Sunday, November 8, 2015

Musing a week after All Saints' Day

The feast of All Saints Day is not one of my favorite feast days, although it should, because it is a day that the Church attempts to motivate us, encourage us to take steps forward in becoming what we are. As a protestant, the bar, the standard, to becoming a Christian was very low, about ankle-high. You didn’t have to jump; you just stepped over it by saying the “sinner’s prayer” and “accepting Jesus into your heart.” It does often give many a superficial joy; however, I don’t think many really believe it. I recall when I was Baptist and my wife and I were at Books-a-Million, and we met a fellow Baptist. He told me that his spiritual life was going down the proverbial drain. I told him that he must not be saved. He said, “Oh, yes, I am, because you can’t lose your salvation. I said, “Well, the Holy Spirit must not have any power.” I tell this to reinforce what I said about protestants not really believing the standard is that low. If a person is a Christian, there must be a change.

I have a very bad habit of being a “fruit watcher,” trying to see the fruit I bear to assure myself of salvation. I see mostly bad fruit, very little “good” fruit. That was troubling. When the Baptists had no answers to the mounting questions coming to mind, I turned to other churches. Someone had to have the answers. I liked Martin Luther, especially his view on justification: We are like manure, and Christ’s righteousness covered it. That could be an explanation as to why I did not see much good fruit. That was comforting—for a while. Then other questions began to mount—which I will not go into here

As I said, the bar, the standard, for being a Christian, for protestants, was very low—about ankle-high. The standard for Catholics is about head-high. It is extremely easy to become a Christian—through Baptism—however, you are expected to be what you have become: a child of God, who has the divinity of God. Many times in my meditations I feel as though I am hammering the final nails into my own coffin because I feel I am not even living up the things I write. This is true especially today, All Saints Day, because I feel I am so far below sainthood that I would need a twenty-foot ladder to just look a snake in the eye—and I will allow you to contemplate how far a snake is from sainthood. Therefore, my first thought when I saw the words, “All Saints,” was to not write anything—until I read the words, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face,” the response to the Responsorial Psalm. How do we seek the face of God, who is spirit?

I think, first, we need to understand what it means to seek God’s face, to see God face-to-face. God is spirit; He has no face. Jesus tells us, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Of course, He is not saying that the Father has a human face that looks like Jesus’. Jesus is relating that He and the Father are the same in everything except the Incarnation. God the Father did not take on human nature. They think alike, work alike, love alike, hate alike, etc. To seek Gods face, then, is to seek to be the image of God, to be the image of Jesus.

Somewhere in his writings, St. Augustine says, “To see God face-to-face is to no longer live by faith, but by sight” (paraphrasing). This is to be as He is. To seek God means to work towards that end, not merely to want it. We search by working to be like Him and by removing those things that are not like Him. This is what we see the saints have done. If you lose your keys, you will not find them by wishing you had them; you have to physically move things around in order to find them. You have to look on top of things, under things. So, to seek God, we must seek to be as He is, work to that end. Jesus, in our gospel reading, the Sermon on the Mount, is telling us about the Father and Himself and that we will be happy if we are like them.

Repeating what I said at the beginning: As protestants, we were told it was easy to get to heaven, just “accept Jesus into your heart;” however it was difficult to really be holy, which you should try to be, although it wasn’t necessary. Those that tried to be holy, we called “super Christians.” Jesus does not teach that, nor did His saints. Why do we have all the commands in the gospels and the epistles if they were not really necessary. Jesus raises the Law to where it truly is: Impossibility. From our perspective, grace does not make it easy, but it does make it possible. “Pick up your cross and follow Me” does not denote ease; it denotes hardship, suffering.

When we were born, what would have occurred if we did not eat, drink, learn, etc.? Would we have been fruitful to society? How well would we have matured? In Baptism, we are born of God. Being born of God, having the nature of God, it is adamant that we “increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52).

The Lord’s are the earth (man) and its fullness (man born of God, the Catholic). For God founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. When God created the earth, He created it engulfed in the waters. The waters “opened up” (receded), allowing the earth to “burst forth,” it and its fullness. This scenario occurs also in Baptism. If man (earth) is not fruitful (full of the works of God), he is dead, fit for burning because it is not what it was created for. “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

Jesus and His Catholic Church are not placing a heavy burden upon us, a burden too heavy to bear. Jesus tells us, “You can do nothing without me.” Hear Jesus and His Church pray in the Collect: “Almighty every-living God…bestow on us, we pray, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you for which we earnestly long…” Oh, the sweetness, the love—God is only trying to make us happy. Since we are born in His image in Baptism, we can only be happy if we remain in His image. “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so 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 shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure (1 Jn 3:1-3).

The Prayer After Communion is a great summation: “As we adore you, O God, who alone are holy and wonderful in all your Saints, we implore your grace, so that, coming to perfect holiness in the fullness of your love, we may pass from this pilgrim table to the banquet of our heavenly homeland. Through Christ our Lord.” Amen.
--Tommy Turner
This theological reflection courtesy of  the parishioners of St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida: