Two days at the beginning of this month set the tone for our spiritual practice. On November 1, All Saints’ Day, we celebrate all those who have gone before us rejoicing in the Lord’s presence, interceding for us, and giving us an example of how to live holy lives. We also call to mind the saints among us who are still living who also pray for us and with us, and inspire us. The next day, November 2, we commemorate All Souls, praying for God’s infinite mercy on all those we have lost.
The church’s focus on death and resurrection, and on the last days of creation before the Second Coming of Christ permeates the Scripture readings at this time of year as well. In today’s readings, we first hear in the reading from Daniel that there shall be “a time unsurpassed in distress” but that “your people shall escape”. We are told that “the wise shall shine brightly… and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars…” Then, in hopeful faith, we sing from Psalm 16 “You are my inheritance, O Lord”.
In Mark’s gospel, we hear a lot of apocalyptic imagery juxtaposed with reassurance. Jesus tells his disciples of tribulation and cosmic disturbances, but “then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky…when you see these things happening, know that he is near…”
I don’t know about you, but I feel an uneasy tension in all these readings between the warnings and the reassurances. Many have grappled with the question of God’s infinite mercy vs. God’s infinite justice. I am not aware of any that have resolved the question definitively. Like much in our faith, there is mystery here. What can we do but try to embrace it? What can we do but trust in God’s mercy while we do our best (and repeatedly fail anyway) to become holy, to become just? It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that even the saints were not perfect.
The second reading from Hebrews tells us “But this one [Jesus Christ] offered one sacrifice for sins…For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” We are told earlier in the letter to the Hebrews (proclaimed at Mass a few weeks ago) that Jesus, our High Priest, is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Why? Because he “has similarly been tested in every way, yet
And, brothers and sisters, we have each other. It is in community that we “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” and yet with assurance.