Feast of All Saints
How blessed they are!
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
How blessed are the poor in spirit: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
How blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown to them.
How blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God.
How blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If you made a list of all the people you have known who are now dead, what names would you write down? At the top of the list might be those who were closest to you; then you might remember other relations, friends, neighbours and people who had an influence on your life.. If you are an older person, your list might be a long one. The young could also make their lists.
If you looked at your list and asked yourself, ‘What were these people like?’ You might say, ‘they had their faults and failings like the rest of us.’ That is why we pray for the dead on All Souls Day and all through the month of November: that they may be freed from their faults and sins.
But it is reasonable to believe that many of the dead we have known are already safe in heaven. The Gospel for the Feast of All Saints uses one word to describe these people: they are ‘blessed.’ Not only are they blessed in heaven now: they were blessed when they were in this world too. I invite you to remember some of the people you would name on your list, and see if that word ‘blessed’ applied to them when you knew them. This Gospel may help you to see that they were blessed at times when they did not seem to be blessed at all.
They knew they needed God
They were blessed, not because they were rich or famous, but because they were poor enough to know that they needed God: ‘blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven is theirs’. You may remember parents you have known who brought up their children on a small income, but trusted that God would provide. They had no luxuries and yet may have been more contented, more blessed, than their wealthiest neighbours. I think of the countless number of men and women in Alcoholics Anonymous who remained sober for years because they realised they were powerless over alcohol, and depended on the power of God to keep them sober one day at a time.
The people who are in heaven were gentle and merciful. Jesus said that such people would have the earth for their inheritance. They bring the best out in others. People in Lima gave large amounts of money to St. Martin; they helped him build an orphanage and a trade school, and to reclaim land to produce fruit for poor families St. Martin had nothing, yet through his gentleness and mercy he inherited all these things for the poor whom he loved. We have all known merciful people who inspired us to give generously to the causes they promoted; they too inherited the earth.
They shall be comforted
The people in heaven did not escape pain and loss while they were in this world. They endured these things with as much patience as they could, and because they faced them, they were eventually comforted. I was talking with a neighbour eighteen months after his wife died; he was still mourning her loss. ‘I am managing a bit better now,’ he said, ‘I can sit down at home and read a book again.’ Blessed are those who mourn, they shall be comforted
Who among your dead were peacemakers? It is during a final illness often that reconciliation takes place between family members who have fallen out with each other. I read about a project in Dublin which provides housing and care for people suffering from AIDS. The care they receive gradually enables patients to believe in their own worth as human beings; as a result, most of them have been able to reach out to family members from whom they were estranged. Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognized as the children of God.
God, our Father,
source of all holiness,
the work of your hands is manifest in your saints;
the beauty of your truth is revealed in their faith.
May we who aspire to have part in their joy
be filled with the Spirit who blessed their lives,
so that having shared their faith on earth
we may also share their peace in your kingdom.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.