Thursday, November 01, 2007

Feast of All Saints: Embodiment of Beatitude

(Solemnity of All Saints-Year C; This homily was given 1 November, 2007, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; Read Matthew 5:1-12)

Our gospel for this Solemn Feast of All Saints is taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel, and focuses on perhaps the best known and most often quoted teachings of Christ: The Beatitudes. That word—Beatitude—is Latin for “blessing,” a word which Christ repeats nine times in almost as many verses.

The Beatitudes are situated at the very beginning of Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount.” As St. Matthew relates at the beginning of that passage:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them.
—Matthew 5:1-2

What did He teach them? In the Sermon on the Mount, and especially in the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us about heaven and earth. He does not instruct us only about heaven; the Beatitudes do not draw our attention only to the things of earth. They teach us both.

Jesus Christ as Teacher is the perfect embodiment of His own teaching, since He is in Himself the culmination of both heaven and earth. In His very person He brings those two realities together. He is the eternal Son of God, dwelling from all eternity in heaven. Yet He comes to be born in space and time, taking on our human nature and a body of flesh and blood like us. He takes on our earthly existence.

And no one ever lived out the Beatitudes as fully as Jesus Christ. No one was ever poorer in spirit than Him; no one ever mourned or felt more sorrow than Christ as a result of the tragedy of sin and suffering that has cast its shadow upon this earth; no one was ever more clean of heart; no one was ever more persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

Neither was there ever a man who was more blessed than He! Christ is the One who is forever blessed here on this earth, and forever in heaven.

Our feast day today reminds us that we too are called to share in that same blessedness. We, too, baptized into Christ and committed to Him by a life of faith, are called to embody the Beatitudes in our daily lives with our hearts set on the life of the world to come.

My favorite quote from the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, makes this very assertion. He says:

The men and women who did the most for this world were the men and women who thought mostly of the world to come.

Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in.’

Aim at earth and you will get neither.

Is that not the moral, social and political failure of our time? Men and women who have the best of intentions, dead set on making this world a better place, yet focusing all of their work and will and hopes right here in this life only? When we leave God out of the equation, and do not set our sights on heaven and the Kingdom of God, we lose both heaven and earth together.

How radically different are the lives of the saints! These are the men and women who changed and transformed the world around them. They were fearless, passionate, and effective in renewing the face of the earth. They challenged kings, guided nations, founded hospitals and health care centers, reformed society and set the world on fire.

They did these things not because they were experts in public policy or skilled in political science. They accomplished great things for this world because they had their hearts, minds, and wills completely set on the world that is to come.

Today we are reminded that we are called to do the same. How is Christ challenging us to embody the Beatitudes and reveal the lives of the saints in our own world right now?