When I was younger, I thought Halloween costumes were only for young kids. There seems to be a trend these days that older kids dress up, too. I dressed up as Pope Francis this past week. Had some issues with the mitre, hence this scratch. I also thought, when I was younger, that what we celebrate today and tomorrow–All Saints and All Souls–were for old people. My vision of a saint was the church ladies who yelled at us kids for being noisy, or those long-bearded fellows one sees in religion books. I think this is a common understanding of All Saints and All Souls: these are feasts for the old folks.
It’s interesting, then, that the Holy Church should give us readings about baptism today, on this day set aside to remember All Saints. The first reading reveals to us a vision from St. John. What a vision! “I had a vision,” John says, “of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” This is a vision of the Christian faithful, from every tribe and race and age and place, all gathered into one in Christ. Here comes everybody, as James Joyce put it, that is the church.
And these folks in this vision of heaven–they’ve got seals on their foreheads and they’re wearing white robes. These are things that we receive at our baptisms as well. We receive a mark on our heads, a seal by which God says: You are mine. In the ritual of baptism, the priest says this:
N., the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead and invite your parents and godparents to do the same.
When we are baptized, that mark which sets us apart as Christ’s is branded on our foreheads and on our hearts. It is there forever, much as we might try to remove it or let it fade. A little bit later in the ritual, the priest says,
N., you have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into everlasting life in heaven.
John’s vision of these sealed people wearing white robes–it is a vision of the baptized. But it is also a vision of the saints of God gathered on the shores of heaven. I like this, because it points to this reality: to be a saint is ultimately to live our baptism. To be a saint is to live our baptism, to be faithful to it.
Here’s what I mean. With God and family and friends and the whole church to help, our job is to keep our seals unfaded, to keep our white garments unstained, to keep it all pure as St John says it in the second reading. It is tempting, is it not, to allow splotches of sin onto our baptismal garment: a touch of anger here, a splash of lust there, a stain of envy or gluttony there. It’s so very tempting to allow our garment to get messy with sins and faults.
But there are no sins or faults on the garments of those folks in John’s vision of the saints, his vision of those who had been faithful to their baptism. Good thing, then, that we’ve got the sacraments to help purify us. And it’s a good thing we have purgatory, that beautiful place where folks are purified before entering the land of perfection.
I want to suggest three ways we keep our garments unstained, three ways that we can become saints (everybody in heaven is a saint, canonized or not!) by living our baptism well, based on the readings.
- We must always live in the church. The rite of baptism actually begins outside the church, symbolic of the fact that we are not yet members of it. In baptism, when that seal and robe is put on us (best halloween costume ever!), we become members of Christ and his body the Church. We enter into Christ, the Christ who overcomes even death itself. You see, we have salvation as an option for us because we are members of the RISEN CHRIST and his body the church. We must always live in that body, always live in Christ, always live in his body the church.
- We must live as children of God. In our second reading, St John tells us that “we are God’s children now.” Same language is in the rite of baptism. To live as God’s children is to be dependent upon him for everything, especially salvation. It is ours not for anything we do or are, but for what Christ did and who Christ is.
- The third thing. We must always foster that desire that our psalmist speaks of today. As long as we desire God and as long as we desire holiness and sainthood and to keep our baptismal gown unstained, as long as we desire all that, we’re not too far off. Let’s foster that desire in ourselves and in our families and in this parish.
Today as we pray Eucharistic Prayer I, we will hear the names of countless saints listed, those who form just a tiny part of that cloud of witnesses that surround us each day. Then we will pray to God: “Admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord. Through whom you continue to make all these good things, O Lord; you sanctify them, fill them with life, bless them, and bestow them upon us.”