Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
The story of Mahatma Gandhi is well known. He was, he always said, a very ordinary person. In his country there were so many injustices, so much corruption and such inequality that he felt utterly powerless. He abhorred violence and he detested force.
After much reflection, he could see only one course of action. So he started his campaign of non-violence. Through gentleness, simplicity, purity of heart and acceptance of persecution, he initiated a movement which was to change the whole course of history in his country. Within a few years, through his gentle influence, India became independent, and in the decade that followed the whole face of the sub continent began to change. In every way, it is an inspiring story.
Gandhi lived out the principles about which Jesus speaks in today's Gospel. Our Lord tells us that many of the values of today's society are counterfeit. The beatitudes seem upside-down to our society, just as they did in Jesus’ time, because they are not about wealth and success, they are not about outward beauty or attractiveness.
They are about seeking what is really important, seeking treasure that will last, and recognising the transience of so much of what we strive for. And it is not just about transience, it is about recognising the path of justice and mercy and love, and walking on it whatever the cost - and the cost may well be great. It is those who seek the truth who are on the right path, not those whose corrupt way of living brings them material possessions in abundance.
People often do not think that their way of living is corrupt, because corruption, like many other evils, can be very subtle - even disguised as a good. We all need to have our eyes open to the way we live. It is those who refuse to be caught up in the prevailing violence and aggression who have chosen the correct course, not the men and women of the bomb or the gun, or the gossip, or the abuse. It is those whose hearts are focused on God and on their families who are heading for the kingdom; not those who seek sensual pleasures and exploit others for their own ends.
Real holiness is simply about following the teachings of Jesus. The values of the gospel are contrary to so many of the aims of the so-called civilised world. The gospel is revolutionary, but so often it is revolutionary in a hidden, quiet and gentle way. Just as with Gandhi, we must learn to believe in the immense power of enduring love and never to underestimate its value.
Today, All Saints' Day, we are remembering all those ordinary people who lived the ideals which Jesus sets before us. They are the people who have brought joy to the lives of others. They have brought hope to those in despair and courage to those who feel like giving up. And this is holiness.
I am sure that you, like me, have saints who made a difference to your life.
Let me mention three of mine. For me as a teenager it was a very holy bank manager, which today seems a contradiction in terms. but Horace moulded much of my Christian life. As a curate it was Lucy, the wife of a signalman on the railway. When I knew her she lived immobile in a wooden box to lessen the pain from cancer of the spine. All who met her left with renewed joy in their hearts and a lightness of step that there hadn’t been on the way to her front door. And one still living - a young woman with 13 GCSE A* passes and a double first at Oxford who today ministers to the poor and disadvantaged in an obscure part of France.
They are some of the unsung heroes and heroines that we meet every day: the single parents, deserted by a selfish spouse, who invests all his or her energy in simply doing their best; the worker in the Hospice who always has a cheerful word for the dying patient; the young college student who has the courage to ignore the permissive pressures of this age. These are our saints.
Today is a good day on which to thank God for them. But let us not only express our gratitude to God. Let us thank them. Thank the person who in that moment is showing you the face of Christ. And you may be surprised to find people thanking you - often we have no idea of the ways in which we reflect God's love to others.
Some of the saints have gone before us, and these, as well as those still living, we remember with gratitude today. The loving grandmothers, the dedicated teachers, the faithful housewives, the upright husbands. We honour their memory on this festal day. All Saints' Day is about the great family of God in which we live. It is about the living and the dead. It celebrates the countless thousands of ordinary men and women whose praise will never be sung publicly, but whose lives have touched the world and whose gospel way of living makes this world a better place in which to live.