I got back from our pilgrimage to Italy Thursday night, so Friday was my first day back in the office. As usually happens when I go away, I came back to lots of mail and email. Along with that, Deacon Herman had placed a stack of letters on my desk as well. Every year, I ask the parents of our children who are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist to write me a letter telling me why they want their children to receive these Sacraments. I don’t do it to have them “prove themselves worthy” of the Sacraments – none of us really are, are we? Rather, I am seeking, as their pastor, to understand where they are in their faith life and sharing that faith with their children; and also, I wish to see what more we can do to assist them in sharing that faith. The letters are often beautiful.
One sentiment that was echoed several times was this: “I want my child to go to heaven.” Isn’t that beautiful? The best that we can dream for our kids is that they go to heaven, and these parents hit it right on the head. Kids, your parents love you more than you’ll ever know!
Today’s celebration is about just this – our desire to go to heaven; and we celebrate today all those who have made it: the saints. Now everyone who makes it to heaven is a saint, so what we wish for our children and for ourselves is that we all become saints. This is what our faith is about.
Scripture presents us with guides toward this sort of sainthood: instructions on how to be holy. God’s Law presented in the Ten Commandments guided Israel to know the heart of God; and today, Jesus gives us His rules for holiness. The Beatitudes are not so much “rules” in a classical sense; rather, they are invitations to a way of life that promises happiness and holiness for those who follow.
To be poor in spirit means to know that everything we have and everything that we are comes only from God, and that we are completely dependent on Him. To mourn means that we acknowledge loss in our lives and we feel the pain that real love has drawn from us. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to recognize that true justice does not lay in revenge or getting even but in restoring relationships of love. To be merciful means to recognize that we have been wounded and to forgive those who wound us out of love for them and for God. To be clean of heart means to clear away everything that distracts us for loving and following Jesus and to focus on Him alone. To be peacemakers means to see conflict around us and to seek out ways of reconciling others and establishing peace again. To be persecuted and insulted for the sake of Jesus means that we also accept the consequences of taking Jesus up on this invitation to holiness.
The Beatitudes are not just some “grocery” list for us to pick from and follow whichever ones appeal to us. Rather, they are to be taken as a whole because Jesus lived them as a whole Himself. These statements of holiness are, in fact, the genetic code of Jesus Christ; and as Christians, they should be our genetic code as well.
Holiness is not optional for the disciple. It is not the realm of a select few who live “churchy” lives. All of us, regardless of our vocations, are called to this holiness. It is the only way to heaven. Today, we honor those brothers and sisters of ours who have “made it”: the saints. However, it is not simply a matter of enshrining and honoring these people; it is a matter of our following their holy examples. That is why we call them all to mind today.
Our parents want what is best for their kids. They have big dreams for them. No dream is bigger than the one God has for us all – to be joined with Him forever in heaven. As we honor the beautiful examples of all the saints who have gone before us, let’s remember all those who we want to come after us too. Holiness is possible, and Jesus has given us the invitation to follow on that holy path.