A friend said to me, I like how you give us a simple thing to do to live the gospel. Then, lest I get a big head, just this week, a new parishioner said, Father, you are so demanding!
Our parish family is very much like your own. You may have children or grandchildren who are beginning school or little league, and others who are preparing, both in academics and sports, for college, if not already there. You want to provide encouragement and inspiration for their growth…at their respective levels. And so do I.
So, sometimes the message is simple; sometimes more demanding. I hope there is enough nourishment for all from week-to-week, regardless of where you may be in your spiritual journey. Having said that, let’s see what we do with today’s gospel.
We're all familiar with the story of St. Paul's conversion - which we celebrated this week - when he was struck down by a blinding light and the Lord asked him, Why are you persecuting me?
There is a little detail in the story that intrigues me. The very last thing Jesus tells Paul is interesting. He says, Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. Paul does that and the Risen Lord had also appeared to a Christian there named Ananias and the Lord told him to go and visit Paul and baptize him.
So here is the Lord giving instructions to Paul on what he is to do. And the Lord also gives instructions to Ananias on what he is to do. I've thought to myself, Wouldn't it be nice to have clear instructions from the Lord. I'm sure that if the Lord told any of us what to do, we'd do it.
Well, as I thought about it in the light of today's gospel - the Beatitudes - I realized: He did tell us what to do. This is the "inaugural address" of Jesus, the beginning of the great Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, which we will be hearing the next four Sundays.
Unlike the Ten Commandments, which are black-and-white, do’s and don’ts, the Beatitudes challenge us to a deeper penetration of what it means to put on the mind of Christ. Let’s see if we can unravel them in a simple way.
In this sermon, and throughout the gospel, Jesus tells us what to do. In a way, the Beatitudes sum it all up. If we look at them, we know what to do, what kind of a person we're meant to be.
It's interesting, because it's all about being happy. In Greek, there are two words that are translated "blessed." One refers to what we usually mean by "blessed" - receiving some special gift from God. The other Greek word means being "happy." That is the word used in each of the Beatitudes, and you'll see some Bibles translate it that way: "happy" - which is really more accurate.
So, if you want to be a fulfilled, happy person, then this is how you live. There's no mystery to it. Live the Beatitudes. By living the Beatitudes, Pope Francis tells us, we discover the peace and happiness that comes from being more over having more.
Instead of going through them one by one, I came up with an idea. Stop and think of how you would want to be characterized in just a few words...on your tombstone. Or, instead of making it that personal, stop and think of words that might be put on the tombstone of someone you love - words that you think would be wonderful to describe them.
I've asked this at some retreats/missions I have given. Here are some responses:
v a friend to all
v kindness personified
v loved much
v a heart of gold
v forgiving, merciful
v lived a simple life
v had a deep, inner happiness
v radiated joy
v a peacemaker
The nice thing about the Beatitudes is that they describe the kind of person we're meant to be, which is to say, we're made that way.
Like the deer is meant to run in the woods, we're meant to be happy. Now you could tie a deer up, but the deer wouldn't be happy. And we can live differently from these Beatitudes, but we won't be happy. Because these Beatitudes describe what we're made to be, and that is the key to happiness.
I have a suggestion. At the beginning of the day, think about how you would like to be characterized after you die - just a couple of words - but words that express the kind of person you would truly like to be. Then, live the day that way.
Think about it...a couple of words you'd want on your tombstone. Then live a day that way. Live every day that way.