“Holy indifference ” and Christian identity card

All Saints Day reflection by Fr. Randy Flores, SVD

“I’m tired of being poor,” complains Juan Tamad one day. So, he gets up and decides to go to the church to pray for luck. The priest there happens to be preaching on the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit!” “Oh,” says Juan Tamad, “thank you God for reminding me to be happy and not to be tired of being poor.” So, he goes back to his bamboo bed under the guava tree, opens his mouth and waits for the ripe fruit to drop.

“Blessed…. Blessed… Blessed….” These words reverberate nine times in the Gospel Reading for All Saints’ Day (Matthew 5:1-12)– the day most Filipinos visit their dead in the cemeteries. They could have roused Karl Marx from his grave. He did not like the Beatitudes because they produced more Juan and Juana Tamad.

Indeed, the Beatitudes teach us to be indifferent from the world, but not in the sense of having no care about what’s happening around us as if we’re just waiting for the guava fruit to fall or the “pie in the sky” to drop; no effort at all to improve our lot in the world. On the contrary, it is a “holy indifference,” in the words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, one that leads to interior freedom. “We need to train ourselves to be indifferent in our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden; so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest” (quoted by Pope Francis in Gaudate et Exsultate).

These then are the beatitudes lived out by the more than 12,000 canonized saints of the church (and millions more unknown)–latest of them are saints John Henry Newman (1801-1890), Giuseppina Vannini (1859-1911), Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan (1876-1926), Dulce Lopes Pontes (1914-1992); Margherita Bays (1815-1879). Pope Francis has canonized the five in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 13, 2019.

These are the same beatitudes that produce the likes of Fr. Richmond Nilo, Fr. Mark Ventura and Fr. Tito Paez—all brutally murdered for their commitment to the rights of the poor and to the protection of the environment; or the Australian missionary sister, Patricia Fox, deported from our country just because she advocated for the betterment of farmers. The Beatitudes run counter to how we usually do things in the world—“Eat, drink and merry! (cf. Luke 12:19). In fact, they are so difficult to follow, and the rest of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), that Saint Augustine and later Martin Luther had thought that these are not for ordinary people but only for the monks.

Ironically, the monks whose lives are spent outside the “world” are the most “worldly.” They show that the Beatitudes are livable in the world. The seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine (Algeria), killed by extremists in 1996 because they decided not to abandon their Muslim brothers and sisters in their hour of need, is a perfect example. Pope Francis has declared these magnificent seven, “martyrs.” “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress,” says the Book of Revelation (First Reading), who see God as he is (cf. Second Reading).

No. I.D. No Entry. We often see this sign; security guards’ motto as we say in jest. If a Christian must possess an I.D., what is it? “The Beatitudes,” answers Pope Francis, “is a Christian identity card” (see Gaudate et Exsultate). All the saints whom we are honoring today had that I.D. Let’s have it as well.

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