"I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!” Who has not heard that rousing hymn and wanted to be part of that glorious parade? But the fee seems so high. One has to go through a time of great distress, to wash one’s robes in the blood of the lamb. In other words, to be a saint, be prepared to suffer—at least according to the first reading.
But wait! Is it really suffering that makes us saints? The second reading tells us that it is God’s love that transforms us into children of God. We may not always live up to this dignity, but, as children of God, we are indeed “God’s holy ones.”
Then what about suffering? Sometimes when we are faithful, “the world does not know us.” Our own challenge to be holy and the rejection by the world explain much of the suffering we may have to face. Still, it is God’s love and our response, not suffering, that make us saints.
The psalm includes a question/answer exchange: Who is fit to approach God? Who are the saints? Here the regulations meant to ensure cultic purity (see Leviticus 17-20) are replaced by criteria identifying those with pure hearts, those who live righteous lives. But who are they?
The Beatitudes, found in today’s Gospel reading, are the principal program for holiness. Though there are many interpretations, sometimes conflicting, of these sayings, any interpretation of them should help us to see that each beatitude in its own way focuses on some dimension of the reign of God. If we “want to be in that number,” we would do well to follow this program of holiness as best we can.
The saints of God seek to alleviate the desperate plight of those who lack material means of survival, whether they are in faraway lands or in their own communities. They act as consoling brothers and sisters to those crushed by loss and fear and despair. They strive to empower rather than intimidate. They commit themselves to justice for all, not merely for themselves. They extend to others the mercy they have received from God. And when God’s reign is under attack, they find the courage to stand steadfast regardless of the cost that this might exact. We all know people who live like this. In some ways, we ourselves might already shape our lives in this way. If so, then we are already “in that number.”