Solemnity of All Saints November 1, 2020
My Dear People,
Today’s celebration expresses gratitude for the Saints’ unique contributions and sacrifices and acknowledges their continued spiritual presence in the lives of people today. It is celebrated on November 1st in Western churches and the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern rite churches.
In the early church, Christians would acknowledge the anniversary of a martyr's death at the place of martyrdom. Sometimes groups of martyrs suffered death together on the same day. This gave rise to larger commemorations. Over time, the church, feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. This practice is believed to be the origin of All Saints’ Day.
Today’s Gospel, The Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, is the blueprint for following Christ. As Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai in order to guide the Hebrew people in the Old Testament, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes as the new way of teaching in order to guide his followers. This new teaching is contrary to what the wise of the world had advocated.
Assuming the posture of a Rabbi, Jesus goes up the mountain to preach to the people. Yet, when he sits down, he addresses his teachings primarily to his disciples. However, the presence of crowds from all Israel and beyond, indicates that Jesus’ message was of importance to every potential disciple. Jesus is teaching on a mountain, often a place of divine revelation…. (Gen 22; Exod. 3; 1 Kings 18-19). Matthew parallels this with Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (“he went up”). Thus, at the beginning of his first discourse, Jesus stands as new Moses, going up the mountain in Galilee not to receive the law but to teach it.
The Greek word for “happy” denotes blessedness or happiness not in the sense of an emotional state but in terms of being in a fortunate situation. It was often used in an ancient literary form known as beatitude to introduce someone who is to be congratulated or praised for being in a privileged, even enviable, situation. In the Jewish tradition, beatitudes either commended those who take a certain path in life or promised future consolation to those in affliction.
Both elements are found in Jesus’ Beatitudes in 5:3-11. He identifies the underlying attitudes and characteristics of a true disciple and commends those who take this path of discipleship as being truly happy. At the same time, the Beatitudes encourage the faithful who are suffering as they follow this path. They are in a praiseworthy situation because God will console them in the future.
The structure of Jesus’ list may shed light on two perspectives. Jesus frames the Beatitudes with the same blessing at the beginning and at the end of this list—for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (5:3,10)—indicating that all the several kinds of blessedness are aspects of the one supreme blessing—possessing the Kingdom of heaven. Though the promises in the central Beatitudes are given in the future tense, the fact that the foundational blessing of the kingdom is given in the present tense (theirs is the kingdom. . .) indicates that the happiness envisioned in the Beatitudes is not only of the kingdom of heaven. Many of the people whom the world would consider to be among the most miserable—the poor, the mourning, the meek, the persecuted—Jesus proclaims to be in an advantageous situation, for God looks now with favor on them and assures them of consolation in the future. Jesus thus challenges his followers to see life from God’s viewpoint, not the world’s. When his followers live by God’s standards, they are truly in a fortunate state in life, no matter what their circumstances may be. A glimmer of the joy and hope of the heavenly kingdom is brought into the afflictions of the present world.
Ultimately the Beatitudes are nothing less than a portrait of Christ’s own life. Matthew depicts Jesus as meek, merciful, and persecuted. The Beatitudes display the mystery of Christ himself and they call us into communion with him.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente