We live in difficult times with many of us suffering around the world because of unemployment, inability to pay monthly bills, and failure to afford either a decent education for our children or adequate health insurance for our families, to mention just a few of the many issues resulting in despair and hopelessness today. The first reading of today provides encouragement to individuals, families, and whole communities experiencing such difficulties. John has a vision of a multitude of people, impossible to count, “from every nation, race, people, and tongue… These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.” John’s vision of the salvation of many who experienced difficult, nearly unbearable suffering is also a message for us today. Suffering is not the end: God promises that all suffering will come to an end! His son sacrificed his life so that we may live.
At times, such a message can be misunderstood as a cheap consolation, giving hope for a joyful afterlife without addressing the current suffering and working towards a just society modeled after Biblical and Christian values. Karl Marx criticized religion for exactly this reason and called religion the opiate of and for the people: religion serves to dull people into acceptance or their fate because of a belief in a perfect afterlife; people need religion to survive extreme suffering and those in power promote religion to prevent the marginalized from rising up against the sources of suffering and those who benefit and profit from such circumstances. As Christians, we have to admit that our faith communities and their leadership have often been and are even today at times guilty of accepting social conditions that are contradicting Biblical and Christian values. We, as Christians, often failed those who are suffering and ultimately Christ when we are schmoozing with those in power, defending unjust social structures that privilege some and disadvantage others and avoiding translating our faith values into policies.
However, John’s vision clearly states that active involvement here and now is crucial for salvation. One of elders in his vision says that those who survived great distress “have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb." In other words, they not simply accepted their salvation through “the Blood of the Lamb,” through Christ’s sacrifice. They “washed their robes,” they became actively involved in their salvation. Salvation is not passively accepted. Action and involvement are crucial for salvation. Or, as the second reading of today says, God’s children are what they are because they made themselves pure. The Gospel of today very explicitly states what this means. Christ, in his sermon on the mount, praises the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, those who are the clean of heart, and the peacemakers. The Beatitudes make it clear that we are called to become involved in our communities, in our society, and in the affairs of the global community. This is perhaps best expressed through Christ’s reference to “righteousness,” which in the Sacred Scriptures refers to serving the marginalized, weak, and poor; to speak on behalf of those who have no voice; and to work for a fair and just society modeled after the teaching of Christ. This is what many of the saints, who we remember on today’s Solemnity of All Saints, did through their prayer and action.
Let us pray for ourselves, our faith communities, and our Church that we may not betray those in need.
Let us pray that our communities may never be the opiate of and for the people but, inspired by the Holy Spirit, identify ways to transform our society through Christ’s teaching, become engines of promoting fairness and justice in our society and globally.
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