Ever since we can remember we have longed to be members of a group. When we were children, we longed to be with our parents. When we first went to school, we longed to be accepted by friends. As we grow up, we embrace our nationality, our ethnicity, our culture, our heritage. We long to be in relation to one another, by things which we share in common. We long for this because God created us in his image, and he is a communion of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is a social being, and so are we. We are born into a family and journey toward a greater family, the communion of saints in heaven. God has described the journey in the beatitudes.
There is one family of God, but humanity is on three different parts of the journey. You and I are on the first part of the journey. We are becoming like him, learning to love like him. When we die, our soul leaves our body on earth, and begins the second part of the journey. Purgatory is a biblical fact. Today’s scripture says that the souls in heaven, have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and have made them white. It doesn’t say gray, it says white. It doesn’t say that they mysteriously became white, it says they have washed them. Only the Blessed Virgin Mary’s soul was perfectly white, and thus she was Assumed body and soul into heaven. For those who have died and are being perfected by the fire of God’s love, tomorrow we celebrate All Souls Day. But today is All Saints Day. Today is for all those who have completed the journey. Their hearts and minds have been completely converted, their love has become like his, and they declare to us, “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” They know this because they are with him and see him how he is.
So which members of God’s family have journeyed all the way to God’s throne room? We only know some of them. The one’s we know, God has chosen to light up the path to heaven. In every historical period there are new challenges, new questions, and God gives us saints to teach us appropriate responses to these challenges and questions. In order for the Church to declare a person a saint, people must come forward and submit testimony about the holiness of that person’s life. But this is not all, there must be accompanied miracles attributed to that person. God grants the miracles if he desires to make this new Saint an example of how we should live. If the Saint’s life is particularly relevant to our lives today; if we need the witness of their life to help illuminate the way, God allows miracles to be worked from the prayers of this new Saint. This is one way God inspires and guides the Church throughout the ages.
Today’s first reading says that there will be one hundred and forty four thousand people in God’s heavenly family, is that all? This number is not to be taken literally. The one hundred and forty four is made by multiplying 12 times 12. The first twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel. The second twelve represents the 12 apostles. That is, there are saints in heaven both from the Old Testament and the New. The 144 is multiplied by 1000 simply to make it a number as big as it needs to be. From this we know that God gives us people both in the Old and the New Testament, people from every age, to inspire us and teach us the Way of being members of God’s family.
Today we celebrate all the Saints in heaven, known and unknown. The journey they made is described in the Beatitudes; it is a path of internal and external conversion; a process of becoming like Christ. Let us accept the prayer and counsel of the saints as we long to be in that communion of Saints with God in heaven.