Sunday, 1 November 2015

Solemnity of All Saints

Read Matthew 5: 1-12.

What does it take to be a saint? Well, one thing we know that it does not take, as today's great solemnity reminds us, is canonisation.  Heaven is teeming with life!  Eternity resounds with the hymning of countless men and women from every age: people you have loved and lost and people that nobody now remembers; people whose fame spread throughout the world during their own lifetimes and people who lived shrouded in humble anonymity; people whose virtues were sharp and surprising like thunder in the world, and even those who were generally thought of as being no good.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, once told a journalist, there are as many paths to God as there are people.

And what a lot of people were following Jesus on that day, when He preached the Sermon on the Mount - those famous words that contain within them all the depth and simplicity of the Christian Gospel.  Seated at the pinnacle of the mountain, the Lord spoke as God, not because He spoke of distant universal principles, nor because He commanded so that all things great and small were compelled to obey, but because He was speaking directly to each individual present, as personally and as intimately as only Almighty God can.

When He spoke of the poor in spirit, it was because He was gazing on a sea of poor souls.  The meek and gentle were all around Him.  He was looking right into the sad, sore eyes of the mourners when He pronounced them blessed, and He was moved to great tenderness by the mercy and purity He saw in the hearts of the simple, decent people who had come to be close to Him.  As the Son of Mary, His words were born of the Holy Spirit as only God's can be, and as the Son of God, He was inspired by the people He saw thronging about Him as only a man could be.  It was because He saw people making peace that He blessed peacemakers, and it is because He is God that peacemakers are blessed.

Many of us were taught from our earliest days that God knows us and loves us, and many of us think that we believe it - but we don't.  Not really.  Not to the degree that it is true.  Often we picture God as One Who hears our prayers when we make them, so long as we make them properly, and Who loves us very much in a clinical sort of way when He happens to think of us, but Who is only really paying attention when we're doing something wrong.  Intolerable nonsense! Imagine a mother who has only one child, a dear, loving child who is timid and suffering some disability, needing constant reassurance and attention.  Surely you can believe that this mother's life will be completely taken up in the life of her child, will become, in a very real sense, about her child, and nothing else? Furthermore, will not this very dedication and faithfulness be to her, because of her love, the greatest imaginable joy? Of course! Well, this is a reflection, albeit a poor, dim one, of God's love for you.  Blessings come not because your life is about God, but because God's life is about you! You are to Him as an only child; all His focus is constantly taken up with you, and you alone.  It is one of the mysteries of the infinite capacity of God that this is absolutely true, for everybody who has ever lived.

You must realise, then, that God really does know you through and through.  He sees your goodness, not because He looks on you through rose-tinted spectacles like an indulgent uncle, but because He sees you as you really are, and He likes what He sees.  If He is merciful (and He is) then it is because He is good, certainly - but it is also because you are good.  Not good enough to deserve His mercy, of course, and certainly not good enough not to need His mercy, but good enough that He wants to be merciful.  He gazes upon you, as He did on the crowd on the mount, and He sees something that He wants to call blessed.  This is true for everybody, whether we like it or not, and indeed we don't have to like it.  Sadly, not everybody does.  But many do recognise love, and willingly accept it, humbly, with reverence and awe, and these are the people we celebrate today.

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