Updated: Apr 25
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12
Saint John Baptist de la Salle/Saint Stephen January 29, 2023
Years ago, as a young priest, I was teaching a Faith Formation class. The children were all fourth graders, and I was attempting to show them how smart I was. So I asked the class, "If I were to sell my house and my car, have a big garage sale, and give all my money to the Church, would that get me into Heaven?" "NO!" the children all answered. "If I were to do all my priestly duties well and practice the Beatitudes in my life, would that get me into Heaven?" I asked. Again, the answer was, "NO!" "Well, then, if I were to be kind to animals, give candy to all the children, and love and serve
my parish, would that get me into Heaven?" Again, the answer was, "NO!" "Well," I continued, "then how can I get into Heaven?" One of the children stood up and said, "First, you have to die." Every time this Gospel of the Beatitudes is read, I think of that child's answer. I was really trying to talk to them about how we must try to live the Beatitudes in our daily lives. Instead, I was forgetting what Saint Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians: "Not many of us are very wise by human standards and should do no boasting before God." "Whoever boasts, he should boast in the Lord." I was trying to teach children about the Beatitudes, and yet I did not even know what the word "beatitude" actually meant. Beatitude means blessing; God's abundant blessings, given to us while we live our lives. Just as in the time of Jesus, today there are millions of starving, persecuted, and homeless people living in our world. The Beatitudes propose to us a way of life, inviting us to identify with people: those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after justice. They challenge us to be compassionate people, to be men and women who are pure in heart, to be a people who become peacemakers in our dealings with one another, in our families, and in our society at large, even when this approach to things exposes us to ridicule and persecution.
"As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me." For this way of life, we will be judged. Countless people throughout the course of time have accepted this challenge and demonstrated that one can "live the beatitudes" in the modern world. Hence, let us remember that each time we reach out to help the needy, the sick, and the oppressed, we share with them a foretaste of the promises of the Beatitudes here and now. This is why, down through the centuries, individuals, congregations, and Church bodies have practiced charity in creative, faithful ways. They have operated soup kitchens, food banks, clothing centers, homeless shelters, and housing programs. Such enterprises represent a wonderful outpouring of good will and Christian faithfulness in response to the challenge of the beatitudes. Let us have the good will to participate in such activities in our parish and in our community. "There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways." These are the opening lines of a first-century book used to teach new Christians what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The way of life is the way of Jesus, which leads to eternal life even before we die. The challenge of the Beatitudes is: "Are we going to be happy in the world's way or in Christ's way?" If we choose the world's way, we are seeking our blessings in the wrong place. Sometimes we think that good health, a long life, happy relationships, and a good job are blessings we "deserve," because we are always being honest, never cheating on our taxes, always coming to Church, and giving all we have to help others. However, that way of thinking is the way of the world, not the way of Jesus. Our path to happiness is through our baptismal calling, where, as members of the Body of Christ, we join with Jesus in bringing justice and blessing to our world. Jesus is God with us. Jesus promises us his grace, his blessings, and his presence in our everyday lives. Jesus requires of us toil and suffering, working for the poor, the sick, and the hungry. So that, even in our sinfulness, within our human hearts, we can experience the love and promise of God's kingdom even before we go to heaven.