31 Jan Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29th, 2017
Deacon Blaine Barclay
‘’The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching.’’ CCC #1716
Once we have responded to the basic proclamation, the ‘kerygma’, of the good news of the Kingdom, by repentance and trust in the person and mission of Jesus, we are left with a question; how am I then to live? How can I respond wholeheartedly to the demands of a gospel lifestyle? There are many ways of framing this question they all come down to; “I believe in you Jesus, so what now, what’s next, what difference does it make?
The Sermon on the Mount found in chapters five, six, and seven of Matthew’s gospel, is a summary of the teaching of Jesus. It has been referred to as the charter of the Christian life. If someone ever asks you to summarize the teaching of Jesus, just tell them to read ‘The Sermon on the Mount’. The Beatitudes are found at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. They set the tone, and are a kind of summary of the summary, so to speak. The whole of the Christian life is contained in a distilled form in the Beatitudes, or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says. ’’The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching.’’
Every one of the Beatitudes begins with the same Greek word, ’makarios’, translated in our gospel today ‘Blessed’, perhaps better translated as happy, happiness, fortunate, bliss, spiritually prosperous. As one author puts it, ’’The Beatitudes in effect say, ‘O the bliss of being a Christian! O the joy of following Christ! O the sheer happiness of knowing Jesus Christ as Master, Saviour and Lord! The very form of the Beatitudes is a statement of the joyous thrill and the radiant gladness of the Christian life. In the face of the Beatitudes a gloom encompassed Christianity is unthinkable.” (William Barclay)
As the Catechism says, ’’The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness’’. #1718. The Catechism goes on to explain, quoting Saint Augustine, ’’We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated’’ #1718. The happiness that the Beatitudes hold out for us is no mere human happiness however, but, again quoting the Catechism; ’’the coming of the kingdom of God’’, ’’the vision of God’’, ’’entering into the joy of the Lord”, and ’’entering into God’s rest.’’ #1720. But the Catechism does not stop with these Biblical characteristics of Beatitude, it invites us further into the happiness that the Gospel holds out for us even now this life. ’’Beatitude makes us ’partakers of the divine nature’ and of eternal life. With Beatitude, the human being enters into the Glory of Christ and into the joy of the Trinitarian Life.’’
Brevity demands that I cannot comment in detail about each of the Beatitudes. I can only try to summarize the way of life that they invite us into. How can we enter into the joy and happiness of a Beatitude lifestyle? The door, the threshold, the only way of entering into this joy of the Lord is to acknowledge our own spiritual poverty, that we cannot be happy simply by our own efforts, under our own steam. It is only by grace, by God’s own self-communication, that we can be lifted up to participation in God’s own happiness. This awareness of our own absolute poverty will open our hearts in empathy towards the poverty of others and give us the capacity to mourn, to feel the pain of others, the pain of the world. This in turn will give rise to a meekness born of solidarity, the courage to act in the face of the pain of the other. Not a wimpy meekness, but the gentleness of a life lived in the presence of God. A life infused with a deep hunger and thirst for justice and peace, to set things right. Right with God, and rightly ordered between human beings. For this, we need to be pure of heart, the heart undivided in its attentiveness to see God in all things. Only will the undivided heart, at home with its own poverty, awake to the pain of the other, a heart full of mercy because of its own experience of mercy, have the capacity to experience joy in the face of opposition. A heart tenderized by the Cross, made ready by the power of the Resurrection. A joyful, happy heart, capable of tenderness even towards the persecutor, the slanderer, the violent one. A heart like the heart of God, beating in the flesh of Jesus. In conclusion, as the Catechism says, ’’The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity.’’ Our task, to be the loving face of Christ in the world.