It is striking that each of the Beatitudes, which we hear in this Sunday’s gospel, begin with “Blessed are”—that is, they use the present tense. Why is this? After all, the rewards they promise are in the future: “they shall be comforted”, “they shall inherit the earth”, “they shall be satisfied”. There are in fact two exceptions to this, however. The first and the last of the eight beatitudes conclude with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These two frame the other six, and can provide a lens with which to view the rest.
So, why is it that the kingdom is not a future reward like all the rest? What sort of kingdom is Jesus talking about here? There are many ways we can speak of the kingdom of heaven, but as Pope Benedict points out in Jesus of Nazareth, it is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. Where Christ is present, there also is the kingdom. There are many ways in which Our Lord is present to us, but there is one, I think, that is most applicable here: Baptism. In Baptism we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, so that Christ is in us and we in Him. When Christ rules in us through the sanctifying grace bestowed in this sacrament, we have already, in a sense, entered into His kingdom.
This brings us to another important point. By virtue of Baptism, we also enter into the divine life of the eternal, Triune God. It is at this moment that we are made a new creation; that our relationship with God is forever transformed. As long as we are in a state of grace, this life continues throughout our earthly existence and into what we often call the “next life.” But perhaps this term is not an accurate way of expressing what happens after death. There is in fact no new life after death—we are not born a third time, after our second birth in Baptism. No, our entry into eternal life does not begin at death. It begins when we enter into the life of the Eternal One; when we are welcomed into relationship with the Trinity; in short, when we are baptized. That is not to say that there is no difference between our life on earth and our life in heaven. As John says in the second reading today, “it does not yet appear now what we shall be” and “when [God] appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” When we cross the threshold of death, we experience the fulfillment of the life begun in Baptism in the vision of God Himself.
The saints we celebrate today on the Solemnity of All Saints exemplify why the Beatitudes are given to us in the present tense. These men and women experienced the blessedness of knowing and following Christ on earth, of sharing in the life of the source of all happiness. They lived in constant hope of seeing God and obtaining His mercy, and this hope was not a wistful longing for a doubtful reward, but a confident and blessed expectation of comfort in God’s eternal embrace. Those who live truly Christian lives have already begun to receive their eternal reward, because this reward is the Lord Himself, given to us in Baptism. If we live out the Beatitudes, we can possess an assurance that we will one day experience the fulfillment of all God’s promises and “see him as he is”—and in this, we are already blessed.
Andrew Sheedy – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
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