 2013
Rev. Michael Taylor

I rejoiced at the things that were said to m:
“We shall go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet were standing in thy courts, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, which is built as a society, which compact together.
For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord:
The testimony of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
Because their seats have sat in judgment, seats upon the house of David.
Pray ye for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem:
And abundance for them that love thee.
Let peace be thy strength: and abundance in thy towers.
For the sake of my brethren,
And of my neighbors,
I spoke peace of thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God,
I have sought good things for thee.[1]

            When we come together as a Church, when our faith tells us that a certain day is a Holy of Obligation, Holy Mother Church is trying to communicate a certain fundamental truth of our faith. The feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, that the Lord God created for himself a temple inviolate, preserved from stain of sin so that the Father might find a tabernacle worthy to hold the Word Incarnate.[2] The Nativity of our Lord on December 25th reminds us that the Son of God truly was born into this world, and lived a human life, to be like us in all things but sin.[3] On January 1st, we celebrate Mary, the Mother of God, because it is important for us to remember that this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed God Incarnate, fully human and fully divine, and that Mary as the Mother of Jesus is also the Mother of God.[4] Ascension Thursday reminds us that Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, is irreversibly united to the human condition through the Incarnation, and that the Son of God stands by the Father in his glorified and resurrected body.[5] On the 15th of August, we remember the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, body and soul, uncorrupted by the powers of death, for we believe that those who follow Christ perfectly shall be preserved perfectly.[6] So why today? What about this day is the Church trying to communicate to the faithful?
            It is our faith in nothing less than the resurrection of the body and the communion of the saints in heaven. In today’s holy feast, we proclaim to the world entire that not only did Christ rise from the tomb, but that he has brought to himself all who held faith in Christ Jesus. It was a promise foretold in the Old Testament when the Psalmist proclaimed, My heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; nor wilt then thou give thy holy one to see corruption [7] or when the prophet Daniel wrote Till the Ancient of days came and gave judgment so the saints of the most High, and the time came, and the saints obtained the Kingdom…And that the kingdom, and power, and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole heaven, may be given to the saints of the most High: whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all kings shall serve him, and shall obey him.[8] It was brought to fulfillment in Christ’s resurrection and ascension, for the saints stand before the throne crying out holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts, who was, and who is, and who is to come.[9] Indeed, it is for this reason we say these very same words at every mass, so that we might participate, by sacramental sign and anticipation in this liturgy the heavenly liturgy that is beyond time.[10] Today is our remembrance that the promises of Christ are attainable to those who fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.[11]
            Yet there is a greater meaning that we can gain from our sacred liturgy today. We are reminded that we are not meant for this world. As it is written, the world passeth away, and desires thereof; but he that doth the will of God, abideth forever.[12]  Jesus constantly was telling his disciples to focus on the things of heaven over the things of this world. Our Lord did say, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.[13] Yet how many of us spend countless hours chasing after the frivolities and emptiness that the world offers? Sic transit Gloria mundi! Thus passes the glory of the world. We are all too consumed with being comfortable, that we ignore the fire within our hearts calling us to our true homeland! Again the words of our Lord, who cautions, what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul? [14] How often do we find ourselves consumed by our pursuits of the vanities of a passing world? So often we are as anxious about the fleeting mists of material pursuits that the rest of the world looks at us and says, “see? They are as anxious and nervous as we. Their faith makes no difference!” But what are we doing? Why are we spending such energy on things that just make us miserable? As the preacher proclaimed, I saw that all toil and skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.[15]
            The saints show us that there is a better way, a nobler way of life. They are just like you and in me in the struggles they experienced. Their only difference was that eventually the first thought they had upon the opening of their eyes and the last thought they had as sleep closed their eyes was, “how do I grow closer to Christ? How can I be a better servant of my Lord and my God?” This is why I encourage us all and everyone to spend time reading the lives of the saints. Reading their lives goes far beyond knowing the dates and times of their lives, or the dry specifics. It goes beyond knowing that Francis lived in poverty, Dominic was a good preacher, or that Mother Theresa loved the poor. Reading their actual lives goes into the doubts and assurances they had, the failures and the triumphs, the lowness of their sinful frailty and the heights they attained through God’s grace.
Reading the lives of the saints is actually edifying to the soul and, because we are one body in Christ Jesus,[16] they are able to strengthen us to endure our own sufferings and battles. As 6th century monks noted, “He [the Lord] lets you suffer a little sickness in order that you should not be a stranger to the saints when you behold them at that hour, endowed with the fruit of their endurance of affliction and made glorious, but so that you should be companion to them and to Jesus, and, with the saints, have daring before Him.”[17] The saints are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and they are cheering us on towards the line, seeing no effort to great, no sinner to far gone, to offer ceaseless prayers of petition before the Lamb who was slain. As Saint Francis de Sales wrote, “Consider, that Jesus Christ beholds you from heaven in His mercy, and graciously invites you, saying, Come, O dear soul, to everlasting rest, within the arms of My goodness; I, who have prepared immortal delights for you in the abundance of my love. Behold likewise by faith the saints who exhort you, and millions of blessed souls who sweetly invite you, and wish nothing more than united among their numbers, to praise God forever; assuring you that the way to heaven is not so hard as the world makes it.” [18] Let us strive mightly so that we might be found worthy of the promises of Christ and be counted among the ranks of all the saints.

[1] Ps. 121(LXX): [Douay-Rheims (DR) version]
[2] cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church. §490: “To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role’ [Lumen gentium 56]. The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as full of grace [Lk 1.26]. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly born by God’s grace.
[3] cf. Hebrews 4.15: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.”
[4] Council of Ephesus (431 AD); “This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin, the Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word being personally united is said to be born according to the flesh.”
[5] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church. §668: “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living [Rm 14.9]. Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth.”
[6] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church. §966: “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords, and conqueror of sin and death” [Lumen gentium §59; Pius XII. Munificentissimus Deus (1950). Cf. Rev. 19.16]. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and the anticipation of other Christians: ‘in giving birth you kept your virginity: in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death [Byzantine Liturgy. Troparion: Feast of the Dormition].’”
[7] Ps 15.9-10 (LXX)
[8] Daniel 7.22, 27
[9] Rev 4.8
[10] II Vatican Council. Sacrosanctum Concilium §8: “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle [cf. Rev 21.3; Col 3.1; Heb 8.2]; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory [cf. Phil 3.20; Col 3.4].”
[11] cf. II Tim 4.7
[12] I Jn 2.17
[13] Mt 6.19-21
[14] Mk 8.36
[15] Ecclesiastes 4.4
[16] I Cor 12.20
[17] St. Barsanuphius and St John the Prophet [Taken from the Philokalia: On the Prayer of the Heart, p. 358
[18] Francis de Sales [16-17th centuries]. Introduction to the Devout Life. p. 26:

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