Take a Chance on a Life Well-lived
[What follows is a sermon I delivered at the Abbey Mass on the Feast of All Saints]
Ordinarily the readings from the Scriptures are meant to be good news as we walk on our pilgrimage to the Lord. They encourage us in the best and in the worst of times, and they remind us of the heavenly banquet that awaits us.
But then again there are passages that can scare us to death rather than offer assurance, and today’s readings from the Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9-14), and the Gospel of St. Matthew (5: 1-12), have the potential to do that.
The words from Revelation conjure up a vision of 144,000 elect who will sit in the company of the saints. It sounds like a lot, and it was meant to sound like a lot. It certainly wasn’t the biggest number that the writer could think of, but that wasn’t the point. It had symbolic value, and it signaled the immensity of God’s generosity and hospitality. More people than you and I will ever know, or can ever imagine knowing, will enjoy communion with the Lord.
As for the Beatitudes, which the gospel of St. Matthew recounts for us, there is also a rather dark tone. It’s nice to know that the poor in spirit and the needy and those who mourn will find welcome in the kingdom of heaven. It’s a comfort that the persecuted and the reviled will find reward that is proportionate to what they suffered. But do all of us have to endure these things to qualify for a seat at the heavenly banquet? I for one don’t find that prospect all that appealing.
Thankfully I long ago realized that the Beatitudes don’t demand that suffering be the price we pay for entry into eternal life. And they make that clear after a careful reading.
That’s the point Jesus wishes to make in the Beatitudes. He does not want us to go through life minimizing risks so as to avoid the day when we might have to mourn. When we avoid all risk, when we avoid any possible discomfort, we also miss out on the rewards that come with the risk. We miss out on the rewards that make life worth living.
In the Beatitudes Jesus invites us to take big risks in life. He asks us to consider doing the right thing despite the possibility of failure or rebuke. We should strive for a sense of purpose in our lives, even if there may be days when we might fail. We may have to mourn, but we’ll also celebrate a life in Christ.
In the Beatitudes Jesus asks us to take the risk of a life well-lived. Life is a gift, and it’s too precious a gift to live it on the sidelines, for fear of getting hurt. Life is what Jesus came to give us, and he came so that we might have it in abundance.
+On November 1st, the feast of All Saints, I presided at the Abbey Mass. The post for today is the text of the sermon that I delivered.
+On November 2nd we celebrated the feast of All Souls. By long custom we monks gathered for noon prayer in the Abbey cemetery.
+On the evening of November 2nd I spoke to a gathering of alumni of Saint John’s University, convened in Moorhead, MN. The occasion for the talk was an exhibit of folios from The Saint John’s Bible, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. (For the record, the Center is pronounced as it is written: yemkomst.) For those unacquainted with Minnesota geography, Moorhead is located on the Red River, a stone’s throw from Fargo on the other side. So I extended a particularly warm welcome to those alumni and friends who had driven all the way from North Dakota to join us.
+Normally there is one prior per monastery, and that’s certainly the case at Saint John’s. Saint Benedict wrote about the need for a prior, especially when there is too much for the abbot to contend with. Normally the prior does all those things that the abbot either cannot or does not want to do. On 4 November priors from sixteen monasteries joined us for a four-day meeting on the job of the prior.
+Early on the morning of November 4th we had about five inches of snow. I thought it was wonderful, but I didn’t need to drive in it. The photos in today’s post illustrate the beauty of the day, and at the bottom you can see winter’s version of the photo that normallly appears on the masthead of this blog.