Saturday, October 31, 2015

Visible Actions From Invisible Connections


Solemnity of All Saints


Sisters and brothers, we all wash our hands many times a day. Do you know why? The story is told of a conversation between two students from rival schools. The boy from Raffles Institution notices that his opponent from ACS has failed to wash his hands after visiting the restroom. So, in a voice dripping with sarcasm, he says: In my school, we are taught to wash our hands every time we finish using the restroom. Really? His rival replies. In our school, we are taught not to pee on our hands.

The story is, of course, not meant to be taken seriously. It’s only a joke. Used to poke fun at a rival school. We all know that, however careful we may be when using the restroom, we do still need to wash our hands afterwards. Even if they don’t look dirty. We wash them not because of what we can see. But more because of what we can’t see. We perform the visible action of washing our hands, because we recognise that there are invisible germs crawling around on them.

And it’s not just germs that are invisible, right? Have you noticed that human connections are too? We can’t really see them either. We can only guess that they are there. For example, when we meet people who look alike. We may guess that they are related. Or when we see a couple holding hands. We can infer that they are in a relationship. We don’t actually see the connection. But we can recognise it. And having recognised it, we then need to act accordingly. For example, when a bachelor meets an attractive woman who’s wearing a wedding ring, he should recognise her unseen connection to her husband. And refrain from pursuing her. Or flirting with her. Recognising the invisible connection, the man should be led to perform an appropriate visible action.

I mention all this because, although it may not be so obvious, our Mass readings for this solemn feast of All Saints are really all about connections. In the first reading, John sees a vision of heaven. And his vision is full of revealed connections. First, we’re told that he sees an angel. And what is an angel, if not a creature of connection? An angel’s sole purpose is to carry messages from God.  To connect God with others. What’s more, this particular angel carries a special seal. Meant to be used to mark the foreheads of the servants of God. Again, like angels, servants are also connected creatures. The purpose of a servant is to serve the Master.

The reading then goes on to describe John’s vision of countless people from every nation, race, tribe, and language. Very different individuals. And yet very obviously connected to one another. For they are all dressed in white robes. And the reason why their robes are white is because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb. In other words they have made it to heaven only because of their purifying connection with the self-sacrificing love of Christ.

And, as a result of recognising all these connections, this multitude of saints come together and join their voices to sing the same song: Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! The recognition of their invisible connection to God and to the Lamb, moves the saints to perform a single visible action. Enthusiastically, they sing the praises of God.

In the second reading too, we find an invitation to undergo a similar process of recognition and action. Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children. What is this, my dear friends, if not a call to remember our own intimate connection with God in Christ? And not just to remember the connection. But also to let our remembering lead us to engage in concrete visible actions. Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ. To do what the saints in the first reading do. To allow our recognition of invisible connections lead us to perform concrete visible actions. To deepen our relationship with Christ. To sing the praises of God.

And what happens when we do this? According to the responsorial psalm, we will be blessed. We shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves us. For such are those who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Recognition leading to action. Resulting in the enjoyment of blessings. This is also the process that Jesus describes in the gospel. Here the Beatitudes provide us with a list of people who share a common characteristic. They all recognise and act according to their connection to God and to others. And, as a result, they are all blessed. For example, who are the gentle and the poor in spirit, if not those who recognise their own deep need for God and their close connection to others? And who then allow this recognition to influence their actions. And who are the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for what is right? If not people who have a deep desire for everyone to be in right relationship with one another, with the rest of creation, and with God? It is people like that whom Jesus pronounces blessed. People who recognise their invisible connections to God and to others. And who then allow this recognition to move them to act appropriately. To sing the praises of God. Not just with the voices. But also with their lives.

This is the message that our readings present to us as we celebrate this solemn feast of All Saints. This is what it means to be a saint. Not just for me to strive for perfection as an individual. But, above all, first to recognise my many and often hidden connections. To God. To others. To the rest of creation. And to allow this recognition to move me to appropriate and concrete action. Singing the praises of God in thought and word and deed. So as to be truly blessed.

And isn’t this a timely reminder for all of us? Especially today? When we often experience the pressure to work as though we have no one else on whom to depend. Since no one owes us a living. And to live as though our actions do not have any impact on anyone else. Isn’t this the cause of the haze that has plagued us all these weeks? Today. When our individualistic tendencies often make us lose sight of our deep connections to one another. And to God. When, despite the many opportunities that technology gives us to connect with others, we still feel more disconnected and lonely than ever.

I’m reminded of these words from a song performed by the Christian band Tenth Avenue North. Words inspired by the seventeenth century poet John Donne:

No man is an island, we can be found.
No man is an island, let your guard down.
Please don’t try to fight me, I am for you.
We’re not meant to live this life alone.
Through trouble, rain, or fire, let’s reach out to something higher.
Ain’t no life outside each other.
We are not alone.
Through trouble, rain, or fire, let’s reach out to something higher.
Eyes open to one another.
We are not alone.

Sisters and brothers, we often wash our hands only because we recognise the presence of unseen realities. What will our recognition of invisible connections lead us to do today?

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