On the Gospel of Matthew 5:1-12
All Saints’ Day
The Sermon on the Mount occupies three full chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, and gives the main body of Christ’s teaching about the moral life. Later in Matthew, Jesus gives a summing up of morality: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too’ (Mt 22:37-40). Nice and simple, right? But life isn’t simple, and the paths to holiness are not as stark and monolithic as this neat summary might imply.
We’re presented with a richer picture in the Gospel for All Saints, where Jesus lists eight categories of people who are counted ‘blessed’. The poor in spirit, the gentle, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for what is right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted in the cause of right… what a range of qualities and concerns! This is more like the variety we see in real life. So we see that following the two great commandments leads not to a world full of identical do-gooders, but to a world of men and women fully alive and fully themselves, in all sorts of different ways.
The feast of All Saints is a great time to reflect on the diversity of holiness. Compare St Therese of Lisieux with St Colmcille, or St John Vianney with St Thomas Aquinas – we’re dealing with a spectrum as broad as humanity itself! For example, in the thirteenth century, a dark time for the Church, God raised up two men who were holy in very different ways: Francis and Dominic. Francis was charismatic and eccentric, passionately in love with ‘Lady Poverty’, whereas Dominic was an organiser, determined to create a well-educated preaching fraternity that could counter the preaching of heretics. Each succeeded in different ways and their very difference meant that the gospel could be heard more fully in the world, preached by two different voices. All the saints are lit up by the one light of God, but they each reflect it in a unique way.
It is comforting to know that God doesn’t just offer us a ‘one-size-fits-all’ holiness, he doesn’t want us to lose our identity or personality. Instead, he wants us to become more fully ourselves, whether that means being a ‘peacemaker’ or being one who ‘mourns’. So even though there’s only one holy destination – God himself – there are many paths of holiness. We are promised the kingdom of heaven and the vision of God, the saints are waiting for us and cheering us on – let’s get going!
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them: ‘Happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage. Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted. Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied. Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them. Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God. Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God. Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’