Sunday, January 30, 2011

Gospel: Beatitudes

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time: A cycle

One of the problems that the Church faces today is that we have lost the meaning of words, which were once perfectly clear. For example, I think that "salvation" is one of these words. I would bet that most people don't think of salvation as a goal. However, if we were to discover that salvation only means "happiness," then it's a different story. Who wouldn't want to be happy, especially if the happiness was forever or eternal?

How many best sellers today deal with the search for happiness? How many TV programs are devoted to the same subject? Yet today, despite our advanced technology, our great wealth, and our educational achievements, there is still so much unhappiness in our world.
Happiness is the subject of today's readings from Scripture. It has been said that there are three steps on the stairway to happiness. First, we have to recognize that we can't achieve it on our own. We are finite or imperfect. We just are not equipped with the ability or the tools to do it on our own. In today’s first reading the prophet Zephaniah proclaims that the road to happiness is not the one we would think to take. He indicates that those who seek riches, power, and fame will not be happy.

Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth,
Who have observed his law;
Seek justice, seek humility,…

In other words, when we seek happiness through money or power or fame or sex or recognition we are bound to fail. Just read the newspapers every day. I know someone who hates her job so much that it is literally making her physically and psychologically ill. Yet, she can't bring herself to leave it because even though she is financially secure, she thinks she needs even more money. She is so unhappy!

In last week’s gospel St, Matthew gave his account of the calling of the first disciples. Even though the Evangelist named only Peter, Andrew, James and John, we must understand that we have also been called to be disciples. What does that mean? What does it involve? In all the gospel readings from now to Lent, we are going to get the answer to those questions.

In the gospel today Matthew brings us the famous Sermon on the Mount. Right before today's reading our Lord had gone up to a mountain to pray. Afterwards he had called his disciples to him. That's where we begin today. Jesus had already gained a reputation as a healer but now he begins to teach.

He preaches the "Beatitudes." Beatitude, blessed, bliss: all mean happiness. The second step to happiness is to be open to the truth when we hear it. Whenever Jesus speaks to his disciples, we can be sure that He is speaking to us.

Blessed (or Happy) are the poor in spirit…
Blessed (or Happy) are they who mourn…
Blessed (or Happy) are the meek…
Blessed (or Happy) are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed (or Happy) are the merciful…
Blessed (or Happy) are the clean of heart…
Blessed (or Happy) are the peacemakers…
Blessed (or Happy) are they who are persecuted…
Blessed (or Happy) are you when they insult you…

Scholars tell us that poor in spirit does not mean gloomy. It refers to those conscious of their need of God’s help in striking contrast to the proud who are supremely confident of their own ability. The greatest of all virtues, Humility, is here contrasted with Pride, the greatest of all vices. The rest of the beatitudes deal with the same idea. The proud, the arrogant, the self-righteous, the impure, the warlike, the persecutors will not find happiness.

The road to happiness is not the popular road. Once we're open to the Truth we can then take the third step and apply it in our own lives. The man who marries must give up his own ambitions and dreams, his own life, for his wife: and she must do so also. Parents give up their lives for their children. Who ever said that would be easy? Priests and religious give up their lives in the service of others. St. Paul says that single people even have a greater responsibility or opportunity for self-sacrificing love.

So, the road to happiness is open to ordinary people who just lead ordinary lives. In today’s second reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes the same point.

“Consider your own callin, brothers and sisters,
Not many of you were wise by human standards,
Not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.”

“Rather God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
And God chose the weak of the world to to shame the strong,
And God chose the lowly and despised of the world,…
To reduce to nothing those who are something…”

At the very outset of his public life Jesus began to teach and his teaching was all about humility. It’s not that we need to grovel in the dirt, we just have to understand who we are to achieve happiness.

“Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

Reading 1. Zephaniah 2:3; 3: 12-13
Reading II. I Corinthians 1: 26-31
Gospel. Matthew 5: 1-12a (Beatitudes)

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