In 1989, the Empress Zita, the last empress of the Austrian empire and Queen of Hungary – was buried in Vienna.
She had been crowned in 1916, but was exiled in 1918, never to return to her beloved Austria. She never, however, renounced her crown.
When she died, a great imperial funeral was held in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Assembled inside that day were leaders from around the world, including a personal representative of Pope John Paul II. The Vienna Boys Choir, a full orchestra and a chorus were all ready to sing and play for the Mass.
Outside the cathedral, in the plaza, old men wore their Austrian military uniforms, and when the funeral procession drew near – there was spontaneous singing of the Austrian imperial anthem. Pall bearers carried the body of the empress to the closed doors of the cathedral and the leader of the procession knocked on the door three times – according to an ancient ritual.
The rector of the cathedral came to the door, opened it just enough to look out, and asked, “Who desires entry?”
The leader of the procession answered: “The empress Zita, Empress of all Austria and Queen of Hungary.”
The rector replied, “I do not know this person.” And he closed the door.
Continuing the tradition -- a second time the knock came on the door. The rector repeated his question – and the leader answered in the same manner: “The Empress Zita, Empress of all Austria and Queen of Hungary.” The rector once again said he did not know this person, and closed the door.
A third time – the knock came. Once again the rector asked, “Who desires entry?” And this time the answer came: “Our sinful, mortal sister, Zita, seeking God’s mercy” And with this, the doors were opened wide and the glorious music began. . . >>
for in the eyes of Austrians, Zita was an “uppercase” empress – but in the eyes of God, she was a “lowercase” saint – still in need or God’s mercy.
That’s what you and I are – we’re “lowercase” saints in need of God’s mercy – here to honor the “uppercase” saints who were humble enough throughout their lives to know – they were always in need of God’s mercy – and yes, could move mountains if they had faith the size of a mustard seed.
The Biblical word for saint – simply means those who are set apart --- much like St. Paul wrote his letters to the believers in Roman, and Corinth, and Thessalonica – calling them saints. . .
Saints are those who believe in --- and have received the loving grace of God in Christ and seek to serve the kingdom of God as faithful disciples. In order to do that, they align themselves with the teaching of Christ and are his representatives in the world. As such – they, WE – are set apart.
The Gospel today, the Beatitudes, is part of Jesus longer - -Sermon on the Mount – where he tries to teach us the way in which we need to live our lives differently – how we need to align ourselves with the teaching of Christ ---- because we are set apart. . .
Hear these Beatitudes from Christian author and pastor, Eugene Peterson’s perspective – to hear how we are supposed to live differently. . . set ourselves apart --- because we believe and have received the loving grace of God in Christ - - -
You’re blessed---- when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and more of God’s ways and not your own.
You’re blessed ---- when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.
You’re blessed---- when you’re content with just who you are – no more, nor less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything --- that cannot be bought.
You’re blessed ---- when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. For God’s food and drink in the Eucharist is the best meal you will ever eat.
You’re blessed ---- when you care about something and someone – other than yourself. At the moment of being full of care -- you find yourselves--- cared for.
You’re blessed ---- when you get your inside world – your mind and your heart – put right Then you can see God more easily in the outside world.
You’re blessed--- when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
You’re blessed ---- when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that – but count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit God. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when this happens – give a cheer even – for though they don’t like it, God does. >>
And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. For God’s prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Saints, those we honor today, and we saints in the making – define themselves by ordinary living in extraordinary ways. We honor today our mortal brothers and sisters who have gone before us who made God’s kingdom more present by their acts of mercy, justice, love, and self-sacrifice. The world was blessed by their attitudes – and God now blesses them with eternal life. And with God’s grace, we hope to follow in their footsteps.
You and I won’t wear a crown like Zita. The Vienna Boys Choir probably won’t be singing at our funerals. But – like the capital S saints who have gone before us – we will one day return to our true home. We will receive a heavenly crown of righteousness, and the angels will sing when the gates of heaven swing open for us.
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Kansas City, Missouri
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