a priest's musings on the journey

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sermonette: Sunday After All Saints - 5 November 2006

And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:2-12)

On this feast of All Saints we remember the thousands of nameless, faces saints, known only to God, who surround us in that Great Cloud of witnesses who pray and support us in our journey towards God. It is also an opportunity to recall that in our baptisms, we were all made saints- we were set apart and made holy sons and daughters of God. This is why on this Sunday we reaffirm our baptismal covenants, and remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and how we are to live as the holy people of God. The Gospel reading for this feast day recalls some of Jesus’ opening words in his Sermon on the Mount. His sermon both describes the attitudes and dispositions which characterize a saint, and pronounces a blessing on those who incarnate these attitudes in their lives.

The foundational virtue of a saint is poverty of spirit. A saint realizes that s/he is nothing apart from God, and all that s/he has is a gift and possession of God. A saint is detached from the things of the world, and is totally dependent upon God. S/he empties herself to God and is totally open to God’s will. In the most basic senses, sin occurs when one closes one’s heart to God, and trusts his own abilities alone. Those who are poor in spirit are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They have abandoned the things of this world which will fade away; they will inherit the things of God which are everlasting and life-giving.

A saint is not only open and vulnerable to God, but s/he is also open to others. Those who are poor in spirit and dependent upon God are also meek; they are gentle and patient with others; they are unselfish and always return good for evil. St John Climacus says this about meekness:

Meekness is an unchangeable state of mind which remains the same in honor and dishonor. Meekness is the rock overlooking the sea of irritability which breaks all the waves that dash against it, remaining itself unmoved. Meekness is the buttress of patience, the mother of love and the foundation of wisdom, for it is said, "The Lord will teach the meek His way." (Psalm 24:9) It prepares the forgiveness of sins; it is boldness in prayer, an abode of the Holy Spirit. "But to whom shall I look," says the Lord, "to him who is meek and quiet and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2) In meek hearts the Lord finds rest, but a turbulent soul is the seat of the devil. (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 24)

The meek are blessed because they will inherit the earth. They reject the lust for greed and power that the world values and uses to own the earth. Yet, those who take by violence and greed will lose everything; and those who love and respect others will gain everything.

Those who are open to God and others know the joys that are given back to them in return. They also see the pain and suffering that comes from following the ways of sin. It is not that the life of a saint is free from suffering- of course there is suffering. But, in God the suffering is redeemed and life-giving. The sufferings of sin lead to destruction and death. The saint, grieved by the knowledge of the destination of so many who follow their own selfish paths, mourns for the world. S/he longs for those enslaved by the bondages of the world to be emancipated by Christ the Liberator, who offers them true fulfillment. Those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted. God will turn their sorrow into joy, their weeping into dancing. Their tears will reap a harvest of love, and they will rejoice in the reconciliation of all things to God in Jesus Christ.

A saint also mourns his/her own strayings from God. S/he longs to be united fully to God. S/he longs for righteousness and justice, both in one’s own soul and in the world. S/he understands that we humans are restless and empty without God, and as St. Augustine wrote, that “we have no rest, until we find our rest in [God].” S/he understands that one’s relationship with God is not static; rather, we are always growing closer to God, from glory to glory, towards greater union with the uncontainable richness of God. Those who seek after God and the things of God are blessed because they will be filled with God. They will continue to progress in perpetual union with God. St Gregory of Nyssa said it this way:

Thus, in a certain sense, it (our humanity) is constantly being created, ever
changing for the better in its growth in perfection; along these lines no limit can be envisaged, nor can its progressive growth in perfection be limited by any term. In this way, in its state of perfection no matter how great and perfect it may be, it is merely the beginning of a greater and superior stage. (Commentary on the Song of Songs)

As a saint grows in union with God, s/he begins to be like God; to see the world through God’s eyes; to behave as God behaves; to value what God values. S/he begins to incarnate mercy. S/he is compassionate and tender-hearted to those who struggle and stumble from sin. S/he refuses to judge and condemn others, and instead forgives and blesses those who harm him/her. S/he gives mercy because s/he knows s/he needs mercy. S/he will not condemn others because s/he knows without God’s compassionate mercy s/he’d be condemned. S/he is blessed because in giving mercy, s/he will receive mercy. S/he is blessed because the more mercy s/he receives, the more aware s/he will become of the need for mercy: the more ready s/he will be to offer mercy and to “be merciful even as [the] Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).”

The journey to be like God also produces a purity of heart within the saint. His/her actions are motivated by love and a desire to radiate the light and love of God which scatters the darkness in the world. The pure in heart are free from the dominating powers of sin and death; they are free from selfish motives and sinful intentions. They are only interested in the things of God- those things which produce life, light, and love. The pure in heart are blessed because in their unattachment to the world, they are filled with the brilliance of God’s glory, and in that Light they see Light: they behold the face of God. St Gregory of Nyssa preached:

... the man who purifies the eye of his soul will enjoy an immediate vision of God ... it is the same lesson taught by the Word (i.e. Christ) when He said, "The Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21) This teaches us that the man who purifies his heart of every passionate impulse will see the image of the divine nature in his own beauty. You must then wash away, by a life of virtue, the dirt which has clung to your heart like plaster, and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth. (On the Beatitudes, Sermon 6)

Those who see God are able to enjoy the gifts of God. One of the first gifts that Christ left us was the gift of peace. The saint is so filled with the peace of Christ that s/he can not help but share that gift with everyone else. S/he is naturally a peace maker; naturally a non-anxious presence, free from fear and worry. It is not that a saint never experiences inner turmoil, even doubts and uncertainties; a saint does. Yet, in the midst of all the chances and changes of this life, s/he is comforted by that mysterious peace that passes understanding- that Christ-peace that the world can not comprehend. This Christ-peace emanates from a saint; it can be seen on their countenance and heard in their voice. S/he creates peace in every human situation in which s/he enters, by giving birth to the Prince of Peace in the midst of conflicts and strife. Being a peace maker is not always about conflict resolution. Yet, peacemaking is the heart of the ministry of reconciliation. In conflict, a peacemaker refuses to act violently and is not controlled by anger. S/he is never vengeful and never incites discord and contention among others. S/he lives by the Gospel commandment:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourself, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:18-21)

The peacemaker is blessed because s/he will be recognized as a child of God. The world will see Christ in the peacemaker, and God will recognize this peacemaker as a holy, righteous sibling of the Eternal Son. S/he is a child of God because s/he shares in Christ’s work of reconciliation S/he participates in drawing all into the loving embrace of the All-Compassionate God. S/he welcomes all to find a place in God’s community in which s/he has found a place to belong and to be loved.

The result of this identification with Christ and with the recognition of the saint’s true identity as a child of God is persecution. The world did not understand nor accept Christ; it will not accept the follower of Christ. Jesus said:

Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecute me, they will persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him who sent me. (John 15:20-21)

Suffering is endured, partly, because the world can not comprehend the life of the saint. It is antithetical to all of the ways of the world. In fact, the dispositions and attitudes of the saint are often abrasive and uncomfortable to those in the world. The law of love and peace unsettles those in the world who value power and attain it by force and violence. It affronts them, convicts them, and calls them to abandon those false values and to turn in surrender to God. Those unwilling to reject the ways of the sin and death retaliate by persecuting and belittling the saint who is being fashioned into Christ’s image. Peace is rewarded with violence; love with hate; acceptance with rejection. Jesus says that those who are persecuted because of Him are blessed because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. A kingdom that we await in joyful hope to enjoy in everlasting glory; but, also a kingdom that has already been inaugurated within the saints of God , “the Kingdom is within you,” proclaimed Jesus. Because the saint already experiences the emerging kingdom of God, s/he is called to bear witness to that Kingdom by returning evil with good, by praying for those who persecute him, by blessing those who curse her, by welcoming those who reject him, by loving those that hate her. In so doing s/he refuses to acknowledge the vain attempts of the Evil One to usurp the authority of the Prince of Peace, whose kingdom of loving is holding sway in all of creation. S/he is called by Christ “to rejoice and to be exceedingly glad”, for the reward of eternal bliss with God will outweigh any suffering that s/he may be called to endure for the sake of his/her witness to God’s Reign of Love and Justice.

But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well ... Love your enemies, and do good, and give, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you ... (Luke 6:27-38)

Then saint rejoices because s/he understands that his/her suffering is a share in Christ’s redemptive suffering: they believe in the hope that,
By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him, you love Him, though you do not now see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. (I Peter 1:3-8)
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:30 PM


I hope this little gift puts one of those luminous smiles on your face...

And I hope that more and more people will be able to see, through it, the light that comes from the inside too... The light of Christ.

And that they might be blessed by your words.

You know that... I had to say it though. I promised myself I'd never ever keep myself from saying what my heart wants to.

Take care, mister.
Blogger Luiz Coelho, at 9:43 AM  

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