“God has a plan for your life!” You may well have heard these words before, possibly from someone preaching a sermon, but they contain a truth, and are found in the Bible, in words that God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer 29:11)
It can be hard to hold onto promises such as these, especially when times are difficult and the outlook is bleak. We need to ask ourselves the question, ‘Can we trust God?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’ then, whatever difficulties or hardships may come our way, we know that our future is in safe hands.
Our Christian life begins with Baptism, where we are washed with water in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Through Baptism we share in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, and are raised to new life in Him. We receive the Holy Spirit, Faith, Hope, and Love, and we are marked with the sign of the Cross to show that we belong to Christ. These are all manifestations of God’s Grace, unmerited kindness and generosity, but they are given for a reason. They are given to us so that we may love God and serve Him in this life, and be with Him in the next. Fundamentally, the point of being a Christian is to reside in Heaven. This is possible because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, out of love. This is the plan God has for our life, and this is why Jesus became man, lived, and died, and rose from the dead. God shows us both how to live, and what He has in store for us. We can have faith, and put our trust in a God who loves us. In the clear hope that, after our earthly life is over, we may enjoy eternity with God in Heaven. Most of all, in this hope, we can live lives of love, love of God and of each other, foreshadowing eternal heavenly joys.
In our current culture we are not used to hearing this message. It sounds strange. We tend to think that holiness is for other people, certainly not us. But God wants each and every one of us to become a saint. He wants us to live in a world full of people trying to be saints. The Church is ‘a school for saints’, in which Christians try to live out their faith, cooperating with the grace of God. We do this when we let Christ live in us, so that we can say with the Apostle Paul:
‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Gal 2:20)
There is a paradox at work here, for when we truly let Christ live in us, we do not lose ourselves, but instead we find who we really are. We can then be the people God wants us to be, the people we were created to be. As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mt 16:25)
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. On this day, in the eighth century AD, Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to All Saints in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a good thing to celebrate the fact that Heaven is full of saints, the Church Triumphant, who spend eternity praising God and praying for us. Just as we pray for our friends here on earth, it stands to reason that our friends in Heaven pray for us as well. It is reassuring to know that we are not alone in our quest to reach Heaven, and to know that those who are already there long for us to join them.
If Heaven is our goal, how thenshould we live our lives on earth? Thankfully today’s Gospel gives us a template to follow, an example of what a Christian life looks like.
The Sermon on the Mount (The Beatitudes) begins with the words which we have just read. It is important to notice that Jesus goes up a mountain to teach people. This brings to mind Moses ascending Mt Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments of the Law. At one level what we have here is a New Law, a new way to understand how we should relate to God and to each other. It is a radical vision, which turns human expectations on their head.
We constantly hear how the world around us values success and confidence, and looks up to the rich, and the powerful. In contrast to this, Jesus says to the gathered crowd:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3)
‘Poor in spirit’ is not a term we are used to using, but it means the exact opposite of pride. It places humility as key to living a Christian life: knowing who we are, and our need for God. Only if we rely upon God, and not ourselves, and ask Him to work through us can we truly live out the Christian life.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)
We mourn those we love, those whom we see no longer in this life, because we love them, we miss them, we want to see them, and hold them, and talk to them. Our parting, while temporary, is still very painful. Thankfully the Kingdom of God, which Christ comes to bring, is a place of healing and comfort with the promise of eternal life.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:5)
Gentle people are not weak: they know how to use their strength, and how not to use it. As Jesus will later say in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Mt 11:29). This is how God wants us to live as human beings. Christ is the example of gentleness we must follow. Once again, God’s vision of the future turns human expectations upside down.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt 5:6)
Should we be devoted to God? Absolutely! Should we pray that His will is done on earth as it is in Heaven? Of course! Jesus taught us to pray this way. Our faith should influence how we live our lives, so that we work for the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Clearly God wants to see our world transformed and has invited us to help in the process; and doing so gives us fulfilment.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt 5:7)
We see what God’s mercy looks like in Christ’s death for us on the Cross. In following Christ’s example, we ask for forgiveness for our own sins, and forgive those who sin against us. This forgiveness can transform us and the world around us, and it is how the healing and reconciliation of God’s Kingdom functions.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8)
To be pure in heart is to want what God wants: to align our will with the will of God. It is to be saintly, and thus have the promise of Heaven, which is less of a place or a time, and much more a relationship. To see God is know Him, and to know His love for us. This is what Christ comes to restore to humanity, and it is our hope.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)
First and foremost, we know that Christ is the Son of God because He made ‘peace by the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:20). We too are called to follow Christ’s example and take up our Cross, and work for peace. Peace in our own hearts and lives, in our families and communities and in our world.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Mt 5:10-11)
Following Jesus will not make us popular, often quite the opposite. If, however, we want to see God’s Kingdom as a reality in this life and the next, then we must be prepared to be shunned, or even ridiculed by others. To follow Christ is to take up the Cross, and to expect persecution, and false accusation. But we are not alone in this, Christ has gone before us, showing us that the story does not end with death on a Cross, but the glory of the Resurrection and Eternal life.
If we want to become saints, then we have to be like Christ, share in His suffering and death, be prepared to be rejected by the world, and dismissed as irrelevant. We may not face imprisonment, torture and death in this country, but many Christians around the world do. However, we may be scorned and ignored, or patronised. What do we do in such circumstances? We are called to be loving, generous, and forgiving, because that is what Jesus has shown us. We can be different to the world around us because we belong to a new community, the community of faith, built on our relationship with Jesus Christ, who came to save humanity from itself. He came that we might have life and have it to the full, and that is what the Beatitudes mean. By living the life of God’s Kingdom here and now, we can live the life of Heaven here on earth. It may sound foolish, but it is what God wants us to do, what Jesus showed us to do. We are called to be fools for God.
So let us, on this feast of All Saints, be filled with courage, and be ready to conform our lives to God’s will and live out our baptism and our faith in the world. May we live the life of the Kingdom together, and encourage others in order that all may join the choirs of Heaven to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.