Today in the Gospel we hear the Beatitudes: a series of paradoxes, surprises, reversals; a topsy-turvy universe is being set right. The word found in all of them is Makarios (in Greek), meaning “blessed” or “happy” or perhaps even “lucky.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit...” How lucky you are if you are not addicted to material things! Jesus is telling us how to realize our deepest desire: the desire for God first. (Remember last week and the ‘Love Law’ ?)
“Blessed are they who mourn...” which means “How lucky are you if you are not addicted to good feelings!” Doing the will of God sometimes involves the acceptance of enormous pain, and sacrifice. “Blessed are the meek...” One of the greatest seductions that the world holds out to us is worldly power—instead of letting the power of the will of God reign in us. You get the idea…
Scholars say that three of the Beatitudes were almost certainly formulated by Jesus—the ones addressed to the poor, the hungry, and the mourners. They also say that the original meaning of the Beatitudes is closer to the way Luke phrased them in his Gospel, referring to the distress people suffered from social and economic conditions in the first century—and certainly still suffer—in the here and now.
The Beatitudes speak to us of the serious problems in today’s upside-down world. “Blessed are the poor…” But where is this a blessing? We know that there is a one percent in our world—that the wealth and resources go to this smallest percent of our population—that undermine and fracture our societies and democracy. Those with money and resources influence our politics for their own good rather than the common good; they drive down wages and dodge taxes.
“Blessed are the hungry..” We know there is a food crisis in the world—and it is certainly worsened by this global pandemic. How will the hungry be satisfied? We have a Catholic mandate to help the marginalized and outcasts. “Blessed are they who mourn…” That’s all of us who care for the grief and loss in our lives—a long list, sometimes. We mourn for ourselves and our neighbors, for the oppressed and vulnerable among us. We mourn for our planet and for other species that are becoming extinct through greed and thoughtlessness about climate change and other environmental issues. We mourn over the denial of truth from our government leaders and big media and all the other “bigs.” We mourn over the loss of regulations and programs that have sought to protect the most vulnerable among us.
But with all that, the Gospel tells us that we will be comforted. Who’s going to lift all these people out of poverty, to feed them, comfort them—and when? Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us the answer: God calls us to stand up for justice, and that our efforts, however small they are, will bring shame and change to those who follow the ways of the world and worship its power. So, there is comfort in the face of all of this. People caught in hopeless situations may manage to hold on in spite of it all. We know that the world has seen devastation and disaster before, and we will prevail because, as Paul says, we will go forward doing what we are called to do—speaking truth and doing justice. It’s not easy these days, given the particular times in which we are living, but God is with us always!
We all have been richly blessed by those saints and souls who have gone before, who have laid a foundation of faith and example that gives us the encouragement to draw closer to God and do God’s work. I pray that we will never forget any of them and what they have given us; and I am grateful for the opportunity to remember. We have been blessed by those who have gone; as God's people need a sense of history. We need to see the “great cloud of witnesses” of saints and souls that surround us because we need to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Just as we are part of something that began long before we were born, we are a part of something that will go on long after we have passed into new life. We are all moving toward the same thing: an intersection with the lives of faithful people (Saints) who have gone before us (Souls)—because we're all part of the same overarching story—the story of God's redemption of his creation through Jesus. Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: Today I am posting “Salmo 150” (Psalm 150) by Ernani Aguiar, performed by the professional choir with whom my son, Elliott, sings. (He is in New York recording his parts—the pots and pans are back!) In thinking about Saints and Souls, I can imagine this amazing piece of music being sung in heaven by our Saints and Souls in the heavenly choir. One of the lines from the psalm is: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (in Latin). You will see what I mean by the “breath” part in listening to this energetic and lovely rendition of a psalm of praise of God. Enjoy!
Salmo 150: https://youtu.be/E8A5cU2g4dE