Revelation 7:2-4; 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
They didn’t set out each day to change the world. They didn’t think of themselves as persons of power, people who could influence our culture and the powerful media elite or the shapers of public opinion. They didn’t want to do anything more than simply go to work, do their jobs, care for their families and maybe help a few other people besides.
Most, if not all of them, would wince if anyone called them saints. Most if not all of them would rather be thought of as ordinary folks, people who just wanted to do their job and do it with caring concern for people other than themselves.
So, then, what is holiness? And who are saints? Perhaps we need to change our mental pictures of who they are and how they behave. And perhaps, too, we should examine what we think God wants of us.
These Beatitudes we just heard. Did we hear them or did we just listen to them without hearing?
Note that these Beatitudes speak of longing for a better world and a better life, longing for a better world and a better life with a realistic hope in God’s presence, power and love. If we do not have hope we have nothing. Oh, we may possess a lot of things, but without hope our souls are empty, dead.
The beatitudes speak of those Blesseds in our world who are active in this world, active in giving mercy and forgiveness; those who seek purity of heart, singleness of purpose; those who live simply and directly without junking up and complicating their lives. Then there are the peacemakers, those who resolve conflicts by employing means other than simply bashing others into submission. Finally there are those who work for justice, those who invest their energies in bringing fairness into the lives of others, as opposed to those who want only to win, and win at all costs.
Do we think that these Beatitudes are unrealistic; that they are so idealistic that in following them no one could live in this world? If we think that they’re unrealistic, then perhaps we should ask ourselves if we’re in a state of denial. Perhaps we are living behind our defense mechanisms; perhaps we are living in passive, defensive lives, avoiding spending the energies that are necessary to be actively engaged in changing our lives and the lives of those around us.
A very central and crucial question presents itself to us, namely “Who has power and control over my life?” For many folks the answer is “ME, and only me!” “I do what I want to do when I want to do it… and I do it my way.” For such people all of this talk about holiness is madness… it’s stupid and senseless. Most of all it appears to them to be utterly unrealistic, not practical.
But what is more real, love or power? Self-sacrifice or self-seeking? Generosity or acquisition? And isn’t it true that only a very strong person can be meek and humble? Meekness is not weakness. A gentle giant is meek; people of great power are often at the same time humble. To be meek and gentle requires that one live with good self-restraints. To be restrained doesn’t mean that one must live in solitary confinement. To be restrained in this sense means we are focused and have self-control.
Suppose firefighters lived in passive, defensive attitudes toward their jobs and toward those around them? Suppose police and EMS people want only protect what they have, protect what is theirs, and protect only themselves? Then they would not be what they are for us, people show self-sacrifice, generosity and caring in times of trouble.
Well, then, just who are saints? And how many of us are called to holiness, to wholeness of life and therefore to wholesome lives?
To answer those questions you must begin somewhere, and the only place in which to begin is in your own self. How can you possibly influence the lives of those around you and change any small portion of this world unless you change yourself? You cannot give what you don’t have. And if you think holiness is something so far distant from you and so irrelevant to your life that you can’t attain them then you are paralyzed before you even start. The truth is that the Beatitudes are not out of our reach. They are close by.
God doesn’t play dirty tricks on you. He has called you to holiness just as much as He has called me. And having called you, do you for one moment think He will not provide you with what you need for holiness, for wholesomeness in life, for a holistic integrity with the lives of those around you? If God has called you to holiness, as I think He surely has, then He will give you all of the love and support you need to live that way.
He will give you those things just as much as He gave them to those police, fire, and EMS personnel we hear about in the news. He will give you what He has given Pope Francis.
On this All Saints day it’s good to remember them… and to realize how much we can be just like them. Holiness is not out of our reach, it is attainable. Pope Francis is a wonderful example. He calls us to do what we are quite capable of doing. He calls us to be compassionate, to be merciful and forgiving, to go out in caring and with love to those who are regarded as outsiders. He calls us to overcome barriers and to draw people together. No more harsh words, no more condemning. Encounter others He bids us. Look them in the eye. Regard others as our brothers and sisters. We all belong to God’s family. God is the Father of us all. Holiness is making that real in our lives.
With times of prayer, with time spent being the presence of God we can be filled with the ever-present Spirit of God. If we do that, amazing things can happen to us and amazing things can happen through us.