All Saints’ Day – Seeing the Face of God in the Poor

All Saints I, Wassily Kandinsky, 1911, Lenbachhaus
(About this Image)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Psalm
Solemnity of All Saints
Psalm 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6
November 1, 2020

This Sunday we celebrate All Saints’ Day and both non-gospel readings are from the New Testament. This provides the opportunity to look at the Psalm for the day. It is Psalm 24 and is one that has a universal meaning and appeal but one which also speaks powerfully to our time.

The Psalms are the church’s great songs. Like many of the Psalms, we are unsure when Psalm 24 was written. It is called a Psalm of David (Ps. 24:1) and some scholars think it could have been written in the early monarchy. Whether it does or not, the psalmist begins with a bold statement of the LORD’S power in the world:

The earth is the LORD’S and all it holds,
the world and those who live there.

(Ps 24:1b)

He clearly asserts that all the earth belongs to the LORD, the God worshipped by the Israelites and includes all nations and peoples. He continues by a characteristically Jewish statement about creation:

For God founded it on the seas,
established it over the rivers.

(Ps 24:2)

The Jews were unique in holding that there is a God who made the world “out of nothing” and not just fashioned it from a pre-existing chaos. This is a statement also that it reflects the mind of the creator and is orderly. As we have seen with the many hurricanes and fires this year, Nature is powerful but that power is subordinate to God’s.

Thus, the LORD must be worshipped and indeed worshipped by all. The psalmist is clear that this worship is centered on the temple in Jerusalem: “the mountain of the Lord.” This is on Mount Zion and the image is always “going up” or “ascending to it.” Worshipping the LORD is a solemn and awe-inspiring event and one that is not taken lightly. Ancient peoples would have been clear that there would need to be a time of preparation and purification. The psalmist indeed prepares us for this ascent:

Who may go up the mountain of the LORD?
Who can stand in his holy place

(Ps 24:3)

The Jews in fact have countless chapters especially in the book of Leviticus to detailing these obligations and preparations. Yet look at the Psalmist’s next lines:

The clean of hand and pure of heart,
who are not devoted to idols,
who have not sworn falsely.

(Ps 24:4)

The psalmist does not emphasize detailed preparation and assurance of ritual purity but “clean” hands and a pure heart. That is living out the commandments of God but doing so from a desire to please him from “the bottom of one’s heart.”

We see this especially in the Psalm 51 (the Memorare) especially:

For you do not desire sacrifice;
a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit;
God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart

(Ps 51:18–19)

The Lord also expects single-minded devotion. The LORD is to be worshiped exclusively. There is no room for the worship of any other god. Note he also includes honesty. One’s dealings with God are to be straightforward that is to include our relationships with each other. Thus, only those who speak truthfully may worship the LORD.

This is a covenant relationship. Covenants, as we have seen many times, before are with the LORD, but also include our neighbor. Thus, we are required both to serve God with clean hands and hearts but also to be honest and truthful with our brothers and sisters. A loving relationship with the LORD is the great blessing. Because the guarantor is the LORD it is not subject to feelings or external circumstances.

The Jews know the meaning of blessing. In the “Book of Numbers” they would have read:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

(Nu 6:22–27)

The great blessing is the reality of the covenant which is celebrated at the temple on Mt. Zion it also means as we see above that we “see his face” – we have real intimacy with the LORD. They are not connected with a God attained by the exercise of reason but “the God of Jacob,” the god of their ancestors who revealed himself to them and led them out of slavery in Egypt. Seeing this God is the mark of the people – generation – who will be included in his covenant and receive his blessings.

The psalmist sings today: 

He will receive blessings from the LORD,
and justice from his saving God

(Ps 24:5)

One of the least loved teachings of the church is the universal destination of all goods. This is defined in the Catechism: 

The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise […]

Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor. 

(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2403, 2405)

It is a wonderful commentary on today’s psalm. It connects “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds” with what “clean of hand and pure of heart” means in this time and place. Pope Francis in Fratelli tutti expresses this succinctly: “I care for and cultivate something that I possess, in such a way that it can contribute to the good of all.” This is how we are blessed and how justice is experienced. 

Our passage today ends with:

Such is the generation that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.

(Ps 24:6)

As with the reading above on blessing it is the face of God that is desired. Our relationship with him can only have meaning if it is personal. He does not speak of a generic God but of the “God of Jacob” – the LORD. It can only be personal if it includes the marginalized whose participation in the common good depends upon us. We will see the face of God most clearly in the faces of the poor.