Today we honour the countless holy men and women who have loved God and loved neighbour fully in their lives. As the first reading from the book of the Apocalypse vividly presents it, this is the 'multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.' These are those who 'washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.'
Throughout the year the Church honours the great saints who have exemplified what it means to be Christian, whether it be in their heroic acts of charity, or by their deep knowledge of the truth, or their wise and just leadership. Today, however, we celebrate all those men and women whose holiness was often unknown to all but the few they lived with, those who never made the headlines, but who lived out the Gospel in small acts of prayer, love and self-sacrifice out of sheer love for God and for the salvation offered through Christ.
What binds all these men and women together is, of course, the fact of their common holiness, rather than just what they did or said. And this holiness is simply their sharing in the life of God, the Holy One, their being open to seeing the world in terms of God, their acting in the world in relation to God and their being empowered by the grace of God's spirit. One of the most urgent needs we have as a Christian community in those parts of the modern world where secularisation has taken greatest hold is to retrieve an understanding and emphasis on Christian holiness. This is what is distinctive about being a Christian man or woman, who loves others for their sake, or seeks after truth, or is willing to sacrifice his or her own advantage for the benefit of others. In popular language we often call someone a saint, simply when they show kindness or put themselves out for the sake of others, but this is not really what sanctity is.
As the passage from the first letter of John teaches us, the Christian is the one who lives in the acknowledged experience of the Father's love, which makes us children of God, and who is motivated at all times by the hope and desire 'to see God as he is.' We do not call people saints just because they are loving or wise, but because their love and wisdom is rooted in and the expression of the love and wisdom, the holiness of God.
In the passage Matthew's Gospel we are given the beatitudes as the pattern for Christian holiness. Many people, both Christian and non-Christian, have admired the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, of which the beatitudes are part, as a wonderful vision of what human life and society can be like. But, as the location of this passage on this celebration of All Saints suggests, the ideas of human life expressed in the Sermon on the Mount are not a model for human life as it can be apart from God. It is not a blueprint for the ideal secular society.
Rather it shows us what human life may be like if it is grounded and transformed by God's own life, His holiness. For, in the first place, it is Christ who is the one and only human being who is able to live according to the ideals found in the Sermon. His life as a human being manifests what is means to blessed, since he is the one who is fully poor in spirit, who mourns, who is meek, who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, who is merciful, who is pure in heart, who is the peacemaker and who is persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Any other man or woman is blessed only insofar as he or she receives and displays the blessedness of Christ.
Today, then, as we honour the countless men and women who have manifested the values expressed in the beatitudes, let us also respond with them to the common call we all have to be holy, to be those whose lives are grounded in the life of Christ and the love of the Father.