The set of Scriptures we have for today are simply breathtaking and inspiring---and critically necessary for us who are trying to "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) in the Lord Jesus without losing hope in the face of all the challenges we face. Here's why:
Let's start with the First Reading which is taken from Revelation, the last book of the Bible. I can't think of another sacred book more controversial that this one. Also known as the Apocalypse, this fascinating and mysterious text, ever since it was written, has been the topic of countless theories, teachings, movements, books, commentaries, and more recently, films and multi-media television series, episodes and documentaries. Unfortunately, most of them have strayed from the Theological and Scriptural meaning of the intent of the Apostle John and have clearly done much more harm than good. Because of these wild theories, it seems as if every 10 years or so, people have been trying to predict the end of the world every time a certain number lines up in a particular order or because of the discovery of some ingenious mathematical equation that spells horrible and immanent destruction. Remember the Year 2000 scare? Or do you recall the December 21, 2012 prediction based on some data from an ancient calendar chiseled on some huge stone that would run out of days on that date? (People, just get a new rock!)
G. K. Chesterton was so right when he wrote, "Though St. John saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as his own commentators."
St. John is clearly speaking to all Christians, all over the world, and all over time:
“These are the ones who have survived
the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes and
made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
His great and marvelous vision for us, however, was also shaped by the immense suffering inflicted upon the early Church by the great persecutions by the Roman Empire. The Apostle himself was exiled to the island of Pathos from where he actually wrote Revelation. It was that same political and military power that was complicit in the death of Jesus, who many thought would be the kind of leader that would overthrow these invaders and give His people a power beyond all imagining.
But the real force and strength bestowed on all who would follow the Lord in every age is this:
"Beloved, we are God’s children now." (Second Reading) And even though "what we shall be has not yet been revealed," it most certainly will be revealed in the glorious Resurrection of those who die believing in Christ: "They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands."
This is all beautifully brought together with the proclamation of St. Matthew's Gospel. As God's children now and joyfully anticipating our own resurrection, we reasonably ask: "what do we do and how do we act?" Just as Moses in the Old Testament came down the mountain with the Law in the form of the Ten Commandments, Jesus walked up the mountain and fulfilled what the great Law-giver started and mapped out the way to survive "the time of great distress" for each and everyone of us:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven...Blessed are they who mourn, the meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and insulted..."
The Beatitudes create the blueprint of living a beautiful, Christian life. These eight blessings are at the heart of Jesus' preaching and respond to the natural desire that we all have for true and lasting happiness. This is how we become saints!
Be not afraid!
Open wide the doors to Christ!
Do not be afraid to become the saints
of the new millennium!
--------Saint John Paul the Great
And they do one more thing: The Beatitudes proclaim the blessings and rewards that have already been secured for those who love Jesus.
Just imagine, there's a place in Heaven for you and it has your name on it!
So once again, HAPPY FEAST DAY, EVERYONE!
If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.
-----Saint Catherine of Siena