Sunday, 31 October 2010

Solemnity of All Saints (transferred from 1st Nov), Shaftesbury

1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12
Today we keep the solemnity of All Saints and part of what we celebrate today is the glory of heaven that the saints enjoy. The Bible gives us a number of different images to describe heaven: sometimes it is referred to as an "banquet"(Isa 25:7), other times Scripture uses the image of "verdant pastures”(Ps 23), while the book of Revelation describes a radiant city as clear as crystal (Ref 21:11). But there is another image I want to refer to, namely, that of “seeing” God.

To “see” God is not something that we can do while we live in this world: God is spirit, God is invisible, God is so utterly transcendent that He is beyond the ability of our physical eyes to see. Nonetheless, Scripture repeatedly uses the language of "seeing” with respect to God. As we heard in the Beatitudes, the “pure of heart” are blessed because they “see” God.

St Gregory of Nyssa makes a useful comment on this when he notes that in the language of Scripture to "see" something means to possess it (Breviary, Office of Readings, Wk 12, Fri, Vol 3, p.235). For example, the Old Testament uses a blessing that says, "May you see the good things of Jerusalem"(Ps 128:5), and this seeing implies not merely observing without possession, but the seeing that one enjoys when you look at what you possess. In contrast, the ungodly will not “see the glory of the Lord”(Isa 26:10).

Our second reading today indicates something more about the significance of “seeing”, namely, that seeing CHANGES us. In particular, St John says that when the glory of God is fully revealed “we shall be like Him BECAUSE we shall SEE Him as He really is”(1 Jn 3:3): the very act seeing God will change us.
Now, even in this world we know how seeing something can have an effect on us. When I see the beautiful landscapes that fill the countryside around Shaftesbury, the very act of seeing has an effect in me. When I see a table filled with delightful food, that sight emotionally excites me. And , When I see someone I love that too changes me. That last point is perhaps the clearest analogy with seeing God: when we see the One we love it will change us from glory unto glory.
But, it will only change us if we do love Him –when we see something that we do not love it fails to have an effect in us.

When we die we will get what our heart desires. If our heart is set on the passing and corruptible things of this world –we will get corruption. If our heart is set on God –we will see Him and in seeing Him possess Him. And if our heart is only partly set on Him then we will not see Him with the fullness that the greatest saints with the greatest love enjoy.

To return to the Beatitude about the "pure of heart": to be "pure" indicates something about the heart and the desires of the heart -it indicates that those desires are purely focused on one love. With respect to God, purity means that our desires are focused on Him, and that we thus love other things as He loves them because He loves them and in the way that He loves them -not with the disordered desires for passing things that so easily inflame us.
Those who are "pure of heart" will see God. And they will see God not merely because of some extrinsic reward that God will give them for their purity, rather, their very purity is what will enable them to see God: the purity of the focus of their love will mean that they will lack the distractions that cloud the vision of those with impure desires.

To return and conclude with the point I made before: when we see something we love it has an effect on us, it causes an excitement within us. The saints in heaven continually see God, and because they love Him they are continually filled with an excitement that is beyond our feeble comprehension. God surpasses our deepest desires and wildest imaginings. If we would enjoy that vision more in heaven let us seek to know and love Him more here on earth.

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