Homily: Ready With Virtue

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) (go to readings)
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
1st Thessalonians 5:1-6
Matthew 25:14-30

Our readings today beautifully tie together two themes: First, the theme we talked about last weekend and throughout the daily Masses this week about personal virtue and holiness. And second, the theme we always get as we approach the end of the liturgical year: the theme of the end times and the divine wisdom to always be prepared for its unexpected coming. Next Sunday is the feast of Christ the King of the Universe, which is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, before we begin the new year again with Advent.

Normally our parish hosts a Holy Hour of Eucharistic Adoration, followed by a spaghetti dinner, for our candidates for Confirmation. This year we have decided not to have the spaghetti dinner, but we will still be offering our Christ the King holy hour at 4:00 p.m. this upcoming Sunday.

The key to our parable is the praise given to the first and second servants: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” First, this clues us in that we’re not talking about an ordinary master, but a special master. Second, the reward for being a virtuous servant is twofold: trust with greater responsibilities, and sharing in the master’s own joy. This gives us an indication that Jesus is talking not about an earthly master, but about God, and the reward for virtuously using your talents (or blessings) is that you receive more. And third, you are rewarded by sharing in heavenly joy, if you are found being virtuous whenever the master might return.

Then we get to the third servant. So first, this servant insults the master to his face, calling him a thief, harvesting where he did not plant, and gathering where he did not scatter. Then he uses that as his excuse for having no fruit for what he was entrusted with. The clear expectation of the master wasn’t that he wanted back what he gave, but that he wanted the servant to use it wisely. As Saint Jerome says, he offered excuses for his sin, so that to slothfulness and idleness was added also the sin of pride. For he who ought to have honestly acknowledged his fault, on the contrary, insults the master, and implies that he did so rightly, because it was the master’s fault in being so demanding.

The commentary in the New American Bible provides an explanation of the allegory. The Master going on a journey represents Jesus, and his journey is the Ascension. The talents represent the blessings which God has bestowed on each of us. The Master’s return represents Jesus’ Second Coming, and the Master’s dialogue with the servants represents the reckoning of Judgment Day. The parable teaches us that God will hold us accountable for what we have done—and what we have failed to do — with the gifts and opportunities presented to us. Our reward will depend on how we have developed and used our gifts to their fullest advantage. I’m reminded of another of Jesus’ sayings: that the one who tries to save his life will lose it—that’s the third servant who doesn’t want to risk anything, but just hides the unopened gift—but the one who loses his life will save it—that’s the first two servants, who hand over their gifts as an investment for the greatest good.

My hero of this story is the second servant, which is the character most applicable to most of us. He’s not envious of the first servant, wasting time comparing himself with his co-worker who is literally “more talented.” He doesn’t complain that he only got two talents.  He just gets to work and does what he can with what he has. In the end, his diligence receives the same reward as the first: to share in the master’s joy. It’s a message to all of us to focus on the duties of our state of life: focus on doing the small things of our lives with great love and great faithfulness.

That’s the image we have described in our first reading from Proverbs 31: The Poem of the Woman of Worth. It’s really unfortunate that we only have snippets of this description, and you really should read the whole little chapter. And while this is clearly and beautifully describing a woman of great virtue, it’s also a personification of Wisdom, whose attributes have been praised as Lady Wisdom (the feminine Greek word, “Sophia,”) throughout the book of Proverbs. While some might say it’s just an obsolete image of the virtuous woman in the time of ancient Jerusalem, the important thing is the image of the virtues she displays, and the blessings that her virtue brings, which are timeless.  

On this online version, I decided to include the entire poem here. One of the special things about this poem is that in the original Hebrew, the Hebrew alphabet is given by the first letter of each sentence! The parts that are in the liturgical reading are in bold-face (where the translation in the NAB is different than the liturgical reading, I used the liturgical reading).

When one finds a worthy wife,
her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.

She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.

She obtains wool and flax
and works with loving hands.

Like a merchant fleet,
she secures her provisions from afar.
She rises while it is still night,
and distributes food to her household,
a portion to her maidservants.
She picks out a field and acquires it;
from her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength;
she exerts her arms with vigor.
She enjoys the profit from her dealings;
her lamp is never extinguished at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her fingers ply the spindle.

She reaches out her hands to the poor,
and extends her arms to the needy.

She is not concerned for her household when it snows—
all her charges are doubly clothed.
She makes her own coverlets;
fine linen and purple are her clothing.
Her husband is prominent at the city gates
as he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes garments and sells them,
and stocks the merchants with belts.
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom;
kindly instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband, too, praises her:
“Many are the women of proven worth,
but you have excelled them all.”
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a reward for her labors,
and let her works praise her at the city gates.

The first word, the kind of lead term here, is the Hebrew word hayil. Hayil means strong or capable. We might say she’s independent and well-skilled in her work, whatever her work may be. She doesn’t loaf around, gossiping, she doesn’t slack off and do the minimum, with sloppiness and carelessness.

The second virtue is that she is faithful: “the heart of her husband trusts in her.” So, they are a strong team. Again, she’s not gossiping about him, she’s honest and faithful. They depend on each other, and work with love and devotion to build each other up, including in how they speak of one another to others.

The next characteristic is the one that links with the parable, that she is diligent. She’s hard-working. She “seeks wool and flax”, she “works with willing hands”, she “puts her hand to the distaff”, in other words she’s not idle. In ancient Israel, women worked very, very hard. They worked primarily in the domestic sphere, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t have an important role. She’s managing the home resources, she’s making quality clothing so her family is dressed well, and warm, and this represents them, and her, honorably and well.

Another virtue, the fifth one here, is generosity. “She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.” With her virtue and industriousness, and that of her husband, thanks to the efficient running of the household, they can generously give to the poor who ask for alms.

And then lastly, it says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” So her faith and her holiness are the engine that drives her virtue, and her virtue, as well as her reputation for the quality of her work, and her generosity, and the praise from her family, earn her the respect and praise of the people of the city.

You can imagine why this scripture has been so appreciated over the centuries. While the secular society is praising the exploits of heroes and superstars, here we have the more noble praise of an unsung hero, the beautifully holy ordinary person.

The second reading, finishes out our series of readings from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. But here’s where we get the other half of our theme for today: “…You yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night. When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them… We are not of the night or of darkness. Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do, but let us stay alert and sober.” In our gospel reading on Friday, Jesus reminded us that in the days of Noah, and the days of Lot, people were just going about the hustle and bustle of everyday life, right up to the sudden catastrophe, that they should have seen coming. Here, Paul, like Jesus, is reminding us that the master will return at an unknown time, and suddenly, and we best have our lamps lit and ready, with virtue and the fruits of virtue, at all times. A while ago we talked about the Latin phrase, “memento mori,” remember death. And we remember by living in such a manner that we’re always ready, with a pure conscience, with faith and virtue, and a generous life.

That was the end of the homily. But I want to connect that with some recent thoughts that God has been giving me to roll around in my brain. You know how I love conceptual connections!

In last week’s homily, we talked about the material offered by Dr. Andrew Jones, and the Catholic view of society being more the image of a family (albeit, with its difficulties), with relationships based on charity and virtue, rather than the image of constant conflict held in check by a leviathan authority of policy and enforcement. I appreciate all the positive responses that homily received. Dr. Jones went on to develop that idea that the improvement of society lies not in better laws, better politics (which, again, in the Catholic worldview, is impossibly bad, because you can’t sufficiently legislate people to be good except by narrower and narrower legislative restriction of freedom, and because the use of political compulsion is by nature a failure of personal charity and virtue), but rather the development of individual responsibility, character, and virtue. It’s odd to imagine a society growing in holiness, but if the people who make up the society are intentional about growing in holiness, that’s what society is.

Then I ran across this video from Dennis Prager (with Jordan Peterson, who I admire). Now I agree with a lot of what Prager says in the 2nd half of the video, but he’s much too partisan for me to share in good conscience. Because my goal is the hope of reconciliation, or at least civility, of right and left, as well as merging the best of both (and the vices of neither), into an even better option. Here’s the video, and you’ll see why I found it interesting (and possibly why I found it imprudent to post without such a disclaimer):

And I was thinking about, wow, that matches up really well with my previous homily. And I kept thinking about that analysis. Now I do disagree that the left en masse excuse themselves from personal improvement by waving the flags of societal improvement, and that the right is the opposite. Both do both, although generally there seems to be some truth to what he says. And as I was thinking about that, and talking it over, I got ready for the next daily reading homily, which was from St. Paul’s letter to Titus (2:1-7):

You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine,
namely, that older men should be temperate, dignified,
self-controlled, sound in faith, love, and endurance.
Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior,
not slanderers, not addicted to drink,
teaching what is good, so that they may train younger women
to love their husbands and children,
to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers,
under the control of their husbands,
so that the word of God may not be discredited.
Urge the younger men, similarly, to control themselves,
showing yourself as a model of good deeds in every respect…

There you see exactly what Dennis Prager and Andrew Jones have been talking about! Yes, of course, we have to publicly and collectively advocate for correcting the societal problems, such as abortion, political corruption, prejudice, etc. But the real key is personal virtue. And I say “virtue” instead of “values” because values are personal and subjective, while virtues are objective and objectively good (there’s probably a whole lot more to write on that!). Your *values* should be *virtuous*.

I think back to the message that Abby Johnson gave (quite passionately) here in Lancaster a few years ago: not just to end abortion, but to make it unthinkable. We’re not going to end abortion by making it illegal; we’re only going to end it by changing the people (and their situations) of those who would seek one. The changing of hearts is the key, not the changing of laws. Of course, good laws and public policy do help. If pregnancy centers who provide support for women and families in crisis pregnancies got as much (or more) government and donated resources as abortion providers got, that would go a long way not only to ending abortion, but also to providing for the needs of the poor and vulnerable, and everybody wins (except the abortion providers).

I would also posit that the right is guilty a bit about what Dr. Prager accuses the left of: putting too much emphasis on societal systems, problems, and corrections (fixing the errors of others), while arguing, defending, and reacting to others with a scandalizing lack of virtue, particularly for a Christian advocating for the need for a more virtuously correct society. I see Christians being more enthusiastically Republican than Christian. I would include in this spreading unfounded insults, conspiracy theories, and other accusations and/or logical fallacies, that by reason one should not go so far as to assert. I have attempted to address some of these unvirtuous displays by conservatives, to have their vitriol turned on me. Of course that doesn’t affect me, because I don’t care what they think about me. But it does affect me in that they continue to negatively affect the public reputation and character of the same labels–such as Catholic, conservative, and even clergy–that fit me as well.

And so my battle cry is bolstered mightily by these recent reflections and insights into the Catholic worldview and virtue: Take part in the social-political arena, but do so as a Catholic, meaning, acting with Catholic virtues, reason, and charity (or if you’re not Catholic, at least do so virtuously). We can’t win the battles and lose our souls. That hearkens back even to the few homilies before this, in talking about rendering unto God what is of God, putting God first, and being society’s good servant by being God’s first.

God bless you!

Homily: Catholic in Public

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) (go to readings)
Wisdom 6:12-16
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

So I’m not going to talk about politics. Yay.

But I do want to talk about… talking about politics. I recently re-listened to a recording of an interview I remembered pieces of, that I remembered being very good, and on listening to it again, it was still very good. So, this time I typed it out and posted it, so that I could search the text of it in the future. The interview was between Matthew Leonard, who runs his blog called the Art of Catholic, and a Church history professor named Dr. Andrew Jones, and the topic was about the relationship, or the modern errors of the relationship, between Church and State. And so, the combination of having this rolling around in my brain, and our present political situation, and some recent conversations, and today’s readings, suggested that this might be a good little reflection for today. [link to interview]

I want to just take a dip into the beginning of modern history, at least as we’ve been taught about it, about the time of the so-called Enlightenment (which it wasn’t, really). And what we’ve been taught is that as the European kingdoms started emerging, and the Catholic Church, which was already fifteen centuries old and the dominant power in Europe, there was this violent tension of political power between the ecclesiastical power of the Church and the national power of the kingdoms. And at the same time there was the religious splintering of the so-called Protestant Reformation (which it wasn’t, really), and now different kingdoms had different state religions. And this came to a head in the so-called religious wars, where kings went to war against other kings, and the religion of the kings, and of the kingdoms, got embroiled in the conflicts, so you also had Catholics fighting Protestants, and condemning each other to hell, by death, or at least by excommunication, and it was a bloody mess, literally.

And what came out of this was the emergence of these conceptual categories of religion and belief on the one side, and politics and economics on the other side. And the category of religion and belief was the private thing, and the category of politics and economics was the public thing. And this was also being fed by new Enlightenment philosophy, which happened, maybe not by chance, to fit very nicely with Protestant theology, which undermined the public dimension of Christianity, and morphed it (or distorted it), heavily emphasizing the more private, personal, me-and-Jesus aspect of Christianity.

And of course, this is the dichotomy that runs the show today. The religion box can have anything you want, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Satanism, or it can be empty, because that box doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that it’s personal opinion, it stays in its box, and it helps you live in the other category, of politics and economics, as a basically good, mostly harmless, productive person. And that’s how you can have Catholic politicians who might be Catholic on Sunday mornings, which is a private thing, but not so far as that means anything to the way that they do their public political thing.

Now I want to jump to an idea that’s developing alongside this. And this is (interestingly) dependent on the Protestant theology of original sin, that humanity after the Fall is completely depraved, corrupt, and utterly incapable of good unless acted on by an outside authority. As the 18th century Protestant preacher Jonathan Edwards, said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” And so, in the secular philosophy that accompanied this time, you have the emergence of the concept of “The Sovereign,” or (in the writing of Thomas Hobbes) “The Leviathan.” And the concept of the Leviathan is that humanity is in a natural state of war of all against all. And so to escape this, all people implicitly enter into a social contract in which they surrender their capacity to do violence to a single authority, the Leviathan, who had the all-encompassing power to do violence in the name of society. If anyone gets out of line, society can compel that person, with whatever violence is seen fit, to get back in line. There is no area of life in society where the Leviathan, the State, does not have authority. So we can have constitutions and rules for restraining this all-encompassing power, sure. However, the State can also declare a condition in which the constitution and the restraints no longer apply. And as long as it has the power to do that, it has the power to do anything it wants.

But the upshot of that is that it means that the political and economic category has absolute authority over the category of the private and religious. Even the idea of “religious freedom” only extends as far as the political category allows it, and religion has to ask permission for its rights, and has to articulate its arguments and propositions in the terms of the political state, to be considered valid. Otherwise, it is religion venturing out of its box, and the political box will vengefully and forcefully hammer it back into its assigned place.

Take someone like the 17th century John Locke, for example. John Locke basically defined religion as that category of a person’s life that is a matter of opinion, a matter of personal beliefs (if I had a nickel for every time a religious teaching was called “your opinion”). And what defines it as that, is that it doesn’t have social consequences. So, for example John Locke is all about religious liberty… but not for Catholics. Why? Because he’ll argue that Catholicism isn’t really a religion. Catholicism is political. Because Catholicism makes demands outside the private box of religion and extends into the realm of politics and society. And so that makes it political, by definition, not religious.

And there’s truth to that, a lot of truth to that. Catholicism doesn’t play by the rules imposed by modernist society. Because Catholicism predates those rules and comes from a time when those categories of church and state didn’t exist, and therefore they didn’t exist in conflict. The world was seen as sacramental: the visible realm of Creation sings of the glory of God. The visible reality of the kingdom of man was a sign of the invisible reality of the kingdom of God. And the role of the kingdom of man was to participate in the kingdom of God, in enacting truth and wisdom, in preserving peace and justice, and correcting the wrong doer with the hope of repentance and reconciliation. The Catholic worldview does not match up with the modernist worldview. And that’s because we don’t share the foundational assumptions on which modernism is built. We don’t believe that humanity is completely corrupted and depraved, and absolutely requiring external force for us to play nicely. And we don’t believe that the natural state of humanity is absolute conflict. We believe that humanity is wounded by sin, and in need of grace and guidance. And we believe that the social structure of humanity is naturally more closely related to a family with difficulties, rather than an all-out war of all against all. And so the solution, in the Catholic worldview, is the flourishing of the intrinsic virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and all the natural virtues. Lead humans to rule themselves with internal virtue, and the need for an imposing, external political power, like a race for control of the government, recedes. In this view, the political solution is a failure of the real solution of charity, because politics is by definition resorting to external force (up to the use of violence), rather than the fruit of internal virtuous choice for charity. There’s no violence in the kingdom of God, and so the (need for the) use of violence in the kingdom of man is always when man has failed to manifest the kingdom of God. The goal is for the need for politics, the compulsion of external law, to recede, as the internal law of charity prevails, as it should in a family.

So that’s where we connect back to our readings. Our gospel reading about always being vigilant for the unknown hour of judgment, with the lamp of faith, fueled by the oil of the spiritual and corporal acts of mercy, which fuels the life of faith, and allows its light to shine and shed its light on the world. At first glance we might question why the wise virgins didn’t share their oil. But if indeed the oil, as many ancient commentators on the gospels agree, represents the righteous deeds of the faithful, then these can’t be shared. Each person is responsible and required to bring to judgment their own witness of the life of faith and good works. And if their light isn’t shining when the Bridegroom comes unexpectedly, the door will be closed and locked against them. Not because of the unkindness of the wise, but because of the failure of the foolish. If your parents or grandparents were righteous and faithful, their good deeds can’t add fuel to your lamp. All they can do is give you their example of the wisdom to tend to your own lamp and its oil. Our faith is not restricted to the box of going to church on Sunday mornings, this private dimension that has no social/political relevance. It’s putting our faith into works, private and public, into worship, but also generously working for the common good and speaking out and working against evil in the public world. We who call ourselves and identify as Catholics are called and obligated to work in the kingdom of man in economics, politics, business, education, whatever vocation God gives you, as a Catholic fruitfully faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. This is not a controversial statement, and neither is it negotiable.

This being watchful and vigilant is also the theme of our first reading: vigilant for divine wisdom to guide the way, to shine in the darkness of confusion. And not only being vigilant for wisdom, but actively seeking wisdom: “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her; and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire… For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence.” There’s the connection of wisdom and action, or virtue.

So, we covered a lot of ground today, and that was my goal. Principally, to show that there is no real separation of religion and politics in the Catholic faith. We can talk about political obligations in Church, and must live our Church obligations in the political world. We have the divine obligation to live the self-revelation of the truth, the way, and the life; to be vigilant and actively seeking the wisdom of God, requiring us then to apply that wisdom in private and public acts of religious worship and political-economic life. And stemming from that obligation to live our faith publicly, politically, and economically, comes the natural right to do so, whether the secular, modernist society likes it or not, or permits it or not. It doesn’t matter which Caesar sits on the throne. We must render unto God what is of God… which is everything.

Homily: All Saints’ Day!

All Saints Day (Year A) (go to the readings)
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

The feast of All Saints’ Day goes back at least to the 4th century. It was mentioned in the writings of several of the early Church Fathers. It honors the multitude of the faithful, known and unknown, who enjoy the heavenly bliss of being in the blessed communion of God for all eternity. Many of the saints in heaven we know by name, and we know something of their story. Some of them have feast days that we celebrate, some of them aren’t assigned a day, and an untold number we don’t even know.

We’re very blessed here in this parish, as our beautiful stained glass windows are filled with the images of the saints. Many of the traditional images of saints have some unique feature that helps us to identify them, such as Saint Agnes holding a lamb, Saint George slaying the dragon, Saint Cecilia playing on an organ, and so on. But more importantly, our windows help us to remember, first, that the saints are surrounding us with prayers and intercession, the great cloud of witnesses who were victorious in their struggle, who embrace us as we gather here in the name of Christ, just as they did in their time; and second, that in the spiritual reality that we cannot see, that the saints are celebrating the sacraments of the Church with us, as we all participate in the one great feast of heaven and earth: the marriage supper of the Lamb and the Bride, which is the spiritual reality of the Mass.

Our first reading for today’s feast comes from the Book of Revelation, that mysterious, mystic last book of the bible. “I, John, saw another angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God.” What do you do with a seal? You mark—you seal—something as yours by your authority. “Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Now this Christian prophecy is very cool, because it’s one of the 700 or 800 references that the Book of Revelation makes to images in the Old Testament. In this case, it’s a reference to Ezekiel, chapter 9, which says, “And there were six men coming from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with a weapon of destruction in his hand. In their midst was a man dressed in linen, with a scribe’s case at his waist. They entered and stood beside the bronze altar. Then the glory of the God of Israel moved off the cherub and went up to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen with the scribe’s case at his waist, and the LORD said to him: ‘Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it.’” In this translation of the bible, it says to mark an X. But in the Hebrew, it says, to mark with a Tov, which is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which, in the ancient form of Hebrew, looked like a little cross. And in Ezekiel, it describes the glory cloud of the Lord leaving the temple, and the temple is going to be destroyed along with the rest of Jerusalem. But those of the faithful who lament the abominations—the faithlessness and corruption—of Jerusalem, they will be marked to be saved.

Fast forward back to our first reading here from Revelation, (“back to the future”), the reality is the same: a small cross being placed on the foreheads of the faithful servants of God—that same little cross that’s placed on the forehead at baptism, and again at confirmation, and is the more ancient way that Christians typically signed themselves with the sign of the cross—are sealed by the Spirit as belonging to God, and they will be saved.

I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the children of Israel.” Numbers are always interesting in the bible. It’s 12, the number of tribes of Israel, times 12, the number of Apostles, times 1000, the number of fullness, like a thousand years. 144,000…. From the every tribe of the children of Israel. So this is a symbolic number of the Jews who come to Christ, those who participate in the fulfillment of all the old testament covenants and promises about the Messiah and the restoration of Israel. “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Now we see great multitude of the gentiles, the pagan converts to Christ and their descendants from all over the rest of the world through the end of time… a great multitude which no one can count. So, the saints in heaven aren’t only 144,000, it’s a great uncountable, multitude.

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’ I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘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.’” Now, I’m not one for doing laundry. But I do know that you don’t make something white by washing it in blood. But we’re not just talking about blood—we’re talking about the blood of the Lamb! And the Blood of the Lamb washes us clean of the dirt of this world: sin, and death. Those who are washed in the baptismal bath of the paschal mystery—the power of the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection—are those whose spiritual garments have no stain or blemish. When we’re baptized, we clothe the newly baptized in a white robe: an alb (which just means “white” in Latin). Symbolically, all of us who are baptized could be wearing these white garments, and holding our baptismal candles, and singing the praises of God. “Holy, Holy Holy! Lord God of hosts! Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb! Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever!” That’s heaven. And that’s the Mass. It’s the same celebration. Practically speaking, we don’t have everyone wear white, but we do see it in the vestments of the priest and deacon, who wear the white alb beneath their liturgical vestments, and our altar servers, and other ministers, when we have them. And what are these white garments? They’re the wedding garments! Because the Mass is a wedding, the wedding feast of the Lamb and the Bride, and we, the Church, are the Bride of Christ, as Saint Paul tells us. If we jump forward in the Book of Revelation, to chapter 19, we read, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” That last part should sound familiar, because the priest says it right before communion.

We might remember, a few weeks ago, the man who was chastised by the king for being at the wedding without a wedding garment, in a parable by Jesus in the Gospel reading. This man was called to the wedding (as we all are) but he did not have a wedding garment, and he was thrown into the darkness outside. Many are called, but only those who bear the clean garment are chosen to abide and share in the feast. The garment washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb is from our vertical relationship of love with God; the clean white garment of righteous deeds is from our horizontal relationship of love with neighbor. We get into the feast of the kingdom by the cross. We saw that last week. See, it’s all connected.

The saintly, holy Christian life that we’re called to is given to us in the paradox of the beatitudes. Blessed (or truly happy) are those whose lives are marked with this image given in the Beatitudes, because it, too, is the image of the cross. Jesus gives us the beatitudes as a sort of self-portrait: the Beatitudes describe his example of what living the kingdom looks like in human virtues. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are the clean of heart… Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness…” And it’s the paradox of the cross, because the first part of each beatitude involves suffering (at least suffering our purification to more perfectly embody these virtues), and the second part of each beatitude involves a spiritual fulfillment, a grace. The more we embrace the cross, the more we reflect spiritual glory. The cross, of course, is our dying to our human sinfulness, error, and ugliness, as we unite ourselves more and more with divine truth, goodness, and beauty. As Fr. Mike Schmitz recently said, “Saints are ruthless in saying no to sin, and relentless in saying yes to God.”

So today, the Church gives us this beautiful feast of All Saints—not just all the saints known and unknown in heaven—yes, that’s the main focus—but also all the saints on here earth, the holy ones, in a single holy communion with God and with the saints in heaven (the one and entire mystical body of Christ; the communion of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church); who are sealed with the sign of the cross; who love God, and show it through their love of neighbor; who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; who render unto God what belongs to God; who unite themselves with the paradox of the beatitudes, accepting the temporal suffering of the cross, for the eternal glory of the resurrection.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

From the prayer of the faithful for today’s Mass:

For our nation:
     May the upcoming election be completed with integrity and honesty,
     may the response to the election be peaceful and safe,
     and may the candidate elected serve the common good with honor and
          Let us pray to the Lord.