First Reading Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14
Psalm Psalm 24:1–4, 5–6
Second Reading 1 John 3:1–3
Gospel Matthew 5:1–12
Gospel – Matthew 5:1–12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Hearing the Word
“The Fruit of Grace”
The Feast of all Saints commemorates those who have reached the state of holiness. But how can a human being be “holy” if, as the Scripture consistently affirms, holiness belongs to God and God alone? Today’s liturgy answers this question defining human holiness as an on-going process of responding to and bearing the fruits of God’s grace.
The reading from the book of Revelation presents a splendid vision of God’s holy people, consisting of two distinct groups.
In the first part of the vision, God’s angel marks one hundred and forty-four thousand people with the seal of God, which symbolizes ownership and belonging; these are God’s people. Their number is also symbolic. The text explains that it is reached by the multiplication of twelve thousand members drawn from each of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5-8). Biblically, the number twelve is the “community number”, signifying the completeness of the community. Clearly, the first group in the vision are the Israelites, first people chosen by God as his holy nation, to serve him and communicate his word to the rest of humanity (cf. Exod 19:5-6).
The second group which surrounds God’s heavenly throne includes people from all ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups; they represent the entire human race. These stand before God not because of their nationality but because they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”, and have come from “the great ordeal”. These are the followers of Christ who, like Christ himself, have undergone sufferings and trials, and endured. Their white robes symbolize purity and victory. Their path to the heavenly world and holiness led them, through the imitation of Christ, to union with him..
This heavenly gathering sings a song of salvation and victory, its words affirming that salvation comes from God, and the Lamb, who symbolizes God’s Messiah, Jesus. The state of holiness which they now share came as a gift. The Israelites received it through being “sealed”, that is chosen, as God’s people, while Christians reach holiness through Christ’s sanctifying and purifying death as the paschal Lamb.
The second reading, from the first letter of John, begins with an exclamation and a call to ponder God’s love and its effects. They suffer rejection and hostility from the world because the world does not know God. But this rejection is of little significance in view of the glorious future that awaits them. God’s love makes believers his children in the present, but this process will continue to the point of believers becoming like God in the future. The believers’ final destiny is to share in God’s holiness, and be transformed in his image. The hope of this transformation “purifies” believers. Biblically, purity is one of the aspects of personal holiness in this world. John implies here that maintaining hope for that ultimate union with God, while living in the midst of a hostile world, sets the foundation for the fullness of holiness in the future. Thus, believers partake in God’s holiness already on earth, when their lives are directed and permeated by the hope for sharing God’s holiness in eternity.
The Gospel passage contains the famous eight Matthean beatitudes. Beatitudes are affirmations of those attitudes and behaviors that bring God’s blessings and pave a path to holiness. The eight Matthean beatitudes outline comprehensively a manner of life and behavior suitable for Jesus’ followers who strive to live as members of God’s kingdom.
The first four beatitudes broadly outline the disciples’ responses to God. First, the poor in spirit are declared blessed, because they already belong to the kingdom of heaven. Matthew does not speak here about material but about spiritual poverty. Again, spiritual poverty does not mean deficiency of faith or moral decadence. This beatitude speaks of poverty in the spirit referring to the sense that one is separated from God. To be spiritually poor implies longing for God and the desire to experience him more directly and fully. The human condition, and concerns of daily life, limit and hinder contact with God who is holy and transcendent. These circumstances lead to the kind of spiritual poverty that this beatitude speaks about. This sense of insufficiency and longing for God, testifies that those who experience it already belong to God and to his kingdom, and long to experience that belonging ever more fully.
The second beatitude looks at those who mourn. This beatitude should be understood through the prophetic texts that speak about the consolation of those who mourn, chiefly Isaiah 61:2-3 (cf. Matt 9:15). Mourning comes as a response to affliction and oppression, but it also conveys a sense of longing for God’s deliverance. Thus, mourning of believers is a sign that they have placed their hope in God; they will not be disappointed but consoled.
The third beatitude derives its message from Psalm 37:11 where the meek are the powerless and materially poor among God’s people. This beatitude promises that God will intervene on their behalf and dramatically reverse their fortunes – from a group of deprived and powerless individuals they will become the rulers of the earth.
The fourth beatitude blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Biblically, righteousness means the right relationship with God and others. According to Matthew, the blessed strive to enter into the right relationship with God and others, which they do by adhering to the teaching, and following the example, of Jesus.
The next four beatitudes focus on the relationship between believers. Thus, the fifth beatitude advocates mercy as means to receive the blessing of mercy. In the Scriptures mercy concerns the preservation and sustaining of life, expressed through works of charity, or other actions, spiritual or material, that foster the life of a fellow human being. Here, the blessing of mercy comes as the outcome of a genuine concern for a fellow human being.
The sixth beatitude calls for purity of heart. Biblically, the heart is the intellectual center where thinking and decision-making takes place. Purity of heart, therefore, implies integrity and genuineness of intentions when relating to others; it precludes deceit and manipulation. Those who cultivate such genuineness in relationships, will be drawn to God’s presence, they will see God.
The seventh beatitude blesses the peacemakers. Peace means an all-enveloping harmony which, in the context of Jesus’ teaching, includes loving one’s enemies. Those who strive for such peace imitate God who instilled harmony in his creation; they become God’s children.
The eighth beatitude affirms blessedness that comes from being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Such persecution comes as a result of one’s lifestyle which is founded on faithfulness to God. Such a lifestyle is opposed and vilified by God’s opponents. However, at the same time, such afflictions testify that the persecuted are serving God; they already belong to God’s kingdom in the same way that the poor in spirit do.
The final statement in the passage builds on this last beatitude, but is addressed directly to Jesus’ followers who face persecutions on account of being his disciples. In line with the teaching of the eighth beatitude, Jesus’ persecuted and vilified followers are called blessed because they suffer on account of their discipleship. This proves that they already belong to God’s kingdom, and will receive the ultimate blessing of eternal life in the future.
The Feast of All Saints affirms that human beings can already, in this life, share in God’s holiness This holiness does not consist in perfection, but in a lifestyle founded on the right responses to God’s grace. The first reading emphasized that all holiness is founded on God’s election and the saving effects of Jesus’ death as the Paschal Lamb. John highlights the great dignity of believers as God’s children, destined to become like their holy God. Hope for that final union purifies them, and orientates their lives as a foretaste of the fulness of holiness intended for them. In the beatitudes, Matthew drew up a comprehensive list of attitudes and responses that characterize Jesus’ disciples, and lead to blessedness already in this life, with the expected outcome of eternal life reserved for God’s holy people, about whom the Psalmist wrote, “such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob”.
Listening to the Word of God
Often, the paintings of saints give the impression of non-terrestrial beings on a completely different planet. They look so glamorous that we sometimes lose sight of their humanity. Today, we remind ourselves that saints are made on earth and exported to heaven. They are persons who bear the fruit of grace in a tangible manner. They rise up after every fall, and keep going until they attain their goal. St. John Vianney rightly said, “The saints did not all begin well, but they ended well”. In this sense, every human being is a potential saint. It depends on the choices we make. Sainthood is choosing to persevere in virtue in the midst of vice. It is deciding not just to call upon the name of Jesus but to become like Jesus.
In our Gospel text for the day, Jesus goes up the mountain as Moses did (cf. Exod chs. 19-24), and delivers a sermon that gives us an insight into the quality of sanctity. The Beatitudes are a universal call to holiness. When we live the values of the Beatitudes, we can confidently say, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). A life of sanctity attracts blessings and favours from God.
There is a proverb which says, “Goodness needs no advertisement. It speaks for itself”. Saintly people do not need to advertise themselves; their virtues are self-evident. They may appear physically frail and yet they bring light into dark situations. They may not say much but the little they say quenches the flames of evil. Not all of them do extraordinary things; many of them do ordinary things in an extraordinary way..
Our human experience teaches us that things of low quality, no matter how beautiful they may appear, do not last. On the other hand, those that are of a high quality are capable of standing the test of time. Saints are human beings who, relying on the grace of God, have persevered and attained a high quality of sanctity. For this reason, they cannot perish; they last forever.
Becoming a saint does not happen with a snap of the fingers. It is the product of daily choices made in the light of faith. It is not enough talking about saints, we must take decisions to become one. To be a saint is not just about “feeling holy”. It is about being holy. How we live our lives matters. On earth, the Church serves as a “hospital for sinners” but in heaven, it is an assembly of saints only. St. Therese of Lisieux would say, “You cannot be a half saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all”.
What is my personal call to holiness and how do I respond to it? Do I see holiness as something meant for some people and not for me?
What feedback have I received about my character? Are there certain areas of my life I need to work on?
Response to God
I contemplate the saints who live in glory. I reflect on what the grace of God can do in the life of a person. I ask God to make me a saint.
Response to your World
During this week I will closely monitor the motivations underpinning the choices I make. I will strive to act out of selfless and other-centered concern.
In our group we discuss our call to holiness. Is there a saint that we could set as an example to emulate and follow? What can we do to be experienced by others as a group of “God’s holy people”.
Eternal Father, if only saints enter into heaven then make me a saint. Free my heart from entanglement in the fleeting pleasures of this passing world. Deepen in me hunger and thirst for holiness. For the sake of Christ I pray.