Friday, February 1, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008 ~ Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Matthew 5: 1-12

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."


To me, these are such comforting words. Not only does Jesus outline for us how to live a Christian life, He also gives meaning to suffering. Our world does not value suffering. From "helping" the elderly die quickly to avoid more pain to turning a blind eye to the beggar on the street, we have forgotten that they hold the key to holiness, a beautiful gift, a connection to God.

I just finished reading The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, truly a masterpiece of historical fiction! It takes place during the persecutions of the Church in Mexico and follows the last practicing priest in the state on the run from the government. Priests have been ordered to marry and stop administering the sacraments. At one point, the priest is speaking to a police officer, trying to help him see that the suffering he has endured on the run and the suffering the poor people of Mexico survive is a blessing, not a curse. To deaf ears, he explains that there is the potential for God's mercy and even for joy if one embraces his condition, living faithfully the purpose God set for his life. Needless to say, the brainwashed officer does not understand, although his conscience tugs at him for the rest of the book.

Jesus offers so much peace in the Beatitudes above. He urges, like Greene's character, that no matter who you are or where you are, there is holiness to be gained in each moment. If we just embrace the crosses and the gifts we have been given, we will grow closer and closer to Christ every day. It takes living with purpose, God's purpose. There are many self-help programs out there, intending to help us find our purpose and live it (including one recently released by Oprah which includes mantras that deny the existence of sin, evil, or even the devil, but I won't even get started on that...), but the Catholic Church has taught us our purpose for thousands of years - love God.

If you are old enough (older than me), do you remember? "God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven." Why must there be something more complicated than this? Yes, it means something different to each person in practical terms, but the root is the same. We are the ones who try to make it complex. All God wants is our faith, love, and service. The Beatitudes are a roadmap for this.

Am I poor in spirit? Do I seek out the simplicity of loving God? Is there quiet and peace in my days?

Do I mourn? Do I empathize with others' plights? Do I respect the suffering some endure?

Am I meek? Do I embrace humility? Am I prideful?

Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do I do anything about it?

Am I merciful? With my husband? With my children? With my co-workers? With myself?

Am I pure in heart? How honest am I in my every day dealings? How sincere am I with others? Do I allow the sexual sins of the popular culture to corrupt my eyes? my mind? my actions?

Am I a peacemaker? Do I seek out every battle? Do I always pick sides? Do I try to understand different points of view?

Am I persecuted for righteousness' sake? Do I hide my opinions for fear of criticism?

Do men revile me and persecute me and utter all kinds of evil against me falsely on Jesus' account? Are there people in my life who are skeptical of how I live my faith?

Am I truly bless-ed?