During the moving memorials of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, we gazed upon a collage of the extraordinary goodness of ordinary people. Those who would flinch if called saints acted just as saints did. Today we celebrate such saints throughout the ages—that great cloud of witnesses whose lives, known to millions or to only a few, became a prism through which shone the multicolored grace and love of God.
Matthew’s Beatitudes tell us that such people are happy because they have received the blessings of God. Contrary to the values of the world, God’s favor rests upon the poor whose hope looks to him and upon those who quietly mourn and lament a broken world, who possess the quiet power and confidence of “the meek” and who feel the pangs of hunger and thirst for a world where justice reigns. The first four Beatitudes speak of longing and hope, while the final five bless those who actively seek mercy, peace and integrity of heart, expressed in word and deed, and who are willing to suffer in the quest for justice.
Matthew also weaves throughout his Gospel a picture of Jesus as the embodiment of the Beatitudes he proclaims. Jesus exhorts others to be meek and describes himself as meek and humble of heart (11:29). He praises the merciful, and his miracles are acts of mercy (9:13, 27; 12:7); he mourns over the impending fate of Jerusalem (23:37); his disciples are to be emissaries of peace (10:13); he will bring justice to the nations (12:18) and is persecuted for the sake of justice (27:23). The final words of Matthew’s Gospel are that he will be with his disciples through all the ages; the saints are the living presence of Christ.
The tradition of canonizing saints has a long history, but it is rooted in the experience of people who recognized saints in their midst. Today we hear calls for the canonization of Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, Dorothy Day and many others, but perhaps we best make our own little canon of saints—people who have in a special way made the love of God real in our world, who are blessed because God’s beauty “is reflected in their faith” (today’s Opening Prayer). Such people are often hidden among the cranky and the crazy, the gentle and the disturbing, the forgotten and the unforgettable, the joyful and the doleful—and might appear in an occasional glance in the mirror.