I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to damage earth and sea, saying, "Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads." And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel.
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that nobody could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The Lord's is the earth and its fullness,
the world, and those who dwell in it.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the rivers he made it firm. (R./)
Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The clean of hands and pure of heart,
whose soul is not set on vain things. (R./)
Blessings from the Lord shall they receive,
and right reward from the God who saves them.
Such are the people who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. (R./)
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
A veil of mystery hides what lies in store for us beyond this mortal life that we experience in the here and now. Saint Paul recognizes this veil of unknowing when he says that "No eye has seen, no ear has heard nor has it entered the human heart to imagine what God has prepared for those who love him." [1 Cor 2:9]. Still, our holy Scriptures provide a wealth of hopeful images to give some foretaste of what lies in store beyond this world, for those who love God. The saints in heaven are no serious, gloomy killjoys, but a glorious band of decent people who lived with such love that they went went straight home to the God they loved so well. They went "marching in" -- happy to be meeting face to face with the One who always held them in the palm of his hand. Heroes and ordinary people. A minority of them, canonised, have inspired the church for centuries, and others were unsung heroes, living a quiet life of kindness and duty, pure of heart and gentle of spirit.
"A great multitude that nobody could count" -- for God is rich in mercy, and in the Father's House there are many mansions. There's place there for all of us, and the surest way there is by clinging to "the Way, the Truth and the Life." Jesus taught in many ways how to live a good and worthwhile life. He shows us how to be the best people we can be, and the qualities he wants to see in us, his followers. Often those qualities are the very opposite of commonly held values.
The world says, Blessed are the rich, because they can buy anything they want. But Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit. People who trust in God rather than money; men and women who know it is not their possessions or bank account that makes them rich in the eyes of God, but what kind of people they are.
The world says, Blessed are those who live it up, and keep the party going. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who mourn. He means those who let themselves feel the misfortune, pain and sorrow of others, and who respond to them with understanding, sympathy, kindness, compassion, and practical assistance.
The world says, Blessed are the assertive and aggressive .. winners with the ruthless streak. But Jesus says, Blessed are the gentle. Gentleness is not weakness, but a better form of strength. St Francis de Sales used to say that you can catch more flies with a spoonful of sugar than a barrel full of vinegar. In Jesus' book there's no place for bullies and bullying.
The world says, Blessed are those who enjoy power, status, and fame. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right. The only power and status we really need is to keep living in God's way and to keep doing the right thing. There's more contentment in living with a good conscience than in hanging out with the movers and shakers and wannabes of this world.
The world says, Blessed are those who show no mercy and who take no prisoners. But Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful. Happy are those who make allowances for the faults and sins of others, and who are able to forgive. They will receive mercy and forgiveness from God for their own sins.
The world says, Happy are those with sparkling eyes, gleaming teeth and unblemished skin. But Jesus says, blessed are those with clean hearts. It's from the heart that our thoughts, words, and actions flow. If the heart is clean, it brings true contentment.
The world says, Blessed are those who get their revenge. But Jesus says, Blessed are the peacemakers. Happy are those who spread understanding among people, those who welcome strangers, and those who work for a more just and equal society. They are truly the children of God.
The world says, Blessed are those who can cheat and get away with it. But Jesus says, Blessed are those who stand up for what is right and true. They may suffer for their stand, but the wounds they bear will be marks of honour and integrity. Jesus practised what he preached. In his own person he lived the beatitudes.
Today's feast is not about the canonised saints but about all the good and holy people who have ever lived. None of us is expecting to be canonised as a saint. We don't expect our picture to be revered on the walls of churches. Not for a moment do we imagine anyone preserving pieces of us as relics. But in its document on the Church, the Second Vatican Council has a chapter on The Universal Call to Holiness. Our Feast today is a reminder of our deep-down calling to become better people. It tells us that Jesus Christ can and will empower us to practise what he preached and to live what we believe..
There are some peculiar notions of what a saint must be like. Years ago, at the funeral of his sister, the former Princess Diana, Charles Spencer cautioned against making her into "some kind of a saint." Addressing his dead sister he soberly announced: "indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humour with the laugh that bent you double, your joy for life transmitted wherever you took your smile."
But is there really such a contrast between the saints and having a sense of humour? Did saints never break the rules (St Augustine)?, never experienced the dark night of the soul (The Little Flower)?, never had a sense of humour?, never broke into a great smile? Of course not.' The saints were fully human beings, who struggled with temptation and savoured life's joy. On All Saint's day we think of all the good people who have crossed our path and enriched our life -- parents, class mates, parishioners here in the parish. They were not perfect, but they were in their own way great human beings.
The priest once asked the class: what do you have to do to become a saint? One hand shot up: 'You have to die, Father' said the little boy. In a sense of course he was right. But even now we know many living saints who are truly inspired and led by the spirit of Christ and are on the way to eternal union with him.
Sanctity is a divine gift in which we share. It is much too big for us to experience alone. As we share in the experience of sin and death, so too can we share in holiness and life. Each person is already implanted with the Spirit and the grace of God. The main thing that can prevent us from living by the power of God's grace is not being aware that we have it. We are called children of God, not just in the after-life, but now, at this very moment and all through our lives.