31 Oct 2012

All Saints Day - The Church Invisible

"Let us all rejoice in the Lord and keep a festival in honor of all the saints. Let us join with the angels in joyful praise to the Son of God"


After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.... [One of the elders] said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’”
(Revelation 7:9,14).
"When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple - true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts."
- Pope Benedict XVI (read more of the sermon here)

From the second reading of the Office of Readings from St Bernard of Clairvaux:

Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feasday mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. Wee long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Link around:
From the blog Cost of Discipleship:

How do you know when you're approaching the borderlands
of the invisible church?

You begin to take on the state of invisibility yourself.

The best thing to do when you sense this happening is…

Run even faster after Jesus!
Don't look back!

Strain ahead for what is still to come.
Accept the loss of everything
and look on all the advantages you have in the world
and even in the visible Church
as so much rubbish.

Because all these things are really disadvantages,
as holy apostle Paul declares in his letter
to the church at Philippi (
Philippians 3:2-16).

Decide now and every day to follow the call of Jesus Christ,
decide once and for all that
‘all I want is
to know Christ and the power of His resurrection
and to share His sufferings
by reproducing the pattern of His death’

(Philippians 3:10 JB).

How do you enter the ranks of the invisible church?

By paying your tithe with more than money,
by not looking to be thanked,
by announcing the Word of God without charge, fear or praise,
by emptying yourself to assume the conditions of a slave,
by putting yourself in places
where faith is not only possible
but inevitable,
by serving those whom the world considers unworthy,
because by doing so you turn tables on the world—
the Word of God calls people like this,
‘those of whom the world was not worthy’
(Hebrews 11:38).

The author of Hebrews continues giving good instructions
for those who are willing to enter the ranks
of the Church Invisible

‘With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us,

we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us,
especially the sin that clings so easily,
and keep running steadily
in the race we have started.
Let us not lose sight of Jesus,
who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection’

Hebrews 12:1-2).

“Three times Jesus encourages His disciples by saying, ‘Fear not.’ (Matthew 10:26-39) Although their sufferings are now secret [invisible], they will not always be so: some day they will be manifest before God and man. However secret these sufferings are at present, they have their Lord's promise that they will be eventually brought to the light of day. … Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily. … We are in God's hands. Therefore, ‘Fear not.’

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, "The Decision"

One final thought.

Yes, in the
Orthodox Church,
the visible church is plastered with ikons,
that is, images of the saints, to remind us
of what the author of Hebrews wrote,
‘With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us…’
When we worship there, we are visibly present
and the ikons are visibly present,
to incite us to look beyond them
to the invisible presence of the saints.

I almost wrote, ‘What if we took seriously…’
but instead, I want to say,

Just take God at His Word
and ‘throw off everything that hinders’ you,
‘especially the sin that clings so easily…’
What sin is that?

The sin of being satisfied with the externals,
with what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched
in the church visible.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!
Then, follow Him, no looking back!
The visible church with its visible ikons fades out
as the Church Invisible with its living ikons
invisible to the world
reveals itself—and you among them,
a living ikon.

Yes, go with Jesus.

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