Fr Abbot Brendan OSB
What is holiness? This is the question posed to us by today’s feast. We cannot simply read the beatitudes as a nice poetic text. The beatitudes explore the complex relationship between faith and blessedness!
The English word “bless” is derived from an Old English word meaning “blood” and suggests something set aside through sacrifice. God makes holy that which brings about His will. God’s people do not live in a hermetically sealed glasshouse where only good things happen. We live in the real world where there is war, sickness and pain, as well as joy, success and peace. We live in a world where there is war in Ukraine and the Middle East, where terrible hatred and injustice is being acted out before our eyes. The people of God have always lived in the real world and had their share of sufferings. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren. So were Rebekah and Rachel, the wives of the patriarchs. Jacob was cheated over and over by his father-in-law. Joseph was hated by his brothers and sold into slavery. David was attacked and hated by Saul and even by his own son, Absalom. Job, the just man, suffered great pains. John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. Paul was shipwrecked, in dangers, hungry, cold, exhausted and fearful.
A blessed state does not come from external conditions, it does not come from well-being, from pleasure, from success, from wealth; instead, it arises out of precise behaviours.
Being poor in spirit, being able to take on meekness, struggling to renounce violence and war; hungering and thirsting for justice and truth; being pure of heart, practicing mercy and becoming a peacemaker; being persecuted and slandered for love of Jesus. We are blessed with qualities that seem humanly impossible because we have become like the saints, ‘risen from the dead’, partakers in Christ’s resurrection.
Primo Levi, a very famous Italian chemist who died in 1987 spent one year of his life as a prisoner in Auschwitz. While there, he met a man called Lorenzo who gave him part of his ration of bread every day. Levi wrote: “I believe it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, … (that) it was worth surviving. Thanks to Lorenzo I managed not to forget that I myself was a man.” Every act of kindness and compassion is a witness to the possibility of goodness, which evil can never destroy. The sun shines through even into the darkest corners. To live the life of a saint is to move from a world of black and white into a world of glorious colour.
They give us blessed hope, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the pure in heart, those who mourn, the persecuted. Because they assure us again and again: no one is born a saint, but every one of us, by the grace of God, can become one.