05 November 2009

Feast of Living Life Fully

Solemnity of All Saints (1 November 2009)

Readings: Rv 7:2-4, 9-14; Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a

We have just celebrated Halloween. The term, originally spelled Hallowe’en, is shortened from All Hallows' Even – “e'en” is a shortening of “even”, which is a shortening of “evening”. At the eve of All Saints Day, people celebrate and mock at death and the forces of darkness. Though it has now become a secular affair, Halloween still retains its Christian roots when it sends the message that death does not have the last word, nor is it the end of existence. The Feast of All Saints is essentially a celebration of life – life that is lived to the full.

On the mount, Jesus teaches us the Beatitudes, His way of living life to the full.

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Their freedom from inordinate desire for worldly gains makes them open to God’s grace and ready for God’s Kingdom.

2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will find consolation in the kindness of strangers, the warmth of family and friends, the goodness of their fellowmen, the embrace of God.

3. Blessed are the meek, the gentle and kind, those who reach out to others, those who care. The good that they do will come back to them many times over. Christ Himself guarantees in Luke 6,38: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

4. Blessed are they who fight for justice, who stand on the side of the poor, weak and the voiceless. Their sacrifice will not be in vain.

5. Blessed are the merciful, the compassionate, the forgiving. They have shown to their neighbor the face of God, and made themselves instruments of God’s love. This is God’s promise to them: (James 5,19-20) “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

6. Blessed are the clean of heart, free of cynicism and ill will. They see as God sees, love as God loves. They are indeed blessed. That is why St. Therese of Lisieux was able to say: “Tout est grace”: “Everything is grace”. In another writing, she says: “I wish to pass my Heaven in doing good on earth”.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers, they follow the straight and narrow way. They pursue justice without resorting to violence. They uphold the truth with fierce compassion to the lost and confused. They are exemplars of the faith, salt of the earth, light of the world. They live the words of Mt 5,16: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

8. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Since they share in Christ’s suffering, they will therefore share in His glory. St. Paul exhorts in Rom 8,31-32: “What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”

In these Beatitudes, Jesus turns upside-down what the world means by blessed and fortunate. They give hope and strengthen the resolve of those who suffer as a result of their faith in Christ. St. Paul says in Rom 8,18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”

The fact that after more than 2000 years, the world has yet to fully embrace the Beatitudes means that the Kingdom of God is still at hand, present but still not yet in its fullness. Perhaps, inasmuch as many fail to embrace the Beatitudes, many also fail to grasp the meaning of being saint. In 1 John 3,1, in the Second Reading, it is written: “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

The novelist George Orwell once wrote: “Many people genuinely do not want to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.” Another writer, Pamela Hansford Johnson, infamously quoted: “Sainthood is acceptable only in saints.”

How wrong they are. Sainthood is not some inaccessible state of being reserved only for the spiritual elite. To state the obvious, saints are ordinary mortals like you and me, subject to the same conditions and temptations of the flesh. How do they differ from us? They choose to live their lives to the full.

The diversity of ways by which they lived the Beatitudes adds all the more to the richness of the Church and splendor of Christian life.

(Here I am borrowing liberally from Fr. Robert Barron*.)

Among the saints, we have St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the brightest minds that ever lived; we also have St. John Mary Vianney, who barely passed Latin in the seminary.

Among the saints, we have St. Vincent de Paul who ministered in the city; we also have St. Anthony who found sanctity in the desert.

We have St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a mystic, who practiced penance and mortification in a monastery; we also have St. Hildegard of Bingen, also a mystic, who was not shy about singing, dancing and throwing flowers in praise of God.

We have St. Augustine of Hippo who spent much of his youth in pursuit of worldly joys; we also have St. Dominic Savio, renowned in holiness though he only reached the age of 14.

We have St. Peter, a simple fisherman; and St. Edith Stein, an intellectual working alongside Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, great philosophers of modern times.

We have St. Joan of Arc, who led armies; and St. Francis of Assissi, a man of peace.

We have the irascible St. Jerome (he was known to have not a few quarrels, even with some of his contemporary saints); and the almost too sweet St. Therese de Lisieux.

We have St. Catherine of Siena, who stood up to popes; and Pope St. Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy to go back to monastic solitude.

We have St. Bruno, grave and serious; and St. Philip Neri, who made a spirituality out of laughter.

Brothers and sisters, consider the saints, consider too those you know who lived their life in heroic ways. They serve as guides to remind us that living life to the full doesn’t necessarily mean living the “good life”, free of worries and fears.

Consider a saint, or several saints, and make his/her/them your patron. There is at least a saint for each of one of us. Let their example teach you that living life to the full means that God is with us, which means that we have all we need not just to face the world and its difficulties, but to transform the world as together we build God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Consider your calling to be a saint, and live your life to the full.


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