Monday, February 04, 2008

Homily on the Beatitudes Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

This painting depicts Jesus teaching the people in his Sermon on the Mount. It was painted by Paul Gustave Dore, a French man, in 1865.

This is a link to a video is an excerpt from the 1977 movie "Jesus of Nazareth" directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It was Pope Paul VI who approached Zeffirelli and asked him to make a movie based on the life of Christ.

St. Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than any other Evangelist. Matthew was born as a Jew, and directs his Gospel to his fellow Jews to convince them that Jesus is the expected Messiah. The Pentateuch is the first part of the Old Testament. It is separated into five books. So also St. Matthew divides his Gospel into five parts. Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses, but he speaks with more authority than Moses since he is “Immanuel” or “God with us”. Several times in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “Moses said …., but what I say to you is….” He corrects and supersedes Moses because he is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus is God himself, equal in dignity to the Father. Just as Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on a mountain, so Jesus, the new Moses, gives his teaching on a mountain.

While the Ten Commandment are mostly a list of what we should not do, the Beatitudes emphasize the virtues we need to practice in order to find true happiness. St. Gregory of Nyssa writes "Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want. Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings."

Jesus begins his Beatitudes by teaching “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In this beatitude he teaches us that happiness is found through humility and detachment from material things. An unhealthy sense of pride, greed and avarice are contrary to this beatitude. For families this means accepting children lovingly from God, even if that might mean living a less wealthy lifestyle. Abortion, contraception and sterilization are opposed to this beatitude. Humility is recognizing our place in relation to God. A humble person acknowledges that God alone is the Master of human life. Only he has the power to give a human life, only he has “a right to choose” to take an innocent human life to himself, including that life which is unformed in the womb or disabled at the end of life.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We need to mourn properly and mourn over the right things. Mother Teresa once said “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Risen Christ!" St. Paul says “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4, 13).

We should mourn over our sins, mourn over injustice and console those who mourn. To mourn is to have compassion. There is a difference between compassion and pity. Compassion comes from two Latin words that literally means “suffering with”. Pity is turning away from the sufferings of another because we can’t bear it. Pity would offer abortion to a woman in a crisis pregnancy, whereas compassion would help the woman to bring her baby to term and offer real assistance to both mother and child. Pity would offer euthanasia to a sick or disabled person, whereas compassion would offer medical help to relieve pain and care until the person dies a natural death.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” To be meek is not to be weak. Meekness is restrained power. Some of the strongest and most powerful men are also gentle and kind. A meek person shows restraint even when he is rudely treated. St. Francis de Sales said “The highest degree of meekness consists in seeing, serving, honoring, and treating amiably, on occasion, those who are not to our taste, and who show themselves unfriendly, ungrateful, and troublesome to us.” Meekness does not prevent us from speaking up with courage in the face of injustice, and to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Many today hunger and thirst for righteousness for unborn children who are deprived of their rights and in danger of abortion. There have been over 48 million abortions since the infamous Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 in the United States. A lack of respect for life in its beginning stages has led to a lack of respect for life in its end stages. So we hear more calls for euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness and a new culture of life in which human life will be respected.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Mercy is God’s greatest attribute. Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Priests For Life promotes Project Rachel the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats – spiritual exercises for both men and women who have been wounded by abortion to help them find healing and peace.

“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” The pure of heart treat others with dignity and respect, not as objects of physical pleasure. Chastity is not an old-fashioned custom, but a virtue which respects God’s plan for sex, marriage and family. Sex is something beautiful created by God as an expression of love reserved for a husband and wife who have committed themselves for life and are open to the transmission of a new human life.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” We need to make peace within our families, between neighbors, the wider community and among nations. We must avoid judging others and questioning their motives. If we disagree, we should learn to do so respectfully. Mother Teresa in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 once said “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion... Because if a mother can kill her own child - what is left for me to kill you and you kill me - there is nothing between.”

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If you are a faithful follower of Christ; if you speak the truth and stand for justice, if you stand for those whose rights are denied like the unborn, you will experience some measure of persecution.

In the United States this mostly amounts to being lied about, some name calling and perhaps social ostracism. But in some other countries Christians are still imprisoned tortured or killed because of their witness for Christ and their refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice. Whatever sufferings we endure in this country are very little compared to them of the early Christian martyrs. Whenever we suffer anything for Christ we should rejoice as the Apostles did when had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 5, 41).

The Beatitudes, which begin the Sermon on the Mount, are widely admired even by non-Christians. Though they widely admired, they are not widely practiced. G.K. Chesterton, a convert to Catholicism in the early twentieth century once said “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Nevertheless, there is a faithful remnant as spoken of by the Prophet Zephaniah who obey God’s commandments and put these teachings into practice. There are faithful and dedicated priests and religious, faithful husbands and wives who accept children generously from God, living quiet lives without fanfare; people who care for the sick and disabled, who stand by women helping them through an unplanned pregnancy offering real help to both mothers and their babies, people who forgive their enemies, work for peace, those who speak up for those who can not speak for themselves, even in the face of ridicule and persecution.

The Beatitudes can only be fully appreciated in the light of eternal life. Nevertheless, if we put these Beatitudes into practice we can create a new culture of life and a civilization of love. We will experience a measure of Christ’s peace on earth and eternal happiness in the life to come.


evelyn estorba said...

thanksso much for the beautiful and enlightening homily of the sermon on the mount.

Eddie said...

Excellent Homily Fr.

a real insight into the beatitudes that should shape our christian lives

acaz_ said...

thank you for your deep reflections father. godbless