Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ
O’Clarim 04 Sunday Ordinary Time
During this past week’s celebration of the Chinese New Year, the Chinese character for “Beatitude” (福) was ubiquitous, but I am sure that what we wished for our families and friends is somehow different from the “Beatitudes” which we will hear in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 5:1-12).
Jesus proclaims: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and slandered for my sake”. Our idea of “beatitude” has instead to do with wealth, health and staying away from troubles. Furthermore, what “common sense” inculcates in us (through culture, education and family values) is a system of moral standards which are oftentimes the opposite of Jesus’ message: be the winner; fight your way to success by being stronger than others (and trample upon others if necessary); you don’t need to be ethical, just be smarter. Jesus’ words seem to indicate a way of life suitable only for losers who wants to sublimate their weaknesses.
It’s never easy to comment on the Beatitudes, which are the core of the Sermon on the Mount. The recent death of Pope Benedict XVI gave me the inspiration to go and read once again what he wrote in his famous book “Jesus of Nazareth”. In the second volume of the trilogy, “From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration”, the late Pope Benedict XVI had one entire chapter dedicated to the topic. Forgive me if I extensively quote his words, which I found particularly deep in this particular moment of our history.
The main point of his reflection is that “behind the Sermon on the Mount stands the figure of Christ, the man who is God, but who, precisely because he is God, descends, empties himself, all the way to death on the Cross”. We “see” the Beatitudes in action on the very person of Jesus. Therefore, they are an invitation to imitate Him more than an abstract moral doctrine.
According to Benedict XVI, those who took seriously the invitation to follow Christ, the Saints, are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture and therefore through their lives they can show us the essence and the beauty of the Beatitudes. “The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out […]. Francis of Assisi was gripped in an utterly radical way by the promise of the first Beatitude, to the point that he even gave away his garments and let himself be clothed anew by the bishop, the representative of God’s fatherly goodness, through which the lilies of the field were clad in robes finer than Solomon’s (cf. Mt 6:28–29). For Francis, this extreme humility was above all freedom for service, freedom for mission, ultimate trust in God, who cares not only for the flowers of the field but specifically for his human children”.
Saints are people “who know that their poverty also has an interior dimension; they are lovers who simply want to let God bestow his gifts upon them and thereby to live in inner harmony with God’s nature and word. The saying of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux about one day standing before God with empty hands, and holding them open to him, describes the spirit of these poor ones of God: They come with empty hands; not with hands that grasp and clutch, but with hands that open and give and thus are ready to receive from God’s bountiful goodness”.
Benedict XVI remarked that the Church always needs people who, like the Saints, embody the Beatitudes into their lives “to wake everyone up to the fact that possession is all about service, to contrast the culture of affluence with the culture of inner freedom, and thereby to create the conditions for social justice as well”.
He concluded by saying that the saints, from Paul through Francis of Assisi down to Mother Teresa, by imitating Christ and opting to live like Him, have shown us the correct image of humanity and of humans: “The true morality of Christianity is love. And love does admittedly run counter to self-seeking—it is an exodus out of oneself, and yet this is precisely the way in which man comes to himself”.
We might think that Jesus’ words are thoroughly unreasonable. But after looking at the history of the Church, and even human history in general, pope Benedict was convinced that the Sermon on the Mount “is the real high road of life; it is only on the way of love, whose paths are described in the Sermon on the Mount, that the richness of life and the greatness of man’s calling are opened up.”
In other words, the Beatitudes —and Jesus’ life which emerge from it— is the way to follow if we want to live a truly blessed new year.