THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS (2020)
Readings:Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14Psalms 24:1-61 John 3:1-3Matthew 5:1-12
All of us are called to be holy. Very few of us will reach the heights of sanctity achieved by those we celebrate today, at least those recognized by the Church in the process we call canonization. However, what we celebrate today is not limited to, or confined by, the very finite process of canonization. Indeed, today’s Solemnity draws our attention to all those saints who now rest in the bosom of our Heavenly Father, and who, quite possibly, might be known only to ourselves. We are not diluting tomorrow’s commemoration of All Souls by saying this, for some of those we have known, while they are not universally celebrated, they have displayed in our presence the elements of sanctity, which is at the heart of what we celebrate today.
Our first reading is from the Book of Revelation, an Apocalyptic Book rather dense with apocalyptic imagery. It somewhat answers what heaven is going to look like, if you have a taste for apocalyptic literature. Our best takeaway is that the vision included “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue (its going to be crowded in heaven).” They are all people who have been washed by the “Blood of the Lamb,” and whose salvation is from the God who is “seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” These are the people whose lives we celebrate today on this Solemnity of All Saints, the people our second reading refers to as “children of God.” They are people we one day hope to be, regardless of how successful we have been at achieving sanctity; they are people who did their best to live Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, proclaimed to us in our third reading from Matthew.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is the “New Moses,” something that would be appealing to the Jewish audience targeted by Matthew. To give this important teaching, Jesus goes “up the mountain” as Moses did, and then He speaks the words that we identify as the Beatitudes. If we seek the true “blessing” which will enable us to take our places beside the saints in heaven, Jesus gives us on the mountain a recipe for sainthood.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” We are all not intended to be literally poor, although many are, but we are to be “poor in spirit.” Being poor in Spirit helps us to recognize our need for God and the things of God. As beggars, we reach out to accept every gift generously and freely given to us by a loving God, while at the same time recognizing our dependence on God. Foremost of those gifts is the gift of faith, the grace to see ourselves as God sees us, and the humility to sing with Mary, “The Lord has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” God saves us through His suffering, but He doesn’t save us from suffering. Jesus is no stranger to mourning. He no doubt mourned the loss of His father Joseph, He mourned the death of His friend Lazarus, and He wept over the woman of Jerusalem. Our being people who mourn enables us to embrace the inevitable sufferings of life, and do what we can to alleviate the suffering of others. As God’s children we mourn the chasm which separates us from the world as God wants it to be, and we pledge ourselves to bringing about the Kingdom of God as God intends.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Meekness, like humility, is probably not the world’s most favorite virtue, but it is meekness which gives us a certain docility to God’s will, and paves the way for gentleness, kindness, and patience, even in the face of sufferings, disappointments, and even insults. Meekness is found in so many of those who are healed in the gospels, men and woman who cannot even raise their eyes to heaven or look Jesus in the eye, or those who go so far as to ask Jesus for a miracle for others.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” We obtain God’s mercy when we are truly worried, “thirsting,” about extending mercy to others. The wondrous thing about the recent worldwide protests for racial equality is that they brought people together on every continent, black and white and brown people, who recognized the reality of racial injustice, and who were willing to march in order that it might cease. Parishioners For Justice have been hungering and thirsting after a justice which is missing from our lives, and without which the world cannot be made a better place. All people deserve the peace, and happiness, and justice, and healing promised by Jesus.
“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Purity of heart is a favorite subject of the Fathers of the Church, and it describes the right intention or sincerity that puts God first and judges everything else in relationship to God. Those who are pure of heart have the kind of integrity that exists between what one says and what one does.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” So much of what Jesus has said up until now describes the person who is capable of making peace. The meek and merciful and those who truly hunger for justice are uniquely equipped to be peacemakers. Sr. Mary McGlone, SJ, states that “because they naturally seek to understand others’ deepest desires, their empathy breeds trust, and thus they can open others’ hearts to seek the good of the whole.” Too often people want what is best for “me,” and in attempting to get that, they offend rather than bring people together, they divide rather than unite, and they bring upset rather than bringing peace. When enemies become friends, when natural differences are embraced and understood, when there is a broad concern for others’ needs and less of a concern for what “I” want, then are we acting most like the Lord Jesus, then are we able to be called peacemakers.
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Jesus is here preparing His disciples for what is ahead, for like our Lord and Savior, we can expect to suffer the insults and false accusations just as He did. All saints, but perhaps the martyrs in particular way, imitate the Lord in their lives and in their deaths, and here they are assured that “their reward will be great.”
This Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that men and women just like us could achieve the sanctity that would assure them a place in heaven. With the Beatitudes as our guide, we are to strive for a similar sanctity. At the close of His sermon on the Mount, Jesus will say to His disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the ones who do the will of my Father in Heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) We need to embrace the challenge of making our lives more saintly by following Jesus’ recipe for sanctity given in the Sermon on the Mount, making every effort to be meek and poor in spirit, to be merciful and clean of heart, and to be peacemakers. May we pray to the saints that through their intercession we might accept the challenges, insults, and sufferings that come our way as part of God’s plan for us, a plan that will lead us through the gates of Heaven where we can hear it said to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joys of your Master.” (Mt. 25:21)