Sunday Sermon for November 1, 2015, the Solemnity of All Saints
Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a
We live in a day and age where it has become vogue to adhere to the idea of universal salvation. This is the idea that everyone goes to Heaven. Others would suggest that there may be a few people in hell, like Stalin, Hitler and their ilk, but everyone else goes to Heaven. These ideas run contrary to the teaching of our Lord Who spoke of trying to enter through the narrow door, of the road to perdition being wide and smooth with many on it while the road to life is rough and narrow with few on it. This has led people in the past to suggest that only a few Saints make it to Heaven while the rest of us have no real hope of eternal life.
The truth always lies in the middle between the two extremes. As we look at the two possibilities presented above, we have to reject them both. Neither Scripture nor the teachings of the Church would uphold either of these positions. For instance, in the first reading today St. John tells us of his vision wherein he saw a great multitude of people, so great that no one could count them. These people where from every race, people, nation, and tongue. Obviously, this is not just a few of the great Saints who barely made it in.
At the same time, there is no way of justifying the idea that this implies that everyone, or almost everyone, is going to be in Heaven. If we consider that there are seven billion people on the face of the earth today, and the billions who have gone before us, even if only a small percentage of those people made it into Heaven, it would still be a huge number which could not be easily counted.
This said, there is not reason to think that it is only a small percentage of people who make it into eternal life. It is true that we are all sinners and that we have all fallen short of the glory of God. But we also know that we are not able to get to Heaven on our own. Heaven is supernatural and we, by our natural abilities, cannot obtain it by our own doing. This is true even of our Blessed Lady. She never sinned, but she still had to be redeemed. Even without sin she could not get herself to Heaven.
So, what is necessary for us is to depend confidently, but not presumptuously, on the mercy of God. The mercy of our Lord is infinite and the largest sin that we can commit is still infinitesimally puny by comparison to the greatness of God’s mercy. One might reply that we do not deserve God’s mercy. That is absolutely true. Thankfully, God’s mercy is a gift, not a reward.
To help us make more sense of this, we need to look at the second reading. St. John reminds us of the astounding truth that we are children of God. If we use the analogy of the natural order, none of us can earn our parents’ love. All of us were teenagers at one point, what did you do to earn or deserve the mercy with which you were treated? How is it that your parents still loved you while you were doing foolish things that demonstrate that you did not earn their love and mercy?
God is our Father. We did not choose to be His children, He chose us. We have done much to deserve His wrath, but He continues to love us and extend His mercy, in spite of ourselves. In our lives now we need to work on living as children of God. When we grew beyond our youthful foolishness we began acting in a more mature manner. If we can look back on our sinful foolishness, hopefully we can repent, confess our sins, accept God’s mercy, and start acting like mature Christian people, that is, like true children of God.
When we look at the Gospel reading, we see that there is not just one way to act as a Christian person. God gave us different personalities and different gifts. We need to use what we have been given for His glory and for the good of others. Regardless of how we do it, it all comes down to loving God and loving neighbor. So, we need to be steeped in prayer, we need to be frequenting the Sacraments, and we need to be striving to live according to God’s will. We all know many people who have tried in their lives to do this. These are the ones we celebrate today; these are the ones who not only give us good example, but who give us hope that we, too, can be numbered among the Saints in light.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.