The People Who Long to See God’s Face

Today’s post is from Michaelangelo Allocca, a member of  St. Francis Xavier parish, Manhattan, New York, and a religion teacher at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey. He holds degrees in religion from Columbia University and the University of Chicago, and he has wide experience teaching religious studies, humanities, and Latin at the high school and university levels, and also as a catechist and retreat leader.  Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here

“Lord, this is the people that longs to see Your face.”

This refrain from today’s psalm seized my attention when I started to meditate on the scriptures for the Solemnity of All Saints because of the many ways I recognize myself as a member of a people longing to see God’s face.

At St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, I am a member of the RCIA team who helps prepare adults for full membership in the Catholic Church. Normally the rites of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, first Eucharist) are celebrated at the Easter Vigil, a moment of great anticipation for which the candidates have longed for many months. A dear, non-Catholic friend once dramatized for me the intensity of this longing as nobody ever had before, though I’d been involved with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) for years already. She attended an Easter Vigil with me, and before Mass (here I will trust the reader not to turn me over to the Inquisition for what I am about to confess) I told her she should trust her own instincts about whether to receive communion. Afterwards, she said that at any other Mass she might have done so, but that on this occasion, she so clearly perceived how long and intensely the candidates had waited for this privilege, that she would have felt it an insult to them if she received communion.

As we were getting closer to the longed-for sacraments this year, a little world-wide health crisis blew up, causing Masses to be suspended, along with our regular RCIA meetings, and before long it was obvious that the longed-for sacraments would not be celebrated at Easter. The candidates have now been “longing to see Your face” for almost seven months longer than they should have, never giving up patience or hope.

Their longing will be satisfied, appropriately, today: the Solemnity of All Saints.  The white baptismal garments they will wear clearly echo great multitude from all nations wearing white robes as they stand before the throne of the Lamb, as we heard described in today’s first reading from Revelation.

Their patient waiting to be welcomed fully into the church mirrors in dramatic fashion the similar longing of so many Catholics. All who have been prevented by the pandemic from attending in-person celebration of the Mass, for months now deprived of praying in the presence of their fellow worship, and of receiving the Real Presence of the Eucharist, also are people longing to see God’s face.

As a gay Catholic, I personally am reminded of my membership in another particular group who longs to see God’s face. Of course, we all can always see God’s face in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters, as long as we recall that we and they are “wonderfully made,” in the words of Psalm 139. But as we see a lack of righteousness in the larger world, but most painfully in our own Church, we are reminded that we are especially dependent on Jesus’s promise in today’s Gospel: that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied,

The longing will continue as long as places in Poland are declared “LGBT-free zones,” with the full support of Catholic bishops there; as long as there are countries where being gay is illegal gay, and sometimes subject to the death penalty– and too often the Catholic hierarchy either actively supports these policies or remains silent and complicit.

But the promise of seeing God’s face looks a bit closer when Pope Francis tells the world that gay couples deserve legal protection, and that “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.” While it’s astounding that such words even needed to be said, the pope’s declaration makes it harder for some bishops to keep pretending that there’s anything Catholic about their bigotry.

Closer to home, I know of a Catholic high school that recently chose a textbook that tells students they should think of homosexuality as similar to alcoholism or pedophilia: while those who have “it” didn’t choose it, the immoral actions the condition leads to are still unacceptable, according to this book. In other words, being gay is a disease that needs to be cured, or held “in remission.” One student longing to see God’s face was brave enough to approach this school’s administration, and through patient persistence, convinced them they were perpetrating an injustice on their students, and to agree to change the textbook. The recorded a talk about his experience for the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, an annual conference for students and faculty at Jesuit high schools and colleges in the U.S. (this year held virtually) through which he brought the hope of seeing God’s face to many others.

Along with all of the various peoples longing to see God’s face, and with all the communion of the Saints, I rejoice in the hope renewed in today’s Scriptures: that our long wait will ultimately bring us to the day when we shall see God as God is.

–Michaelangelo Allocca, November 1, 2020

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