“Who are these wearing white robes?” The question was asked by John, the author of the Book of Revelation that we heard proclaimed in the 1st reading. “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
Are they a bunch of chefs coming together for a chef’s convention, wearing their distinctive white shirts and pants? Or, maybe they’re a bunch of doctors coming together for a class on how to deal with the dreaded disease of cancer. Wearing their long white robes, like those six or seven doctors and interns I saw walking toward me the other day as I was walking the corridors of St. Vincent Hospital. Or, maybe they’re a group of priests wearing their white robes, concelebrating the Funeral Mass of a fellow, beloved priest who died after 50 years of faithfully serving the People of God. If I make 50 years in my white robe, I’ll be 95 years old. Which means I’m not going to make 50 years. At least I hope not! I’ll eat lots of Coney Island hot dogs to make sure I don’t make it!
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” asks St. John. Of course, they’re the martyrs in the very early Church, in the 1st century. The women and men who chose not to deny their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but instead chose to deny Caesar as Lord. They’re the ones who had the fortitude, courage and faith to stand their ground in the face of violent opposition to their beliefs in Jesus as Lord. So violent they would be fed to lions, clawed and mangled to death, or tortured in obscene other ways that the human mind can invent, yet knowing without question in their hearts that they would be standing in the presence of Jesus within a few moments.
What if we were in that same situation right now? That in just a few moments you would be leaving this world – by way of torture or otherwise for your Christian faith – and be carried before Christ? What would be your response? We know what their response was. They rejoiced; they smiled; they welcomed it; they embraced their final moments without fear. Why? Because they had faith the size of a mustard seed.
Who are these people, and where do they come from? They are the saints. And we are in need a few of them today to come marching in. To have no fear of the elements, the powers, and the evil in our world, and stand up tall for the name of Jesus Christ. We need a few of them today to show the rest of us the ways of humility and sincere compassion, a combination that was reserved for Blessed Mother Teresa. We need a few saints today, in this time of watering down Jesus Christ to just another human person who was a good guy, to grow our resolve where we are not ashamed to say to the world, “You are my Lord and Savior! And there is no other!” They can only be called a saint, the one who will proclaim such truth to the world, and not have any regard or concern for all this political correctness crap. And I’d like to use another word!
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I can tell you where they didn’t come from. They didn’t come from the rich and famous who feel the need to control the world to satisfy their ego. There are saints in the Communion who were rich and famous. St. Elizabeth of Hungary. St. Louis of France. (Not of Missouri…of France). A queen and a king. You can’t get much more rich and famous than this, when the entire kingdom is subject to you. But why are they saints? Because they either gave it all away, as Jesus instructed the rich young man who walked away sad. Or, they mastered the virtues of kindness and generosity. And that’s what a saint does. They master at least one virtue of Jesus, who is the Master of all virtues.
Where did they come from? The answer is that almost all saints come from families like yours and mine. I know my 5 sisters are saintly…and a few of my brothers. They come from our families. God does great things with ordinary people. Look at the first ones; Peter and Andrew; James and John; four fishermen. You like to fish? You’re a saint!
All the unknown – and just a few known – martyrs in the first centuries, while proclaiming Jesus as Lord, knew it was a deadly proposition. Almost all those thousands of people, both clergy and laity, were your next door neighbors. They were the family across the street. Nobody special in the eyes of the world. But chosen to be a witness to the truth. Some ran the other way. Some of them renounced their faith back then, just as some would do today if faced with a life-ending proposition. But the ones who held on to the hand of Jesus…I’d like to say that was all of us.
All Saints Day is not about the popular, the famous, the physically fit, the wealthy, the great athletes, the perfect models with the perfect bodies. This would be the secular All Saints Day. All Saints Day in the Church is about the celebration of the common person who God does extraordinary things with. The common person on earth will be the upper class in heaven. It’s why Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must love common people. It’s why he made so many of them.”
Blessed are you, common people, who are poor in spirit, for you will be rich in heaven. Blessed are you, common people, who mourn for your loved ones and friends, rather than wanting to see them dead because you want their inheritance. Blessed are you, Worcester people, 3-decker people, who are meek and leave God a path to enter your life. Blessed are you, Holden people, who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are on the same side as the Creator of the stars. Blessed are you, families, who are merciful to your parents, your brothers and your sisters. Blessed are you, ladies, who are clean of heart, for you are the mirror image of God. Blessed are you, men, who are peacemakers, for you define what it means to be a man of God. Blessed are you, priests and deacons, who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for you walk in the steps of the martyrs who stood for truth. And, blessed are you, you common congregation, who are insulted and falsified as a Christian, for you will be privileged to drink from the same cup as Jesus drank from.
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” They are all the saints, and they come from our families and neighborhoods.