It was by faith our ancestors received approval. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitteness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears. Let mutual love continue.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing. (R./)
Then they said among the nations,
The Lord has done great things for them.
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed. (R./)
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing. (R./)
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves. (R./)
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
Today's holy Scripture invites us to think of the faithful people who have gone before us as a great cloud of witnesses by whome we are surrounded, It goes on to urge us to run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Even more important than the memory of dead ancestors, we should be looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, as the inspiration for our daily behaviour.
In the early years of our independence, Irish schoolchildren were taught to admire ancient Ireland as “an Island of Saints and Scholars.” While I could hardly claim that title for our country today, we can still look back with pride on many heroic Irish Christians of times past. The Feast of All the Saints of Ireland was instituted in 1921, by Pope Benedict XV. Here are three points to ponder on this feast:
1) Only four canonised saints: So far only four individual saints, Saint Malachy (1094-1148), Saint Lawrence O’Toole (1128-80) and Saint Oliver Plunkett (1625-81) and Saint Charles of Mount Argus (1821-93), have been officially canonised. Of course, we may hope for more canonisations in the future, but all the other Irish saints, such as Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille, became saints by the acclamation of the local faithful, here in Ireland.
2) Many other saints: This feast, while it includes canonised saints, has a wider scope. It includes those who had a reputation for holiness and whose canonisation process has not yet been completed, such as Blessed Thaddeus MacCarthy (1455-92), the seventeen Irish martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries, Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice (1762-1844), Blessed Columba Marmion (1858-1923) and the Servant of God Matt Talbot (1856-1925) and people like Legion of Mary envoys Edel Quinn and Alfie Lamb, whose causes have already been introduced. But it also includes those whose lives of sanctity were known only to their families, friends or members of their parish diocese or religious community.
3) Island of Saints and Scholars: The feast echoes the theme of “the island of saints and scholars” which was so strong in Ireland up to the middle of the twentieth century, but which might be somewhat harder to illustrate in 2014. Still, even today we can pick out points of fraternity, tolerance and concern for the disadvantaged among our fellow citizens; and signs that concern for scholarship has not perished from our sainted isle!
Again in today's gospel Jesus is at table, talking. One of the guests expressed a pious hope for the future, "Happy are they who will sit at the table in the kingdom of God." In reply Jesus offers a parable about a feast to which invitations have right now already gone out. He wants to focus our attention not on the future but on the present. The invitations have already gone out. What will be our response here and now?
Just as the meal was due to be served, those who initially said "yes" to the invitation declined it, with excuses. They let themselves be distracted by various hobbies and chores, which are all everyday things but are not the primary good. Resulting from their refusal, a surprise invitation goes out to all kinds of people who would not normally get invited to such a banquet. They have no strong attachments and are delighted to respond. The parable is a challenge to be attentive to the Lord's invitation in the present moment and not to allow anything in the world to stop us responding to his invitation whenever and however it comes to us.