The National Catholic Review
I want to thread this small reflection through the response to the psalm on All Saints Day: "Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face." The question emerging is how much we long for this experience, how deep is our active desire for it, both as individuals and as a Christian people. What’s the evidence for such a claim? Would more accurate "response" be: we wouldn’t mind a look of it were convenient; we aren’t sure what is actually on offer; we used to believe such a thing when we were children but not now; or we can’t really be bothered.

The context for the response is Psalm 24, which talks about dwelling on God’s mountain where the view is available. Presumably the psalmist here is thinking of Jerusalem, but Scripture knows other mountains too: Sinai, where Moses talked to God face to face, as one talks to a friend. Also at Sinai, seventy elders saw God and celebrated with a meal. Elijah had a glimpse of sorts near Mount Horeb. The synoptic Gospels talk about seeing deeply on Mount Tabor. In some of these instances, and elsewhere, fear is involved: See God and die. But at least in the case of Moses, the fear is not his but the reaction of those who see him after he has seen God. The responsorial psalm for All Souls day de-literalizes a step further: The "mountain" where we live is wherever God shepherds us, where we agree and rejoice to be shepherded. Seeing is being with. Do we long for it? How do we long for it?

The All Saints psalm response talks about clean hands and pure heart, echoed in the All Saints Gospel. Entrance requirements? No, more likely responses to seeing God. We don’t have to qualify to see God, but it should--it will make a difference in how we live out our relationships with creator and other creatures afterwards.

The first reading for All Souls Day from the Book of Wisdom makes a similar point, though not so clearly in the small snippet we have. As Israel struggled toward a set of possibilities for life after death that were more expansive than some of the early intuitions in the Old Testament, it can be claimed that things are not what they seem in regard to the just who have died: They are in God’s hand. See God and die? Die and see God? The warrant for our belief is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, on which we are privileged to look, in whose hope we are invited to dwell. His way is ours as well. Do we believe this? Do you believe it? How is such belief evidenced? What’s -- not the pre-requisite -- the result of such belief? How does such faith and trust grow stronger, so that we long for what is on offer? It’s perhaps like gardening: We don’t earn the fruits of our labor, but if we don’t put in some work, some patience, some skill, some attention, there are not likely to be fruits. Results are not rewards.

Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face. Increase our desire for you.

Barbara Green, O.P.

Comments

Anonymous | 10/27/2008 - 5:07pm
'My reading about the spirituality of the desert has made me aware of the importance of *nepsis*. Nepsis means mental sobriety, spiritual attention, directed toward God, watchfulness in keeping the bad thoughts away, and creating free space for prayer. While working with the rocks, I repeated a few times the famous words of the old desert fathers: '*fuge, tace, et quiesce*' (live in solitude, silence, and inner peace), but only God knows how far I am, not only from this reality but even from this desire...' ~ Henri J.M. Nouwen, 'The Genesee Diary - Report from a Trappist Monastery'
Anonymous | 10/27/2008 - 4:55pm
Mother Aloysius of the Blessed Sacrament,OCD made an observation about sanctity when she offered this prayer: 'I begged our Lord to teach you the secret of sanctity and happiness in the sanctification of the present moment peacefully [She underlined peacefully]. The present moment contains all grace for our sanctification. It is the only thing that matters... To strive after holiness is not to walk a way of deprivation but to open ourselves to authentic and lasting gladness...'