Wednesday 2 November 2022

Mediocrity will not do

For many centuries now, the passage containing the Beatitudes, given us by Christ in his Sermon on the Mount, has been read as the appointed Gospel for All Saints Day, because they have been seen as the so-called blueprint of Christian living. These are surely the promises of Christ for which we ask the prayers of our Lady to be made worthy. They are not meant to refer to certain elite groups in the Church, more sure and more worthy of heaven than the rest of us. Nor are the attitudes commended — meekness, purity etc — meant to be chosen ad libitum, as a luxury, as if they were for the chosen few who want to take Christianity a bit more seriously. No, they are part of the package for all the baptised, who have received ‘the universal vocation to holiness.’ St Philip is often quoted as having told his friends that ‘the great thing is to become saints’. To be a saint is a vocation as widespread as the grace of God. And that grace is denied to none who seek him with all their heart and energy.

Those to whom we have given the title of saint are probably only a tiny minority among the residents of heaven, and many besides those honoured in the Church’s calendar must have been taken by the Lord immediately to himself after living quiet heroically holy lives, pretty much unnoticed by any who knew them. I suspect we may have been in church, sitting next to someone like that, for many years. And then there are those who have made it, chastened and sanctified from purgatory. We tell ourselves that, if we are lucky, we will be in that class, looking with a sort of holy envy at the saints who have passed into the light of God’s eternity without needing any of the cleansing purgatorial experience. We see ourselves, perhaps, as second-rankers in a three-tiered humanity: the saints ‘up there’ in a cloud of glory; the ‘lost’ elsewhere, below; and ourselves in the middle, with all our defects and imperfections.

The Beatitudes, are given us on the feast of All Saints to remind us that mediocrity will not do. Purgatory is a state in which saints are formed out of those who have missed many chances, but not the final grace, on earth. It is not a less strenuous Heaven for the good but half-hearted, any more than it is a sort of second-chance.

The best and easier thing is to begin here and now: to wrestle with our greed for possessions, or our desire for anything or anyone who might keep us from loving God; to face and conquer our willingness to compromise with goodness and truth; to lay aside feelings of rancour and revenge and show mercy, in the same way that we are fully expecting the Lord to deal with us; to seek peace at all levels, being more insistent on charity than justice, when it comes to dealing with our own wounds. As for persecution, we hardly need look for it. It will come, for we have committed ourselves to take seriously the command to seek and help establish the kingdom of God on earth, which is something the powers of darkness cannot abide and are constantly trying to undermine and destroy. Ultimately, of course, the victory is with our Lord, whose Kingship will be eternal and undisputed. The saints are part of that, enjoying the fulness of life in God’s presence. Holiness is our vocation — difficult, but beautiful, with rich promises and blessings. Worth striving for surely?

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