The last part of the Apostles creed sums up today’s feast. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” So much for what is said on paper. But do we really believe it? There was an old man at home who nearly died several times but he always came back again. The doctor explained it this way. “These Christians find it very hard to die!” By which he meant if he really believed in the resurrection and the good life promised us afterwards he would not have clung on so desperately to this life.
And then there was this good friend of mine whom I visited when at home every year. She was a daily mass goer but at ninety she pulled me up short by asking: ‘this Christian message that we were fed for years, and all that stuff about life hereafter: is it all a fairy tale? Have we been duped all these years? However she kept up the prayers but like many of the saints she had doubts sometimes also.
I didn’t answer her very well that time but if I were to answer her now it might go like this. My faith tells me to rely on Jesus. He was a deeply spiritual man who was in constant communication with his Father. He lived life freely, as a gift from God, and not something to be hoarded. He was very aware that he came from God and was on a journey back to God, in fact, longed for the hour when he would pass over fully to his Father. I trust this Jesus and his deep spiritual insights. I trust him when he says that he came that we may have life and have it to the full. Furthermore this fullness is not something that is complete in this world. Rather the fullness to which God is leading us happens in the next life beyond the grave.
The resurrection of the body is not opium in the sky, as Marx said. Rather the resurrection impels one to work for justice in this world. Right down through history it is those who believed in the resurrection that fought so hard for justice and equality in this life – just as Jesus himself did and was always on the side of the poor. Trusting in Jesus, I believe in a life where there is no poverty, no one is sad, no one needs to cry. And I look forward to the day when all those who have suffered so unduly in this life will arrive in the boat to their true homeland.
Trusting in Jesus then I believe that the communion of saints is a reality. The bonds of friendship are not broken by death. Our loved ones who have gone before us are now enjoying ‘what no eye has seen nor ear heard’. These are not plaster saints, nor are they gloomy killjoys, but a glorious band of decent people who have lived life as best they could. Some have inspired the church for centuries. By far the greater number are unsung heroes, living a quiet life of family, work and friendship, in the spirit of the Gospel, as peacemakers, pure of heart and gentle of spirit. But sung or unsung what’s vital for all is the loving mercy of God who wishes that not one of his children be lost. If at the end of their days they have said yes to God’s mercy we can be assured that they are now part of that great communion of saints.
Today then is a day both of thanksgivng and vision. We give thanks because of the example and inspiration they have given us. (How often do we quote our loved ones with gratitude for what they have done for us?) The vision comes from our Gospel today that describes the path we must take to make the same journey home to God. If we wish to join the saints both now and into eternity, we must make our own the “mission statement” of Jesus, which is the Sermon on the Mount and especially the opening invitation to true happiness.
The beatitudes are countercultural. They don’t fit in easily in modern society. If you want to make it up the social ladder, don’t go there. And yet the beatitudes exemplify the very values that are essential for all who claim to be the Lord’s disciples. Inherent in these values is a total trust in God and a deep desire for God’s reign.
The poor are blessed because they put their trust in God rather than money. Those who mourn are blessed because they let themselves feel the misfortune, pain and sorrow of others, and respond to them with understanding, sympathy, kindness, compassion, and practical assistance. Likewise gentleness is a form of strength. St Francis de Sales used to say that you can catch more flies with a spoon full of sugar than a barrel full of vinegar. In Jesus’ book there’s just no place for bullies and bullying.
The same goes for the other beatitudes. In fact Jesus lived the beatitudes to the full, trusting totally in God and longing for God’s kingdom be accomplished.
The Second Vatican Council wrote a chapter called The Universal Call to Holiness. In other words we are all called to be holy. Holiness is not some otherworldy kind of activity. It simply means finding our home in God’s presence and rejoicing in it. Today’s feast is a reminder of that call and of our deep-down longings to become better people than we currently are! Surely too it is reminding us that Jesus Christ can and will empower us to practise what he preached and to live what we believe! Surely, then, we won’t ever want to stop receiving him as our Bread of Life in Holy Communion!
Sunday 1 November 2015