The disciple's charter
(Readings: Apocalypse 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12)
Introduction to Mass
Every year the gospel reading for today's feast consists of the Eight Beatitudes in Matthew's gospel - the eight blessings or gifts which, according to Jesus, marks out those who belong to God's Kingdom. The Beatitudes are a sort of Charter for the followers of Christ, a guide for ordinary disciples who aspire to be saints.
As always at the start of Mass we acknowledge our sins and failings, and we ask God for his forgiveness and for the grace to change.
The fifth Chapter of Matthew's gospel - the first part of the "Sermon on the Mount" as it came to be called - is the start of Jesus' proclamation of what God's Kingdom consists of.
These eight blessings are a list of the basic attitudes for his disciples, at that time and for us, now.
Disciples have to trust in God: that's the poverty of spirit Jesus is recommending. They have to share the sufferings of others, "those who weep". They have to have a passionate desire that justice will prevail in society - the hunger and thirst for what is right. They have to be consistent and upright in their lives, not in the sterile and proud manner of the Pharisees, but by forming their consciences according to God' way and bringing their conduct into line with what their conscience tells us.
They have to be peacemakers - in other words they have to help to create harmony between people rather than taking pleasure in provoking arguments and antagonisms, which is always a sign of a warped soul, something rotten in the person's own inner life. And - Jesus says - all of this means that his disciples will be opposed by those who refuse to recognise truth and right values and the dignity of others - disciples will be persecuted in the cause of right.
If we want to receive the gift of God's Kingdom - which was only Jesus' way of describing God reigning in our lives or in the life of the community - these are the convictions and the options that are demanded of us. If we act in keeping with these, we'll inherit the Kingdom. It's something we have to put into practice in the present, but we don't receive it fully until the future, at the end of time, the end of history.
Those two sides of the Kingdom ran through the whole of Jesus preaching - it's in our midst now, but it won't be fully present until the future - but St John puts it in his own way in that short second reading we just listened to: already, we are the children of God; but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. All we know is, that in the future we'll see God as he really is, and that we will be like him.
The people we officially call the saints, the people who are recognised in the Church's calendar, are the people who were most like Christ during their lives. They were the people who took this Disciple's Charter to heart, and today’s feast is their celebration.
But it's also ours, because what they are is what we're all called to. The Feast of All Saints, when it comes round every year is there to remind us of that, and to inspire each of us to greater sanctity, by putting into the practice, as consistently as we can, the articles of the charter Christ gave us.