When I was the Chaplain at St Dominic’s Primary School in London, I asked a Year 4 class to help me prepare the Mass for the whole school on All Saints Day. The Pope had made his UK visit just a month or so before, and at the Big Assembly he had encouraged the children to be saints. We thought this would be a good theme for our school Mass – that God calls each of us to become saints.
But one young lady raised an objection: the saints are made of marble and have to stand getting dusty in churches for ever and ever. This was not, she thought, the way she wanted to spend her eternity. She’d rather go to heaven, thanks very much, rather than be a saint. That’s boring. Heaven can’t be boring since God is there. Much more preferable to a lifetime encased in stone.
How often we settle for things that are boring in comparison with the joy and blessedness of sainthood. We seem to want to live like beings made of stone – paralysed, constrained, limited. Stuck. How much greater is the blessedness which even now we can share.
In the Gospel, Jesus pronounces the eight beatitudes as he sits down to begin teaching the vast assembled crowd. The Sermon on the Mount will call this crowd to live a life so virtuous we might be tempted to turn away and consider it impossible. But he is calling them to this life by inviting them to share in his life – to live in him and through him. It is a kind of living worthy of those who are loved into being by God, those sustained and fulfilled by God’s presence.
When he looks at them, he sees them as they are. He connects immediately with their lived experience. They have come to him because they want more. They don’t want to live the constrained, boring existence any more. They want to taste eternity even now. They are summoned to the mount by love. What he sees before him as he sits down to teach are people poor in spirit, mourning, meek and hungry for righteousness. Merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Persecuted for the sake of righteousness, persecuted because they call on his Name. Had anyone else sat down on that mountain and saw that crowd, they may have said, “Wretched”, but not him. He sees them and he says: “Blessed.” Can’t he see them? Has he misunderstood? Or is he looking at them in a different way, a radically different way?
He knows the eternal love of the Father and he sees that love shining through them. So even in their wretchedness they are already blessed. It is their destiny that makes them blessed. The love of God that guides them to that destiny even now enables them to experience the blessedness of their eternal promise. Grace, the gift of God’s love, allows them to live the kind of life their Christ lives.
Today’s Solemnity recalls all those who have attained to sainthood and are venerated by the Church as our hope and example. That is why we cast their images in stone. But in our search to have union with them in Christ we must seek liberation from our own stoniness. The Lord calls us Blessed, because even now we can begin to live the life of the saints.