There is something special about each of our church buildings. One of the special somethings about our Union Street church is the stained glass. These windows of primarily saints surround us in our worship and remind us we are never alone. Did you know that Joan of Arc had visions from saints that were in the windows of her childhood church?
I haven’t had any visions, but I did have a moving experience yesterday. I was sitting in the Union Street chapel, staring at Our Lady of Sorrows. I didn’t take a picture, but here is a depiction of her:
She is located in the front of the church along with St. Helena and St. Agnes. She is Mary holding seven swords because she had seven sorrows. Simeon had prophesied that, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” (Luke 2: 34-35).
I’ve been captured by this window all year, because she holds the swords so tightly to herself. I tend to hold my sorrows tightly too. I know I need to hold them out to the Lord so we can bear them together, but I forget and think I can somehow handle them on my own (never works). Because Mary often pondered things in her heart, I wonder if she struggled with holding out her sorrows too. I mean, she’s Mary so probably not – but in my imagination, I like to think she knows what I’m talking about at least.
So I’m staring at this window and feeling solidarity with Our Lady of Sorrows, when the lights on the Christmas tree up there turned on! I think they are set on a timer so they will be on for daily Mass. The timing was impeccable. It completely turned my thinking. Here was Mary holding tightly to her sorrows, and light came in to shine on her. This soft, gentle light was like a reminder that she (me, all of us) doesn’t have to stay in the dark with her worries. God shines God’s light in all the dark places where fear tends to creep in. The love of this light dispels fear. The sorrows may remain, but the light accompanies. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (John 1: 5).
So I share this with you, the church, because I would LOVE to hear if these windows, our saints of Union Street, have ever caused reflection for you. We would love to be enriched by your stories!
1st Reading — The Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9 – 14)
This is the last book of the Bible. It abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism and language. This type of apocalyptic writing uses symbolic colors, metals, garments and numbers. It tries to show graphically how awful evil is and how much it offends the goodness of God. This book has its origin in a time of crisis and persecution, but it remains valid and meaningful for Christians of all time. In the midst of horrible evil and suffering, we are called to trust and remain faithful to Christ and to a God whose care is ever with us – and will be with us for all eternity. No matter what adversity or sacrifice we may endure as Christians, we will end in triumph over evil and pain. This is its enduring message. It is a message of hope and consolation and challenge for all who dare to believe. (The Catholic Answer Bible, Fireside Catholic Publishing, pp. 1372-1373)
Symbolism according to Word of God Lutheran Church for the Deaf in Iowa:
East: Or the place the sun rises. This is often connected somehow with God.
Seals: Hide the secrets of the future. Only God knows them and opens them.
144,000: All of God’s people. 12 means God’s people, and 10 means complete. Cubed (10x10x10) is holy and perfect. 144,000 (12x12x10x10x10) is really ALL of God’s people, holy and perfect.
White: Clean & pure, or victory & triumph.
Elders: There are 24 elders: 12 Old Testament and 12 New Testament
4 Living Creatures: Cherubim or seraphim, like God’s personal servants. They are very close to God and His throne and carry His word.
Throne: Where God is, the center of all His glory and power.
We often think of saints and martyrs as sort of ‘out-of-the-world’ holy people – far beyond our own experience or sense of goodness. But this Sunday should remind us that they were also ordinary folk like us. We should find encouragement along with the challenge. God doesn’t judge us only on our weakness but on our persevering in our willingness to give of ourselves for the good of others. The simple, everyday things we do will wash us in the blood of the lamb. Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Simple, kind, ordinary ways of giving of ourselves brings the kingdom of God’s love and goodness closer . . . (Living Liturgy, 2003, p.236)
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 1-3
This letter is dealing with ‘false teaching’ from within the Christian church around the year 100 A.D. Some were denying the true humanity of Christ; some also misunderstood what it meant to be Christian. This reading is dealing with the second problem. Some people were claiming to be already perfected. They saw no need for moral effort. The writer is trying to encourage them not to rely on their own strength or ‘perfection’ – but on the goodness and love of the Father that Christ has given us. We are his children and must trust as children and live as children of this good and caring Father.
(Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. )
But isn’t it true that when we are questioning our faith, our journey, our identity…we are also questioning where love is in that deep well in ourselves? We need to be reminded that God’s presence is here. God is with us. God’s love will never leave us. It is knit in our bones. And right now, not just when we think we “have it all together”. This letter from John speaks to that inner conflict we sometimes have.
The Gospel – Matthew 5: 1-12a
This Sermon on the Mount was “the concentrated memory of many heart to heart” talks that Jesus probably had with his disciples. This is what he would teach them. Matthew writes that Jesus “sat down” – the typical position of a rabbi when he was teaching. He also says: “He opened his mouth and taught them.” This Greek phrase meant two things: 1) it was used of a solemn, serious, and dignified utterance – often used when referring to the saying of an oracle. 2) It was also used when a person was really opening his heart and fully pouring out his mind – an intimate and profound teaching.
Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .
The Greek word for poor that is used here is ptochos. It means absolute and abject poverty. It describes the one who has nothing, a beggar. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, this idea of poverty underwent this kind of development: it meant poor, and because they were poor they had no power, or help or influence or honor or prestige. Finally, because of all this, they had no hope except to put their whole trust in God. So the poor came to describe the one who was humble and totally reliant on God: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” (Ps. 34:6) See also Psalms 9:18, 35:10, 68:10, 107:41 to name just a few.
**We must be careful not to think that Jesus is saying that actual material poverty is a good thing. Jesus would never declare ‘blessed’ a state where people live in slums and have not enough to eat, and where health rots because conditions are all against it. That kind of poverty we as Christians are called to remove.
Blessed are they who mourn . . .
The word used here for mourning is the strongest word for grief in the Greek language. It is the passionate lament for a loved one. It is the kind of grief that cannot be hidden. It is a sorrow that calls for compassion from others – and that Jesus reassures us will come from God. God does not send ‘suffering’ – but God can help us cope with it – and even learn from it. Sorrow can ‘drive’ us to the deep things of life. We are also called by Jesus to be people who deeply care about others, who empathize and feel with them. As God became one of us in Jesus, so are we called to unite with others. It is right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. We are asked by Jesus to care intensely about the sufferings and needs of others – to mourn over the evil and sickness and blindness in this world – to work with God to comfort and overcome the suffering where we can.
Blessed are the meek . . .
The Greek word for meek, praus, expressed a great ethical idea. It was the happy medium between too much and too little anger. It was also commonly used to describe an animal that had been domesticated, trained. It was also the opposite of pride and “lofty-heartedness’. It meant true humility. It is a quality that helps us to realize the truth about ourselves — that we need to learn and to be forgiven – that we need to be God-controlled: gentle towards others and open to God’s Holy Spirit.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst . . .
Few of us really know what it is to be hungry or thirsty. In our abundance, we rarely starve for food or die of thirst – even if we use these words often. Yet, this is the kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about –a starving and thirsting for goodness, for what is right. God does not care just about our achievements, but also about our dreams – our yearnings – our hungers. If we hunger and thirst for God’s goodness, Jesus tells us that God will supply our need.
Blessed are the merciful . . .
The Hebrew idea for mercy that Jesus is using means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel with his feelings. This is what God did in Jesus: God came to be one with us. Jesus is asking us to let God help us to reach out in the same way to others.
Blessed are the pure in heart (clean of heart) . . .
The Greek words for pure is katharos; it has a variety of meanings. It means clean, such as soiled clothes that have been washed clean. It was also used to describe corn or wheat that had been winnowed or sifted and cleansed of all its chaff. It also was often used to mean unadulterated or unmixed – such as a pure metal or wine. Jesus is calling us to be people who are sincerely who we are – not to be fake or have hidden agendas.
Blessed are the peacemakers . . .
The Hebrew idea of peace is expressed in the word shalom. It means everything which makes life good, full, healthy. It is the presence of all good things. We are called not just to be peace-lovers, but peace-makers. It can be that if we love peace in the wrong way, we may allow a dangerous or threatening situation to develop and not take any action to prevent it because we ‘just want peace and quiet.’ As peacemakers, we are not to pile up troubles for another day, but to do all we can to create life-giving situations. What this beatitude is demanding is that we do not passively accept things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things and the making of peace even when the way to peace is through struggle. We are to make the world a better place for all to live in – to help create right relationships with all others. Peacemakers are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live – people who bridge the gulfs and heal the broken – and sweeten the bitterness of life. Such people do God’s work.
Blessed are those who are persecuted . . .
Jesus is honest; being his follower is not going to be easy. But it is the way God will bless this world with God’s presence and strength. It is the way to abundant life. Jesus wants us to remember that despite persecution and hardship “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121)
(Wm. Barclay, The Daily Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1)
This feast day was originally one for the early martyrs, when there were so many that all the names could not be listed. This is long before there was anything official about canonization. Also, in the New Testament all baptized Christians were called saints, hagioi, holy ones. The Greek means, ‘called as saints.” (R. Fuller, “Scripture In Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu. ) Who or what do you think of on this day?
The Communion of Saints is an important reminder that our relationship with God and with Christ is both vertical and horizontal, and that our relationship is always mediated. “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to humankind his presence and his face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his Kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn . . . our companionship with the saints joins us to Christ.” (R. P. McBrien, Catholicism, Vol.II, 890; Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church)
“What Jesus wants from us is not admiration, but imitation . . .the incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine.” (Ronald Rolheiser, Holy Longing, 74, 76)
Those in heaven live fully with God,
yet they remain united to us in love . . .
They pray for us.
They worship with us.
They lend us their spiritual strength in our weakness . . .
In the Eucharist, the whole communion of Christ,
living and dead,
gathers around the table . . .
we experience a profound closeness
with those who have gone before us . . .
It is a marvelous gathering of heaven and earth!
(Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,#49)