Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
All Saints Day 2003
November 1, 2003
Rev 7:2-4,9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12
1) This is a feast about the whole point of human life. We’re made for heaven, to spend eternity with God in His kingdom of love. Jesus came down from heaven to show us the way to heaven where he awaits us. Today we celebrate those people who followed Jesus all the way there, the great and famous saints we know about, and the countless quiet saints, probably many of those who passed on to us the faith, who died in the love of the Lord and now live in His love. These are the multitude who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (1st reading) and brought those white baptismal garments “unstained into the everlasting life of heaven,” as they were instructed to do on the day of their baptism. These are the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation,” who have not just been CALLED “children of God” through baptism but HAVE LIVED as children of God throughout their lives (2nd reading). These are the ones who singing today in heaven that beautiful endless song “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
2) “Salvation belongs to our God.” Yes, heaven is always and exclusively a gift of God beyond anything we can merit. But God out of love has made heaven the result of our choice. He won’t force us there. Just as he has given those who have gone before us a choice, he gives us a choice. In fact, he gives us many choices, in each of which we set our feet on the path to heaven, to God, to eternity, or away from them. It is a choice between true, lasting happiness and momentary pleasure; a choice between light and darkness; a choice between good and evil; a choice ultimately between life and death. Jesus came down to show us the way to choose well, and to help us to choose well, but there are competing voices that tell us to choose against what God wants. The saints are those who have chosen well. They are the multitude of men and women, just like us, from every nation and language, who have responded to God’s grace and made it. Today we recall their example and call upon their intercession so that we might follow their good example.
3) In today’s Gospel, Jesus gathers us around him and presents to us the way to heaven, the way to happiness, the way to holiness. The path that he shows us stands in stark contrast to the path that the world tell us will make us happy. Jesus’s words present us with the choice on which our lives hinge. Let’s listen to him with both ears:
The world tells us that to be happy, we have to be rich. Jesus says, rather, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven.”
The world tells us we’re happy when we don’t have a concern in the world. Jesus says, on the other hand, “Blessed are those” who are so concerned with others that “they mourn” over the others’ miseries, “for they will be comforted” by him eternally.
Worldly know-it-alls say, “You have to be strong and powerful to be happy.” Jesus, in contrast, retorts, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
The world says increasingly more each day, “To be happy, you’ve got to have all your sexual fantasies fulfilled” and our culture promotes people like Hugh Hefner and promiscuous, sexy Hollywood vixens as those who have it made. Jesus, however, says “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”
The world preaches, “You’re happy when you accept yourself,” and espouses an “I’m okay, you’re okay,” brand of moral relativism. Jesus says, though, “Blessed are those who HUNGER and THIRST for holiness, for his grace and justification, for they will be filled.”
The world says, “You’re happy when you don’t start a fight, but finish it” and people from professional wrestlers, to boxers, to generals, to armchair or back-seat presidents shout “No mercy,” Jesus says “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Our American culture increasingly says, “You’re happy when everyone considers you nice, when you don’t have an enemy in the world” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” and “blessed are you when people revile you, persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” “for their reward will be the kingdom of heaven.
4) “Blessed are you!”, the Lord Jesus says, “you who are poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, you who mourn, who care for what is right, who are pure in heart, who make peace, you who are persecuted! Blessed are you!” The words of Jesus may seem very strange to us. Jesus exalts those whom the world generally regards as weak. He basically says to us, “Blessed are you who seem to be LOSERS, because you are the REAL WINNERS: the kingdom of heaven is YOURS!” Spoken by him who is “gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29), these words present a constant challenge which demands a deep and abiding conversion of the spirit, a great change of heart, in all of us, because most of us don’t really strive to live that way.
5) Jesus’ call has always demanded a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts, the choice between good and evil, between life and death. It is a choice between the voice of the Good Shepherd and the voice of a blind guide. Which voice will you choose to follow? To put one’s faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what he says and to act on it — no matter how strange it may seem. And choosing to follow Jesus means choosing to reject the seductive claims of the world and of evil, no matter how sensible or attractive they may seem.
6) In the end, Jesus does not merely speak the Beatitudes. He LIVES the Beatitudes. In fact, He IS the Beatitudes. Looking at Him you will see what it means to be poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, to mourn, to care for what is right, to be pure in heart, to make peace, even to be blessed while persecuted. This is why he has the right to say, “Come, follow me!” Jesus never says merely, “Do what I say” but rather “Come, follow me!” Jesus calls us to follow him all the way. He calls us not just to hear the beatitudes, not even just to live the beatitudes, but to BE the beatitudes. The beatitudes describe both the face of Christ and the face of a Christian, the face of one striving with God’s help to become a saint. We all know how applicable each of the beatitudes were to the life of Mother Teresa, who was and now is, eternally, blessed by God. Those are adjectives that should be able to be predicated of any of us — that we are poor in spirit (treasuring God in all things), concerned to the point of tears for others, gentle, pure of heart (seeing God in others and in events), zealous for holiness and God’s kingdom, merciful, peaceful and peace-making, and willing to suffer and even to die in order to bring others the Good News about God and about themselves. The beatitudes are what we should want inscribed about us on our tombstone. They are the pathway to heaven and the pathway to true beatitude here in this life. Yes, they are an uphill path, but one on which we walk trustingly and confidently hand-in-hand with the Savior. We are called to be a people of the beatitudes. We are called very clearly to be saints. Christ would not be calling us to this beatitude unless he were prepared to give us all the help we need to achieve it.
7) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness.” Through this Eucharist, on this great feast day, surrounded here at this Mass by all the saints in heaven, that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) who are cheering us now on to victory, we ask the Lord help us have that HUNGER, to have that THIRST, that DESIRE for holiness and for living the beatitudes, so that one day with all the saints we will indeed be filled in heaven forever. With the saint from Tarsus, all the saints together shout to us now, “This is God’s will for you: your sanctification!” (1Ths 4:3). Amen!