Prayers for All Saints Day



Matthew’s version of today’s Scripture is much more familiar than Luke’s, which we read today. It’s not surprising. Matthew gives us only blessings.  We call them the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,”

Luke says instead, “Blessed are the actually downtrodden”.  He coupled each blessing with a corresponding woe. “Blessed are you who are poor, who are hungry, or who are sad and weeping, or whom people speak badly of.” And conversely, “Woe to you who are rich, or well fed, are laughing, or people think well of. All these things are likely to be taken away from you.”

This type of Scripture passage was central to the ‘liberation theology’ of the 1970s and 1980s in Latin America. There, many countries were under harsh military dictatorships. The downtrodden who stood up in opposition often lost their lives.  By execution. Or they simply disappeared.  Their friends and families never heard of them again.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador famously stood in solidarity with the oppressed of his diocese, San Salvador. He eventually suffered murder while celebrating Mass in a local hospital chapel. Here is a brief extract from his diary, which he wrote a month before his assassination:

“… with the light of the Beatitudes, which were read today in the Gospel” [the very same as we are reading today] “I illuminated the reality of the country, to condemn the selfishness of the rich who insist on maintaining their privilege, and also to give direction, beginning from the needs of the poor, to the politics of the country.”

His homily caused a huge uproar among the archbishop’s colleagues in Rome. Liberation Theology doesn’t go down well in the rich world.

Today’s Gospel poses a real dilemma for all Christians who are more fortunate. Ordinary people like you and me. Relatively speaking, we are not poor, not hungry, and most of the time not weeping. Is Jesus saying that there is no place for us in either the Church or God’s Kingdom?

Actually, this Scripture is more subtle than I have implied so far. Jesus was speaking directly to and about the disciples. They were indeed poor and probably often hungry. They had left homes, family, and livelihoods to follow him. Therefore, Jesus wasn’t advocating poverty and hunger for their own sake. He was speaking about the condition of the disciples. Likewise, I doubt he thought it’s a great idea for people to be persecuted in general. Rather, that persecution for his sake will eventually bring its reward.

And finally, let’s remember how St. Paul addressed his congregation in Corinth. The theme of his letter, as we saw in several of our recent Evening Prayers, was to chastise them for not acting as a proper community. But he began by encouraging them. He called them saints – holy people. Something to think about for ourselves on All Saints Day. Amen.