Sunday, 1 November 2009

All Saints Day, 1st Nov, Shaftesbury

Mt 5:1-12; Apoc 7:2-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3
I've been away on retreat this week, which means that I've just spent the last five days in silence, saying nothing.

Now you may wonder what I did on retreat, what I did while I was busy not speaking for five days. Well, I did some walking while I could reflect in the silence. And I did some spiritual reading to give me things to reflect on. But more than anything, and more important than anything, I prayed: I spent five or six hours a day in prayer, which even for a priest is quite a long time! You might think that spending six hours a day in prayer would get a little boring. And, I'd have to confess I did get a little bored. Somehow, the Lord God Almighty, the infinite Creator of the universe, the supreme being who holds all things in being, the one who is perfect beauty itself, and the Saviour who loves me and died for me: sometimes, I find Him boring!
This, of course, is a fault in me not at fault in Him, but it is a common fault in us human beings: If we loved Him more He would not seem boring. We find God boring because our intellect fails to fully grasp how wonderful He is, and, correspondingly, our will fails to be filled with the excitement of loving Him.

One of the reasons God might seem boring us that we easily forget is the character of God as being "personal" –we can think of Him as being just some kind of “thing”. When I went on retreat, I had gone away on retreat to be alone, but one of the things I remembered when I got there is that a Christian retreat is not primarily about going to be silent, and it is not primarily about going to be alone, it is about going to be with someone, a very particular Someone, namely, the Lord. And when we think about the fact that we are going to be with the Lord it is always important that we try to remember who He truly is. As I said, we know that He is the Lord Almighty, the Creator etc, but while we live in this world we don’t fully grasp Him as His is: we only see Him in an unclear manner, as St Paul says, “through a glass darkly”(1 Cor 13:12). In contrast, as we heard in our second reading, if we get to heaven then "we shall see Him as He really is"(1 Jn 3:3).

On today's feast of All Saints we recall the glory of all the saints in heaven. Our gospel reading today (Mt 5:1-12) on the Beatitudes is given to us today to remind us of the promise of the happiness, the Beatitude, of heaven. This is something we need to repeatedly remember when we try to think and understand what God is like, Who He is. God is the one whose very presence gives us that perfect Beatitude that our gospel text so weakly translated as "happiness", and he gives us this happiness -because He is love. At a theological level, St Thomas Aquinas teaches that “joy” within us, true joy, is only ever in us as a fruit of "charity" -the technical name for “divine love” (ST II-II q28 a1). And this is something that we all know the level of our own experience: love is what makes us happy. To be loved by other people, and to be loved by God, this makes us happy. And when we can let go of selfishness and love others and love God, this also makes us happy.

But we can only love somebody, and we can only KNOW the happiness of loving somebody and being loved by that somebody, we can only do this if we actually have knowledge of that Somebody, and if we spend time with that Somebody. And this is why it is important to pray, this is why the saints all prayed, and this is why I went on a five-day retreat: to be with the Lord, and being with Him to know Him better and love Him better.

God is only boring to us to the extent that we don’t know Him. The more we know Him, the more interesting He seems to us. And the more we love Him, the more He is not only interesting but exciting. Today's feast of All Saints reminds us of that fact by reminding us of the happiness of the saints in heaven, the saints who are happy simply because they fully know and love the Lord and are loved by Him.

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