Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, Jan 30th 2011 Francis Herrmann S. J.

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The Beatitudes (Matthew)

Our gospel is a section of the Sermon on the Mount, which has been called "a Handbook for following Christ."

Jesus sees before him a great crowd. He is keenly aware of the sufferings of the hungry, the grieving, the poor, those who have no power over the conditions of their lives and can do nothing but be patient and place themselves in God's hands. There are millions and millions of such people today all over the globe. And, to some extent, we all share in their condition. For, though we may not want to reflect on it, deep down we know that none of us is in control of what happens to us. We are all in the hands of God. Such needy people, Jesus says, are particularly special to him. They are the ones to whom his heart goes out.

Those whom the world sees as the weak, the dispossessed, the marginal, the wounded ones, are in fact those most loved by the Creator. The gospel in another place gives one of the most beautiful descriptions of Jesus, and, perhaps, one that explains why he was such an attractive figure to the crowds: "He had compassion on the multitudes." He saw and felt the suffering of others.

Perhaps, it was because of his deep love for them and knowledge that his Father loved them that he could call them "blessed," in striking contrast to how their culture considered them.

Who would their culture, or ours, be likely to proclaim "blessed?" What are our cultural beatitudes? What does the media tell us about happiness? Perhaps:

Blessed are those who have power; happy are the rich.

Blessed those who are carefree and secure.

Blessed are you if you are "number one."

Jesus does not say that there is anything particularly wrong with these material things in themselves or with any high status. He simply says that happiness does not consist in having them. Maybe, he would even warn us that we will just spoil our lives if we set such things as our first priority. If power, or money, or status is what I am all about, he might say, I am chasing after false idols that will not satisfy me, even if I can manage to obtain enough of them, and am not wrecked by the endless effort of getting there and securing them. (That is pretty much what his message was to the rich young man who went away sad because he loved his wealth so much that he just couldn’t follow Jesus.)

These material things, Jesus says, whatever they may be worth, are not what counts in his eyes. What really counts for him is not what we possess, but who we are. Are we seekers of justice? Are we peacemakers? Are we compassionate and merciful, as he is? These are what he desires of those who seek to follow him.

He says that God will prove reliable to the sorrowing, the burdened, to those unable to have even what they need. Indeed, this is the work that Jesus has already begun. As he announced in the synagogue at the very beginning of his mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

What is it that is more important and more satisfying than wealth, comfort, security, and power? Everyone knows the answer, deep down. People express it in different ways. I saw it myself in the magazine not long ago.

There is a series called "What They Were Thinking." Each week, a photographer takes a picture of some one or group. The photographer then asks what each person in the picture was thinking when the picture was being taken. And each person's thoughts are printed along with the picture. In this particular photo, there was a group of some eight people, a family, sitting on the front porch of their small, wooden home along a dirt road somewhere out in the country. They are from Lost Creek, Kentucky. The name seems to tell a lot about the picture. They are, perhaps, a coal-miner's family. They do not look prosperous. They don't seem to have much. There is the father, several adults, and three children. A middle-aged woman with a care-worn face looks toward the camera, while sitting on the porch swing. (It looks like a picture that might have come out of the Great Depression or, even, our recent one.) I expected that her thoughts would be pretty dark and her spirits down.

I was totally wrong. Her words took me by surprise. She names every one of the other family members in the picture and then she says, "I have a big family. We all live on the same creek. It's great just having them around. You always have somebody to cheer for and somebody to love."

"Somebody to cheer for and somebody to love!" The woman’s simple, beautiful expression struck me deeply. I think it is a good answer to what is more important, and more satisfying, than wealth, power, or privilege. Jesus puts the answer this way: "Love one another." That is the only commandment he leaves us; and, if we do it, it will be our greatest beatitude.

Amen.

 F.R. Herrmann, S.J.

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