I love this time of year; right now we’ve got every major sport on TV, the weather fits my liking, and we get two of the great solemnities of the Church, All Saints’ and All Souls’. Today we celebrate the big-S Saints, those greats of the faith, and tomorrow we will pray for the small s saints, all the faithful departed, those who have not yet reached eternal glory.
In July of 2013, Pope Francis declared one of his predecessors, Pope John XXIII, to be a big-S Saint. The now Pope St. John XXIII was not loved by all, as he was the one who called for Vatican II in 1962, which changed the Roman Church in ways both good and strikingly bad. John XXIII was a good guy, though, and very funny. He once wrote, “There are three ways to face ruin: women, gambling, and farming. My father chose the most boring one.”1
The Saints, however, are anything but boring, and like J XXIII, they are often funny and happy. And yet, every All Saints’ Day, we get the Beatitudes, the makings of a Saint, which seem like kind of a downer.
Now, “Jesus did not invent beatitudes: the (Old) Testament has up to 50 examples of them. By Jesus’ day, people would have recognized a beatitude when it was spoken and would have been at home with it. Jesus gave nine of them in the sermon on the mount. But there is something strange about his. Have you noticed?
(a) The first four seem to name bad things and call them good. Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty. Jesus seems to be saying that “it is a blessing to be weak and unhappy.”
Why would Jesus use the beatitude form in this way? Because he is radically innovative. Radical [from the Latin radix, root] means that he is rooted in God, the deep wellspring of life and love, not in some other place near the surface. These first four beatitudes are actually assurances to people who suffer—the displaced, those who are left out. Jesus is saying that they too are blessed and much loved by God.
(b) The next three more resemble the ancient form: Blessed are the merciful, the clean of heart and the brokers of peace. These sound reasonable, if a bit bland. But actually they are a spiritual step upwards from the first four. They are encouragements to those who want to take action in the world on behalf of the Kingdom. The blessedness consists of being at work with Jesus as a companion.
Then come the last two, which are stunning: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” And, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you. … ” These sound like curses, not blessings. Who could want such treatment? Yet they too are an enhancement of what precedes them. They presume that you might actually want to participate in his ultimate act of love, a love which cuts through false honor, wealth, and pride. Maybe you will take up the cross with Jesus. Radical love is blessed because it comes from being so close to God, whose identity is love.”2
So in the Beatitudes, Jesus taught us that some things which we thought were mutually exclusive really aren’t at all. Rags and riches, suffering and joy, mourning and great comfort, humility and great power, rejection and happiness; none of these are opposites anymore, for more often than not one can and does lead to the other, at least in the Kingdom of God.
So it seems that there’s nothing boring about living like a Saint! If you want to be a bit of a radical, to ditch the way our world measures you up, to be the kind of person others see as having something strangely special about them, try striving to be a saint, following Jesus on the Way.
2John Foley, SJ http://liturgy.slu.edu/AllSaints2015/reflections_foley.html