by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente missionaries
New York/Paris, November 01, 2020. | All Saints.
Revelation 7: 2-4.9-14; First Letter of Saint John 3:1-3; Saint Matthew 5: 1-12a.
A few days ago, in the liturgy of the Mass, St. Paul reminded us in his Introduction to the Letter to the Ephesians what the divine plan is for humanity:
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Therefore, today is a particularly appropriate time to meditate on what it means to be saints, both in the lives of those who have been canonized and in our own lives.
The first disciples were identified by various names. They were called Galileans, Nazarenes, and in Antioch, Christians. These were often derogatory designations: Galileans were synonymous with insurgents, Nazarenes referred to the insignificant village where their Master came from; even Christian means anointed, that is, followers of an “anointed of the Lord” who ended up crucified.
These were not the names they used among themselves. They called themselves brothers, believers, disciples of the Lord, the perfect, people of the way, and… saints.
St. Paul wrote his Letters to all the saints who live in the city of Philippi (Phil 1:1), to the saints who are in Ephesus (Eph 1:1); to the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Colossae (Col 1:2); to all the saints of Achaia (2 Cor 1:1), etc. He did not write to the saints in heaven, but to real people who lived in Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth, Colossae or Rome. They were the saints.
A saint is every disciple, whether in heaven with Christ or still living as a pilgrim on this earth.
If the first communities were still far from being what Christ dreamed for them, then we have much in common and we share with those disciples and with those who have been canonized the title of saints. We must take advantage of their lives to understand and live the charism that our Father and Founder passed on to us, to live holiness in common. Yes: we walk with them and they accompany our supplication to God the Father, as we believe when we recite their names in the Litany.
Although we usually mean those who have been canonized, we all know that the word holy means to have been set apart for God’s purposes, which is to live out his perfection. To be holy is to be called and to be chosen to serve and thus become like Him.
In today’s First Reading, the number of 144,000 marked with the seal is mentioned. It is a symbolic number. It does not indicate -as some people wrongly believe- the saints of heaven, but the people of God living on earth, those Christians who, by the seal of baptism, are in the ranks of the chosen.
The saints, or blessed ones, are not the privileged ones in any way; they are not spared from the trials and tribulations that afflict all people. But they are free from the power of the abyss; they belong to the Lord and are in a new condition, that of a partaker of the holiness of God.
Having understood the designs of the Lord over the world, they contemplate from a different perspective what is happening on earth; they observe from above, from heaven, all events and read them with the eyes of God.
They are afflicted, like everyone else, by the hardships they must go through, but they do not collapse in the face of suffering. Sickness, pain and betrayals are not defeats and absurdities for them, but moments of maturation and growth. Death is a birth that marks the beginning of a second part of life, the best life.
It is the Lamb who, with his life truncated by hatred but delivered by love, has revealed to them that God can incorporate the most absurd events to his plan of salvation.
After the first vision in today’s text of Revelation, which presents the community of saints on this earth as a sign of the heavenly city, a great multitude appears that no one could count, standing before the throne of the Lamb, with white robes and palms in their hands.
The white garment is a symbol of joy and new life that is revealed in its fullness, without any stain of sin. The palms are the sign of the victory that they have achieved with their fidelity to Christ. It is the community of the saints of heaven, formed by those who have completed the pilgrimage on earth and have entered into the condition of blessed.
On this Solemnity of All Saints, the Church proposes the Beatitudes as the Gospel text that is inseparably linked to the meaning of holiness, of being holy. It is not for nothing that Christ began his famous Sermon on the Mount with these Beatitudes, which have been and will be wonderful food for reflection as well as for the daily life of every Christian.
What is the deeper meaning of the Beatitudes? I am not one who can explain it with authority, but we can all ajar the door to their meaning and taste what the joy that Jesus promises to the one who lives them means. Surely, to understand this we must first understand the experiences of joy that we experience in the affairs of this world. Some people more than others, it is true, but it is not a question of quantity, but of intensity, of depth of our joy. We could distinguish two forms of happiness.
There are joyful moments such as a day of walking or visiting friends. It is the happiness we feel at a good shared meal or when we are wearing comfortable and elegant shoes for the first time. But there is a different happiness; it is the one we have been waiting for a long time and at some point we thought lost forever, it is the one we have fought hard for, perhaps day and night, sometimes for weeks or years. Simple examples are the celebration of a marriage, the birth of a child, reaching the top of a mountain, finishing a college degree, or the definitive cure of a dangerous illness.
Sometimes, that second form of joy does not come in what we would call “a happy ending”, as in a film where all difficulties are solved. For example, when a family focuses all their effort and energy, with enthusiasm and tears, on the care of a disabled child, or when someone, on his deathbed, has the impression that he has left his children ready to live a fulfilling life.
It is the joy of Paul and Silas, singing in the prison of Philippi or the hymns of the martyrs in the Roman circus. It is the joy of the bride and groom at Cana, when Mary and Jesus put an end to the anguish of the lack of wine, which seemed to break the sacred law of hospitality.
The Beatitudes are graces that we receive precisely when we feel that our pain has meaning, produces life and profoundly relieves others. They are those moments when we feel, even if unworthily, united to the pain of Christ on the Cross and we see that this affliction opens the way to the kingdom of heaven and at the same time opens the eyes of our neighbor. It is the power of one who succeeds, with the strength received from the Spirit, in giving his life.
The experience of the Beatitudes has a very powerful effect as a testimony to the action of the divine persons in our weak nature. Allow me to share a personal experience of having witnessed meekness.
My first memory of true meekness comes from my school years, when I was about ten years old. In the playground of the Marist Brothers’ school, hundreds of us kids would play during recess. We ran wildly behind the ball, actually, several balls. I was standing next to a Marist Brother who was walking among us, faithfully following his Founder’s recommendation to spend as much time as possible with the children. This brother, named Joseph, had thick glasses because his eyesight was very poor, even though he was still young.
One of my classmates, who had a well-deserved reputation as a troublemaker, shot the soccer ball to hit it with enough precision to reach Brother Joseph’s head and make his glasses fall to the ground, where they were shattered. We all expected a severe rebuke from the victim of this cruel action, but Brother José simply said: I have to be more careful when I walk, while picking up the remains of his glasses.
It is a simple story, but it was engraved forever in my memory, as one of the first testimonies of meekness that I witnessed. I never had the opportunity to thank that Marist Brother, but every time I experience a situation that I could consider unjust or abusive by someone, the image of that religious is present to remind me that God is at my side to gather my pain and, with my poor testimony, to change hearts. Mine in the first place.
The Beatitudes are so called because each one begins with “Blessed are the…” is a translation of the Greek adjective makarios that includes not only the idea of happiness, but also of luck, the fortune of being particularly blessed. It is important to realize that a follower of Christ is destined to be a source of profound happiness and the realization that one is truly fortunate to have discovered this vision of life.
In particular, our Father Founder presents the Beatitudes as a Regime of our mystical life, that is, special moments of joy that we experience only when we receive a grace capable of pushing our desire to give everything of ourselves to the maximum. This can be painful, because our human nature demands satisfactions of all kinds and that we see immediate results. But at the same time we feel that we are not alone in our sacrifice and, more importantly, the confirmation that we are getting closer and closer to our true life. This bittersweet taste is characteristic of the Beatitudes, because it always includes a suffering connected with serene joy.
Let me use a simple analogy that athletes should understand well: after a long-distance run or a cross-country race, or a marathon, the runner may be exhausted, almost out of breath, but at the same time he experiences great joy because he was able to complete the race, to go beyond himself, and perhaps to win a medal.
In the gym or running alone, without rivals and without the support of the fans, it is not the same. It is not possible or imaginable to give it all in one training session.
This experience is very intense. The Beatitudes represent peak experiences, culminating moments, as in the example of the runner, special moments, not necessarily infrequent, sometimes exhausting, but of true and ardent communion with Christ in his Passion and victory.
One of the reasons we need to meditate on the Beatitudes is because the joy Jesus speaks of is different from the happiness of this world. They have common elements, but they also have distinctly opposite aspects. Above all, we must recognize that true happiness comes from God and with God, as Jesus Christ himself experienced: In that very hour Jesus rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do (Lk 10:21).
Christ has not come to make us suffer, but so that we can take advantage of all the trials that this world puts us through, so that, in an unexpected way, they can be instruments of consolation for others and for ourselves: I say these things while I am in the world, that my disciples may have my joy in fullness (Jn 17:13).
There are levels and aspects of reality that are not perceived by the naked eye, but only with the help of a special light. Today, with satellites in space, infrared and ultraviolet photographs are taken of entire regions of the universe and how different they look in this way! The Beatitudes give us an image of the world bathed in a special light, a divine light. It helps us to see what is below or beyond the facade. It allows us to distinguish what is left from what is passing.
In this sense, today’s Second Reading is deeply illustrative. St. John tells us:
Let us think of the love the Father has lavished on us, allowing us to call ourselves God’s children; and that is what we are. It is a great privilege for us to be called and chosen as children of God. With this, St. John tells us that we have all been created to share in the intimacy of God’s life. Our origin and destiny is in our relationship with God. It means therefore that our life on earth is nothing more than the flowering of the divine life already given to us at birth and especially at our baptism. We are called to live our divine filiation in this life. And one day we will reach the fullness of that sonship when we are transformed as God is, for we will share his life fully, which is another way of saying that we will see him as He really is.
It is true that living the Beatitudes requires the exercise of virtues every day, but their message is even more profound, since it gives us a vision of our true identity as children of God and the demands and graces of our spiritual life.
Thus, today we see in the Second Reading how St. John, after reminding Christians of their divine filiation, invites them to contemplate the radiant destiny that awaits them: What we will be, has not yet been fully revealed.
A veil, made of our mortal reality linked to the earth, prevents us from contemplating what we really are. One day this veil will be removed and then we will contemplate God as he is and we will understand what we already are today.
In the mother’s womb, the child receives food and life from the mother, and yet, although he depends entirely on her, he is unable to see her face. Only after being born, he can look at and tenderly embrace the one who begot him.
In Him we live and move and have our being, Paul reminds the Athenians (Heb 17:28), but we cannot see his face. However, when he appears in glory, we know that we will be like Him, because then we will see Him as he is. For now, we have the heavenly dispositions of the soul to which Christ has applied the blessing.
This is a real challenge because living our filiation is not an easy task. We constantly face challenges, trials and suffering in life and are called to choose between the world and God. The fact is that some of us choose against Him because we have forgotten our origin and destiny. That is why St. John says: Because the world refused to recognize Him and therefore does not recognize us. In choosing against God, we have also chosen sin and evil and therefore death.
Since none of us is living our lives fully as we should, as children of God, we must therefore purify ourselves in love. Like the saints and martyrs before us, who have had their robes washed white in the blood of the lamb, we too will have to be purified by the blood of the lamb. This is to prepare us to welcome with affection and as the Lamb of God did, those seeds that were put in us by the Holy Spirit: poverty of spirit, meekness, crying for injustice, hunger and thirst for justice, mercy, purity of heart, peace and willingness to be persecuted.
The Beatitudes are a hymn of hope, because they are the call to materialize that Kingdom that sleeps in each one of us. If we truly hear that call, then hope is born in our hearts. In the midst of any difficulty, physical, emotional, or spiritual, we are told: Yes, you are on the way. In the Hebrew language, the Beatitudes begin with ashrei, which means “happy, blessed”, but also, according to the very beautiful translation by André Chouraqui (1917-2007), poet, intellectual and admirer of our Founding Father, this word means “on the move”, “on the way”. This is highly significant for the Idente Family and the Idente Missionaries. The one who lives the Beatitudes is an Idente, who lives by walking, but not just anywhere, in any way; he walks according to the ways of the Lord.
It is to all of us that Christ addresses this word: ashrei, on your feet, walking! Ashrei evokes above all an itinerary of righteousness, a walking according to truth, in accordance with the Spirit of the Gospel. It is not enough to walk; one must do so without ever leaving the path. And this is possible for all of us: The Beatitudes are our avenue to hope.
Today, on All Saints’ Day and through the Beatitudes, we contemplate the good work that has begun in us; not as a code, but as the seed of divine life in our spirit and whose fruit is the Kingdom of God. When that reaches its fullness, we will share the fullness of life, a condition that is beyond our human imagination as St. John tells us.
In fact, as many philosophers say, one opposite rejects the other, but in this case, one opposite begets the other. Poverty usually repels riches, but… here poverty begets riches, for how rich are those who possess a kingdom! Mourning usually excludes joy, but here mourning begets joy: they will be comforted. Water usually extinguishes the flame, but the water of tears ignites the flame of joy. Persecution usually eliminates happiness, but here it produces joy: Blessed are the persecuted. These are the sacred paradoxes that the saint lives.
The Beatitudes not only tell us that our life has a meaning, but they intimately confirm that in the midst of our affliction, that supreme end of life, which is to give it to God and to our neighbor, is being fulfilled. In this we are like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This explains why the deepest Regime accompanying the Beatitudes is a more intense identification with some of the divine persons. There can be no greater intimacy than sharing the pain, the deepest longing that leads you to give your life in so many ways.
That deeper (ontological) regime, associated with the Beatitudes, are the Uncial Impressions (Uncial oil means both healing and union with God) because it represents my more or less incipient or intense identification with some of the divine persons. Sometimes I feel the sonship, my filial nature, the trust and mercy of our Heavenly Father; other times my brotherhood with Christ, my desire to imitate Him and follow Him in his Passion presides over my spiritual life. Finally, at times I experience the friendship of the Holy Spirit, his counsel and constant assistance and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise when he announced that the Holy Spirit will remind you of all that I have said to you (Jn 14:26).
It is true that all the Beatitudes have an associated form of self-giving, a dimension of charity.
The poor in spirit are those who decide not to possess anything for themselves and live voluntary poverty. This is one of the features that distinguishes the saint, that is, the Christian. To make available to others all that they receive. And if our impression is that we have very little to give to others, the desire and the permanent disposition to serve humbly and not the yearning to have many capacities, is what characterizes these blessed ones.
Blessed are the meek. The term meek used by Jesus is probably taken from Psalm 37 where those deprived of their rights, and their freedom are called “the meek”. They are poor because the powerful have stolen their fields, houses, and even their sons and daughters. They are forced to suffer injustice without even being able to protest.
They do not give up, but they refuse to resort to violence to restore justice. They do not allow themselves to be guided by anger, they do not feed resentment and the desire for revenge. With Jesus they commit themselves to bear witness to those who oppose the good, with the same meekness of the Master.
They will inherit the earth, because none can stop the force of meekness, even by taking the life of the disciple of Christ.
Blessed are those who mourn. They are those who are attentive and sensitive to the immense cry of pain rising from the world. They mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15), but they do not resign themselves to evil and suffering. They wait for the salvation of God and his word.
To weep is also to be sorry for our lack of love. It is recognizing one’s weaknesses and resolving not to commit them again. Such mourning requires that we understand the extent and consequences of our sins so that conversion occurs because we realize the harm we do and the good we fail to do.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. The Bible often speaks of God’s justice, but always and only as synonymous with goodness, never in the sense of our distributive justice. For us, doing justice means that the guilty are punished. For God, justice is done when he succeeds in making a wicked man righteous, or when he saves a sinner from the abyss of guilt.
To the disciples who invited him to eat, he said: My food is to accomplish the work of him who sent me (Jn 4:34). Only the justice of God could satisfy their hunger.
The saints are those who share with Jesus their own hunger and thirst for the salvation of their brothers and sisters. The promise: they will be filled. They experience – already here on earth- the joy of God and of the angels of heaven who have more joy for a sinner who becomes just over ninety-nine who have no need for repentance (Luke 15:7).
Blessed are the merciful. This is Jesus’ recommendation: Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. Do not judge so as not to be judged: do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:36-37 But this does not exhaust the richness of the biblical term.
For Christ, mercy, more than a feeling of compassion, is an action in favor of those who need help. The clearest example is that of the Good Samaritan; the Greek text says that He has shown mercy to the man attacked by the bandits (Lk 10:37).
Merciful are the saints who, before the needs of a person, feel the tremor of God’s heart and intervene, performing works of mercy, as Jesus did.
They will find mercy, because where there is that form of love, divine tenderness abounds all the more.
Blessed are the pure in heart. Christ demands something that grace allows us to live: purity of heart. There is nothing external that makes a person impure. Only what comes from the heart can make one impure (Mt 15:17-20). That’s what bad intentions are, or mixed intentions.
The pure in heart are those who have an undivided heart, those who do not love both God and idols. Whoever keeps resentment towards a brother in his heart, even if he never commits bad actions, is an adulterer in his heart, has an impure heart They will see God. They are given the blessed experience of knowing the will of God in every moment, the way to give a testimony.
Blessed are those who are committed to create peace. Blessed is the one who, without resorting to violence, puts all his energy into bringing an end to all kinds of wars and conflicts. Blessed is he who sows peace in the angry and overpowering heart. The peace of Christ is not only the absence of violence. It indicates harmony with God, with others and within one’s own soul. Peacemakers are all those who commit themselves to making this life as good as possible for each person, preparing the way between them and God.
The most beautiful of promises is given to these peacemakers: God looks upon them as his children.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Jesus did not assure his disciples of the approval and consent of the people and clearly repeated that adherence to him implies persecution: They will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name (Luke 21:12).
Persecution is a sign that distinguishes the disciple. Paul is very explicit: All those who want to serve God in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).
Persecution is not a sign of failure, but of success. It is cause for joy because it is the proof that the correct election is being persecuted, according to the “wisdom of God.
Those who feel threatened in their position and prestige by the coming of the kingdom of God react with violence, if necessary. The saints never had an easy life: their destiny is sealed from the moment they accepted to act like lambs.
Subjected to persecution, they have not succumbed to the temptation of behaving like wolves and have not deviated from the behavior suggested by the Master: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44).
On this feast of All Saints, let us propose to take advantage of the treasure of their lives, estimating how they deserve their passage through this world, which every day we remember in our Chapter, as our Father Founder has taught us.