A couple of weeks ago I was able to go on my annual retreat (that all priests are required to do) at St. Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. The retreat preacher, Fr. Eugene Hensell, O.S.B. , a monk of the Archabbey and faculty member of the St. Meinrad School of Theology, there, spoke over the course of 9 conferences about the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jesus (Matthew Chapter 5, 6, 7). This exploration of the Sermon on the Mount inspired my homily for this year’s Solemnity of All Saints. What follows is my attempt to preach the feast. The congregation was lucky I didn’t try to explain to them all the notes I took during the retreat! That would have been a much longer homily. 😉
Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints 2o15
Readings for the feast
We all probably dream of our door bells ringing and there is some guy from Publisher’s Clearing House standing on the other side of the door with a big check for $10,000 dollars per week for life. “Congratulations!” the prize patrol guy says. “You’ve won the sweepstakes!” So there we are, the contest winner whose thinking our struggles in life are over. Thank God I signed up on the web-site for the contest! There will be no more financial worries for my family!
In the Gospel of the “beatitudes” Jesus is doing something similar. Jesus, in the beatitudes is announcing that his disciples have won the big prize. The Greek word used in this version of the Gospel written by Matthew is translated “Blessed” but it could be just as accurately translated “Congratulations!”
Congratulations, you’re poor!
Congratulations, you’re grieving and mourning!
You’re being persecuted for your beliefs. Hey, it’s your lucky day!
Using the word “Congratulations” sure makes the message Jesus is preaching to the disciples seem rather odd. What? Be excited because my life is in the pits? That’s not good news. How about you fix things so I don’t suffer so much?”
It is important to remember Matthew writes about Jesus teaching the “Beatitudes” to a community that’s discouraged. Things were not going as well as they thought they would or should be after proclaiming Jesus as the Savior to the people in their day. Shouldn’t things be different because of Jesus. By now he should have come back and kicked beat up on the Romans and established his kingdom in power. And this is the good news, Matthew, Mr. Gospel writer? Congratulations! You say we win the prize but like the state of Illinois lottery now a days, payment will come sometime down the road! They needed a reminder that they were on the right track.
The Beatitudes are meant to be a reminder that God’s reign, God’s control isn’t just something that arrives at an undetermined future date. The Kingdom of Heaven is already present in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Because the disciples of Jesus believe Jesus rose from the dead, God is already in charge of death. God is in control of people’s lives even in the present. The way the beatitudes are written suggests that disciples are fortunate to know that God is ultimately in charge, not just in the future, but here and now.
Congratulations to those who live in the house built by Jesus’ death and resurrection because you know that deprivation is not permanent. You know that suffering does not last forever. You know that the forces of evil do not win, God does! When people know what the outcome of the battle is going to be, then the present suffering or pain or deprivation is a little more easy to go through. In fact, the suffering, if done with the conviction that God is already in charge will lead a disciple to see life differently. I’m not in charge of my fate, but the one who loves me enough to die for me is in charge. I’m his child, NOW (I John 3:2). By God, I need someone more powerful than myself to bring justice, to set my life right when it goes wrong.
Matthew is instructing us disciples of Jesus that since the Kingdom of God is already here, here’s how you live in it. These are not impossible life guiding principles. See in these laws of the Kingdom the way for everyone to experience a richer, fuller life. The rules are different from the way things are in the Kingdom of “Caesar” (this present era’s world of governments, radical religious fundamentalists and man-made economies) but you’ll be happier, more fulfilled if you follow these not so impossible rules.
Realize you can not secure your own life, but are dependent on the generous spirit of others to share your joys and supply what you need. (Matthew 5:3)
Work to forgive. Work at reconciling with those who have hurt you because resentment can strangle the joy out of life. (Matthew 5:7,9)
Realize you can not change the past. Let the past go! Live in the moment gratefully enjoying each day of life and the love you’ve been given. (Matthew 5:4)
The rule of God is already in the world. Follow the law of the beatitude and you don’t have to wait till you die to experience some of the fullness, the richness of life. The beatitudes are an achievable way of life, because we know that Jesus is in charge, not the powers that be of this world.
All the Saints were sinners like us, trying to live the way of the Beatitudes. Sometimes they didn’t live according to the law of peacemaker, or always in purity of heart, But, because they recognized their need to live differently than the “norms of this world” they began to experience the life of heaven in this world. Therefore, they have become inspirations to us that we celebrate on this feast of All Saints. Living life like Jesus lays out in his teaching is possible for sinners that are citizens of heaven in training. May the witness of the saints inspire us to understand we are fortunate. We’ve won the prize of living unafraid of whatever happens for we know Jesus is in charge and will share with us the prize of the fullness of life, now and forever!