November 1 and 2, 2008
Feasts of All Saints and All Souls
Matthew 5: 1-12
The text of the Beatitudes in Matthew's gospel serves as the gospel for both All
Saints and All Souls. This text is taken from Matthews's Sermon on the Mount and
presents to us the moral ideals that Jesus offers to all Christians. This text
is appropriate for both feasts because the recognized saints are celebrated for
having achieved these ideals, just as the faithful departed are hopefully also
saints who have not yet been recognized.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes and in fact they strike the
keynote for all that follows in the three entire chapters (5 to 7) of that
Sermon. It is also true that the first Beatitude offers the key to the meaning
of the seven remaining Beatitudes in Matthew’s account.
The decisive word in this first Beatitude is the word, "poor." Its meaning is
derived from a Hebrew word meaning "an afflicted one." Originally, it was
applied to those Jews of the immediate pre-Christian era who were economically
and politically powerless but who continued to hope in God even though he seemed
to have abandoned them. They were often poor in the economic sense but their
more basic poverty was in the realm of power and control.
Jesus makes the daring statement that these downtrodden ones should in fact be
declared blessed, i.e. fortunate. What could possibly justify such a radical and
apparently nonsensical conclusion? Jesus certainly does not intend to bless
powerlessness as such. However, he does affirm the blessedness of those who,
because they are powerless, are saved from the fatal illusion that worldly power
can in fact give us the truly important and lasting gifts, such as, love,
happiness and life itself. Being delivered from that disastrous illusion, they
are then free to turn to God, who is ready and willing to give them the Kingdom.
Matthew specifies this as poverty “in spirit" because it is essentially an
attitude of humility and trust in the goodness of God.
The ideal presented here must not be mistaken for a misguided passivity or
timidity in the presence of the challenges of this life. Rather, it liberates us
from self-centered and self-serving efforts, which will ultimately prove
unproductive, so that we may be present to others in a loving, caring and
helpful way. This is summed up neatly in the seemingly paradoxical but very true
statement, “The only gift we can keep is the one we give away!!!” Or, in
gospel language, "\What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and
forfeit his life” (Mark Chapter 8: verse 36)?
The remaining seven Beatitudes are really echoes of this primary one.
Those who "mourn” are those who have dared to become vulnerable, and to risk
painful grieving, because they love. The “meek” have renounced power and
violence as a means of acquiring happiness ... and thus are surprised by
happiness. Those who "hunger for justice" have a passion for the reforms that
will enable everyone to live and dream. Those who are “merciful" renounce anger
and vengeance as they offer forgiveness. The "pure of heart” are the sincere and
truthful ones who reject all that is mere sham and pretense in life.
The "peacemakers” promote forgiveness and reconciliation as the only sure way to
peace. And those who are “persecuted" are those who persevere in the pursuit of
these ideals in spite of ridicule from those who seem to be wise and prudent.
Thus, the Beatitudes represent a program for true holiness as illustrated in the
lives of that great army of saints whom we honor today.
Father Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.