Almighty God... Give us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today is the Feast of All Saints, the day on which we commemorate all of the heroes of the faith; those capital-S “Saints,” whether known and unknown, whose lives reveal a remarkable conformity to the pattern of Christ. It is a day for celebrating the manner in which the salvation of our Lord actually works in real people’s lives -- people just like us. But perhaps not so much like us, the saints are those who displayed such an intense and radical devotion to Christ that many of them stand out in the history of the Church. Through the lives of the saints, we see Christ more clearly -- which is to say that the saints are defined by a kind of transparency. What’s remarkable about them is not so much something that is unique to them on their own -- their personality or talents or skills -- but rather the extent to which they don’t obstruct the view of the Christ. They don’t put themselves in the way so as to distract others and themselves from Jesus. Like St. John the Baptist, the saints decrease so that Christ can increase. When we venerate the saints, therefore, we’re not worshipping them apart from Christ or even in addition to Christ; instead, we are worshipping Christ as he is revealed through their holy manner of life. The saints are a distinctive extension of the Incarnation: because the Word became flesh -- because the Son of God became fully human -- it is now possible for his divine holiness to be manifested in the human lives of those who are united to him. And wherever God is manifested, it is only natural that we would respond with reverence, devotion, and imitation.
But what is the holiness of the saints? There are many possible definitions that we could consider, but with the Beatitudes from our Gospel this morning in mind, I want to consider it in terms of blessedness and happiness. Because in both Scripture and theology, to be blessed is closely related to being happy. The former may come as no surprise, since “blessing” is a very biblical word that’s full of religious connotations. But “happiness” may be more unexpected. “Happiness” is a rather trite word in our common speech, after all -- a term we use to describe everything from a birthday party to a pleasant day as well as being the main thing that advertisers promise to us if we would just buy their products. But in Christian theology, happiness is much more than this. Happiness is nothing less than the point of human existence; human lives are fulfilled to the extent that they are happy. And it’s the desire for happiness that motivates us above all else. From the moment that we enter into the world, we set out on a quest for happiness. It’s a constant search, as we move from one thing to the next in the hopes that our desire will be satisfied. We can’t help it -- it’s simply how God created us.
But despite our ceaseless searching, it turns out that our ultimate happiness is only to be found in God alone, because God alone is infinite. And the sooner that we come to that realization, the sooner we find true flourishing. There simply is no “better” thing beyond God that we could possibly move onto, for God is the ultimate source of our being; we only exist because God exists. Which means that God is our Good above all other: to reach that Good -- to see God face to face -- is to reach perfect happiness. That fleeting moment of fulfillment and happiness that we experience when looking out on a beautiful landscape is a mere glimmer of the eternity of happiness we will experience when we look upon the very essence of God.
This is more or less what it means to be blessed, because blessing is simply a share in this kind of happiness. Throughout Scripture, God’s blessing is given to those who believe in his promises and is marked by all kinds of earthly signs of happiness and fulfillment. There’s long life in the Promised Land, the bearing of children and children’s children, health and bountiful provision. “Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,” Psalm 1 begins, for “they are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.”
But this close relationship between blessing and happiness is seemingly turned upside down by Christ’s teaching in the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are a list of those who are uniquely blessed by God, and so they are concerned with the rest of Scripture with happiness. But instead of those Old Testament themes of long life, health, and prosperity, we now find that to be blessed is marked by the exact opposite state of life. And it’s not just the dominant themes of blessing from Scripture that are overturned. “One after another,” says one writer, “the beatitudes topple our choices and mock our contemporary scale of values.”  Truly, when you look at those who are blessed in the Beatitudes, the conditions that define their lives are those that we go out of our way to avoid. Poverty and mourning, hunger and thirst and persecution: these are not the situations that we generally think of as happy situations. And yet, those who find themselves there are the blessed ones; those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs; those who will inherit the earth; those who will see God.
What each one of the saints have in common is that they all can be categorized in at least one of the Beatitudes. But what is significant about this? Why is it that our Lord defines blessing in terms of these less than desirable experiences? Remember that we are above all else creatures that are driven by desire. We enter into a world full of desirable things that can attract our attention and our appetites. And since all of those things are also created by God, they are good in and of themselves. Desiring good things is a perfectly fine thing to do. But the catch is that since human beings have implanted in them a more basic desire -- a desire that surpasses what any other thing in the world could possibly satisfy -- we are caught in a bit of a contradiction. “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God,” to paraphrase St. Augustine, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to find rest and satisfaction in all kinds of things besides God. Human life is a quest for happiness, as I said earlier; a constant search from one thing to the next in the hope of finding true happiness. And the problem of sin is simply the problem of convincing ourselves that the next thing will be the ticket; and the more we convince ourselves of this, the more we distract ourselves and divert ourselves from the only source of happiness that is available, which is God. Misdirected desire turns us further and further away from God. The paradox is that while long life and health and stability are all good things to possess, neither of them is God, and the moment we pursue any of them as an end in itself, we effectively create a substitute god. And inevitably, we don’t find happiness, for all of it is vanity.
Here’s where the truth of the Beatitudes begins to shine. It is precisely through the loss of all kinds of earthly sources of happiness -- that is, in poverty, mourning, persecution -- that the blessed are able to have a clearer and unobstructed experience of the happiness of God. As the previous writer continued, “...the word of the beatitudes penetrates us with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to break up our interior soil.”  They clear our view of God and thereby enable us to perceive more clearly the source of our final happiness.
The saints all experienced this kind of happiness: by renouncing so many of the comforts and false securities that we desire -- indeed, sometimes even by losing their own lives by martyrdom -- they see God precisely to the extent that they are unencumbered by all those other things. They are blessed. They are happy.
One of the most important things about the saints on this All Saints' Day is that they serve as models for our imitation. Far from being rare prodigies with inherent talent that the rest of us could only dream of having, the saints remind us that all Christians are called to be saints. As Christ put it, with wincing simplicity, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And it’s the Beatitudes, specifically, that provide us with a critical standard of judgment, both for ourselves and for human life in general. Because, of course, it is Christ himself who most fully embodies all of the Beatitudes at once. He lived in poverty; he mourned at the grave of Lazarus; he practiced meekness wherever he went; he hungered and thirsted in the wilderness; he showed mercy to those who needed it the most; and on and on through the list. And ultimately, he lost everything on the cross. It is Christ who most vividly reveals the stark contrast between the Beatitudes and all our worldly definitions of happiness. True happiness only comes through death and in resurrection, and thus Christians only find happiness by joining Christ in his journey from death to life. And it’s the saints who join him most fully and most enthusiastically.
As those who with Christ embody the Beatitudes, the saints teach us that, in the words of the Anglican theologian Charles Gore, the world is helped by those who are least like it. Humanity is served not by being offered a character “which they shall feel to be a little more respectable than their own,” but by being offered “a character filled with the love of God.”  Having been so filled, the saints can “Rejoice and be glad, for their reward is great in heaven.” For those of us who remain on earth, we ask that God would “Give us grace so to follow the blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee….”
May all the saints pray for us. Amen.
 Servais Pinckaers, OP. The Pursuit of Happiness -- God's Way: Living the Beatitudes.
 Charles Gore. The Sermon on the Mount.