Solemnity of All Saints at Mississippi Abbey
In the communion of saints some received the extraordinary gift of passing through martyrdom to the immediate vision of God. Like St. Peter who was crucified upside down, or St. Lawrence who was roasted to death on a gridiron, or St. Maximilian Kolbe who took the place of a fellow prisoner condemned to die by starvation, or our seven Trappist martyrs of Algiers whose heads were cut off by the knives of terrorists.
Others received the gift of heroically enduring a prolonged daily martyrdom. Dr. Viktor Frankl, in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” was imprisoned in W.W.II. because he was a Jew. His wife, children, and parents were all killed in the holocaust. Entering the concentration camp, he was stripped naked. Even his wedding ring was taken from him. At that moment he made a decision. He said: “They can take away my wife, my children, my clothes, and my physical freedom. But no one can take away my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me.” It was a daily martyrdom until his passing from this life.
St. Edith Stein’s conversion began when she saw a friend’s reaction to the death of her beloved husband. Edith was an atheist at the time her friend’s husband died. Frau Reinach had been a radiantly happy wife. Edith expected to find a broken, hopeless widow. But Frau Reinach’s painful blow was met by an ardent faith which gave her the strength to embrace the cross. Edith wrote, “For the first time I saw before my very eyes the Church born of Christ’s redemptive suffering, victorious over the sting of death. My unbelief was shattered.”
The universal call to holiness sometimes ends in the gift of martyrdom, but it does not begin there. The list of beatitudes ends with suffering persecution and death for the sake of righteousness. But it begins with the less sensational graces of the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers.
Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx described his first experience of simple, unassuming, unpretentious holiness. He had just received the novice’s habit as a Dominican. He wrote a letter to his father about the sacrifice of rising in the middle of the night to pray while the rest of the world was paying no attention to God. In reply, his father wrote that he, too, had known the midnight office—the many sleepless vigils he and his wife had spent caring for Edward as a baby, and, after him, all the other members of the family. Everyone is called to the holiness of the beatitudes even in ordinary things, or more exactly, even in ordinary things.
Once a young boy at summer camp received a box of cookies in the mail. He put the box on his bed, but later it was missing. That evening the camp counselor saw the lad who stole the cookies eating them. Next day he went to the victim and said, “I know who took your package and I will tell you who it is, but I need your help to teach him a lesson.” The boy agreed. Giving him a new package of cookies the counselor said, “The one who took your box is down by the lake, sitting on the bench. Go down there and share these with him.” The boy protested, “But he’s a thief. Aren’t you going to punish him?” Wait and see, he replied. So, the boy did as he was told. Half an hour later the counselor saw the two coming up the hill, arm in arm. The boy who had taken the box was earnestly trying to get the other to accept his jackknife in payment for his theft, and the victim was just as earnestly refusing the gift from his new friend, saying that a few crummy cookies weren’t that important. The counselor became a peacemaker, the thief became penitent, and the victim became merciful. All three grew a little more holy and happy in the practice of the beatitudes.
Jesus bore the grime and soot of all our sins in the beatitudes of his own life and death. By his wounds we are healed. And in this Eucharist, we receive the greatest beatitude, the gift of his own holiness, our sharing in the divine nature.