Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. These are those who took seriously what Jesus taught. Today’s Gospel begins Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It opens: ‘This is what he taught them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven,” and so on. (Matthew 5:2-3) These Beatitudes are not moral injunctions: Do this, and you will be blessed. Nor are they commands; they contain no ‘should,’ or ‘ought,’ or ‘thou shalt not.’ Rather, they are descriptions of ‘the saints,’ those whom we honour today; the Beatitudes are things they did. The saints, then, are those, like Christ, whose is the Kingdom, who see God and who are called sons and daughters of God. Our Second Readings says, ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2) In saying that ‘we shall be like him,’ these Beatitudes also describe the Christ, for The Saints are like him. In them we see reflected a true image of the Christ. (1 Corinthians 13:12. C.f.: Genesis 1:26-27) If we want to take our place in their company, we, too, need to take Christ’s teaching seriously.
These Beatitudes call us to believe that what Jesus says is true, to believe that we are God’s Children now (c.f.: Rule of St Benedict Prologue:5), despite the fact that outward circumstances might say otherwise: that now we are poor in spirit, at the end of our rope (as the Message Bible has it), that now we mourn, is just to say that our lot is no different to Jesus on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Yet, though he was condemned and reviled by all, God raised him up. This is the promise contained in the Beatitudes, or as St John has it: ‘we shall be like him.’ That we find ourselves rejected or poorly treated for doing what we know to be right, doesn’t mean that it isn’t right, nor that God has rejected us. Our perseverance testifies to our belief in the Good News. It is because we believe it to be true, that we act on it … try to do our bit to bring about a foretaste of what is to come. These Beatitudes portray the saints as people in want: they want justice, they want peace, they want comfort in their distress, they want healing. Though they can do little to change things themselves, they live in a way that testifies to their neediness and to their desire for these things to be done with, and they let this be their prayer to God: ‘as a person would plead for his neighbour, before God my eyes shed tears, that justice may be done for a mortal with God,’ as Job would put it. (Job 16:20-21) The message of the Prophets is that God listens to the cries of these poor, these little ones. (Exodus 22:22-24) These saints believe that God will answer, and so, they do not give up. For this we recognise them as holy.
These saints are ordinary people, needy like ourselves, who believe that God loves them even so, and who, seeing their own need in the neediness of others, set about making that love known by reaching out to comfort them and ease their burden — doing to others as they would like others to do for them. (Matthew 7:12) This, I would suggest, is what Benedict had in mind when he urged us to practice our good zeal: ‘They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.’ (Rule of St Benedict 72:4-7) In doing this for one another, God shall bring us all together, the strong together with the weak, into his Kingdom. (Rule of St Benedict 72:12; 64:19; Prologue:50) It is something very ordinary, something we can all aspire to, and yet it is the way of holiness and the way to holiness. This is the meaning of the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes suffer from overexposure; we’ve heard them over and over. To hear them again fresh and new, I find it helpful to listen to The Message version of them:
- You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
- You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
- You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
- You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
- You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
- You’re blessed when you get your inside world — your mind and heart — put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
- You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
- You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
- Not only that — count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens — give a cheer, even! — for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:1-12)
In these Beatitudes, Jesus speaks to his disciples; in them he speaks to us. In them he invites us to share his vision of who we might be and let it move us, that we might go on with him rejoicing into his Father’s Kingdom, there to be numbered among the saints. (Philippians 4:3; Luke 10:20)