Posts Tagged ‘Mt 5:1-12a’

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, November 1, 2018 — Solemnity of All Saints — The Children of God — The Beatitudes

November 1, 2018

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Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.

After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”

All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:

“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

AlleluiaMT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

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:

“Blessed 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.”

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From Abbot Philip
Monastery of Christ in the Desert
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The Gospel from Saint Matthew today gives us what we call the Beatitudes.  The sayings of Jesus reflect what it is to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

https://christdesert.org/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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1 NOVEMBER, 2018
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SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ REV 7:2-49-141 JN 3:1-3MT 5:1-12 ]

The feast of All Saints certainly is one of the happiest feasts we celebrate in the Church’s liturgy.  For this feast celebrates not only the victory of our loved ones who have gone before us but our hope and final destiny as well.  To know that our loved ones are already there and have won the victory over sin should inspire us as well in our sojourn on this earth.  This joy is ours even as St John wrote, “what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”

But is this feast ours as well?  Is it true to say that the feast of All Saints is a celebration of every one of us and not just the saints in heaven?  In a way it is true that this is our feast, but we have not yet arrived, although we all have what it takes to become a saint.  Hence, the second reading begins with an attitude of thanksgiving for having the honour to be able to call ourselves sons of God.  To become a Saint is simply to become completely what we already are – a child of God, loved by the Father.  This presupposes that we are transformed in the image of His Son, and so share in God’s own life and happiness.  So although we are God’s children, we do not enjoy the full sonship until we become like God.  How then can we arrive with the saints in heaven and share in the joys of the saints?

Firstly, saints are those who have lived out their identity as the children of God.  Indeed, by virtue of our baptism, we are all made children of God.  As St John says, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.  Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us. My dear people, we are already the children of God.”   The question is, do we believe that we are children of God?  The truth is that the early Christians did, and that is why St Paul addressed the early Christians as saints.  In the first reading the angels were instructed thus, “Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”

Unfortunately, although we are truly children of God by baptism through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit,we often forget our identity.  Yes, by our baptism, we are saying that we want to be saints.  Many people are shy, or deny that they want to be saints.  They keep saying that they are not worthy to be saints.  Not worthy or capable is one thing, but not wanting to be saints is another matter altogether.

It is as good as refusing to acknowledge this reality with the rest of humanity in the world.  When we deny our identity as the children of God and therefore saints in principle, we would then not bother to live as such.  So it is important right from the start to always to remember who we are:  children of God and His saints.

Secondly, saints are those who have been purified in faith and love.  Of course, to assert that we are children of God is not the same as claiming that we have arrived.  Rather, we know who we are and seek and strive to be faithful to our calling and sonship in Christ.  Rightly so, St John says, “surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.”  So whilst we are technically saints, we are still growing to become one.

Isn’t this is what baptism is all about?  Who is a saint?  Isn’t he one who has put on Christ?  Indeed, we read that the saints “were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands.” Baptism is therefore called a Christening service because we put on Christ.  In the same vein, when we choose a baptismal name, we express our desire to imitate that particular saint in his or her virtues.  Hence, he or she is called our patron saint.  A patron is one who supports us.  So not only do we seek to imitate the saints’ virtues but that they will support us in our journey to saintliness and holiness through their examples and intercession.

Thirdly, saints are those who witness to Christ even under persecution and opposition.  As the book of Revelation says, “These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”  Only those who have suffered with and for Christ, even unto death, can truly share in the resurrected life of Christ.  This is affirmed by Jesus in the gospel when He said, “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.”  Isn’t this what baptismal life requires?  After all, to be baptized is to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. Those who were dressed in white robes symbolize the purity of the Father and demonstrate that they have won a great victory.

What, then, is the secret to live out this kind of life?  It is none other than to live out the beatitudes proposed to us by Christ.  Living out the beatitudes is already to live a blessed life and therefore a foretaste of life to come.   These beatitudes were lived out by Jesus before they were taught to us.  It can be said that these beatitudes guided Jesus in His life on earth.

Yes, we must cultivate the virtue of poverty of spirit by being dependent on God totally and obedient to His commands.  Only in this way can we become selfless, merciful, compassionate, pure and forgiving.  We are called to live a life of holiness in contradiction to the values of the world.  Only a man who lives such a life of holiness, even in the face of opposition, can be said to be truly free.

However, it must be said that saints are those who have won the victory through the blood of the lamb.  They won the victory not by their own strength but by the grace given to them through the death of Jesus.  By contemplating on the death of Jesus on the cross, they too could survive crises by keeping their sights on the living God and uniting themselves with the sacrifice of Christ.  So let it be said, the call to sainthood is a privilege as much as our cooperation with His grace at work in us.  So we do not become saints by mere efforts alone but by allowing the grace of God to operate in our lives.

Finally, we can have confidence in God’s overwhelming love, as the vision presents us with much hope and confidence, since John said, “I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language.”  It is our hope that we will eventually arrive, albeit some of us might need further purification upon death in purgatory.  That is why we turn to the saints as our models to inspire us to live a holy life and also to persevere till the end.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Homily for the November 1st – Solemnity of All Saints

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It is quite amazing that we who have faith and believe we will live forever can sometimes allow ourselves to be influenced or contaminated by the unspiritual viewpoint of western culture. We could have heaven on earth, but sometimes we create hell on earth. In my last parish in Ireland I said a number of times in homilies that the programs on TV do not reflect who we are. Who are we? St. John answers that beautifully in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We are not usually portrayed as spiritual beings in this fashion on TV. There is always somebody in some trouble. The TV does not reflect our deepest reality described by St. John in our second reading.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. (1 John 3:1)

If we know who we are, we will know how to act. If we know who we are, we will know how to act.

The Solemnity of All Saints today reminds us of who we are and what a bright future can be ours. As we celebrate today all the saints, both those canonized and those who are unknown, we are joyful that they have reached the goal of life, heaven. They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us.

The saints encourage us in our own struggles because like us they also endured struggles, they grew from strength to strength, they matured in the Lord as they grew in years. We also see this journey of growth in the great people of the Bible. We could think of Abraham whom Genesis tells us pretended his wife was his sister because he was afraid but Abraham grew to become our father in faith. Moses had a speech impediment and had murdered and protested against being called by God but he led his people to the Promised Land. In the Gospels Peter is impulsive and doesn’t want the Lord to suffer but in Acts he is totally transformed and considers it an honor to suffer for the Lord. Interestingly in Acts even Peter’s shadow is a source of healing, something which is not said of Jesus in the Gospels. Obviously Peter’s Formation Adviser was out of this world!

The journey of growth in the great people of the Bible is also seen in the canonized saints. The Curé of Ars struggled with learning while in seminary but so many pilgrims went to Ars to confess to him that by 1855 there was a daily service of two horse buses between Lyons and Ars, and two other buses met the Paris train at Villefranche. The railway station in Lyons even had a special ticket office for people going to Ars, so many were the pilgrims.

St. Thérèse wrote in her autobiography that after the death of her mother, “I, once so full of life, became timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree. One look was enough to reduce me to tears.” (Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Third Edition pp34-35) She went on to become the Little Flower of Jesus whose relics even stopped the traffic on Fifth Avenue New York because so many people came to venerate her, and three million people venerated her relics during their visit to Ireland in 2001, the same number of people who attended Papal Masses in Ireland in 1979.

St. Augustine struggled with impurity in his youth. As a teenager he was influenced by the loose living of his companions. When he was studying in Carthage he decided to take a mistress. He was such a scoundrel that he even once said to his mother St. Monica that there would be no problems between them if she gave up her faith! He underwent a conversion in Milan and went on to become a priest at the age of 36 and a bishop at the age of 41, and was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa for 35 years. One example of the influence Augustine has on the Church is that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are more quotations from St. Augustine than from any other writer.

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a colorful past before his conversion. In 1515 Ignatius and his brother Pedro Lopez were arrested and prosecuted for nocturnal misdemeanors that were outrageous. Ignatius says up to his twenty-sixth year he was given to worldly vanities. He was proud, sensuous, and driven by violent and powerful impulses, he demanded adventure and glory. But after his conversion he noticed that day dreaming about the saints brought him joy but not worldly matters. And thus gradually he developed the rules for discernment of spirits and established the Society of Jesus. He established a college in Rome for young men entering the Society of Jesus and also set up colleges in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Constantinople. At his death in 1556 the Society of Jesus had 1000 members with 100 houses throughout the world. We see this same journey of growth in the lives of all the saints.

(In another homily I discuss the growth of St Francis from his colorful past.)

The saints remind us of who we really are, the reality described by John in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Not only the saints’ lives but also their writings are precious gifts of grace to us to remind us of who we are and the glory that God is offering to us. We could think of St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul with this beautiful excerpt:

“Charity is the most excellent way that leads to God. I finally had rest…I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places, in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love, my vocation, at last I have found it, my vocation is love!” (Chapter 9, Clarke 194)

We treasure the Confession of St. Augustine with its words,

“You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

We treasure the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the writings of all the saints. Although the saints had much room for growth early in their lives by the end of their lives we see that they were living the beatitudes of our Gospel today (Matt 5:1-12). Therefore they give encouragement to us as we are aware of our need for further growth. The saints were happy because they were poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful and clean of heart. Among the saints we venerate in a special way the martyrs. As our first reading from Revelation states:

These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14)

They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us. We know that they are praying for us.

We hope and pray that all those near and dear to us who have departed are already or will be numbered among the saints and so we pray for them especially during this month. I conclude with our second reading:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

http://www.frtommylane.com/homilies/years_abc/all_saints4.htm

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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, November 1, 2017 — Feast of All Saints — “Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.”

October 31, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

Image may contain: text

Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.  After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:”Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:”Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
And I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

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:”Blessed 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.”
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From Abbot PhilipThe Gospel from Saint Matthew today gives us what we call the Beatitudes.  The sayings of Jesus reflect what it is to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!

The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

https://christdesert.org/

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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1 NOVEMBER, 2017, Wednesday, All Saints
BEING AND BECOMING SAINTS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ REV 7:2-49-14JN 3:1-3MT 5:1-12 ]

“Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?”  (Apoc 7:13).  This question demands an answer from each one of us.  Because the answer that we give indicates how we understand ourselves, our origin and destiny in life.  And unless we know, the celebration of All Saints Day will have no relevance in our lives.

Now if I ask ‘who are the saints’, the answer that most people would give is that they are those who have lived their lives in such a way that they have arrived at sainthood.  And this means that we are all in the process of becoming saints.  All Saints Day therefore is a celebration not only of those who have become saints but all of us who will become saints at the end of our journey.  However, such an answer is only partially correct.  It starts with the fact that we believe that we are sinners even before we were born.  Now this is not really true, and even contradicts scripture.

St John tells us that we are already the children of God because of His love that He lavished on us.  Regardless of the fact that we are baptized or not, it would not be really wrong even to say that all of us are God’s children by the mere fact of our coming into existence in this world.  After all, do we not believe that God is the Father of all humankind and not just Christians?   To be born into the world means that we share in the very being and love of God.   This is implied also in the answer given by one of the elders to the question that I quoted from Apocalypse at the beginning of this homily.  He said, “These are people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”   Now, how can they wash their robes white again unless their robes were white before?  Unless you narrowly interprete these texts as referring to those who were baptized. If that were so, then it means to say that the unbaptized cannot be saved.  But this would not be in harmony with what the Church has taught us with regard to the salvation of the unbaptized.

However, one might raise the problem of original sin.  Isn’t it true that the Church teaches that we are all born with original sin?  This is undeniably true both theologically and existentially.  It is our own experience that everyone of us shares the sinful nature of Adam and are under the influence of the situation of sin in the world when we are born.  But let us also not forget that corollary to the doctrine of original sin, there is the doctrine of original justice.  What the Church wants to say also is that even before we were born, God has in His eternal plan meant for us to be saints.  In other words, our original nature before we were born is already saintly.  But somehow things have gone wrong from the very beginning.  In other words, all of us have had a bad start.

What are the implications that we can draw from this premise.  Firstly, the fact is that we are already saints even before we came into the world.   The problem is that from the moment we were born, we forget that we are actually saints.  We have forgotten about our real nature, namely, our sainthood.  This, then, is the difference between the baptized and the unbaptized.  The baptized understands and knows that their real nature is their sainthood, whereas those who are unbaptized do not know.  In the words of John, the unbaptized are those in the world who refuse to acknowledge God as their Father.

Secondly, since we are already saints, since our very being is already sainthood, it means to say that in history, our sainthood is coming to be.  That is to say that in history, the saint in us is being unfolded concretely.  It is in history that we work out and manifest the sainthood in us.  We are just like the seed that already contains the tree in us.  And the tree is nothing else but the externalization of the seed.  Unfortunately, due to our fallen nature and our forgetfulness of our nature as saints, we live unsaintly lives, contradicting our very being.

For this very reason, Jesus, who is the true God and true man, offers us His blueprint on how we can recover our essential nature, which is to be both divine and human like Him, although differing ontologically. In fact, this is what John said:  “we are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him.”    And what is His blueprint for us?  It is spelt out in the beatitudes.  It is His program of life and for life.  The beatitudes help us to form a vision of life that is a Godly vision.  They are meant to help us to see ourselves, others, success and sufferings in the right perspective.   They will be the ways in which we will purify ourselves to be like Christ, as John tells us; and the way in which our tainted robes can be washed clean.  They are the necessary stages and process to help us to return home, namely, to our original nature even before we were born.

However, it is not enough to say that we were already saints before we were born.  To be purified does not mean simply to return to square one.  In that sense, we must also maintain that while it is true that our very being is saintly, and that we need to realize that sainthood in history, we must also in the same vein say that we can become saints.  In other words, we can become more than what we originally were.  In this sense, we are all becoming saints.  Sainthood, like love, can grow.  To become saints is similar to growing in love.  We cannot say that our love is no longer capable of growing at any point of time; so likewise in our sainthood.  We can become more and more like God.  And this would be an endless process and journey.  But this journey of becoming more and more saintly is not a frustrating process because it is not an implication that we are lacking fulfillment but simply pointing out the fact that we are capable of being enriched further and move on to a higher plane of life and love in God.

Yes, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, let us remember that we are celebrating the fact that we are already saints and that we are historically living out this sainthood on earth.  But more importantly, we are also celebrating the hope and the reality that we are called to greater heights in saintliness, by joining the communion of saints in fellowship and love which will lead us to ever greater and more enriching love now and for all eternity.  Finally, it means that in love and fellowship, we truly become more and more in God,  who ultimately is the one who can sustain and fulfill us completely.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Homily for the November 1st – Solemnity of All Saints

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It is quite amazing that we who have faith and believe we will live forever can sometimes allow ourselves to be influenced or contaminated by the unspiritual viewpoint of western culture. We could have heaven on earth, but sometimes we create hell on earth. In my last parish in Ireland I said a number of times in homilies that the programs on TV do not reflect who we are. Who are we? St. John answers that beautifully in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We are not usually portrayed as spiritual beings in this fashion on TV. There is always somebody in some trouble. The TV does not reflect our deepest reality described by St. John in our second reading.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. (1 John 3:1)

If we know who we are, we will know how to act. If we know who we are, we will know how to act.

The Solemnity of All Saints today reminds us of who we are and what a bright future can be ours. As we celebrate today all the saints, both those canonized and those who are unknown, we are joyful that they have reached the goal of life, heaven. They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us.

The saints encourage us in our own struggles because like us they also endured struggles, they grew from strength to strength, they matured in the Lord as they grew in years. We also see this journey of growth in the great people of the Bible. We could think of Abraham whom Genesis tells us pretended his wife was his sister because he was afraid but Abraham grew to become our father in faith. Moses had a speech impediment and had murdered and protested against being called by God but he led his people to the Promised Land. In the Gospels Peter is impulsive and doesn’t want the Lord to suffer but in Acts he is totally transformed and considers it an honor to suffer for the Lord. Interestingly in Acts even Peter’s shadow is a source of healing, something which is not said of Jesus in the Gospels. Obviously Peter’s Formation Adviser was out of this world!

The journey of growth in the great people of the Bible is also seen in the canonized saints. The Curé of Ars struggled with learning while in seminary but so many pilgrims went to Ars to confess to him that by 1855 there was a daily service of two horse buses between Lyons and Ars, and two other buses met the Paris train at Villefranche. The railway station in Lyons even had a special ticket office for people going to Ars, so many were the pilgrims.

St. Thérèse wrote in her autobiography that after the death of her mother, “I, once so full of life, became timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree. One look was enough to reduce me to tears.” (Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Third Edition pp34-35) She went on to become the Little Flower of Jesus whose relics even stopped the traffic on Fifth Avenue New York because so many people came to venerate her, and three million people venerated her relics during their visit to Ireland in 2001, the same number of people who attended Papal Masses in Ireland in 1979.

St. Augustine struggled with impurity in his youth. As a teenager he was influenced by the loose living of his companions. When he was studying in Carthage he decided to take a mistress. He was such a scoundrel that he even once said to his mother St. Monica that there would be no problems between them if she gave up her faith! He underwent a conversion in Milan and went on to become a priest at the age of 36 and a bishop at the age of 41, and was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa for 35 years. One example of the influence Augustine has on the Church is that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are more quotations from St. Augustine than from any other writer.

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a colorful past before his conversion. In 1515 Ignatius and his brother Pedro Lopez were arrested and prosecuted for nocturnal misdemeanors that were outrageous. Ignatius says up to his twenty-sixth year he was given to worldly vanities. He was proud, sensuous, and driven by violent and powerful impulses, he demanded adventure and glory. But after his conversion he noticed that day dreaming about the saints brought him joy but not worldly matters. And thus gradually he developed the rules for discernment of spirits and established the Society of Jesus. He established a college in Rome for young men entering the Society of Jesus and also set up colleges in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Constantinople. At his death in 1556 the Society of Jesus had 1000 members with 100 houses throughout the world. We see this same journey of growth in the lives of all the saints.

(In another homily I discuss the growth of St Francis from his colorful past.)

The saints remind us of who we really are, the reality described by John in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Not only the saints’ lives but also their writings are precious gifts of grace to us to remind us of who we are and the glory that God is offering to us. We could think of St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul with this beautiful excerpt:

“Charity is the most excellent way that leads to God. I finally had rest…I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places, in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love, my vocation, at last I have found it, my vocation is love!” (Chapter 9, Clarke 194)

We treasure the Confession of St. Augustine with its words,

“You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

We treasure the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the writings of all the saints. Although the saints had much room for growth early in their lives by the end of their lives we see that they were living the beatitudes of our Gospel today (Matt 5:1-12). Therefore they give encouragement to us as we are aware of our need for further growth. The saints were happy because they were poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful and clean of heart. Among the saints we venerate in a special way the martyrs. As our first reading from Revelation states:

These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14)

They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us. We know that they are praying for us.

We hope and pray that all those near and dear to us who have departed are already or will be numbered among the saints and so we pray for them especially during this month. I conclude with our second reading:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

http://www.frtommylane.com/homilies/years_abc/all_saints4.htm

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, January 29, 2017 — Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth — Sermon on the Mount — The Beatitudes

January 28, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 70

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Jesus Christ teaches the Sermon on the Mount on the Mount of Beatitudes

Reading 1 ZEP 2:3; 3:12-13

Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth,
who have observed his law;
seek justice, seek humility;
perhaps you may be sheltered
on the day of the LORD’s anger.

But I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD:
the remnant of Israel.
They shall do no wrong
and speak no lies;
nor shall there be found in their mouths
a deceitful tongue;
they shall pasture and couch their flocks
with none to disturb them.

Responsorial Psalm PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

R. (Mt 5:3) Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.
The LORD loves the just;
the LORD protects strangers.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
or:
R. Alleluia.
The fatherless and the widow the LORD sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 COR 1:26-31

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
not many were powerful,
not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,
so that, as it is written,
“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

Alleluia MT 5:12A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad;
your reward will be great in heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

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:
“Blessed 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.”

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Reflection from The Abbot in The Desert
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Seek the Lord!  This Sunday the message we can hear loudly and clearly is this:  Seek the Lord.  It is expressed in all three of the readings and we must take some time to listen to what God is telling us!

The first reading is from the Prophet Zephaniah and tells us how to seek the Lord:  do no wrong and tell no lies!  What an ideal world that would be if all of us could live that way!  On the other hand, even if we fail to live that we, we can keep striving to live that way.  The challenge is that our present world no longer know what good is and what wrong is.  The world does not know truth from lies.  We are beset on every side with values that are so different from the values given to us in the Scriptures that people become confused.  Far too often, whatever the present cultures wants to call good is accepted as good and whatever it wants to call bad is accepted as bad.  Yet we who follow the Lord Jesus, have the Word of God to form us and to guide us into all truth.

The second reading comes from the First Letter to the Corinthians.  This letter reminds us that if we actually do choose to follow the Word of God and to follow Jesus as our Savior, we will be considered fools.  This shows up over and over today.  But we are told in this reading:  “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise.”  It is our foolishness in following Jesus that can actually bring light to the world and perhaps even draw the world back to God.  The early Christians knew that to live in Christ was to fight against the values of the world.  The early Christians even know that they might have to die to proclaim the truth given to us in Christ Jesus.

We Christians today like to be comfortable and to be well off.  There is nothing wrong with that by itself, but when we are willing to water down the Word of God in order to maintain a comfortable life style, then we must recognize that we are betraying Jesus as our Lord.  None of us wants to be a “fanatic,” someone so obsessive about his or her religion that all we do is irritate others.  On the other hand, we must be able to stand up for the truth of the teachings of Scripture and of our Catholic Church.  When we find ourselves compromising because we don’t want to bother others, then we are betraying our Lord once again.

The Gospel from Saint Matthew today gives us what we call the Beatitudes.  The sayings of Jesus reflect what it is to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!

The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

My sisters and brothers, this Sunday invites us to renew our commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Let us walk in His ways and accept all the suffering that will bring to us.  We want to be in His kingdom now and forever.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

https://christdesert.org/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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29 JANUARY, 2017, Sunday, 4th Week, Ordinary Time
A CHANGE OF MINDSET AS THE KEY TO A BLESSED LIFE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZEPH 2:3; 3:12-13; 1 COR 1:26-31; MT 5:1-12]

We all seek a blessed life.  Presumably a blessed life is a happy life.  But what really is a blessed life?  Does it mean being materially rich, influential and successful in the world?  Or does it mean having a beautiful home, a loving family and a meaningful career and life-style? So whilst all might agree that we want a blessed life, the way we see a life as blessed might differ.

Basically, there are two approaches to life, which the scripture readings present to us.  One is the way of the world and the other is the way of Christ.  This is expressed by St Paul when he asked the Corinthians, “how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families?  No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning.”

The way to life according to the world can be summarized in one word, power; the power over life, not just one’s life but also that of others.  Power is often expressed in the desire for self-autonomy without God, self-determination and individualism.  This power can be obtained first and foremost by acquiring knowledge because knowledge is power.  Today, we know that to be successful in the world, we need education because education is power.  That is why many of us are in the paper race, earning one degree after another.  We surf the Internet for more information and knowledge. Governments and multi-corporations vie for the best CEO in town, paying them enormous salaries.  There is also the race to acquire the latest technology, be it biotechnology or arms.  For to have such knowledge means that we can defend ourselves from our enemies and we can prolong our life.   But the point is whether such power that is acquired through knowledge or wealth can really advance life.  The plain truth is that technology can also be used for the destruction of life and nations.  The world lives in a precarious state because countries are always competing with each other for better technology to develop the latest weapons. So knowledge will only create further competition and fear.

Secondly, power can also be acquired through wealth and status.  In other words, for those of us who do not have intellectual power, we can have economic power.  With money and status, one becomes influential and feared by others.  People become beholden to them because of the power they hold over others through their wealth. Indeed, we know how often politicians, governments and even religious leaders are corrupted by money and bought over by rich and influential people.   When power is acquired through wealth and corruption, this results in great social injustices. The rich get richer through unfair and unethical means.  The poor, who have neither money nor status in life, nor influence become poorer and are robbed of their dignity and respect.  This sows the seeds of jealousy, envy, hatred, greed and competition, which can lead to violence, robbery, killing and fraudulent means to acquire money.  Society becomes divided since everyone treats their fellowman as competitors or even enemies.  Because each cares for himself, society disintegrates first on the national then the global level.

Hence, we must be weary of the approach that the world provides us to solve the world’s ills since knowledge and wealth can be used to destroy humanity and life.  So we must conclude that power gained through knowledge or wealth cannot truly bring life but death! Of course, there is no denying that knowledge and wealth can help to bring about a better quality of life.  The Church is not against science or technological development.  But knowledge and wealth alone without the wisdom and love of God can be destructive.  When man confides in his own innate power and wisdom, he becomes proud and self-centred, thinking of his own interests before others.

In place of worldly power, today, the scripture readings offer us the way of God.  What is this way?  Prophet Zephaniah sums up the way to a blessed life in three pillars, namely, “Seek the Lord, seek integrity and seek humility.”  But what does it mean to seek the Lord?  To seek God is to seek His wisdom.  Knowledge of God and His wisdom will enable us to live our lives meaningfully.  This wisdom of God is of course revealed in the very life and teaching of Jesus.  St Paul declares that God has made us members of Christ Jesus and “by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.”  If Christ is the wisdom of God, it is because the life of Jesus manifests to us the way God looks at this world.

What then is this wisdom of God?  It is fundamentally a reversal of the values of the world, for it emphasizes powerlessness and humility.   We see this clearly in the divine plan of salvation. In St Paul’s understanding of Christ’s death on the cross, and in his choice of the poor and the weak, God has shown that life is more than power acquired through knowledge or wealth. Indeed, “those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen.”  The death of Jesus on the cross forces us to rethink the values of the world.  For the world glorifies power, knowledge and wealth but God honours the poor, the just and those who keep faith. This is again elaborated in the beatitudes of today’s gospel. The beatitudes of Christ, of course is the blueprint to life.  It proclaims that real power is powerlessness through humility, poverty, justice and compassion. These beatitudes summarize the very life and attitudes that Jesus which lived during his life.

However, we can arrive at a real understanding of the wisdom of God in Christ only through a life of humility.  For good reason, therefore, Jesus prefaced His beatitudes with the proclamation, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  This is fundamental.  Of course, the poor in spirit is clearly not the same as being materially poor or ‘poor spirited’, that is, weak in spirit.   As Pope St Leo the Great said, “Poverty is blessed, then, when it is not beguiled by a longing for earthly goods and does not seek increase of the world’s riches, but desires to be enriched with heavenly blessings.”  (DO Wk 22 Friday)  To be poor in spirit is to recognize that one is a pauper in virtues, of love, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and truth.  Of course being materially rich can become an obstacle to such spiritual virtues since as St Leo also pointed out, “very many rich people do not use their wealth for works of charity rather than as a means to puff their pride.”

However, whether we are materially rich or poor, if we have the spirit of poverty, that is the desire to grow in spiritual values, then we all share a common purpose of bringing love and unity through peacemaking and compassion; justice with mercy; and truth with purity of heart. In this way, we live a life of integrity, a balanced and centred life.  This is precisely what the beatitudes proclaim.  Through humility, we learn gentleness and meekness in dealing with others and ourselves; we learn how to comfort others because we have gone through our own struggles; we become merciful and compassionate to others because of our solidarity with them; we thirst for justice and truth and unity because we believe we are all sons of God.  Most of all, because we live in purity of God, that is a good conscience, we are not afraid of abuses and persecutions that we might suffer on account of Christ and the truth.

Only such a life can bring us real peace, joy and happiness because such attitudes towards life and others, promote unity, mutual love and care; understanding and compassion; honesty and justice.  Indeed, Pope John Paul II reminds us that the Kingdom of God is effectively prepared by people who carry out their work seriously and honestly, not aspiring to things that are too high, but turning, in daily faithfulness, to those that are lowly.

The final question remains and which we have to answer honestly for ourselves.  Why is it as Thomas Kempis in his book the Imitation of Christ, Bk 3,3 asked, that “many listen more willingly to the world than to God, and are readier to follow the desires of their flesh than God’s good pleasure?  The world promises things temporal and of small value and is served with great eagerness”; but God promises “things most excellent and everlasting, and yet men’s hearts remain sluggish”; “for an unchangeable good, for an inestimable reward, for the highest honour and never-ending glory”, we are “loath to undergo even a little fatigue.”  “Blush, then, slothful and querulous servant …” he said, that we “are actually more ready to labour for death” than for life; to rejoice more in vanity than the truth! Let us reflect.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Sermon on the Mount, By Artist Jan Brueghel The Elder — On display at the J. Paul Getty Museum
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Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12 From Living Space

Sermon on the Mount

Today we begin reading from Matthew’s gospel and will continue to do so for several weeks to come. We begin with chapter 5 and the Sermon on the Mount.

In reading Matthew’s gospel we need to remember that it was directed primarily at a readership with a Jewish background and in this it differs greatly from Mark. One of Matthew’s aims is to present Jesus as the new Moses, transcending but not putting aside the law given to the Israelites by the first Moses. And, as the law of Moses is contained in what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, so the law or teaching of Jesus is presented uniquely in this gospel by five long discourses.

The first of these is the Sermon on the Mount and it consists mainly of the qualities which are expected of a follower of the new Law and the new Moses, Jesus.

It begins with what we call the Eight Beatitudes. It could be said that these have been greatly under-rated in the life of the Christian churches, Catholic and otherwise. Most people tend to see the centre of Christian living in the Ten Commandments and yet they really belong to the Hebrew Testament, they are part of that Law which the coming of Jesus did not nullify but transcended. They are, of course, still valid as moral guidelines but, in many ways, they fall far short of what is presented by Jesus in the Beatitudes.

It would seem, in fact, that Matthew is presenting the Beatitudes as taking over the role of the Commandments and this is indicated by the prominent place they have in forming the opening of the first discourse. They are, as it were, a manifesto of Jesus’ message and his call to see the world in his way. They express the necessary attitudes of those who belong to the Kingdom. Those who have these attitudes already have entered that Kingdom.

Perhaps a few words about the ‘Kingdom’ are in order. In many ways, Matthew’s gospel can be called ‘a Gospel of the Kingdom’. The phrase that Matthew consistently uses, however, is ‘Kingdom of heaven’. For many people this can be misleading because it causes them to think that Jesus is talking about the next life, our life in ‘heaven’. So that the Beatitudes are interpreted as conditions to be observed by those who want to go to heaven after they die.

This, I believe, would be a serious misreading of the text. Matthew uses the term ‘kingdom of heaven’ because, mindful of the Jewish background of his readers, he does not like to mention the name of God directly. He uses other circumlocutions in the course of his gospel to get around using God’s name. As when he has Jesus say, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” By using the passive in the second half of the statement, he avoids mentioning the Doer, God. The other gospels have no hesitation in talking about the ‘Kingdom of God’ and that is what Matthew also means.

What is this kingdom? It is not a place. The Greek wordbasileia(basileia) is an abstract word which means ‘kingship’ or ‘reign’ rather than ‘kingdom’, which suggests a territory. ‘Kingship’ or ‘reign’ on the contrary suggests power. To belong to the Kingdom or Kingship of God, then, is to put oneself fully, consciously and deliberately under the power of God, to experience that power and be empowered by it. That power is above all the power of agape-love.

When we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come”, we are not talking about a future life after death but praying that people everywhere put themselves under the loving power of God. That is made clear by the petition immediately following: “Your will be doneon earth…” Our first call as Christians is to belong to, to enter that Kingdom and not just to be a member of the Church.

The Church is, in so far as it is faithful to the call of Christ, part of the Kingdom but the Kingdom extends far beyond the membership of the Church. The Church is, as it were, the sacrament or visible sign of the Kingdom. As examples, I would suggest that people like Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are people who are very much full of the spirit of the Kingdom, more so, I dare to say, than many of us who are baptised. It is significant, I think, that Gandhi was particularly fond of the Beatitudes and identified with them.

It is time now to look at today’s text.

It begins with Jesus seeing the crowds and going up a hill. Moses, too, delivered God’s law from an elevated place, Mount Sinai. In neither case can we identify the actually mountain or hill, although traditionally, of course, a hill in Palestine has been called the Mount of the Beatitudes.

In the traditional way of a teacher, Jesus sits down to teach. We see him doing the same in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:20). He is joined by his disciples and it is not clear whether they were the primary object of his teaching or that the crowds were also included. The teaching, of course, is directed to followers and, in particular, to those reading the gospel.

Jesus begins the discourse with the wonderful words of the Beatitudes. There are eight of them, each one beginning with the words, “Happy are those…” ‘Happy’ is a translation of the Greek adjective makarios (makarios) which includes not only the idea of happiness but also of good fortune, of being specially blessed. So we can translate it as “Blessed indeed are those…” or “Fortunate indeed are those…”

It is important to realise that being a follower of Christ is intended to be a source of deep happiness and a realisation that one is truly fortunate to have discovered this vision of life.

At a first reading, the Beatitudes seem to fly in the face of commonly accepted ideals of the good life. It takes a deeper reading to see their inner truth.

How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Gospel in general shows great concern for the poor, that is, all those people who are deprived of what they rightfully need to lead a life of decent dignity. Why should the poor be particularly blessed? As people living in deprivation, obviously they are not. But in terms of the Kingdom they are blessed because in the Kingdom, where love, compassion and justice prevail there is no place for such inequality. The Kingdom is an environment of interlocking relationships where people take care of each other and where the resources of all are shared according to the needs of all. The Kingdom is a place of blessings and happiness for the poor because it spells the end of their poverty. The poor are the “little ones” that Jesus speaks about as qualification for entering the Kingdom. They are the “last” who will be first. And, while ‘poverty’ in a wider sense can be applied to all, Jesus is thinking especially of the material simplicity that he expects from his disciples, a poverty which he himself experienced with “nowhere to lay his head”. Wealth can only mean depriving the needy of what they should have.

Matthew is unique in using the term ‘poor in spirit’. It is a significant addition. While the Gospel in speaking of the poor is mainly and rightly concerned with the materially poor, Matthew’s phrase can broaden the concept. Because, in reality, there are many other ways in which people can be deprived and regarded as poor. We are more sensitive to this in our own day with our deeper insights into psychological and sociological factors. People can, although materially well off, be literally poor in spirit. That is, they have little spirit, very little happiness, lives of full of stress and anxiety and anger and resentment. These are all the result of our highly competitive, each-person-for-himself society which is everything that the Kingdom is not. Taken in that sense, the Beatitude applies to a very large number of people.

Happy the gentle; they shall have the earth for their heritage.

The word ‘gentle’ is variously translated as ‘meek’, ‘lowly’, ‘humble’. The Greek word comes from the noun prautes (prauths). The beatitude is reminiscent of a phrase in Psalm 37: “The humble shall have the land for their own to enjoy untroubled peace.”

Probably ‘gentle’ is the better rendering. It suggests someone who is kind and caring and not particularly assertive and dominating. In our rough and tumble society such people normally get pushed aside and can thus be classed among the ‘lowly’ and the ‘humble’.  But they are not necessarily ‘meek’, which suggests people who allow themselves to be trampled on. Rather they belong to those who subscribe to active non-violence. That is, they will never resort to any form of violent behaviour to achieve their goals but they are active and pro-active, not passive – or meek. We think of people like Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day. To be ‘gentle’ in this sense requires a great inner strength and, of course, in the Kingdom there is a very desirable need for such people. It is there that they will come into their own.

In some texts this Beatitude is interchanged with the following and sometimes it is presented as an addition to the first about the “poor in spirit” where “gentle” is understood as “lowly” cf. Ps 37:11). In this case there would only be seven Beatitudes, a more biblical number.

Happy those who mourn; they shall be comforted.

Mourning and happiness would seem to be contradictory to each other. It does not say what the mourning might be about. It could be the death of a family member or a loved one. But it could be something quite different altogether.

Again we have to see the beatitude in the context of the Kingdom. There, those who mourn – for whatever reason – can be sure of experiencing the comfort and support of their brothers and sisters. That is something that they cannot be always sure of in a world where people are too busy taking care of their own immediate interests. Mourning by itself is never a happy experience but it can become a blessing when surrounded by the right people as their love and concern are poured out.

Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right; they shall be satisfied.

‘What is right’, ‘what is just’. Justice is done when each person is accorded what belongs to them. A just world is a world of right relationships; in the Kingdom that is realised. And so, those who truly hunger and thirst to see justice done in our world for every single person will see their dreams and hopes come to fruition.

It is a hunger and thirst which everyone of us should pray to have. Only when we all have that hunger and thirst will justice be achieved and the Kingdom become a reality. We have made progress over the years but we still have a long, long way to go.

Happy the merciful; they shall have mercy shown them.

Mercy, compassion, the ability to forgive fully. The Kingdom is a world full of mercy and forgiveness. And just as we will be ready to forgive others we will find that others will be ready to forgive us when we fail in our responsibilities towards others. In the Lord’s Prayer, which is a prayer of the Kingdom, this is what we ask for: “Forgive us our sins because we forgive the sins of those who have offended us.” In fact, it is impossible for those who belong to the Kingdom to be offended and forgiveness comes easily to them.

That does not mean, of course, that we condone every wrong. The question of justice always remains. But condemning wrong does not exclude healing wounds caused by the hurt which wrongdoing causes.

And mercy understood as compassion is a particularly desirable quality in a Kingdom person. Such a person not only experiences pity for those who suffer but knows how to enter into and empathise with what they are going through. This was a quality found again and again in Jesus himself.

Happy the pure in heart; they shall see God.

‘Pure’ here is not referring primarily to sexual purity. The pure in heart are those whose vision is totally free of any distortion or prejudice. They see things exactly as they are. As a result, they have little difficulty in recognising the presence and the action of God in the people and the environment around them.

This purity of heart, this ability to be able to see with perfect clarity is truly a gift. It requires a high level of integrity on our part; but the rewards are enormous.

Happy the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.

Surely one of the most beautiful of the beatitudes and the one we would all love to have applied to ourselves. In a world so full of divisions and conflicts of all kinds the role of the peacemaker is so much needed. It is something we can all do, starting in our own homes, then in our working places and the wider society. It is something we can do as individuals and in groups, as parishes and churches.

And, how true that, as peacemakers, we can be called ‘children of God’! The Letter to the Ephesians speaks beautifully of Jesus as making peace, breaking down walls between people, by his death on the cross (Eph 2:14ff).

Finally, Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Most people would hardly regard being persecuted, which could involve prison, torture and death, as a source of happiness. But it is not the persecution that triggers the happiness but the reason why it is willingly undergone.

Right from the beginnings of the Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, Christians rejoiced to be found worthy to suffer with and like their Lord in the proclamation of his message and way of life. That way of life was so precious to them, such a source of meaning, that they were more than willing to give their lives to defend it.

In prison, they sang songs and prayed as later the civil rights leaders (most of them committed Christians) in the United States would sing “We shall overcome” as they rode the paddy wagons to jail. It is a much more painful experience to compromise with our deepest convictions in order to avoid criticism or physical suffering. They are indeed, as Jesus says, the successors to the great prophets of the Hebrew Testament.

Happy are those who with integrity can stand by their convictions whatever the cost.

Some people have seen in these Beatitudes a portrait of Jesus himself and certainly they should be the portrait of every Christian and of every Kingdom person. They are the charter people everywhere (and not just Christians) are called to follow. They go far beyond what is demanded of in the Ten Commandments. The Commandments are not so difficult to follow and, in so far as several of them are expressed in the negative (‘Thou shalt not…’), they can be observed by doing nothing! There is no way, however, that people can ever say they observe any Beatitude to the fullest. They always call us to a further and higher level.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/o2102g/

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The Good Samaritan by Walter Rane

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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06 JUNE 2016, Monday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time
LIVING A BLESSED LIFE ENTAILS SERVING GOD AS OUR LORD

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [MATTHEW 5:1-12  ]All of us seek happiness in life, yet few of us have found it.  Why?  Because we seek happiness according to the ways of the world.

The world’s pursuit of happiness is epitomized in the person of King Ahab in today’s first reading. [1 KGS 17:1-6]

But the gospel’s way to happiness is different from that of the world’s.  Jesus gave us a blueprint of what a blessed life is like in the beatitudes.  The values proffered are just the opposite of the world’s.  The beatitudes speak of a blessed life which is the life of God, the life of Mary and the life of Jesus.

So what is this blessed life?  And how can one live this blessed life?  It is a life lived in love and service for others.  Blessedness therefore has to do with a life of authentic relationship with God, others and self.   When we examine the beatitudes, we find that all of them pertain to the way we should relate with God, ourselves and others.

A blessed life in the first place entails a life that is lived in total dependence on God.  God is the foundation of this life.  A person who lives from God and in Him will never fear about his future or about his life.  This is the kind of life that Jesus lived. That is why He could say, “How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Only when we are deeply rooted in the love of God, can we surrender our lives to Him in faith.

Secondly, a blessed life is a life of integrity.  Only a man who is at peace with himself can find real happiness in life.  This is what Jesus asks of us when He said, “Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.”  He also declared, “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.”  Truly, those who live a life of purity before God, are contrite for their sins and seek to do the right and just things in life will find themselves at peace as they have a clear conscience before God and man.  He is able to live such a life even in the face of persecution, for his strength comes from his deep trust in divine protection.  Indeed, Jesus Himself who was persecuted and maligned for helping the poor and the sinners understood this deep inner peace.  He could thus say, “Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Thirdly, a blessed life of integrity must flow into a life of love and compassion for others.  A man who has seen God and is conscious of his own needs and pain will naturally be open to the wounds and pains of his fellowmen.  Yes, he will be merciful when he sees the sufferings of others.  Recognizing the pain of division and disunity, he seeks to be a peacemaker in reconciling opposing forces and, most all, he is a champion of the underdogs and the oppressed.  Rightly so, Jesus said, “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; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.”

The first reading provides us a living example of such a person in the life of Elijah.  In fact, his name itself is symbolic for it means “Yahweh is my God.”   It is significant that he came from Tishbe, a town beyond the Jordan.  Being born poor in a remote region of the country, he was protected from the pagan influence and learnt to depend on God alone for his security.  Hence, we can understand why Elijah was so staunchly protective of his faith and felt responsible for keeping the purity of the faith of Israel against such alien contamination and false compromises.  He spent his whole life seeking to restore the covenant and reform the sins of Israel, not just against God because of the worship of Baal and the fertility gods, but also against injustice and immorality.

Elijah was a man of deep faith who knew the power of the word of God.  Inspired by the Spirit, he spoke the Word of God from his heart without mincing his words.   He was totally confident when he prophesied that no rain or dew would fall on Israel for three and a half years.  St James held him up as a model of a man of faith. (Cf James 5:17).   Because of his prayers, drought came to Israel.

Elijah in many ways followed Christ in being a witness to God even in the face of intense opposition and persecution.  He remained persistent in his faith, unwavering in his devotion to God and courageous in opposing the false prophets.  Because of his fidelity, God the Faithful One protected Elijah and sustained him by providentially sending the ravens to feed him in his hunger in the desert.  Because he had borne God’s burden, the Lord would also bear his burden.

Jesus who preached the beatitudes Himself lived them in His very own life.  That is why His is a blessed life; a life lived for God, with Him and for His fellow brothers and sisters.  Let us take Jesus and Elijah as our models in faith as we strive to live authentic lives of integrity, fidelity and charity.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, November 1, 2016 — “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.”

October 31, 2016

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

Art: GOD is “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.” (2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4)

Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:

“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Sermon On The Mount by Bryan Ahn

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

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:“Blessed 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.”
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From The Monastery of Christ in the Desert

(This Reflection First Published November 1, 2015)

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Scripture Readings: Book of Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; First Letter of Saint John 3:1-3; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:1-12a

We honor this day all saints, those who now enjoy the glory of heaven with God.

Even if not canonized by name, “all saints” are recognized by God and the Church and form a “cloud of witnesses” (see Letter to the Hebrews 13:1) in God’s presence. Their dwelling with God is a source of inspiration and edification for us, literally meaning our being “built up” to follow in their footsteps.

The Solemnity of All Saints is intended in part to sustain and even raise our sense of hope in longing to “be with God” forever in heaven. This is what the saints, who have gone before us in faith, now enjoy and which we hope to experience as well as end our earthly existence, entering a new life in Christ beyond time and space.

This Sunday, and really every Sunday and day that we take time to ponder the mystery of God-with-us, we realize that it is not in vain that we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe so as to secure our steps in the way of love in this life and then to enjoy for eternity, “life on high,” as it is sometimes described, with the Holy Trinity, as well as all the angels and saints, in Paradise or Heaven. This we hold firm to as a matter of faith and dogma.

The number of the elect or saved, one hundred and forty-four thousand, described in the Book of Revelation is not to be understood as a literal number, but a figurative one. It indicates a perfect number, and we are certainly called to be among that number, however many it may actually be when all is said and done.

On one level, the actual number of “saved” is not so important as the fact that there are multitudes, coming from everywhere over the ages, who through a life of perseverance in the ways of the Lord are now enjoying the rewards of eternal life in God’s presence. A sublime and great mystery this is, but something we hold dear as believers in God and members of the Church.

The Apostle Saint John speaks in his letter assigned to this solemnity of All Saints of the certainty that is to characterize followers of Jesus, who are not just called to be, but really are children of God, awaiting the fullness of what that means in the life yet to come. Even in this life, though, we participate to some degree in God’s glory, part and parcel of a life of faith, hope and love in God’s Church.

We can say that in celebrating All Saints no one missing from the picture and there are no favorites. Sure, we may have our favorites, such as for me, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Charles de Foucauld and others, but in God’s sight they are equal and all of them “full participants” in God’s life in heaven. So too no one saint has a head start on the others. All were called, as we are all called, to holiness, meaning nearness to God and conformed to God’s likeness by a life of loving service of God and neighbor.

The theme of growing in holiness or likeness to God continues in this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Saint Matthew, where Jesus gives his followers the “Beatitudes,” as they are usually called.

Jesus is seated, in the rabbinical manner of teaching, and gives instructions to everyone, no matter what may be their financial situation or age, and merely thirsting for holiness as the needed criterion to take up his teaching.

The Beatitudes make few demands but can be very demanding nonetheless. Daily interacting with others requires patience, tact, genuineness and many other virtues. We are to live openly and trustingly within our family and faith community, with co-workers or fellow-students, wherever we meet and rub shoulders with others. Therein lies the heart of our going to God.

We may tend to think of more dramatic actions are needed to become holy, such as going to the slums or the ends of the earth and ministering to the poor there. Some are indeed called to that and find holiness in so doing. For the vast majority of followers of Christ, though, the task is to live and love well in the ordinary places and ways that are required in daily living.

I like this quote from the late biblical scholar, Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, of the Passionist Order. He says, in commenting on the Beatitudes:

“In the bond of faith within the extended family of the Church or within our immediate family or neighborhood and community, we realize how our being poor in spirit has settled the reign of God in our midst; how consoling others in their sorrow brings the blessedness of forgetting one’s own sorrow; how sharing one’s goods with others soothes the hunger and thirst within ourselves. With such blessed single-heartedness in reaching outward, we become “children of God” and even “see God” (from “Biblical Meditations for Ordinary Time, Weeks 23 – 34,” Paulist Press, 1984, page 412).

In other words, there are many opportunities for sanctity in our daily life. Openness to God’s presence and activity in our life is a path toward sharing one day with all the angels and saints the reward of eternal life.

Yes, All Saints Day is about the blessed who have gone before us, but also an invitation to be counted among them eventually, for therein lies true fulfillment and happiness.

We long to see God’s face. May we always eagerly walk in the ways that Jesus has taught, the path to wholeness and holiness open before us life, a mysterious and wonderful road that leads to God’s house.

All you saints of God, pray for us!

Prior Christian Leisy, OSB

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Abiquiu, New Mexico.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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01 NOVEMBER 2016, Tuesday, All Saints
HOLINESS IS ONE BUT EXPRESSED IN MANIFOLD WAYS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  APOCALYPSE 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 JOHN 3:1-3; MATT 5:1-12 ]

Today when we celebrate All Saints Day, we rejoice with all the saints, known and unknown in heaven.  We rejoice in their victory over sin and the Evil One.  Indeed, they are the ones that St John wrote about in the first reading.  They are the perfect and countless number of Christians representing the 12 tribes of Israel, the new People of God who have been sealed as the “servants” of God.  They also belong to that “huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language.”  Indeed, now “dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

What we are celebrating now is what we are all called to be as well.  We too are included in that number in principle.  This is what John tells us.  “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”  To be a saint is to be a son and daughter of God.  By virtue of our baptism, we are all made children of God.   At our baptism, we are consciously informed and anointed as children of God.  All of humanity is children of God as well, but because they do not know Christ, they remain unaware of their calling to be adopted sons and daughters in Christ.  This is what St John said, “Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.”

Consequently, to be a saint is to become a true child of God.  We are called to share in the sonship of Christ.  The blueprint to becoming a child of God is given to us by Christ Himself in the beatitudes.  In these beatitudes, we are invited to live a blessed life.  Hence, the beginning of each of the beatitude begins with the word, “blessed!”  This is the kind of life that Jesus Himself lived, including Mary and all the saints.  The beatitudes could be considered as the principles of Christian living.

The apex of all the principles is to have a poverty of Spirit, that is, a total dependence on God for all that we are and all that we do.  But we are also called to be gentle, that is, meek, firm and yet diplomatic in our pursuit of the truth.  Meekness does not mean weakness.   Jesus and Moses were described as meek but they were certainly not weak leaders.   Meekness means to be in control of our strength.  A leader who does not know how to control his strength can over react in situations.   We seek to be peacemakers and reconcilers, not people who divide.  But what distinguishes us from others is that we remain aware of our own sinfulness and mourn for our sins and imperfections in life so that we will never become judgmental and harsh towards others.  A child of God is one who always lives in the truth, seeking justice for all; and yet remains merciful to those who fail in life.  Justice and compassion must always go together.

To ensure that we are walking in the right direction, what is of utmost importance is the purity of heart and the willingness to suffer for what is right.  The psalmist asks, “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?  Who shall stand in his holy place? The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things.”  St John says the same thing, “My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.  Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.”   We need to be purified in our service of God and love for our fellowmen.  The persecution, trials and suffering that come along the way are means by which we are purified.  We must not take the oppositions we face in life as if we are innocent and the victims all the time.  More often than not, we are reacting from our pride and selfishness, even when apparently serving God and His people.  So through all the challenges of life, we learn to grow in purity of heart and mind so that we can truly serve God and His people with a love that is sincere, pure and generous.

However, these principles offered by the Lord need to be applied concretely in our situation.  Holiness is one and the same for all.  But there are manifold ways to live out that holiness in our lives.  There are many kinds of saints.  That is why the Church honours the different kinds of saints who are known to live the life of Christ according to their charisms, temperaments and situations in life.  To be a saint does not mean to replicate any particular saint.  Rather, it is to imitate their virtues and how they live out the Christian beatitudes according to their circumstances in life.  For this reason, the Church continually canonizes modern saints for today’s generation as our lives are very different from that of the saints who lived in their times.

Being a saint therefore simply means to live out the life of Christ according to our vocation.  We become holy not by withdrawing from the world and our responsibilities.  We become holy through living out our vocation in life, whether as a spouse, parent, son or daughter, a student, a worker, a professional or a priest.  We must never think that only those who are priests and religious have a greater chance to become saints.  Holiness is not determined by what vocation we have in life but how faithful we are to our calling.  Even in priestly and religious life, there are many temptations.  We have seen many priests and religious who are not living out their vocation but make use of their vocation to look after their own interests rather than the Church’s interests.  But this is true in any vocation.  As parents, are we responsible for the way we raise up our children and give ourselves to forming them to be sons and daughters of God in Christ?  For those of us who are married, have we been responsible to our spouse and live out the marriage vows we took on our wedding day?  As workers and professionals, have we made an honest living and shown ourselves to be exemplary workers, dedicated to our work, responsible in our tasks, and proactive in all that we do?

Holiness therefore is to become who we are, namely as children of God.  We grow in holiness by giving ourselves fully to what we are called to life.  If we are faithful to our vocation and our state of life, we become holy.  In every vocation and state of life, we will be confronted with the same principles that Christ gives us in the beatitudes.  We will be called to exercise humility, justice, compassion, mercy and to be mediators of peace in the midst of conflicts.   By exercising these principles in decision-making, we grow in grace and holiness.  Hence holiness is the common call for all but how we live out this holiness concretely in our life is dependent on what we are called to do.  If we are faithful to our calling and act according to the beatitudes, we become holy.  We can be just an ordinary worker, a homemaker or just a domestic helper but if we take our vocation seriously and live it out for the greater glory of God and service of our fellowmen, we can become great saints.

Yet in the final analysis, holiness is not mere effort alone.  We must remember that to be a Christian is to share in the victory of Christ that He has won for us.  St John wrote, “These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”  In other words, holiness is also grace.  Inspired by the Lord, we need to turn to Him for strength and the capacity to share in His death and resurrection.  Only through the love of Christ and in the power of His Spirit can we imitate Him both in life and in death.  “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.”

So if we truly want to grow in holiness, let us see the face of God.  The psalmist tells us, “He shall receive blessings from the Lord and reward from the God who saves him. Such are the men who seek him, seek the face of the God of Jacob.”  Holiness is not reducible to ethical living.  It is to allow Christ to live in us through His Spirit.  So without a deep prayer life, without constant contemplation of His face in the scriptures and receiving His Spirit in Holy Communion, we would deprive ourselves of the means to grow in holiness.  That is why St John Paul II urges us to train ourselves in holiness through the Word of God, prayer, the Eucharist and the Sacrament of reconciliation.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes that Matthew drew from his sources, were condensed in short and isolated phrases, and the Evangelist has placed them in a broader context, which Biblical scholars call the “sermon on the mount” (chapters 5-7). This sermon is considered like the statutes or Magna Carta that Jesus gave to the community as a normative and binding word that defines a Christian.

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The many themes contained in this long sermon are not to be seen as collection of exhortations, but rather as a clear and radical indication of the new attitude of the disciples towards God, oneself and the brothers and sisters. Some expressions used by Jesus may seem exaggerated, but they are used to stress reality and thus are realistic in the context although not so in a literary sense: for instance in vv.29-30: «If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away, for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell». This manner of speaking indicates the effect desired to be created in the reader, who must understand correctly Jesus’ words so as not to distort their meaning.

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Our focus, for liturgical reasons, will be on the first part of the “sermon on the mount”, that is the part dealing with the proclamation of the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12).

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Some details:

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Matthew invites the reader to listen to the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus with a rich concentration of details. First he indicates the place where Jesus proclaims his sermon: “Jesus went onto the mountain” (5:1). That is why exegetes call this the “sermon on the mount” even though Luke places this sermon on level ground (Lk 6:20-26). The geographic location of the “mountain” could be a veiled reference to an episode in the OT quite like ours: that is, when Moses proclaims the Decalogue on mount Sinai. It is possible that Matthew wishes to present Jesus as the new Moses who proclaims the new law.

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Another detail that strikes us is the physical posture of Jesus as he proclaims his words: “when he was seated”. This posture confers upon him a note of authority in the legislative sense. The disciples and the “crowd” gather around him: this detail shows what Jesus had to say was for all to hear. We note that Jesus’ words do not present impossible matters, nor are they addressed to a special group of people, nor do they mean to establish a code of ethics exclusively for his inner circle. Jesus’ demands are concrete, binding and decisively radical.

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Someone branded Jesus’ sermon as follows: «For me, this is the most important text in the history of humankind. It is addressed to all, believers and non, and after twenty centuries it is still the only light still shining in the darkness of violence, fear and solitude in which the West finds itself because of its pride and selfishness» (Gilbert Cesbron).

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The word “blessed” (in Greek makarioi) in our context does not say “softly” but cries out happiness found throughout the Bible. For instance, in the OT, those called “blessed” are those who live out the precepts of Wisdom (Sir 25,7-10). The prayerful person of the Psalms defines “blessed” as those who “fear”, or more precisely those who love the Lord, expressing this love in the observance of the precepts contained in the word of God (Sal 1,1; 128,1).

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Matthew’s originality lies in adding a secondary phrase that specifies each beatitude: for instance, the main assertion “blessed are the poor in spirit” is clarified by an added phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Another difference with the OT is that Jesus’ words proclaim a saving blessedness here and now and without any limitations. For Jesus, all can attain happiness on condition that they remain united to Him.

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The first three beatitudes:

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i) The first cry concerns the poor: “How blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. The reader may be shocked: how can the poor be happy? In the Bible, the poor are those who empty themselves of themselves and above all renounce the presumption of building their own present and future alone, and thus leave room for and focus on God’s project and his Word. The poor, always in the biblical sense, is not someone closed in on himself, miserable, negative, but someone who nurtures being open to God and to others. God is all his/her treasure. We could say with St.Teresa of Avila: happy are those who experience that “God alone suffices!”, meaning that they are rich in God.

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A great modern spiritual author described poverty as follows: «As long as one does not empty one’s heart, God cannot fill it with himself. As you empty your heart, so does the Lord fill it. Poverty is emptiness, not only in what concerns the future but also the past. Not a regret or memory, not a worry or wish! God is not in the past, God is not in the future: He is in the present! Leave your past to God, leave your future to God. Your poverty is to live the present, the Presence of God who is Eternity» (Divo Barsotti).

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This is the first beatitude, not just because it is the first of many, but because it seems to encapsulate all the others in their diversity.

ii)Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted”. One can mourn because of a great pain or suffering. This underlines the fact that we are dealing with a serious situation even though the motives or the cause are not mentioned. If we wish to identify today “those who mourn” we could think of all the Christians who hold dear the demands of the kingdom and suffer because of many negative aspects in the Church; rather than focus on holiness, the Church presents divisions and lacerations. They may also be those who suffer because of their sins and inconsistencies and who, in some way, slow down their conversion. To these, only God can bring the news of “consolation””.

iii)Blessed are the gentle, they shall have the earth as inheritance”. The third beatitude is about gentleness. This is a quality that is not so popular today. Rather, for many it has a negative connotation and is taken for weakness or the kind of imperturbability that knows how to control calculatingly one’s own emotions. What does the word “gentle” mean in the Bible? The gentle are remembered as those who enjoy great peace (Ps 37:10), are happy, blessed and loved by God. They are also contrasted with evildoers, the ungodly and sinners. Thus the OT gives us a wealth of meanings that do not allow for one single definition.

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In the NT the first time we meet the word is in Matthew 11:29: “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart”. A second time is in Mt 21:5, when Matthew describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and cites the prophet Zechariah 2:9: “Behold your servant comes to you gentle”. Truly, Matthew’s Gospel may be described as the Gospel of gentleness.

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Paul too says that gentleness is an identifying quality of the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 10:1 he exhorts believers “I urge you by the gentleness and forbearance of Christ”. In Galatians 5:22 gentleness is considered one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers and consists in being meek, moderate, slow to punish, kind and patient towards others. Again in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 gentleness is an attitude that is part of the Christian and a sign of the new man in Christ.

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Finally, an eloquent witness comes from 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your adornment should be not an exterior one, consisting of braided hair or gold jewellery or fine clothing, but the interior disposition of the heart, consisting in the imperishable quality of a gentle and peaceful spirit, so precious in the sight of God”.

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How does Jesus use the word “gentle”? A truly enlightening definition is the one given by the gentle person of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini “The gentle person, according to the beatitudes, is one who, in spite of the fervour of his/her feelings, remains docile and calm, not possessive, interiorly free, always extremely respectful of the mystery of freedom, imitating God in this respect who does everything with respect for the person, and urges the person to obedience without ever using violence. Gentleness is opposed to all forms of material or moral arrogance, it gains the victory of peace over war, of dialogue over imposition”.

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To this wise interpretation we add that of another famous exegete: “The gentleness spoken of in the beatitudes is none other than that aspect of humility that manifests itself in practical affability in one’s dealings with the other. Such gentleness finds its image and its perfect model in the person of Jesus, gentle and humble of heart. Truly, such gentleness seems to us like a form of charity, patient and delicately attentive towards others” (Jacques Dupont).

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The word enlightens me (to meditate)

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a) Am I able to accept those little signs of poverty in my regard? For instance, the poverty of poor health and little indispositions? Do I make exorbitant demands?

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b) Am I able to accept some aspect of my poverty and fragility?

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c) Do I pray like a poor person, as one who asks with humility the grace of God, his pardon and his mercy?

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d) Inspired by Jesus’ message concerning gentleness, do I renounce violence, vengeance and a vengeful spirit?

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e) Do I encourage, in families and in my place of work, a spirit of kindness, gentleness and peace?

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f) Do I pay back any small malice, insinuations or offensive allusions with evil?

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g) Do I look after the weakest who cannot defend themselves? Am I patient with old people? Do I welcome lonely strangers who are often exploited at work?

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To pray

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a) Psalm 23:

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The Psalm seems to rotate around the title “The Lord is my shepherd”. The saints are the image of the flock on the way: they are accompanied by the goodness and loyalty of God, until they finally reach the house of the Father (L.Alonso Schökel, I salmi della fiducia, Dehoniana libri, Bologna 2006, 54)

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Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.

In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.

You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.

Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.

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Closing prayer:

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Lord Jesus, you show us the way of the beatitudes so that we may come to that happiness that is fullness of life and thus holiness. We are all called to holiness, but the only treasure of the saints is God. Your Word, Lord, calls saints all those who in baptism were chosen by your love of a Father, to be conformed to Christ. Grant, Lord, that by your grace we may achieve this conformity to Jesus Christ. We thank you, Lord, for the saints you have placed on our way and who manifest your love. We ask for your pardon if we have tarnished your face in us and denied our calling to be saints.

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http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-all-saints-matthew-51-12a

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We at Peace and Freedom often read the daily suggested readings or homilies in the booklet “Pondering the Word, The Anawim Way.” Today’s suggested reading in the “Anawim” includes Pope Francis’ Homily of 2 October 2013 at follows:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

In the Creed, after professing: “I believe in one Church”, we add the adjective “holy”; we affirm the sanctity of the Church, and this is a characteristic that has been present from the beginning in the consciousness of early Christians, who were simply called “the holy people” (cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41; Rom 8:27; 1 Cor 6:1), because they were certain that it is the action of God, the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the Church.

But in what sense is the Church holy if we see that the historical Church, on her long journey through the centuries, has had so many difficulties, problems, dark moments? How can a Church consisting of human beings, of sinners, be holy? Sinful men, sinful women, sinful priests, sinful sisters, sinful bishops, sinful cardinals, a sinful pope? Everyone. How can such a Church be holy?

1. To respond to this question I would like to be led by a passage from the Letter of St Paul to the Christians of Ephesus. The Apostle, taking as an example family relationships, states that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (5:25-26). Christ loved the Church, by giving himself on the Cross. And this means that the Church is holy because she comes from God who is holy, he is faithful to her and does not abandon her to the power of death and of evil (cf. Mt 16:18). She is holy because Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God (cf. Mk 1:24), is indissolubly united to her (cf. Mt 28:20); She is holy because she is guided by the Holy Spirit who purifies, transforms, renews. She is not holy by her own merits, but because God makes her holy, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and of his gifts. It is not we who make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.

2. You could say to me: but the Church is made up of sinners, we see them everyday. And this is true: we are a Church of sinners; and we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed, renewed, sanctified by God. There has been in history the temptation for some to say: the Church is only the Church of the pure, the perfectly consistent, and expels all the rest. This is not true! This is heresy! The Church, that is holy, does not reject sinners; she does not reject us all; she does not reject because she calls everyone, welcomes them, is open even to those furthest from her, she calls everyone to allow themselves to be enfolded by the mercy, the tenderness and the forgiveness of the Father, who offers everyone the possibility of meeting him, of journeying toward sanctity.

“Well! Father, I am a sinner, I have tremendous sins, how can I possibly feel part of the Church? Dear brother, dear sister, this is exactly what the Lord wants, that you say to him: “Lord, here I am, with my sins”. Is one of you here without sin? Anyone? No one, not one of us. We all carry our sins with us. But the Lord wants to hear us say to him: “Forgive me, help me to walk, change my heart!”.

And the Lord can change your heart.

In the Church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge, but like the Father in the Gospel parable. You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths, farthest from the Gospel. When you have the strength to say: I want to come home, you will find the door open. God will come to meet you because he is always waiting for you, God is always waiting for you, God embraces you, kisses you and celebrates.

That is how the Lord is, that is how the tenderness of our Heavenly Father is. The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love, the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost. The Church offers all the possibility of following a path of holiness, that is the path of the Christian: she brings us to encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially in Confession and in the Eucharist; she communicates the Word of God to us, she lets us live in charity, in the love of God for all. Let us ask ourselves then, will we let ourselves be sanctified? Are we a Church that calls and welcomes sinners with open arms, that gives courage and hope, or are we a Church closed in on herself? Are we a Church where the love of God dwells, where one cares for the other, where one prays for the others?

3. A final question: what can I, a weak fragile sinner, do? God says to you: do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to let yourself be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us be infected by the holiness of God. Every Christian is called to sanctity (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, nn. 19-42); and sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act. It is the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, it is having faith in his action that allows us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and as a service to our neighbour. There is a celebrated saying by the French writer Léon Bloy, who in the last moments of his life, said: “The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint”. Let us not lose the hope of holiness, let us follow this path. Do we want to be saints? The Lord awaits us, with open arms; he waits to accompany us on the path to sanctity. Let us live in the joy of our faith, let us allow ourselves to be loved by the Lord… let us ask for this gift from God in prayer, for ourselves and for others.

https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20131002_udienza-generale.html

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, November 1, 2015 — All Saints

October 31, 2015

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

Sermon On The Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
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R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
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R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
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R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

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Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest, says the Lord.
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R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

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:

“Blessed 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.”

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Sermon on the Mount, Getty Museum
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From Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Scripture Readings: Book of Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; First Letter of Saint John 3:1-3; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:1-12a

This year the Church’s liturgical festival to celebrate all of God’s saints, officially canonized or not, falls on a Sunday. Being a “big feast,” the celebration of All Saints takes the place of the usual Sunday in Ordinary time and becomes a focal point for this Sunday’s worship by God’s people in the Catholic Church throughout the world. We honor this Sunday all saints, those who now enjoy the glory of heaven with God.

Even if not canonized by name, “all saints” are recognized by God and the Church and form a “cloud of witnesses” (see Letter to the Hebrews 13:1) in God’s presence. Their dwelling with God is a source of inspiration and edification for us, literally meaning our being “built up” to follow in their footsteps.

The Solemnity of All Saints is intended in part to sustain and even raise our sense of hope in longing to “be with God” forever in heaven. This is what the saints, who have gone before us in faith, now enjoy and which we hope to experience as well as end our earthly existence, entering a new life in Christ beyond time and space.

This Sunday, and really every Sunday and day that we take time to ponder the mystery of God-with-us, we realize that it is not in vain that we believe in Jesus Christ. We believe so as to secure our steps in the way of love in this life and then to enjoy for eternity, “life on high,” as it is sometimes described, with the Holy Trinity, as well as all the angels and saints, in Paradise or Heaven. This we hold firm to as a matter of faith and dogma.

The number of the elect or saved, one hundred and forty-four thousand, described in the Book of Revelation is not to be understood as a literal number, but a figurative one. It indicates a perfect number, and we are certainly called to be among that number, however many it may actually be when all is said and done.

On one level, the actual number of “saved” is not so important as the fact that there are multitudes, coming from everywhere over the ages, who through a life of perseverance in the ways of the Lord are now enjoying the rewards of eternal life in God’s presence. A sublime and great mystery this is, but something we hold dear as believers in God and members of the Church.

The Apostle Saint John speaks in his letter assigned to this solemnity of All Saints of the certainty that is to characterize followers of Jesus, who are not just called to be, but really are children of God, awaiting the fullness of what that means in the life yet to come. Even in this life, though, we participate to some degree in God’s glory, part and parcel of a life of faith, hope and love in God’s Church.

We can say that in celebrating All Saints no one missing from the picture and there are no favorites. Sure, we may have our favorites, such as for me, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Charles de Foucauld and others, but in God’s sight they are equal and all of them “full participants” in God’s life in heaven. So too no one saint has a head start on the others. All were called, as we are all called, to holiness, meaning nearness to God and conformed to God’s likeness by a life of loving service of God and neighbor.

The theme of growing in holiness or likeness to God continues in this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Saint Matthew, where Jesus gives his followers the “Beatitudes,” as they are usually called.

Jesus is seated, in the rabbinical manner of teaching, and gives instructions to everyone, no matter what may be their financial situation or age, and merely thirsting for holiness as the needed criterion to take up his teaching.

The Beatitudes make few demands but can be very demanding nonetheless. Daily interacting with others requires patience, tact, genuineness and many other virtues. We are to live openly and trustingly within our family and faith community, with co-workers or fellow-students, wherever we meet and rub shoulders with others. Therein lies the heart of our going to God.

We may tend to think of more dramatic actions are needed to become holy, such as going to the slums or the ends of the earth and ministering to the poor there. Some are indeed called to that and find holiness in so doing. For the vast majority of followers of Christ, though, the task is to live and love well in the ordinary places and ways that are required in daily living.

I like this quote from the late biblical scholar, Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, of the Passionist Order. He says, in commenting on the Beatitudes:

“In the bond of faith within the extended family of the Church or within our immediate family or neighborhood and community, we realize how our being poor in spirit has settled the reign of God in our midst; how consoling others in their sorrow brings the blessedness of forgetting one’s own sorrow; how sharing one’s goods with others soothes the hunger and thirst within ourselves. With such blessed single-heartedness in reaching outward, we become “children of God” and even “see God” (from “Biblical Meditations for Ordinary Time, Weeks 23 – 34,” Paulist Press, 1984, page 412).

In other words, there are many opportunities for sanctity in our daily life. Openness to God’s presence and activity in our life is a path toward sharing one day with all the angels and saints the reward of eternal life.

Yes, All Saints Day is about the blessed who have gone before us, but also an invitation to be counted among them eventually, for therein lies true fulfillment and happiness.

We long to see God’s face. May we always eagerly walk in the ways that Jesus has taught, the path to wholeness and holiness open before us life, a mysterious and wonderful road that leads to God’s house.

All you saints of God, pray for us!

Prior Christian Leisy, OSB

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Abiquiu, New Mexico.

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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SAINTS ARE CALLED TO SHARE IN THE LIFE OF GOD BY LIVING OUT THE BEATITUDES OF CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: REV 7:2-4, 9-14; JN 3:1-3; MT 5:1-12

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”  This is truly a great privilege of ours to be called and chosen as God’s children.  In other words, John tells us that we are all created to share in the intimacy of God’s life.  Our origin and destiny lie in our relationship with God.  Our calling in life is therefore bound to our destiny as well.  It means therefore that our life on earth is but the flowering of the divine life that is already given to us at birth and especially at our baptism.  We are called to live out our divine sonship in this life.  In this way, we will one day attain the fullness of sonship when we will become like God since we share in His life fully, which is another way of saying that “we shall see him as he really is.”

This is indeed a real challenge because living out our sonship is not an easy task.  We are constantly meeting challenges, trials and sufferings in life and called to choose between sin and God.  The fact is that some of us have chosen against Him because we have forgotten our origin and destiny.  That is why St John says that “because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.”   By choosing against God, we have also chosen sin and evil and therefore death.  Thus, because none of us is truly living our life 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 by the blood of the lamb, we too will also have to be purified by the blood of the lamb.

How then can we be purified by the blood of the lamb?  We must not take this expression too literally as if the blood of Jesus can wash us clean.  Rather, this is a metaphorical way of saying how Jesus in His life and in His death has shown us the way to be saints.  This way is given to us in today’s beatitudes, which is actually the blue-print Jesus has for us in our journey towards the Kingdom; one which He lived out in His very own life.  So what Jesus is teaching us is based on His very own convictions – which He ultimately paid with His own blood and life by surrendering His life for us on the cross.  What, then, is this blueprint?

Firstly, we are called to be poor in spirit.  This simply means that only those of us who are docile to the Spirit can truly be happy in life.  Docility calls for openness and a humble recognition of one’s limitations.  So long as we are open to growth and learning, then we will always be given opportunities to perfect our life to that of God’s.  Conversely, those of us who think that we know everything cannot grow because of our pride and self-sufficiency.

Secondly, we are called to be gentle.  Gentleness in the gospel means meekness and sensitivity.  Unless we are sensitive towards others and ourselves, we will not be able to be in communion with others.  To be sensitive is to be aware of what we are doing, how we are feeling.  In this way, we will also become sensitive towards the feelings, needs and dignity of our fellow human beings.  Without gentleness and sensitivity, we cannot treat others with love and respect.

Thirdly, in order to live in the communion of saints, Jesus says that we must mourn.   Those who mourn will be comforted.  To mourn is to be repentant of our sinfulness and lack of love in life.  It is recognizing one’s weaknesses and resolving not to commit them again.  Mourning requires that we understand the extent and depth of our sins so that conversion is brought about not because of guilt but because of true sorrow for one’s sinful actions.

Fourthly, the beatitudes of Jesus tell us that we must hunger and thirst for what is right.  Fighting for truth, justice and righteousness is truly a sign that we are in communion with the saints.  If we do not stand up for the oppression of our brothers, we have not yet really fulfilled our part in the communion of saints.  There will be no peace and joy in our lives, for how can we pretend that everything is all right when our fellow human beings are suffering?  Indeed, it is better to suffer for doing what is right than for doing what is wrong.  And not doing anything to redress the rights of others would be a sin of omission.

Fifthly, we are told that “those who are merciful, they shall have mercy shown them.”   There is much truth in this beatitude.  We can experience the mercy of God only when we learn to be merciful towards others.  Being merciful is to be compassionate with our fellow human beings.  Compassion requires us to identify with others and to be with them in their sufferings.  And because we are merciful, we will also learn to appreciate and thank God for our present situations.  Compassion helps us to know that we are not alone in this world in our struggles in life.  That is why, in showing mercy to others, we also show mercy to ourselves for we recognize the mercy of God towards us.

Sixthly, the saints of God must be pure in heart.  Only then they can see God.  Purity of heart requires purity of mind.  When a person is pure in his intention and in his thinking, he is neither malicious nor judgmental.  A pure heart is therefore one who has a clear conscience and always lives according to the gospel life.  Those who are not pure in heart, those who live in guilt, will also necessarily live in fear.  That is why these people are not only afraid to see God but also afraid to look at others in the eye.  Deep within, they know that they are not truthful and honest in their dealings.  They suffer from guilt, greed and fear.  However, if a person has purity of mind and heart, he walks about freely, without anxiety of any sort.  He is always ready to die at any time because he carries no guilt in him.  Such a person, because he is liberated from within, will therefore be able to see the goodness of God in others and in his life.  Hence, those who are pure in heart see God in everyone and, most of all, within himself.

In the seventh beatitude, Jesus tells us that the saint must also be a peacemaker.  Why is that so?  Because being a member of the communion of saints, we do not live in isolation.  To be truly Christ is to be concerned for others.  And surely if one member of our family is not in union with the family, we would want to reconcile them.  Living the life of the communion of saints necessarily entails that we become peacemakers.  We do not bring disunity and sufferings to others by breaking up the unity of the family.  Instead, we strive to live in unity with others by respecting each other.  But more than that, we also have the responsibility to reconcile those members of the family that are alienated from each other or from God.   In this way, by being peacemakers we are called sons of God because Jesus as the Son of God is the bridge or mediator in our reconciliation with God.

Finally, Jesus tells us that happiness comes to those who are persecuted on His account.  To suffer persecution for the sake of truth is to suffer on account of the name of Jesus.   Even when we are persecuted for proclaiming the name of Jesus, for proclaiming the gospel life, we must be glad since we have done nothing wrong.  It is surely better to die in the service of life than to die a selfish death or as an accomplice of evil and social injustices.  Such is the great joy of knowing that we have suffered on account of Jesus because we know that ultimately the true joy of life is when we give up even our own lives for the salvation of others.  No greater love can a man give than to lay down his life for his friends and, better still, for his enemies.

Yes, today as we celebrate All Saints Day, let us thank God for this gift of divine life that He has already given to us.  We pray for His grace that we will bring to completion the good work He has begun in us; so that the seed of divine life in us will flourish into the Kingdom of God.  When that happens, we will share in the fullness of life, a condition that is just beyond our human imagination as John tells us.  But one thing is certain, there will be total joy, total love because we will live with God in God’s kingdom.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes that Matthew drew from his sources, were condensed in short and isolated phrases, and the Evangelist has placed them in a broader context, which Biblical scholars call the “sermon on the mount” (chapters 5-7). This sermon is considered like the statutes or Magna Carta that Jesus gave to the community as a normative and binding word that defines a Christian.

.

The many themes contained in this long sermon are not to be seen as collection of exhortations, but rather as a clear and radical indication of the new attitude of the disciples towards God, oneself and the brothers and sisters. Some expressions used by Jesus may seem exaggerated, but they are used to stress reality and thus are realistic in the context although not so in a literary sense: for instance in vv.29-30: «If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away, for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell». This manner of speaking indicates the effect desired to be created in the reader, who must understand correctly Jesus’ words so as not to distort their meaning.

.

Our focus, for liturgical reasons, will be on the first part of the “sermon on the mount”, that is the part dealing with the proclamation of the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12).

.

Some details:

.

Matthew invites the reader to listen to the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus with a rich concentration of details. First he indicates the place where Jesus proclaims his sermon: “Jesus went onto the mountain” (5:1). That is why exegetes call this the “sermon on the mount” even though Luke places this sermon on level ground (Lk 6:20-26). The geographic location of the “mountain” could be a veiled reference to an episode in the OT quite like ours: that is, when Moses proclaims the Decalogue on mount Sinai. It is possible that Matthew wishes to present Jesus as the new Moses who proclaims the new law.

.

Another detail that strikes us is the physical posture of Jesus as he proclaims his words: “when he was seated”. This posture confers upon him a note of authority in the legislative sense. The disciples and the “crowd” gather around him: this detail shows what Jesus had to say was for all to hear. We note that Jesus’ words do not present impossible matters, nor are they addressed to a special group of people, nor do they mean to establish a code of ethics exclusively for his inner circle. Jesus’ demands are concrete, binding and decisively radical.

.

Someone branded Jesus’ sermon as follows: «For me, this is the most important text in the history of humankind. It is addressed to all, believers and non, and after twenty centuries it is still the only light still shining in the darkness of violence, fear and solitude in which the West finds itself because of its pride and selfishness» (Gilbert Cesbron).

.

The word “blessed” (in Greek makarioi) in our context does not say “softly” but cries out happiness found throughout the Bible. For instance, in the OT, those called “blessed” are those who live out the precepts of Wisdom (Sir 25,7-10). The prayerful person of the Psalms defines “blessed” as those who “fear”, or more precisely those who love the Lord, expressing this love in the observance of the precepts contained in the word of God (Sal 1,1; 128,1).

.

Matthew’s originality lies in adding a secondary phrase that specifies each beatitude: for instance, the main assertion “blessed are the poor in spirit” is clarified by an added phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Another difference with the OT is that Jesus’ words proclaim a saving blessedness here and now and without any limitations. For Jesus, all can attain happiness on condition that they remain united to Him.

.

The first three beatitudes:

.

i) The first cry concerns the poor: “How blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. The reader may be shocked: how can the poor be happy? In the Bible, the poor are those who empty themselves of themselves and above all renounce the presumption of building their own present and future alone, and thus leave room for and focus on God’s project and his Word. The poor, always in the biblical sense, is not someone closed in on himself, miserable, negative, but someone who nurtures being open to God and to others. God is all his/her treasure. We could say with St.Teresa of Avila: happy are those who experience that “God alone suffices!”, meaning that they are rich in God.

.
A great modern spiritual author described poverty as follows: «As long as one does not empty one’s heart, God cannot fill it with himself. As you empty your heart, so does the Lord fill it. Poverty is emptiness, not only in what concerns the future but also the past. Not a regret or memory, not a worry or wish! God is not in the past, God is not in the future: He is in the present! Leave your past to God, leave your future to God. Your poverty is to live the present, the Presence of God who is Eternity» (Divo Barsotti).

.
This is the first beatitude, not just because it is the first of many, but because it seems to encapsulate all the others in their diversity.

ii)Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted”. One can mourn because of a great pain or suffering. This underlines the fact that we are dealing with a serious situation even though the motives or the cause are not mentioned. If we wish to identify today “those who mourn” we could think of all the Christians who hold dear the demands of the kingdom and suffer because of many negative aspects in the Church; rather than focus on holiness, the Church presents divisions and lacerations. They may also be those who suffer because of their sins and inconsistencies and who, in some way, slow down their conversion. To these, only God can bring the news of “consolation””.

iii)Blessed are the gentle, they shall have the earth as inheritance”. The third beatitude is about gentleness. This is a quality that is not so popular today. Rather, for many it has a negative connotation and is taken for weakness or the kind of imperturbability that knows how to control calculatingly one’s own emotions. What does the word “gentle” mean in the Bible? The gentle are remembered as those who enjoy great peace (Ps 37:10), are happy, blessed and loved by God. They are also contrasted with evildoers, the ungodly and sinners. Thus the OT gives us a wealth of meanings that do not allow for one single definition.

.
In the NT the first time we meet the word is in Matthew 11:29: “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart”. A second time is in Mt 21:5, when Matthew describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and cites the prophet Zechariah 2:9: “Behold your servant comes to you gentle”. Truly, Matthew’s Gospel may be described as the Gospel of gentleness.

.
Paul too says that gentleness is an identifying quality of the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 10:1 he exhorts believers “I urge you by the gentleness and forbearance of Christ”. In Galatians 5:22 gentleness is considered one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers and consists in being meek, moderate, slow to punish, kind and patient towards others. Again in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 gentleness is an attitude that is part of the Christian and a sign of the new man in Christ.

.
Finally, an eloquent witness comes from 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your adornment should be not an exterior one, consisting of braided hair or gold jewellery or fine clothing, but the interior disposition of the heart, consisting in the imperishable quality of a gentle and peaceful spirit, so precious in the sight of God”.

.
How does Jesus use the word “gentle”? A truly enlightening definition is the one given by the gentle person of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini “The gentle person, according to the beatitudes, is one who, in spite of the fervour of his/her feelings, remains docile and calm, not possessive, interiorly free, always extremely respectful of the mystery of freedom, imitating God in this respect who does everything with respect for the person, and urges the person to obedience without ever using violence. Gentleness is opposed to all forms of material or moral arrogance, it gains the victory of peace over war, of dialogue over imposition”.

.
To this wise interpretation we add that of another famous exegete: “The gentleness spoken of in the beatitudes is none other than that aspect of humility that manifests itself in practical affability in one’s dealings with the other. Such gentleness finds its image and its perfect model in the person of Jesus, gentle and humble of heart. Truly, such gentleness seems to us like a form of charity, patient and delicately attentive towards others” (Jacques Dupont).

.

The word enlightens me (to meditate)

.

a) Am I able to accept those little signs of poverty in my regard? For instance, the poverty of poor health and little indispositions? Do I make exorbitant demands?

.
b) Am I able to accept some aspect of my poverty and fragility?

.
c) Do I pray like a poor person, as one who asks with humility the grace of God, his pardon and his mercy?

.
d) Inspired by Jesus’ message concerning gentleness, do I renounce violence, vengeance and a vengeful spirit?

.
e) Do I encourage, in families and in my place of work, a spirit of kindness, gentleness and peace?

.
f) Do I pay back any small malice, insinuations or offensive allusions with evil?

.
g) Do I look after the weakest who cannot defend themselves? Am I patient with old people? Do I welcome lonely strangers who are often exploited at work?

.

To pray

.

a) Psalm 23:

.

The Psalm seems to rotate around the title “The Lord is my shepherd”. The saints are the image of the flock on the way: they are accompanied by the goodness and loyalty of God, until they finally reach the house of the Father (L.Alonso Schökel, I salmi della fiducia, Dehoniana libri, Bologna 2006, 54)

.

Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.

In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.

You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.

Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.

.

Closing prayer:

.

Lord Jesus, you show us the way of the beatitudes so that we may come to that happiness that is fullness of life and thus holiness. We are all called to holiness, but the only treasure of the saints is God. Your Word, Lord, calls saints all those who in baptism were chosen by your love of a Father, to be conformed to Christ. Grant, Lord, that by your grace we may achieve this conformity to Jesus Christ. We thank you, Lord, for the saints you have placed on our way and who manifest your love. We ask for your pardon if we have tarnished your face in us and denied our calling to be saints.

.

http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-all-saints-matthew-51-12a

.

*********************************

We at Peace and Freedom often read the daily suggested readings or homilies in the booklet “Pondering the Word, The Anawim Way.” Today’s suggested reading in the “Anawim” includes Pope Francis’ Homily of 2 October 2013 at follows:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

In the Creed, after professing: “I believe in one Church”, we add the adjective “holy”; we affirm the sanctity of the Church, and this is a characteristic that has been present from the beginning in the consciousness of early Christians, who were simply called “the holy people” (cf. Acts 9:13, 32, 41; Rom 8:27; 1 Cor 6:1), because they were certain that it is the action of God, the Holy Spirit that sanctifies the Church.

But in what sense is the Church holy if we see that the historical Church, on her long journey through the centuries, has had so many difficulties, problems, dark moments? How can a Church consisting of human beings, of sinners, be holy? Sinful men, sinful women, sinful priests, sinful sisters, sinful bishops, sinful cardinals, a sinful pope? Everyone. How can such a Church be holy?

1. To respond to this question I would like to be led by a passage from the Letter of St Paul to the Christians of Ephesus. The Apostle, taking as an example family relationships, states that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (5:25-26). Christ loved the Church, by giving himself on the Cross. And this means that the Church is holy because she comes from God who is holy, he is faithful to her and does not abandon her to the power of death and of evil (cf. Mt 16:18). She is holy because Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God (cf. Mk 1:24), is indissolubly united to her (cf. Mt 28:20); She is holy because she is guided by the Holy Spirit who purifies, transforms, renews. She is not holy by her own merits, but because God makes her holy, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and of his gifts. It is not we who make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.

2. You could say to me: but the Church is made up of sinners, we see them everyday. And this is true: we are a Church of sinners; and we sinners are called to let ourselves be transformed, renewed, sanctified by God. There has been in history the temptation for some to say: the Church is only the Church of the pure, the perfectly consistent, and expels all the rest. This is not true! This is heresy! The Church, that is holy, does not reject sinners; she does not reject us all; she does not reject because she calls everyone, welcomes them, is open even to those furthest from her, she calls everyone to allow themselves to be enfolded by the mercy, the tenderness and the forgiveness of the Father, who offers everyone the possibility of meeting him, of journeying toward sanctity.

“Well! Father, I am a sinner, I have tremendous sins, how can I possibly feel part of the Church? Dear brother, dear sister, this is exactly what the Lord wants, that you say to him: “Lord, here I am, with my sins”. Is one of you here without sin? Anyone? No one, not one of us. We all carry our sins with us. But the Lord wants to hear us say to him: “Forgive me, help me to walk, change my heart!”.

And the Lord can change your heart.

In the Church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge, but like the Father in the Gospel parable. You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths, farthest from the Gospel. When you have the strength to say: I want to come home, you will find the door open. God will come to meet you because he is always waiting for you, God is always waiting for you, God embraces you, kisses you and celebrates.

That is how the Lord is, that is how the tenderness of our Heavenly Father is. The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love, the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost. The Church offers all the possibility of following a path of holiness, that is the path of the Christian: she brings us to encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially in Confession and in the Eucharist; she communicates the Word of God to us, she lets us live in charity, in the love of God for all. Let us ask ourselves then, will we let ourselves be sanctified? Are we a Church that calls and welcomes sinners with open arms, that gives courage and hope, or are we a Church closed in on herself? Are we a Church where the love of God dwells, where one cares for the other, where one prays for the others?

3. A final question: what can I, a weak fragile sinner, do? God says to you: do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to let yourself be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us be infected by the holiness of God. Every Christian is called to sanctity (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, nn. 19-42); and sanctity does not consist especially in doing extraordinary things, but in allowing God to act. It is the meeting of our weakness with the strength of his grace, it is having faith in his action that allows us to live in charity, to do everything with joy and humility, for the glory of God and as a service to our neighbour. There is a celebrated saying by the French writer Léon Bloy, who in the last moments of his life, said: “The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint”. Let us not lose the hope of holiness, let us follow this path. Do we want to be saints? The Lord awaits us, with open arms; he waits to accompany us on the path to sanctity. Let us live in the joy of our faith, let us allow ourselves to be loved by the Lord… let us ask for this gift from God in prayer, for ourselves and for others.

https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20131002_udienza-generale.html

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, November 1, 2014 — To be conformed to Christ

October 31, 2014

.

All Souls Day

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

Reading 1 rv 7:2-4, 9-14

.

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

.

Responsorial Psalm ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

.

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

.

Reading 2 1 jn 3:1-3

.

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

.

Gospel mt 5:1-12a

.

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:“Blessed 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.”
.
******************************
.
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
.

Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes that Matthew drew from his sources, were condensed in short and isolated phrases, and the Evangelist has placed them in a broader context, which Biblical scholars call the “sermon on the mount” (chapters 5-7). This sermon is considered like the statutes or Magna Carta that Jesus gave to the community as a normative and binding word that defines a Christian.

.

The many themes contained in this long sermon are not to be seen as collection of exhortations, but rather as a clear and radical indication of the new attitude of the disciples towards God, oneself and the brothers and sisters. Some expressions used by Jesus may seem exaggerated, but they are used to stress reality and thus are realistic in the context although not so in a literary sense: for instance in vv.29-30: «If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away, for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell». This manner of speaking indicates the effect desired to be created in the reader, who must understand correctly Jesus’ words so as not to distort their meaning.

.

Our focus, for liturgical reasons, will be on the first part of the “sermon on the mount”, that is the part dealing with the proclamation of the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12).

.

Some details:

.

Matthew invites the reader to listen to the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus with a rich concentration of details. First he indicates the place where Jesus proclaims his sermon: “Jesus went onto the mountain” (5:1). That is why exegetes call this the “sermon on the mount” even though Luke places this sermon on level ground (Lk 6:20-26). The geographic location of the “mountain” could be a veiled reference to an episode in the OT quite like ours: that is, when Moses proclaims the Decalogue on mount Sinai. It is possible that Matthew wishes to present Jesus as the new Moses who proclaims the new law.

.

Another detail that strikes us is the physical posture of Jesus as he proclaims his words: “when he was seated”. This posture confers upon him a note of authority in the legislative sense. The disciples and the “crowd” gather around him: this detail shows what Jesus had to say was for all to hear. We note that Jesus’ words do not present impossible matters, nor are they addressed to a special group of people, nor do they mean to establish a code of ethics exclusively for his inner circle. Jesus’ demands are concrete, binding and decisively radical.

.

Someone branded Jesus’ sermon as follows: «For me, this is the most important text in the history of humankind. It is addressed to all, believers and non, and after twenty centuries it is still the only light still shining in the darkness of violence, fear and solitude in which the West finds itself because of its pride and selfishness» (Gilbert Cesbron).

.

The word “blessed” (in Greek makarioi) in our context does not say “softly” but cries out happiness found throughout the Bible. For instance, in the OT, those called “blessed” are those who live out the precepts of Wisdom (Sir 25,7-10). The prayerful person of the Psalms defines “blessed” as those who “fear”, or more precisely those who love the Lord, expressing this love in the observance of the precepts contained in the word of God (Sal 1,1; 128,1).

.

Matthew’s originality lies in adding a secondary phrase that specifies each beatitude: for instance, the main assertion “blessed are the poor in spirit” is clarified by an added phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Another difference with the OT is that Jesus’ words proclaim a saving blessedness here and now and without any limitations. For Jesus, all can attain happiness on condition that they remain united to Him.

.

The first three beatitudes:

.

i) The first cry concerns the poor: “How blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. The reader may be shocked: how can the poor be happy? In the Bible, the poor are those who empty themselves of themselves and above all renounce the presumption of building their own present and future alone, and thus leave room for and focus on God’s project and his Word. The poor, always in the biblical sense, is not someone closed in on himself, miserable, negative, but someone who nurtures being open to God and to others. God is all his/her treasure. We could say with St.Teresa of Avila: happy are those who experience that “God alone suffices!”, meaning that they are rich in God.

.
A great modern spiritual author described poverty as follows: «As long as one does not empty one’s heart, God cannot fill it with himself. As you empty your heart, so does the Lord fill it. Poverty is emptiness, not only in what concerns the future but also the past. Not a regret or memory, not a worry or wish! God is not in the past, God is not in the future: He is in the present! Leave your past to God, leave your future to God. Your poverty is to live the present, the Presence of God who is Eternity» (Divo Barsotti).

.
This is the first beatitude, not just because it is the first of many, but because it seems to encapsulate all the others in their diversity.

ii)Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted”. One can mourn because of a great pain or suffering. This underlines the fact that we are dealing with a serious situation even though the motives or the cause are not mentioned. If we wish to identify today “those who mourn” we could think of all the Christians who hold dear the demands of the kingdom and suffer because of many negative aspects in the Church; rather than focus on holiness, the Church presents divisions and lacerations. They may also be those who suffer because of their sins and inconsistencies and who, in some way, slow down their conversion. To these, only God can bring the news of “consolation””.

iii)Blessed are the gentle, they shall have the earth as inheritance”. The third beatitude is about gentleness. This is a quality that is not so popular today. Rather, for many it has a negative connotation and is taken for weakness or the kind of imperturbability that knows how to control calculatingly one’s own emotions. What does the word “gentle” mean in the Bible? The gentle are remembered as those who enjoy great peace (Ps 37:10), are happy, blessed and loved by God. They are also contrasted with evildoers, the ungodly and sinners. Thus the OT gives us a wealth of meanings that do not allow for one single definition.

.
In the NT the first time we meet the word is in Matthew 11:29: “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart”. A second time is in Mt 21:5, when Matthew describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and cites the prophet Zechariah 2:9: “Behold your servant comes to you gentle”. Truly, Matthew’s Gospel may be described as the Gospel of gentleness.

.
Paul too says that gentleness is an identifying quality of the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 10:1 he exhorts believers “I urge you by the gentleness and forbearance of Christ”. In Galatians 5:22 gentleness is considered one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers and consists in being meek, moderate, slow to punish, kind and patient towards others. Again in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 gentleness is an attitude that is part of the Christian and a sign of the new man in Christ.

.
Finally, an eloquent witness comes from 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your adornment should be not an exterior one, consisting of braided hair or gold jewellery or fine clothing, but the interior disposition of the heart, consisting in the imperishable quality of a gentle and peaceful spirit, so precious in the sight of God”.

.
How does Jesus use the word “gentle”? A truly enlightening definition is the one given by the gentle person of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini “The gentle person, according to the beatitudes, is one who, in spite of the fervour of his/her feelings, remains docile and calm, not possessive, interiorly free, always extremely respectful of the mystery of freedom, imitating God in this respect who does everything with respect for the person, and urges the person to obedience without ever using violence. Gentleness is opposed to all forms of material or moral arrogance, it gains the victory of peace over war, of dialogue over imposition”.

.
To this wise interpretation we add that of another famous exegete: “The gentleness spoken of in the beatitudes is none other than that aspect of humility that manifests itself in practical affability in one’s dealings with the other. Such gentleness finds its image and its perfect model in the person of Jesus, gentle and humble of heart. Truly, such gentleness seems to us like a form of charity, patient and delicately attentive towards others” (Jacques Dupont).

.

The word enlightens me (to meditate)

.

a) Am I able to accept those little signs of poverty in my regard? For instance, the poverty of poor health and little indispositions? Do I make exorbitant demands?

.
b) Am I able to accept some aspect of my poverty and fragility?

.
c) Do I pray like a poor person, as one who asks with humility the grace of God, his pardon and his mercy?

.
d) Inspired by Jesus’ message concerning gentleness, do I renounce violence, vengeance and a vengeful spirit?

.
e) Do I encourage, in families and in my place of work, a spirit of kindness, gentleness and peace?

.
f) Do I pay back any small malice, insinuations or offensive allusions with evil?

.
g) Do I look after the weakest who cannot defend themselves? Am I patient with old people? Do I welcome lonely strangers who are often exploited at work?

.

To pray

.

a) Psalm 23:

.

The Psalm seems to rotate around the title “The Lord is my shepherd”. The saints are the image of the flock on the way: they are accompanied by the goodness and loyalty of God, until they finally reach the house of the Father (L.Alonso Schökel, I salmi della fiducia, Dehoniana libri, Bologna 2006, 54)

.

Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.

In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.

You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.

Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.

.

Closing prayer:

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Lord Jesus, you show us the way of the beatitudes so that we may come to that happiness that is fullness of life and thus holiness. We are all called to holiness, but the only treasure of the saints is God. Your Word, Lord, calls saints all those who in baptism were chosen by your love of a Father, to be conformed to Christ. Grant, Lord, that by your grace we may achieve this conformity to Jesus Christ. We thank you, Lord, for the saints you have placed on our way and who manifest your love. We ask for your pardon if we have tarnished your face in us and denied our calling to be saints.

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http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-all-saints-matthew-51-12a

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE IMPLICATIONS OF CHRISTIAN HOPE    

SCRIPTURE READINGS: REV 7:2-4, 9-14; JN 3:1-3; MT 5:1-12
http://www.universalis.com/20141101/mass.htm

Some years ago, it was reported in the papers that a survey conducted in Britain found that most people live their lives without any thought of life beyond death.  These people are only concerned about this life; that they enjoy it to the fullest.   For them, only this life matters.  This is rather unfortunate because if our life is only meant for this world, then we are a most pitiable lot.  Such a limited purpose of life will not bring us to great heights, since life and its meaning are reduced to an earthly fulfillment, one that is transitory.

For this reason, as the Church liturgical year is drawing to its close, the Church commemorates the Feast of All Saints.  This feast is important, lest in our daily struggles we forgot our real destiny and may be tempted to give up hope in life.  Like the Anawim in today’s gospel, when we are poor, hungry, unjustly treated and persecuted, we might feel that life is unfair and that life has no real meaning at all.    But the truth is that our life goes beyond this earthly life.  We have a greater destiny before us.  And this is what the Feast of all Saints wants to remind us.  What then is our Christian Hope?

Firstly, it is our belief that we are all called to be with God.  This is what the second reading tells us.  St John tells us “we shall be life him because we shall see him as he really is.”  In other words, we are called to share in the life of God, in love, unity and communion.  This is our true calling because right from the outset, God has meant us to share in His life.  That is why we are called the children of God.  Hence, our destiny is to recover our real identity as children of God, sharing in His life and love.

Secondly, it is our Christian hope too that we would all come together as a family of God in the eschaton.  St John had the vision of the 144 thousand and “a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, tribe, and language.”  Yes, it is our hope that all humankind will be gathered together into one, living a life of love and unity.  This gathering of people of every kind means that all of us, each in his own way, will find fulfillment.  One need not be somebody in life to attain to the community of the glorified.  It is only necessary that he becomes the person that he is meant to be.    Hence, we are consoled that the victory of God is overwhelming and that countless people have been saved.

Thirdly, it is our hope too that God’s kingdom will prevail in the end, which implies that the people of God would be vindicated.  Within this context, we can therefore understand better today’s gospel reading.  The beatitudes, which are to be understood within the context of the Kingdom Message of Jesus, speak of the vindication of the poor, those who are oppressed and persecuted.  In this way, life becomes more meaningful.  For those of us who are struggling with life, we know that somehow our sufferings will be vindicated in the end.  Even for those who are not suffering, they will come to understand the meaning of their lives.

But what is the basis of our Christian hope so that it would not be seen as a dream?  Firstly, our hope is founded on the fact that Christ has been victorious over death and sin.  Christ’s death and resurrection is our certain hope that God will be victorious over sin and death in the end.  Secondly, Christian hope rests on the fact that some of our brothers and sisters are already there in the bosom of God and among the community of the glorified.  On these two facts, rest our Christian hope and goal.  Where they are, we too will be there.

Having spoken so confidently about Christian Hope and that our lives should not be lived as if it is meant only for this world, we must now insist on the importance of this life.  This is because our ability to realize our goal and destiny is dependent on how we live this life.  In other words, the fullness of next life should in some ways be already experienced in this life.  For this reason, St John in the second reading tells us that since we are already the children of God we must continue to live our lives in such a way so that we can be truly like God when the eschaton arrives.  How can we then recover our filiations with God?

Firstly, we need to purify ourselves.  This is what St John tells us in the second reading.  “Surely, everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.”  This means that we are called to be Christ in our way of life.  This is the only way to recover our divine sonship.  Christ is for us the way to become once again identified with God and be incorporated into him.

Secondly, this purification is achieved by being faithful to our baptismal vows.  Yes, like the saints in heaven we are called to be faithful to the white robes given to us on the day of our baptism.  To keep our robes white and clean, the first reading tells us that we need to wash it with the blood of the Lamb.  In other words, we need to die to ourselves.

Thirdly, the way of purification is by following the beatitudes taught by Jesus.  The beatitudes are the blue print to the kingdom life.  It is the way of poverty in spirit, the way of compassion, the way of love, justice and peace that will see us perfected in Christ.

Consequently, whilst we wait for our reunion with the Saints in heaven, the time on earth is but a time of recovery and purification.  God is patient with us.  This is what St John tells us in the vision.  God would not destroy the earth yet until he has “put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of God.”  At the same time, it is a time of mission as well.  We are not only to purify ourselves but we who have been anointed with the seal, which is the sacrament of confirmation, are called to establish the kingdom of God in the world.  In this way, all will be gathered together in the community love and peace with God carrying the palms of victory in our hands.  

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/01-november-2014-saturday-all-saints/#sthash.QP0J4x9n.dpuf

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All Saints’ Day (in the Roman Catholic Church officially the Solemnity of All Saints and also called All Hallows or Hallowmas[1]), often shortened to All Saints, is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November by parts of Western Christianity, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Christianity, in honor of all the saints, known and unknown.

In Western Christian theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. It is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries. In the Roman Catholic Church, the next day, All Souls’ Day, specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual communion between those in the state of grace who have died and are either being purified in purgatory or are in heaven (the ‘church penitent’ and the ‘church triumphant’, respectively), and the ‘church militant’ who are the living. Other Christian traditions define, remember and respond to the saints in different ways.

In the East

Eastern Orthodox icon of All Saints. Christ is enthroned in heaven surrounded by the ranks of angels and saints. At the bottom is Paradise with the bosom of Abraham (left), and the Good Thief (right).

Eastern Christians of the Byzantine Tradition follow the earlier tradition of commemorating all saints collectively on the first Sunday after Pentecost, All Saints’ Sunday.

The feast of All Saints achieved great prominence in the ninth century, in the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Leo VI “the Wise” (886.911). His wife, Empress Theophano.commemorated on December 16.lived a devout life. After her death in 893,[2] her husband built a church, intending to dedicate it to her. When he was forbidden to do so, he decided to dedicate it to “All Saints,” so that if his wife were in fact one of the righteous, she would also be honored whenever the feast was celebrated.[3] According to tradition, it was Leo who expanded the feast from a commemoration of All Martyrs to a general commemoration of All Saints, whether martyrs or not.

This Sunday marks the close of the Paschal season. To the normal Sunday services are added special scriptural readings and hymns to all the saints (known and unknown) from the Pentecostarion.

The Sunday following All Saints’ Sunday.the second Sunday after Pentecost.is set aside as a commemoration of all locally venerated saints, such as “All Saints of America”, “All Saints of Mount Athos”, etc. The third Sunday after Pentecost may be observed for even more localized saints, such as “All Saints of St. Petersburg”, or for saints of a particular type, such as “New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke.”

In addition to the Sundays mentioned above, Saturdays throughout the year are days for general commemoration of all saints, and special hymns to all saints are chanted from the Octoechos.

In the West

The Western Christian holiday of All Saints’ Day falls on November 1, followed by All Souls’ Day on November 2, and is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to May 13, 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated at Rome ever since. There is evidence that from the fifth through the seventh centuries there existed in certain places and at sporadic intervals a feast date 13 May to celebrate the holy martyrs.[4] The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been observed on various days in different places. However, there are some who maintain the belief that it has origins in the pagan observation of 13 May, the Feast of the Lemures, in which the malevolent and restless spirits of the dead were propitiated. Liturgiologists base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin of that of All Saints on their identical dates and on the similar theme of “all the dead”.[5]

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731.741) of an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world”, with the day moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed.[6]

This usually fell within a few weeks of the Celtic holiday of Samhain, which had a theme similar to the Roman festival of Lemuria, but which was also a harvest festival. The Irish, having celebrated Samhain in the past, did not celebrate All Hallows Day on this November 1 date, as extant historical documents attest that the celebration in Ireland took place in the spring: “…the Felire of Oengus and the Martyrology of Tallaght prove that the early medieval churches [in Ireland] celebrated the feast of All Saints on April 20.”[7]

A November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued “at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops”, which confirmed its celebration on November 1. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471.1484).[8]

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the calendar of the Anglican Church and in many Lutheran churches. In the Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden, it assumes a role of general commemoration of the dead. In the Swedish calendar, the observance takes place on the Saturday between October 31 and November 6. In many Lutheran Churches, it is moved to the first Sunday of November. It is also celebrated by other Protestants of the English tradition, such as the United Church of Canada, the Methodist churches, and the Wesleyan Church.[9]

Protestants generally regard all true Christian believers as saints and if they observe All Saints Day at all they use it to remember all Christians both past and present. In the United Methodist Church, All Saints’ Day is celebrated on the first Sunday in November. It is held, not only to remember Saints, but also to remember all those that have died that were members of the local church congregation.[10] In some congregations, a candle is lit by the Acolyte as each person’s name is called out by the clergy. Prayers and responsive readings may accompany the event. Often, the names of those who have died in the past year are afixed to a memorial plaque.

In many Lutheran churches, All Saints’ Day and Reformation Day are observed concurrently on the Sunday before or after those dates, given Reformation Day is observed in Protestant Churches on October 31. Typically, Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God is sung during the service. Besides discussing Luther’s role in the Protestant Reformation, some recognition of the prominent early leaders of the Reformed tradition, such as John Calvin and John Knox, occurs. The observance of Reformation Day may be immediately followed by a reading of those members of the local congregation who have died in the past year in observance of All Saints’ Day. Otherwise, the recognition of deceased church members occurs at another designated portion of the service.

Roman Catholic Obligation

In the Roman Catholic Church, All Saints’ Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in many (but not all) countries, meaning going to Mass on the date is required unless one has a good reason to be excused from that obligation, such as illness. However, in a number of countries that do list All Saints’ Day as a Holy Day of Obligation, including England & Wales, the solemnity of All Saints’ Day is transferred to the adjacent Sunday if 1 November falls on a Monday or a Saturday, while in the same circumstances in the United States the Solemnity is still celebrated on November 1 but the obligation to attend Mass is abrogated.

Customs

All Saints’ Day at a cemetery in O.wi.cim, Poland, 1 November 1984

In Portugal, Spain, and Mexico, offerings (Portuguese: oferendas, Spanish: ofrendas) are made on this day. In Spain, the play Don Juan Tenorio is traditionally performed. In Mexico, All Saints Day coincides with the celebration of “Díde los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), the first day of the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) celebration, honoring deceased children and infants. In Portugal, children celebrate the Pãpor-Deus tradition, and go door to door where they receive cakes, nuts and pomegranates. This only occurs in some areas around Lisbon.

In Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Spain, and American Cities such as New Orleans people take flowers to the graves of dead relatives.

In Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Croatia, Austria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary and Catholic parts of Germany, the tradition is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives.

In the Philippines, this day, called “Undas“, “Todos los Santos” (literally “All Saints”), and sometimes “Araw ng mga Patay” (approximately “Day of the dead”) is observed as All Souls’ Day. This day and the one before and one after it is spent visiting the graves of deceased relatives, where prayers and flowers are offered, candles are lit and the graves themselves are cleaned, repaired and repainted.

In English-speaking countries, the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by William Walsham How. The most familiar tune for this hymn is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Catholics generally celebrate with a day of rest consisting of avoiding physical exertion.

See it all with footnotes:

http://www.catholic.org/saints/allsaints/

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, November 1, 2013 — Solemnity of All Saints and the Sermon on the Mount

October 31, 2013

Solemnity of All Saints Lectionary: 667

Reading 1 Rv 7:2-4, 9-14

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I, John, saw another angel come up from the East, holding the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were given power to damage the land and the sea, “Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the children of Israel.
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After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice:
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“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
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All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed:
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“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
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Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
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Responsorial Psalm PS 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6

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R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face. The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it. For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face. Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face. He shall receive a blessing from the LORD, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob. R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
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Reading 2 1 Jn 3:1-3

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Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.

Gospel Mt 5:1-12a

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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:
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“Blessed 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.”
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First Reflection upon today’s readings:
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Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.

“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.

Lax stopped him in his tracks.

“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton was dumbfounded.

“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…

Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.

Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.

His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.

But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.

Like Thomas Merton and Lax — we don’t want to be good Catholics. We want to be saints. And the saints before us show us how. By leading good lives. By living the virtues and obeying God’s law and God’s word. By seeking God’s will for us and then doing it!

If we life righteously with humility and gratitude and joy — we will someday be among the Communion of Saints.

Thomas Merton

Related:

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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The Church today celebrates All Saints Day. Together with the whole Church, the communion of saints, we rejoice with all those members of the Church who have arrived at their destiny.  Where they have arrived at is also our calling and destiny as well.  But the fact remains that in the minds of many of us, we feel unworthy about this call.  Indeed, if ever someone says to us, that “you are a saint”, we would react almost defensively by saying that we are no saints because we know how imperfect we are.  The implication is therefore that all saints are perfectly holy and sinless.  Yet, it would be against our faith to think that we are not called to sainthood because this is our very and ultimate calling in life: to be saints and to be in fellowship with all the saints in heaven and with the Holy Trinity.  So if we feel diffident about our vocation to be saints, it is because we have a false notion as to what and who is a saint.

Who then is a saint?  The first thing we must realize is that saints were not perfect until when they were canonized or when they were admitted into heaven.  In other words, saints were very human and ordinary people just like you and me.  Saints too had to go through much struggles in their lives. They too had their weaknesses, sinfulness and lack of charity to contend with.

What then is the difference between the saints and us?  We too have our weaknesses like them.  But the difference is, as St John tells us, they “have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”  It is clear then that before they became saints, they were sinners but through their faith in Christ, they were able to wash their robes white again.  They have attained victory over sin, symbolized by the palms they held in their hands.  With the grace of God, each day, they become more and more like Christ. By so doing, they are sealed by God, Christified, so to speak, and thus recover their likeness as the children of God.  In fact, that is the very reality of all of us, as St John remarked, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”

So the difference between the saints and us is that they have purified themselves to become more like Christ and therefore come to their consciousness that they are God’s children during their sojourn on earth.  In our case, however, many of us, in different degrees are still not aware of our true identity as the children of God.  Thus, we live our lives in such a way that does not reflect God’s life or His love.  We do not bear the seal of His presence and light.  And how is that so?  Because St John says, “the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.”  When we refuse to recognize Christ and accept Him into our lives, we are unable to see our true calling and identity.   But when we accept Christ and recognize our sonship in Him, then St John says that although “what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed … we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.”

Furthermore, the saints are those who not only become like Jesus, but they see God and Jesus face to face.  This encounter with God face to face is what the Church traditionally called the gift of beatific vision of the saints.  Of course, we know that God has no face except Jesus Christ since He is pure Spirit.   Beatific vision would therefore mean that we see God face to face so fully in Jesus, in the communion of saints and in ourselves.  This privilege is reserved of course only to the saints and no mystical encounter on earth can be compared to the beatific vision in heaven.  Why is this so?  Because it is possible to see God who is without face only through Christ who is the image and likeness of God in person!  But to see Christ also entails that we share in His same likeness.  Hence, if all saints bear the likeness of Christ, then, necessarily, to have a beatific vision is to see God in himself, in Christ, in the communion of saints and in ourselves, since we are in communion with each other and with God, the Trinity.

The implication for us, according to St John, is this: “Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.”  Yes, if we were to see God face to face and to see God in others and in ourselves, then we must restore our status as God’s children, and this is, as St John reiterates, who we really are already, even if we fail to realize this completely.  The way to this purification process is of course concretely spelt out in the beatitudes found in today’s gospel.  The beatitudes are the blueprint for us to perfect ourselves in the likeness of Christ.  After all, we must realize that these guidelines of the Kingdom life are culled from the very life of Jesus Himself.  He had lived these beatitudes in His own life even before preaching to us.

Briefly then, these beatitudes urge us firstly to cultivate a disposition that is humble and poor in spirit, since poverty and humility is the gateway to all other virtues.    Only through humility, can we become compassionate like the Father towards others, being gentle and merciful, empathizing with them especially when they suffer injustices and persecutions.  In this way, we demonstrate that we are truly sons of God since we reflect the purity, mercy, love, justice and righteousness of God in our lives.  In identifying ourselves with others, especially those who are suffering, we indirectly recognize them as sharing in our common calling as children of God in the communion of saints.

But the question remains as to how we can live out the beatitudes in our lives much as we want to.  We know how difficult it is to be true to ourselves, to what God has created us for.  This is where today’s celebration is important.  When we rejoice with those members of our Christian family who have arrived at their destiny, they also inspire us.  For they are saints today not because they were born perfect but they perfected themselves through trials, struggles and sufferings and, for some, over many long years.  So we do not become a saint overnight.  That is only wishful thinking.  But it is nevertheless not a far-fetched hope to be a saint one day.  For if they could arrive at their destiny in spite of their imperfections then we certainly share that same hope as well.

But the saints are remembered not simply as models of hope for us, but because they are in heaven, they are still in communion with us.  Being filled with the love of Christ, they too will have compassion for us. They are in solidarity with us.  They are as it were in heaven cheering us along whilst we are still struggling in our race on earth.  So we must turn to them not only for inspiration but also for support and prayers.  We should ask them to intercede for us so that we too can be reunited with them, some of whom we knew and loved personally on earth.  Yes, the thought of the multitude of saints who have reached their goal and their union with us in prayer cannot but motivate us further in our purification process to become more and more like Christ.

Finally, let us remember that the victory of the saints is in the final analysis not simply a question of disciplining ourselves in the way of the gospel through our own human efforts.  Nay, the victory over evil and sin is not within our power but all is dependent on the grace of God.  It is not through our efforts that we will become saints but only through the grace and power of God.  This is made clear in St John’s vision, for the saints were declaring victory not for themselves, as if they had won or made it, but to God.

Hence, to be saints we must rely ultimately on God’s grace.  Only He can empower us to be His saints and give us the grace to purify ourselves in Christ.  And the good news is that such grace is freely given to us if only we are receptive to His love.  For good reason, therefore, St John exhorts us, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.”  Indeed, even before we reach our destiny, we who live the blessed life according to the beatitudes would already have had a foretaste of the life that is to come.   That is why St John says we are already the children of God.  Our basis for our final hope to be with the Saints in heaven and with the Trinity is founded on the joy of the blessed life we live now. 

In the meantime, since we are really God’s children through the grace of God, we can be certain that God will grant us the grace that is necessary to realize our divine dignity and calling.  All we need to do is to be in union with Christ, Mary and the communion of saints so that His grace can come through them.  

http://www.csctr.net/reflections/