Falling in Love with the Saints

by Scott Wright

Every November 1, the Church celebrates All Saints Day. It is fitting that the Gospel for this day is from the Beatitudes, that long list of blessings (and woes) that celebrates the generosity of spirit and the joy of the saints and martyrs. In the midst of great suffering and violence in our world today, we can also affirm that we live in an age of saints and martyrs.

It is tempting to put these holy women and men on a pedestal, but that would not communicate the true message of this day, and the true invitation of the Beatitudes to ordinary people like ourselves.

Recently I read the testimony of a friend who aspires to model her life with the generosity of spirit and the gratitude and joy we often associate with many of the saints and martyrs. In addition to being a witness to justice and mercy in her life as a missionary in the Philippines and Myanmar, she is also a survivor of cancer. She says:

“Now, times are changing, and it is still our hope that we continue to respond to the needs of the times with joy and generosity of heart. With “grande animo,” to follow Christ by committing ourselves to Him and the values of the Gospel, drifting with love and in the love of God. This is very much the spirit of the Columban Society, to go where the Spirit leads us in crossing boundaries of culture, creed, race, gender and age.”

I think also of another prayer / reflection attributed to Pedro Arrupe, SJ, himself a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 who later became the Superior General of the Jesuits:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” 

The saints and the martyrs inspire us, and invite us to follow their example. They also challenge us, and place a claim on our lives: “You must change your lives!” When we think of Francis, we may think of humility, simplicity and joy; but we must not forget his courage to cross cultural boundaries and kiss the leper, celebrate creation, dialogue with the enemy, and embrace with complete freedom real poverty and death.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) and the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) form “bookends” to Jesus’ public ministry, a ministry marked by compassion, but also by confrontation leading to the cross. The stories and parables between these two readings offer a picture of what the Beatitudes look like in action, and how we will be judged by a just and merciful God on the Last Day by how we feed the hungry and welcome the stranger.

The Beatitudes begin: “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”:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Some translations say, “Blessed are the poor with spirit.” Let us remember the spirit of joy and gratitude that many immigrants, refugees, survivors and poor communicate, despite their suffering. But let us remember also their claim on us to address the root causes of injustice and violence, and to welcome the stranger and survivor in our midst.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Let us remember those who mourn the tragic loss of life of loved ones, their capacity to empathize with others who suffer, but also their dedication to addressing the cause of the injustice and violence that took their loved ones away.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. We remember the humble in our midst, the poor, the salt of the earth. In good times, they are burdened by heavy burdens, unjust wages, unpaid debts. In times of disaster, the poor suffer disproportionately, losing their homes and lands. They take nothing for granted, and lay claim to our lives, we who benefit from a global economy that excludes them.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Here we offer a prayer for conversion. Take our hearts of stone, overcome by the daily media barrage of suffering in the world, and give us hearts of flesh, bending our hands to works of justice.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Let us remember the countless ways that we have been shown mercy in our lives, and forgiven, so that we can also be generous in our mercy and forgiveness for others.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Let us pray for clean hearts, to see the real world as it really is, the way the global economy excludes the poor, and the way borders and walls exclude migrants and refugees. Give us hearts of compassion to hear the cry of the poor and respond with justice, to welcome the stranger and respond with compassion.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. In a world filled with wars and rumors of war, let us pray for the courage to be witnesses to the transforming power and hope of nonviolence, willing to take risks to stop the violence and to prevent future wars.

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.

Each and every one of us is part of that communion of saints called to be the hands and hearts of God’s justice and mercy in the world today. We cannot avoid the way of the cross, but we do know the end of the story. With God’s grace and the solidarity of fellow travelers, we can proclaim by our lives the power and hope of the resurrection to overcome evil with good. May we receive with joy and gratitude that blessing, and be a blessing to others through lives of faithfulness to the Gospel.

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Scott Wright is the Director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

Weekly Reflections on Justice & Columban Spirituality are written by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, and visiting Columban Missionaries. We hope these reflections help to guide you on your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.