The Better Angels of our Nature

This Sunday many of us will celebrate the transferred Feast of All Saints, officially observed on November 1, combined with the Feast of All Souls, which falls on November 2. We will remember those we have lost and gone to be with the saints, yet whose lives continue to touch ours.

The gospel reading is Luke 6:20-31, when Jesus sits down on a plain to teach the crowds, and we receive one of the two versions of the Beatitudes in the gospels.
“Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, 
   for you will be filled. 

“Blessed are you who weep now, 
   for you will laugh. 
Luke’s version reminds us to love our enemies,  to do good to those who wish us ill, and be generous to all who ask regardless of what we might think of them. 

I give special thanks this year for this gospel, heading into next week. So many of us are anxious because of the election on Tuesday. We have already heard people, long before voting began, anticipating the worst and vowing to resist violently by turning against their political opponents. Violent political rhetoric has intensified.

This is NOT the American way, nor is it the way of people of faith. But such talk does have precedent in American history. 

In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president in a fractious election that featured the vote split among four candidates. After the electoral college met in December of 1860, states began attempting to secede from the Union, even before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. Seven states had already announced their decision to split by the time Lincoln addressed the nation in his first words as president. In his First Inaugural Address, he appealed to calm, to reason, and to affection, to shared history and values. Lincoln closed with this plea:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In the end, Union prevailed, albeit at a great and terrible cost. Unity is yet harder to come by, even now, although it is never too late to turn aside from division to embrace hope.

Consider the list of blessings from Luke. Each of them refers to better angels of our nature. Each of these blessings begins in the present (Blessed ARE…) and points to the future (for you WILL BE…). Is. Present tense. And so too, our political lives are rooted in the present, but should look forward in hope to a better future for all. 

The Beatitudes remind us that those who are especially blessed of God are not the high and mighty ones, but those who are on the side of those the world esteems little: the poor, the weak, the suffering, the innocent, the peacemakers, and those who persevere in discipleship even when they stand at risk of unjustly losing all the things the world values. The Beatitudes are addressed to the Church, to those who proclaim that they are disciples of Jesus. Those who are blessed are those who look beyond themselves, to work for the common good, guided by the better angels of our nature. 

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