Beatification Project

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Today, we are singing one of my favorite hymns.

The hymn is called, “Jerusalem, my happy home,” and it’s appropriate for this All Saints Sunday, the Sunday when we honor those who have found the eternal joy of the heavenly city of God.

The Gospel reading for All Saints gives a series of sayings of Jesus known as the “beatitudes.” This name comes from the Latin for the first word of each saying: in our translation today, “Blessed” are the poor in spirit, and those who mourn, and the peacemakers, and the pure in heart.

But I think that it’s interesting that other translations use the word, “happy:” “Happy are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” For while we recognize that the saints are blessed, we may not think of them as happy.

After all, artists have traditionally portrayed the early saints who were martyred for their faith alongside the instruments of their deaths! So, for example, St. Paul is portrayed with the large sword used to behead him. St. Lawrence appears with a grill on which he was placed when he was burned to death.

St. Andrew is shown crucified on an X-shaped cross; Andrew didn’t feel worthy to die on the same shape of cross that held Jesus, so his executioners turned the cross on its side.

These people were certainly holy—but were they happy? Actually, they did seem to be just that. Contemporary records of saints’ deaths marvel that the saints remained peaceful and serene even when they were enduring the most excruciating pain.

What made them so calm that they could bear the suffering of martyrdom? The answer, I think, is that they knew they were doing God’s will. They were on the right path, following the way of Jesus Christ.

And I think this is the key to understanding sainthood. You can share the holiness of God without dying for your faith. For that matter, you don’t have to be a Pope or a priest or a nun in order to find the joy of the Lord. But you do need the wisdom and the courage to follow the road that God has called you to. And if you manage to work for God’s Kingdom, in spite of all the obstacles, you’ll end up being happy.

To illustrate this quality of sainthood, I would like to discuss a person who isn’t generally considered to be one of the blessed—and certainly doesn’t have “St” before his name! That person is the banker who once lived up the street from us: J. P. Morgan.

Here’s where I got the idea: The church I once served in Rome, Italy, St. Paul’s Within the Walls was constructed in 1870. It was the first Protestant church built within the ancient walls of Rome after Garibaldi’s revolution allowed such construction. It was funded by Americans who wanted a large Protestant church in a city that already had innumerable Catholic churches.

The mosaics over the high altar of St. Paul’s were designed by the British artist, Edmund Burne-Jones—who, as it happens, also designed the two lovely windows at the end of the wall of our church on your left.

Now it also happened that Burne-Jones followed the medieval custom of portraying historic saints with the faces of living people who were patrons of the church. So St. Ambrose appears above the high altar of St. Paul’s with the face of an important donor who was none other than J. P. Morgan!

This used to be a source of amusement when I was rector in Rome. Visitors couldn’t believe that the legendary financier—at one time among the richest men in the world–could be pictured as a saint!

And I must admit that, at that time, I shared their amusement. By any standard, J.P. Morgan was no Saint Francis!

Yet, today, I would take a different view. After living in Murray Hill next to Mr. Morgan’s home and enjoying the library he built, and learning the details of his complicated life, I think that the way he lived out his faith is admirable.

J. P. Morgan’s personal morality can’t be compared to that of John Paul II—who was recently made a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. For example, Morgan may not have been completely faithful to his wife.

But he deserves credit for the many good things he did in his life. He collected vast numbers of all kinds of artistic treasures and gave them to the library he endowed and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many other institutions.

Of particular interest to us, Morgan was a loyal Episcopalian. He supported his family church of St. George’s downtown and he also helped our diocese and the national Episcopal Church. For instance, he was a delegate one year to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. So he hired a private railway car to bring the entire New York delegation to the convention when it met in Chicago.

Most important of all, Morgan managed to negotiate a settlement of a grave financial crisis that arose in America at the end of the 19th century. He used his personal wealth and influence to shore up the banking system. His intervention kept countless investors, large and small from suffering devastating losses.

J.P. Morgan was a devout Christian who made a public stand for his faith and took risks to help others. He shows that even bankers can demonstrate holiness.

But what about that quality of sainthood that we noted a few minutes ago—“beatitude?” Was J.P. Morgan happy?

Well, his money and influence must have given him considerable pleasure. And I would like to think that his gifts to museums and churches and his strong sense of citizenship and his generous soul also made him happy in a spiritual sense.

To be a saint, Christians don’t need to be martyrs. Plenty of them are; today, as we know, Christians are dying for their faith in the Middle East and in Nigeria and in Asia.

So as we conclude our gratitude week at Incarnation and we make our annual pledges, we can be grateful for God’s call to us to serve him. Christians follow the way of Jesus whatever walk of life we are called to.

And, in the process, we may be surprised to find that even difficult and demanding service to God makes us happy!


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