01 November 2020 14:31
Today's readings: Apocalypse 7, 2-4.9-14; 1 John 3,1-3; Matthew 5, 1-12 Happiness and holiness go together. The Scripture readings today suggest that we are all called to be happy and holy and that holiness is not for the few or out of reach. We need to go beyond worn-out images of sainthood that shaped the history of Christianity. Holiness is ultimately what the world badly needs to survive whatever threatens the soul of living and of all that exists. The world can be so unsafe and overwhelmed by the presence and power of evil and by the processes of change that make life unstable.
It needs 'luminaries' that shine in the darkness and keep the flame of hope burning. We need though to stay alert to what may betray us in the search for happiness. There have always been two gospels on offer, the one that Jesus proclaims in the Beatitudes and the other we are all the time lured into to hold as the key to true happiness. It is easy to believe that to be happy one must possess and hoard riches, seeking self-affirmation whatever it takes, dread times of mourning and pretend to be always jolly, and justify all means to attain an end whatever the cost. We cannot be more short-sighted. The heavenly liturgy portrayed by St John in today's Apocalypse reading was written at a pivotal moment of transition in the life of the early Christian communities when persecution and death loomed over them and risked rendering futile the message of the Gospel. John uses powerful symbolism, mentioning the devastation of land and sea, the lamb on the throne, and the seal of the living God to keep hope alive in the face of adversity. Reading between the lines, it is a similar challenge we face today when substantial upheavals in the world now provoke new ways of understanding and appropriating our Christian faith. In his book When the Disciple Comes of Age, author Diarmuid O'Murchu aptly remarks that "at times, it feels like all the time-sanctioned foundations of truth and certainty are imploding due to fatigue or irrelevance". This was exactly the feeling the Apocalypse was addressing and the feeling that often grabs our hearts nowadays. Our new context requires something very different. Speaking of holiness in this context challenges us to bring our faith into engagement with the several dysfunctional and oppressive elements of modern life. The Beatitudes are the antidote to all that is dysfunctional and oppressive in the way we live. They are the measure of what can make us experience true happiness in tribulation and adversity. It is characteristic of Christian living to be grateful for all that we have and receive while at the same time acknowledging everything as ephemeral in the face of what truly gives solace to the heart. Being called to holiness makes us critical catalysts in the way Christian faith can evolve as still meaningful in the 21st century. While many are moving out of our churches, not so much because they reject the faith, but to honour a sense of wanting to move further ahead with integrity, holiness makes us rethink what we are living for, calling on us to venture on new ways of connecting with the living God. It is a radically different way of facing the challenges of daily life. It is a clear choice for those values and virtues that seem to be more sidelined in the culture we breathe. As believers we cannot admire and venerate the luminaries that shine in the darkness and at the same time consider what they achieve as beyond us. Today we cherish the memory of so many ordinary folk, who may be next-door neighbours or office colleagues or even family members, who are not on our altars but in our hearts, people we know who made the world more livable and the gospel of Jesus Christ more credible.