Preached by Br Daniel
We as monks take three vows on the occasion of our life profession; and they are obedience, stability, and conversion to the monastic way of life. This last vow is a bit of a hold all. Apart from the obvious, that of conversion, it also contains that which helps to lead to conversion, like simplicity of life, celibate chastity, humility, and other such easy things.
This is very helpful to me when I look at today’s gospel reading.
Jesus settles down with his twelve disciples on the remote hills above Galilee, and he is going to teach them what it means to live with God. What does Jesus teach them? Does he teach them about prayer? Does he teach them about reading the Bible? Does he teach them about love and justice? Yes, all of that is present, however, Jesus begins with something much more basic; he teaches them about happiness. Most bible translations talk about “blessed are those”” in the beatitudes, but apparently it can also be translated as “happy are those”, and I quite like it.
And just imagine, here it is; all that we have to do to get deeper into God’s kingdom, is to be happy!
Yet, when we unpack this hold all a bit, what does it mean?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in A Testament to Freedom “A life has meaning and value only in so far as love is in it. Furthermore, life is nothing, nothing at all and has no meaning and value if love is not in it.” He continues “It is the one thing beyond all distinctions, before all distinctions, in all distinctions. ‘Love is as strong as death.’” (Song of Songs 8:6). Just as he and Jesus and so many others have found out and are still finding out.
All through the Gospels Jesus is quite clear that he came not just to tell us about God’s passionate, wonderful, and abundant love for us, but also to show us this love. Yet, through all the ages we have tried to persuade each other that we have to earn God’s love by doing the almost impossible. Somehow, we never quite get it that, when we do something good, it reflects God’s love rather than us earning that love.
So, the beatitudes are not a set of rules, but rather guidelines, I think, of how to recognize those that understand God’s love. The beatitudes do not cause holiness, they just indicate it. We as ordinary human beings can only live the beatitudes in a flawed way, however, even that imperfect living of them is a sign of God’s love.
Today being All Saints Day, and the Gospel reading being the beatitudes, of course I was thinking of the beatitudes and sainthood, and I was looking at the saints that we commemorate each year: Benedict, Francis, Catherine, Theresa, and others, and how they fit into the beatitudes, or rather, how the beatitudes fit them.
I was also thinking about who my favourite saint is. As a Benedictine monk, it could be St Benedict, or, claiming my German ancestry, it could be Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I know he is not a saint, at least yet, but he should be, and he is pretty high on my list. The more I was thinking about the saints of the past, the more I was thinking of modern day, living saints, and the saints that we may become.
There is so much holiness around us; all the saints of the church, the monastic life, and those outside the church, the famous and unknown. We all have saints in our particular communities; all those people who have drawn us closer to God by being who they are.
Even in the most atrocious moments, we will see holiness and sainthood.
Two such images stay with me. One is a picture taken during the Iraq war and it shows a US marine sitting down, holding an Iraqi baby very tenderly and protectively in his arms. From the background of the picture you could see that they were in the middle of a battle zone.
The other is of the young man who, during the Tiananmen Square protests in China, about 30 years ago now, stood in the way of a convoy of tanks and he just held out his hand to stop them. And he would not let them pass. Of course, it earned him an arrest, perfectly in line with the gospel of today.
I also think of my mother, who drove her neighbors crazy in the retirement village where she lived. She ran a soup kitchen from her little house, and she would let the hungry come inside and fed them.
I think of all the grannies around us who selflessly and tirelessly look after so many of our children and keep them fed and loved against tremendous odds.
And when I look at them, I have hope. I have hope for myself and I have hope for you, that we may all be saints. That we may look at our lives and to begin living as the blessed and chosen of God. That we may begin to be poor in spirit, mournful in solidarity with each other’s losses. Humble in the face of reality, eager to do what is right, generous and kind and forgiving to each other, undivided in our love, willing to confront injustice, and ready and willing to suffer if we have to when we do the right thing.
My hope is that we will be people whom others will look to in love and gratitude when our day is done; that among us there may be holy men and women willing to be patient channels for God’s grace and love and that our love for God may be a refuge for others.
My hope is that we will be those saints. After all, saints are the stories of God’s love.
With gratitude to David Lose