In the first reading, the sacred writer identifies those wearing white robes as “the ones who have survived the time of great distress.” The reference is, of course, to the many martyrs who had shed their blood for their faith. Perhaps we can consider what it is that we count as stress or distress in our own day and age.
In its annual “Stress in America” survey, the American Psychological Association found lots of common ground in 2017. In terms of the top three stressors, 63% of Americans were most stressed about the future of our country, 62% were stressed about money and 61% were stressed about work. Of course there are many others sources of stress in our daily lives; for instance, concerns about health and well-being. Those whose lives are intimately connected to the Church find themselves stressed by the on-going revelations about inappropriate behavior on the part of the clergy. Religious men and women are stressed by thoughts of the future of religious life. I think it would be fair to say that none of us live stress free lives. However, do we ever think of the saints as people who have survived the time of great stress?
It might be helpful to remember that as stressful as our times can be, it has always been thus. Following Jesus has never been described as a walk in the park, but we have gone through other periods of distress in our own lives, in our country’s history, and in the Church’s history. Now is not the time to shy away from the hard work of being a Christian. Our communities and our country and our Church need us to be those who survive today’s time of great distress.
The Gospel points us in that direction. We are called upon to hunger and thirst for justice, to be merciful, to be clean of heart, to be peacemakers, knowing that we will likely face persecution in pursuit of these goals. Persecution can come in many forms. Perhaps the most common form of persecution in our own country is that of simply being ignored.
Those who follow St. Francis of Assisi find inspiration in the little poor man of Assisi. I frequently remember a prayer we used to say that reminded us that at a time when the world was cold and dark, lacking in courtesy and the virtue of charity, God sent the world this gift, this man of virtue. Today we remember the many men and women who found inspiration in his Gospel way of life and who have joined the throng that sings to the Lamb who sits enthroned in heaven. We are called to be saints for our day, to survive the time of stress within which we live.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator