First Reading CommentaryDom Augustin Calmet explains that it was the custom in the ancient East to seal soldiers with an indelible mark, a mark which signified that they belonged to God. In Christianity, it is the Sign of the Cross.
The number of one hundred and forty-four thousand is not to be understood literally. It is designed to show us that the number of the elect is great. Why use the number one hundred and forty-four thousand to signify a large number? It is most likely used to mathematically square the twelve tribes of Israel and then multiply it by one thousand.
Christ's saving grace is intended for every nation, race, people, and tongue. The white robes worn by the great multitude represents those who have been purified and cleansed from sin by the merits and grace of Christ crucified. They have followed in the Footsteps of Jesus by carrying their cross. Now they stand before God's Throne worshipping Him day and night. These are the saints. While this Reading speaks of so many souls that have gone before us, surely it is our hope that this Reading is also prophetic in the sense that this will be our future, if one can use the word future when speaking of eternity. It is our prayer that we will survive our own time of great distress by staying close to Jesus, trusting that He will lead us to springs of life-giving water in which we will have the privilege of singing His praises before His Throne. For it is the Lamb Who is in the center of the Throne and we pray that He will shepherd us for all eternity.
We the baptized are children of God and that will never change. If we meditate on that alone, eventually we will realize that this is a tremendous gift of which we are not worthy; and that gift within itself is more than sufficient.
But God’s love for us goes far beyond the privilege of calling Him “Father”. There is more to come although what is coming has not yet been revealed.
Our God became like us so that we may become like Him. And becoming like Him can only be that unimaginable and indescribable beauty of beholding His Face for all eternity.
For now, though, in our culture which often rejects Love Himself, let us remember Scripture teaches us that where sin increases, grace overflows all the more (cf. Romans 5:20).
Saint John concludes this Reading telling us: “Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as He is pure.” And Saint Paul assures us that hope does not disappoint (cf. Romans 5:5).
Gospel CommentaryIt is called the greatest homily the world has ever heard or read. It is the Beatitudes. Saint Matthew perhaps mentions Jesus going “up the mountain” to create an image not of a physical mountain but a spiritual mountain. In other words, Jesus climbs the great heights of the spiritual mountain intimating the importance of the message He is about to preach.
Something also of importance could easily be missed by the liturgical translation’s use of the words, “He began to teach them.” The ancient texts translate as: “And opening His Mouth.” This is relevant because that was an ancient Hebrew way of putting hearers on notice that something very important is about to be said; and as Saint Peter proclaimed, Jesus has the words of everlasting life (cf. John 6:68).
The “poor in spirit” quite simply are the humble and contrite of heart; and to them awaits the Kingdom of heaven.
Those “who mourn” are not those who are sad or frustrated with the world and its happenings, but instead those who mourn their own sins. This is truly an elevated, up the spiritual mountain, extraordinary spirituality – loving God so much that the thought of their sins is excruciating. One of the characteristics of being on the path to sainthood is an awareness of one’s own darkness and a willingness to expose that darkness to the Light.
The “meek” are those who have little to no interest in the treasures of this world and endure with patience the sufferings of this world. While they may appear weak by temporal standards, they are a delineation of Saint Paul’s words: “For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful (2 Corinthians 12:10). And the meek “will inherit the land,” that is, the Promised Land, the land of everlasting life.
Those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness” have an insatiable desire to be holy, serving God and pleasing God. In our weakness we are prone to pleasing ourselves or even someone else for the sake of gaining material riches or notoriety. Again, though, wanting to be very holy is a great grace offered to those desiring and willing to climb that mountain of celestial beauty.
“Blessed are the merciful.” The Latin word for mercy is misericordia. It is a compound word meaning, “misery of the heart”. How does this translate to mercy? Those who are holy, their heart aches over the injustices and immorality experienced in this life because it offends God. What they seek, however, for the world, is not punishment or revenge, but forgiveness. As Catholic Christians, we pray for this at every Mass with the “Our Father” prayer. Love for God is truly transported to the great heights of the spiritual mountain when we sincerely forgive others.
The “clean of heart” are those who have no conscious knowledge of being in mortal sin. This can come to fruition for anyone by means of the Sacrament of Confession. The clean of heart are also concerned about venial sins. Their heart’s disposition is to never offend God. Confession is frequent, relying on the grace of the sacrament. Saint John Paul II, for example, went to Confession every week. There’s much diversity among the saints, but their commonality is their faithfulness to that sacrament. Saint John Chrysostom said that if we are to see God, the virtue of purity is a must.
Perhaps in this day and age, in our highly secularized culture, it is self-explanatory to comprehend what it means to be “persecuted for the sake of righteousness”. This is the age where religious freedom is being threatened by civil law. This is the age where some would like to see God removed from virtually everything.