A Matter of Death, Life by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
When I was growing up, my family lived close to a cemetery. I have to admit, I used to enjoy taking walks around the place. It was always so peaceful, and it made me wonder about the stories behind the names on the headstones. Ultimately, I found myself thinking about eternity.
Francis de Sales wrote in Introduction to the Devout Life, "Imagine yourself to be in an open field, alone with your guardian angel. ... Imagine that he shows high heaven open before you with all its joys ... and then he shows you hell lying open beneath you with all its torments ... Each of these lies open to receive you according to the choice you make ... the choice of one or the other that we make will last eternally in the live to come. ... God desires with an incomparable desire that you choose heaven."
As the liturgical and calendar years draw near an end, the Church invites all of us to carefully reflect on what we call the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. In the weeks to come, this is a theme that will feature prominently in some of the readings at Mass. It all begins, however, by going straight to the top.
It is with joy that we celebrate the feast of All Saints. In celebrating this feast, we give thanks to God for raising to the glories of heaven the souls of all His faithful ones. We also give thanks for the communion we share with the saints through Christ.
If we should wonder how such a communion is possible, we have only to listen to the words of Our Lord: "I am the vine, you are the branches." He goes on to say that the branch which bears no fruit is pruned away and cast into the fire. Fruitful branches remain upon the vine.
In other words, in death and in life, faithful witnesses of Christ whose lives bear fruit in works of faith, hope and charity remain upon the vine and form one body in Christ. We remain in communion with the saints of heaven and they with us through Christ. To use the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, the saints of heaven make up the vast cloud of witnesses which surrounds us and spurs us on to victory. They have run the race, and they know that the race - with all its trials and tribulations - is worth running, the prize worth striving for.
The saints of heaven are the poor in spirit who have inherited the kingdom. They are the ones who once mourned with us in this valley of tears, yet now know peace and rest. They are the ones who showed mercy and forgiveness and through God's mercy have obtained true pardon and peace of their own. In other words, they are the ones who lived the Eight Beatitudes and desired to have the mind and heart of Christ. In the words of St. Bernard. "Calling the saints to mind inspires us, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. ... We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our minds on the things of heaven."
Of course, living the beatitudes is about as counter-cultural as you can get. Sanctity involves being clean of heart, having no attachment or desire for sin. We live in a culture that seems to pride itself on its sinfulness. In fact, it wants us to deny the very reality of sin. That is no way to be a saint.
To be a saint means to be poor in spirit, desiring nothing more that what is pleasing to God and knowing that we are only passing guests in this world. We live in a culture that is rooted in self-indulgence. I want what I want when I want it. I want this world to be my paradise.
To be a saint means that we will be persecuted or insulted simply because, as disciples of Christ, we set ourselves against the ways of the world.
As Francis de Sales, Bernard - and every other saint would tell us - we do have a choice about who we aim to please above all. If being a saint means possibly bringing trouble on ourselves, perhaps some may think it is not all that attractive a proposition. Considering the joys of all the saints in heaven, hopefully we will begin to realize that the race is worth running.
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