THE PEOPLE THAT LONGS TO SEE GOD’S FACE
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2009
Readings: Rev. 7:2 -4,9-14 / 1 Jn 3:1-3 / Mt 5:1-12a
I’d like to start this reflection by making a little confession. I don’t particularly enjoy anymore reading the lives of saints. Please don’t get me wrong. It is not like I don’t believe in their holiness. I do. I really do. But whilst I believe in saints and their closeness to the God they believed in, I don’t as easily believe in how hagiographers (those who write their lives) report their lives to be, anymore than I believe that those wax figures in Madame Tussaud’s are real people.
But I do know that people who admire other people have a tendency to overblow things, a penchant to make them appear larger than life. And I do know how we all could blow things up for effect, carried as we are, at times, by good old emotions that can go overboard in not a few occasions.
St. John the Evangelist could have been a little carried away by the overwhelming truth that he speaks about – a vision … an image … a picture of how heroes are rewarded by the only author and source of all heroism. John’s book of Revelation, from which the first reading was taken, registers an out-of-this-world image of where heroes are meant to be – in heaven, together with the One they died for, side by side with all those who suffered, shed blood, offered their lives – every minute of it – longing to see the face of God, and working so that others like them in search can one day see the face of the Lord!
Many saints were reported to have “bilocated,” that is, some of them were reportedly at two places at one and the same time. Whilst I do not have reason to disbelieve those who documented such events in the lives of saints, the “miracle” alone does not leave me in awe. It does not excite me, for I know that such miracles could not have happened on account of their humanity, the very same humanity that you and I have. Such miracles, of their very essence, could only have been wrought by God’s grace, by God’s power, and by God’s mercy, in accordance with God’s infinite wisdom, and for a noble purpose, that goes beyond the person of saints like St. John Bosco, who was among those reported to have bilocated, at least several times.
But I am awed by saints who plodded their way through this valley of tears doing things that were patently unpleasant. I am awed not by saints who levitate (or levitated by God’s grace and power), but by saints who gravitate towards those who made their lives basically uncomfortable and humanly speaking miserable. I am awed by St. Damien the leper of Molokai, who lived an anonymous, unsung existence in the remotest of islands far from any thing that approximated human consolation. I am awed by the likes of Mother Teresa who slugged it out with the least, the last, the lowest, and the lost – and let me add – stinking sea of humanity that occupied the lowest rung in the order of respectability. I am awed by the likes of St. Maximiliam Kolbe who could probably have gotten away from it all, by simply not saying anything, by simply adapting to what the cruel guards expected. But no … he stepped forward and stepped up to the plate, to certain death by proxy, for someone whom he thought, had more reason to live. I am awed by the likes of Pier Giorgio Frassati, who, despite having the wherewithal to enjoy life to the hilt – material, secular life, replete with wine, women, and song – and yes – the devil’s shit called money, decided to spend his short life for somebody bigger than him, larger than the world, larger than life itself!
Yes, I am in awe. I am in awe of the 144,000 who were washed in the blood of the lamb, who followed the lamb wherever he went. These are the saints, of real flesh and blood, who suffered like hell on account of man’s inhumanity to man. I am in awe, not because they were both in Turin and in Barcelona, (like Don Bosco did), but because they, all the saints without exception, were really people out in search, in search for the pearl of great price, the treasure par excellence …
They were people who longed to see God’s face!
What do I long for? I long for so many things. I long for recognition, to be treated as someone special. I long for comfort. I long for security. I long for a thousand and one things that all of humanity also long for. I am not a saint … definitely not one who levitates, and not one who bilocates. I am more like politicians who bifurcate, and speak with forked tongues all the time, leaders who titillate the masses but who always vacillate in the end, and like every Tom, Dick, and Harry who claim to believe, but are yet unable to live fully as they believe.
I long, however, to be part of the 144,000 – a number that befuddled the average Jew – a number of perfection, a number that did not stop at some point, but more like a number that did not need counting, for it was a dream, a vision, an epitome of God’s own passionate and intense longing for the people He has called His own.
I am an object of God’s longing! I am part of those whom the same St. John addresses thus: “Beloved, we are God’s children now. What we shall be has not yet been revealed!”
Yes … like the saints who levitated and bilocated, like the saints whose stories might have made them appear more like Madame Tussaud’s wax figures, I am an object of God’s longing, a focus of God’s love and predilection, called to be saints, called to become what we already are, by God’s grace!
The solemnity of all saints is not a day to wax sad and sallow that we cannot talk to animals like St. Francis did. This is not a day to extol what appear to be humanly impossible feats of the saints. No… It is a day filled with real red blood … stories of real people who, on account of God’s longing, and their longing to see God’s face, paid the ultimate price for their other-worldly dream. They paid with their time. They paid with their good name, like St. John Bosco who was considered a candidate for the mental asylum. They paid dearly with their right to be comfortable and honorable, and popular. They were hated. They were declared blessed, not because they levitated like St. Joseph of Cupertino, but because they were precisely like him, poor, suffering for righteousness’ sake, persecuted on account of God, meek, merciful, clean of heart, insulted, and falsely accused. The list is endless. And that list is not topped by incredible reports about flying like flying saucers from outer space.
They were blessed, declared as such by God who was the first out in search for them, for us, for every man born of woman, of the stock of sinful Adam and Eve.
They were blessed because they were graced, favored by a God of plenty, a God of life, a God whose mercy is everlasting.
I may not be a saint but I know I am an object of God’s longing. His longing for me translates into a call, an ongoing and patient call for me to go join the tour of a lifetime that lasts till eternity – the journey of the uncountable 144,000 whose dress and demeanor speak to me, not of silly reports of miracles that count not as most important, but of reports about a God, who reveals Himself and shows Himself to all those who long to see His face!
Friends, these are the saints! They are our models. They are those who share with us the longing for God and the fruition of such longing. They are now in the holy presence of God, that we share partly and really in grace brought to us in sign and sacrament.
These are the people that long to see the face of God!