Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of November 1, 2008
All Saints Day
1st Reading: Apoc 7:2-4, 9-14; Psalm 23 (24); 2nd Reading: 1 Jn 3:1-3; Gospel: Mt 5:1-12
Today we specially pause to "savor", this is the exact verb, the passage taken from the Apocalypse, but before we go into its text explanation, we have to say a premise. First of all, you know that the Apocalypse was written at the end of the first century, at the beginning of the second at the latest, a time in which there were historical situations that led the apostle to write the Apocalypse, unfortunately the situations were of suffering for the Church; beginning with Nero and up to Domitian, the persecutions against Christians became increasingly cruel and increased the number of martyrs. Specifically, we are at the time of persecution conducted by Domitian not only in Rome but also in far away provinces, in Asia Minor to be precise, a territory that, in some way, we can define as managed by John. Christians in the generations that followed were really tired, dejected and discouraged and the question most frequently posed is the same that we too pose so many times: "Why Jesus does not intervene? Why Jesus does not frees us from these persecutors?" And here is that God shows John a series of visions dealing with the subject that is dear to the persecuted Christians. Unfortunately, and I would say this is the main message of the Apocalypse, persecutions will accompany the Church throughout its history, but despite this, it will always be able to be triumphant and victorious over his persecutors. It may seem that evil wins over the good, but because God is the Supreme Good, to him, being Almighty, belongs not only the final victory, but also the victory that is shown through the centuries.
Christianity is a religion respecting all people, but cannot allow anyone, and when I say anyone I mean any authorities, including the ecclesiastic authority, to enter and invade the consciousness of individual man because it belongs exclusively to God. No authority may enter the consciousness of man, so it was impossible to reconcile the Roman pagan world and the Christian world. For the pagan world forced its citizens to worship the emperor and consider him a god, and this is the core of the conflict and awful persecution that the emperors moved towards Christianity. Well, John received from God this vision in which there is both the militant and the triumphant Church. It is clear that we speak through symbols and images that are not always understandable and the exegetes do not always agree on its interpretation. Even among them there is occasionally a fight: everyone, or rather, each school tries to impose on the others their own point of view. I personally do not refer to any school except that of Jesus Christ and Our Lady. I thought, I pondered and after reading it I reached some conclusions that now I give you.
Then I saw another angel ascend from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying: "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads". And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel. After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen". Then one of the elders addressed me, saying: "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know". And he said to me: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb".
We analyze this first statement, "I saw". The pronoun "I" is not a statement of pride and arrogance, but it serves to give authority to what he is saying; John is one of the twelve, he is the last apostle to be still alive and remember that every apostle had received directly from Christ jurisdiction and control over the whole Church. It is true that John refers and writes to the dioceses belonging to Asia Minor, but what he says we have to consider as addressed to the whole Church because, as an apostle, he received from Jesus Christ, founder and perpetual head of the Church, the mandate to exercise His power.
Let us go on and analyze the text: "I saw from the rising sun..." It is not by chance that the action takes place from east, for that's where the sun rises and from there life and light are coming forth, then there is an identification between a geographical and a spiritual situation and we can add that the sun always reminds us of the Eucharist, as Our Lady told us many times. Exegetes can never exhaust the understanding and definition of a biblical text, this fact is so true that we can succeed each other as speakers, preachers and commentators, but we can never say we have said everything. Then the expression: "I saw ascending from the rising sun", refers to the Eucharist, which is the sacrifice of Christ, it is His death on the cross. The Eucharist is Christ's passion, death and resurrection leading to the light that leads to salvation, then the east, and Jerusalem is located to the east with respect to us, shows the place where Christ instituted the Eucharist and where he died on the Calvary. From Jerusalem, that is, from the east, come strength, heat and light of the Eucharist which is Christ who lives, suffers, dies and rises.
John saw an angel with the seal: this item in ancient times meant, through symbols or writings, the owner of an object or a person. For example, a slave would be branded with a seal on his flesh leaving a permanent symbol indicating that the person would belong to his master for life. The angel John mentioned had received from God the task to stamp his seal on the people and, as representative of God, says to the other angels who in turn received the task to destroy God's enemies: "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads". In the Apocalypse in no way we must expect that there is a precise chronology: for God one minute is one century and one century is one minute. We need to proceed with the interpretation of the Apocalypse bearing in mind mainly the rational method rather than the chronological one. This means that the staying on earth of good and authentic Christians allows the bad ones not to be struck. It seems an absurdity that the bad ones live on because of the merits of the good ones, yet in the Gospel there is the explanation of this paradox. In the parable of wheat and weeds, when farmers say they want to pull the weeds up, the owner says no because of the danger of taking away the wheat too: "Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: "first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn"". (Mt 13:24-30). So we can say that the wicked ones, those who are persecuting us and make us suffer, are nonetheless living because we try to be faithful to God. I think this is an explanation that you cannot find elsewhere, but I say this with extreme simplicity, for God uses anyone he wants, even donkeys, to get his messages to the recipients.
The servants of our God will be here until the end of times and with them will also be the wicked ones who, encouraged by their passions or pushed by the devil, will continue to launch attacks against the good ones. Unfortunately, however, we see that the bad ones are not only those who are outside the Church, but are also present in it and also in very high hierarchical positions.
"And I heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel". Do not stop at the numbers, it is still a symbol anticipating what will be said clearly later on, namely, that a tremendous and relevant number of people will form what we call the militant Church, i.e. all of us. No favoritism, no exceptions exist to become part of the militant Church, everyone has the right to be saved, regardless of the people they belong to, regardless the status or culture they have. All peoples, at any times or at any historical situation, must open to grace, love and salvation. "Out of every tribe of the sons of Israel": Do not make the mistake of thinking that here we refer only to Israel and the Jewish people; we are the children of Israel, children of God. The Israel par excellence is Jesus as our great friend Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians where, referring to Him, he used this very expression: "The Israel of God" (Gal 6:16). Jesus is the Israel of God, so if we are the children of Israel we are the children of God. All men are called to be children of God and to participate with dignity as children of God and be part of the militant Church.
The apostle is then asked to look up and contemplate the triumphant Church. You know that Heaven is not easy to describe and so also here we appeal again to an image, but what is important to highlight at once is that the triumphant Church is composed of a multitude of people equally incalculable. Even here, in Heaven, there are members from all races, all cultures and we might add, thanks to private revelation, all religions, as long as they respected the natural moral code, namely, the basic principle that no harm is done to anyone.
"Standing before the throne and before the Lamb": normally, in Eastern culture, the prayer in the temple was made with outstretched arms and standing up, and this is why we say the Our Father in this position. The Lamb is Jesus. The meek Lamb spoken of by Isaiah brought to the scaffold is Jesus and no one can advance the slightest doubt on it.
"Clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands". They are not only the martyrs, depicted with palm which is the sign of martyrdom, but also every Christian who has a vocation to martyrdom. Every Christian must fight in order to fulfill his vocation, often he has to fight within his own family and even more so outside of it; to fight is to struggle, to sacrifice, to meet the pain and drink the bitter cup, though not the same as the one Christ drank. The term "White robes" reminds us of the parable Jesus told about the guests at the King's son wedding (Mt 22:1-14). The poor, the blind and the lame are called after those who had declined the invitation to sit at the banquet. They had nothing hence the king had them washed and gave them white robes so that they could worthily show up at this banquet. This is a wonderful picture that indicating and implying redemption, the blood of Christ that is cleaning us, removing evil and sin; the grace fills our spiritual being so we show before God in a state of cleanness and purity. It is logical, therefore, that in Heaven we call out and repeat the Hosanna, the praise to God.
Admire the beauty of the following image: "And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures". The words "elders" and "living creatures" did exercise the dialectic of many exegetes. A first version identifies the elderly as angels, hence important characters of this heavenly court, a second is that they are the saints of the Old Testament, the great patriarchs, the great prophets. Third version is that the elderly are all the saints of the Old and New Testaments and this makes everybody happy. There is also a fourth hypothesis, which is not mine, but I take possession of it because it seems the most appropriate and would give me great joy if this is the correct version. In Greek, a priest is said "presbyteros" meaning elder, elderly, therefore they are those priests who have thoroughly lived with righteousness their priestly vocation, are those who made, during their earthly life, the most solemn worship to God with the celebration of H. Mass and in Heaven they continue, with more right than others, to exercise worship towards the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The four living creatures are another mysterious image already present in Ezekiel (Ezek 1) where the living four have four faces: of a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox and from these images comes the symbolism of the evangelists. They are the cherubim, the angels' highest hierarchy, the one closest to God. They bow down before God to show their obedience and their dependence, to give praise and hosanna to God. In fact, after starting the audience in a standing position, we must bow before God.
One of the elders asks a clearly rhetoric question to John by asking: "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?" John candidly replied: "Sir, you know". I said it's a rhetoric question because it implies that the person who places the question knows the response and in fact this elder asks the question and gives the answer and this is related to us: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb". I have said that the Church will always suffer persecutions; what was not revealed to John, early in the history of Christianity, has been told directly by God after twenty centuries, it is a shocking and terrible truth that makes us suffer and put us in a state of deep sadness, so we can say again what Christ said in Gethsemane: "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death".
There will be persecutions of the Church up to the end of times and for many centuries and even if they do not come from the outside world, be it political, social, economic or cultural, they will be carried out by Church members even belonging to the highest hierarchy level. In this regard, I associate with the explanation of that image, part of the fragment of the third secret of Fatima, which was given by God to us just a year ago, when he said that the persecutors are the Bishops, Cardinals and, along the history, we can add Popes who did not persecute heretics, schismatics, or immoral members of the Church, but those who have been called by God to carry out for the benefit of the Church, even from the inside, big and important missions. The Fatima prophecy came true also in this regard. Those who still talk about this division, Bishops against Bishops and Cardinals against Cardinals, must not place this fight in a future that still has to come, but in a past that has already passed, and at a present time that we are still living.
However, our conclusion is characterized by a renewed hope given the last passage of the Gospel: "Blessed are you when people insult you", and we have received insults, "When they persecute you", and we have been persecuted, "And falsely" and we have also known lies and mendacity, "They will say all kinds of evil against you because of me". Many times Our Lady said that these gentlemen, who are unfortunately still perched in high places within the Church, not being able to assail God, have taken on the Bishop and the Seer; they hit those who are sent because it is impossible to fight against the One who sends them. Here are the blessed: "...for great is your reward in heaven".
We conclude by saying: Jesus, remember when You said that already on earth we will have one hundred percent of what we gave You; eternal life is good for us, but it is just as good that You finally give us what You promised and one hundred percent of what we gave You.
Praised be Jesus Christ.