Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rejoice And Be Glad, For Great Is Your Reward In Heaven.

The First Reading for the Solemnity of All Saints is taken from the Book of Revelation, also called the Apocalypse. (7:2-4, 9-14).

In a vision, John saw four angels, who stopped the winds so that they could not blow upon their earth. These angels had the power to destroy the earth and the sea. “Then, I, John, saw another angel coming up from the east, holding the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea.” He told the four angels to do no harm until God’s servants had received the mark of God. The mark of God was a seal on their forehead bearing the name of God and of the Lamb.

Then John had a vision of a multitude of people, greater than anyone could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue on earth. They stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated upon the throne, and from the Lamb!”

Then all of the angels gathered around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell prostrate before the throne and worshipped God, exclaiming:

"Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!"

Then one of the elders spoke to John. He asked John two questions: “Who are these people in the white robes, and where did they come from?”

It seems that John did not know the answers, and he said, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” Then the elder said: "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”


Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 24

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.

R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.


Today’s Second Reading is taken from the First Letter of John (3:1-3)

The beloved Apostle speaks of the great love God our Father has given to us, calling us his children, for that is what we are! There is a reason that the people of the world do not recognize us as God’s children, is that they do not know God.

We are God’s children now, while we live in God’s kingdom on this earth. But God has not revealed to us what we will become when we are welcomed into God’s kingdom in heaven. One thing is sure, though: When Jesus Christ appears in his glory to take His people into heaven, we will see him as he is, and we will be changed. John writes, “We will be like him”. This does not mean that we will become equal to Christ, because He is “one in being with the Father”. Rather, we will become like Jesus in his human nature, which He shares with us. As Jesus is holy, so he will make us holy.

Finally, Jesus speaks again of the way it is here and now for God’s children. We believe that God our Father has called us to the fullness of life in Him. We hope in the promise Jesus has make, that we will see him as He really is. That faith and that hope should have an effect on us now, making us willing to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so that we can turn away from sin, so that we can have the understanding to know, and the will to do what calls us to do in our lives. This is how Jesus lived. Those who believe and hope in him aspire, with the help God’s grace, to live like Him.


Today’s gospel is taken from Matthew (5:1-12a)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain side, and sat down. It was the custom for rabbis to sit down when giving instruction to his disciples. When Jesus sat down, his followers gathered in a semicircle around him, and he began to teach.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The poor in spirit are those who know that they need God. They need him to forgive their sins. They need him to help them do what is right, and to avoid what is wrong. They depend on him for all that they need in this life. In the next life, they will be citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

When our relatives or friends die, we are sad, and we mourn their absence. Some of us become very sad because we are sorry for our sins. Some are sad because there are so many people who suffer in this world. Those who mourn will find comfort, because God’s loves them.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Meekness is a form of humility. The meek trust God rather than trust themselves. They know they need God to teach them. They acknowledge that they cannot do what is right and avoid what is wrong without God’s grace. Jesus reminds them of God’s promise: “The meek will inherit the earth, and shall delight in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 36:11).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Someone who is starving is desperate for food. Someone who is without water is desperate for something to drink. A disciple ought to be desperate to be good. His greatest desire is to obey God’s will, to do what God wants. A disciple also wants to see, and to teach, others to obey God. The disciples who hunger and thirst for righteousness will find God, and God will satisfy them.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

We expect that God will forgive us, not because we deserve forgiveness, but because God is merciful. Then, what we expect to receive from God is what we must grant to others. If we are merciful, we will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

“Pure in heart” means sincere. We may observe another person’s deeds and think that he is good. But she may have done the good deed so that other people would praise her. Or perhaps he wanted to be proud of himself. God told Samuel, “The LORD judges by the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Those whose hearts are pure will “see God”, because they learn more and more about who God is all the time. When they leave this world, they will be able to “see God” very clearly. That is impossible for us to imagine right now.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

God is the “God of peace” (Philippians 4:9). Those who work for peace are like God. God wants his children to be at peace with one another and with him. Those who are at peace with God will not be troubled within themselves. They are able to work at establishing right relationships between themselves and other people, and even between one nation and another.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The early Christians often suffered because they were ordered to worship false gods. Sometimes they were shunned. Sometimes they were punished by the authorities. Sometimes they were put to death. But they are blessed, because their righteousness, they will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.

Those who strive to do God’s will, and to conform their own will to the will of God, are likely to suffer in this world, as did the prophets and holy ones in the Old Testament, and the disciples of Jesus throughout the ages since his own life, death and resurrection. Keep in mind what Jesus said:

“A servant is not greater than his master. As they persecuted me, they will persecute you; they will follow your teaching as little as they followed mine. It is on my account that you will be treated like that, because they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15:18-20). Or, as one of my spiritual guides, now gone to his reward, used to say, “If they’re not saying nasty things about you, you’re not doing it right, yet!”

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.

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What is commanded by the fourth Beatitude? What is forbidden by the seventh Beatitude? We were never given answers to such questions in our childhood. In fact such questions were never asked. But we had to memorise answers on each of the Ten Commandments: not only to the questions ‘What is commanded’ and ‘What is forbidden’ by each of the Commandments, but ‘What else is commanded’ and ‘What else is forbidden’. That came to 40 answers. But there was silence on the Beatitudes – even though they are the essence of the Sermon on the Mount, as the Sermon on the Mount is the essence of the Gospel. This was surely an imbalance: the Old Testament choking out the New.

Many ancient writers saw the parallel and the contrast between Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai, and Jesus pronouncing the Beatitudes on the Mount of Olives. Chromatius, who flourished around the year 400, wrote, “When the law was first given on the mountain, the people were forbidden to draw close. But now, as the Lord was teaching on the mountain, no one is forbidden. Rather, all are invited that they may hear, because there is severity in the law and grace in the gospel.”

The very first word tells it all. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Another translation says “How happy are the poor in spirit.” But there are differences between ‘blessed’ and ‘happy’.

You can be blessed without knowing it. I saw this clearly as I watched a young couple almost competing with each other to hold their baby, while the baby slept through it all. And you can be blessed without appreciating it. “You’re blessed with good health,” someone says to you; but you don’t feel blessed at all, you feel just normal. It is only when you fall ill that you appreciate health. “When you have a toothache,” said Thich Nhat Hanh, “you realise how wonderful it is not to have a toothache.”

Happiness, on the other hand, is just a passing state of feeling. The word ‘happiness’ is related to ‘happen’ and ‘perhaps’: it’s about randomness, it’s about hit and miss. Feelings, like the weather, come and go and are constantly changing. You can't stake a claim to happiness because it’s not firm ground and stakes take no hold there.

Jesus doesn’t tell you that you are happy. He tells you that you are blessed. He tells the poor in spirit that whether they know it or not, whether they appreciate it or not, they are blessed. Blessedness comes from beyond the changeable world of feelings and ideas. The mediaeval theologians spoke about ‘beatitudo’. It was not the subjective feeling of happiness but the objective state of being rightly aligned in one’s life.

As we go through our phases we are to know that there is a loving God who cares for us with the love of a father and a mother. It is especially when we are weak and without resources of our own that we come to know it. It is when we ourselves begin, even in the slightest degree, to embody some of God's own qualities, made visible in the face of Jesus – that we know it. The Beatitudes are the best portrait we have of Jesus himself, and he honours us by telling us they are our portrait too.

Donagh O'Shea, O.P.

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