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February 23, 2017

CALLED TO BEATITUDE

The great philosopher Aristotle once said that happiness is what everyone seeks and that every human effort is oriented towards its achievement. However, many of our efforts do not bring us happiness because the underlying principles are wrong. The truly ethical person, Aristotle says, is the one who knows and does only that which brings true and lasting happiness. True happiness is that which conforms with the will of God and is geared towards our supernatural vocation to the kingdom of heaven. In today’s gospel, Jesus provides the framework for true and lasting happiness/blessedness/beatitude. He pronounces blessedness or beatitude upon those who are poor in the spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These eight beatitudes in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount constitute the road map to the beatitude of his kingdom.

Why does the Lord establish these signposts to the kingdom right from his very first public teaching? It is because of the importance he attaches to the values. Everyone seeks happiness but often we look for it in the wrong places. Ask people around you what makes them happy and then compare the answers you get with the beatitudes of Jesus. Many seek happiness in food and drink, while others look for it in technology. Many pursue happiness in licentiousness – the unrestrained quest for carnal pleasure, while many others search for it in the parallel existence of the social media. Many look for happiness in personal relationships but often get disappointed due to human weakness and sinfulness. Only a value-system geared towards the beatitudes of today’s Gospel can guarantee us an authentic and unassailable happiness.

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Nevertheless, the values prescribed by Jesus today are in fact counter-cultural. We cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of our society. Surely, Jesus does not demand that we abandon the world. But he requires us to put God first in everything because only that can ensure the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away. It is unique and guaranteed to last!

Dear brothers and sisters, the eight beatitudes are not about eight different types of people but rather eight different snapshots taken from different angles of the same godly person. Thus, we are called to embrace all eight and to live them out in our everyday lives. We are called to a life of beatitude and we must do all within our power to imbibe the principles laid down by the Lord today. We are invited to be poor in spirit, and the poor is spirit are not those lacking in material possessions but those who realize their need for the grace of God. The ones who suffer persecution are those who stand up for the truth without minding the risks; they gracefully realize that they are not the centre of the universe – God is. The pure in heart are those who realize that other people don’t exist just for the sake of their own pleasure.

The peacemaker is the one who shows empathy about the needs and problems of others; a peacemaker is one ready to live simply that others might simply live. The merciful is the one who shows concern about the suffering of others, and solicitude for the poor and marginalized. Those mourning are the ones who worry about the damage that sin does to them, other people, the Church, and the world. The meek of heart care more about getting things done than getting credit for doing things. Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are those who understand that earthly life has a higher purpose and is only part of a bigger story.

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However, underlying all the Beatitudes is the fundamental attitude that places God and others ahead of oneself. It is the attitude of humility! The story is told that after the construction of the Titanic, the builder famously declared: “Not even God can sink this ship.” Surely, God did not have to sink the Titanic as it took only an iceberg to do that! Humility is a foundational element of Christian discipleship. In our Second Reading, St Paul warns against arrogance or presumptuousness, saying that God called us when: “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth (1 Cor. 1:26). Humility does not mean sheepish indolence or timidity; rather it entails recognizing that we are not God -God is God, and we are dependent upon him.

Pride is a mask for immaturity and a lack of greatness. True greatness does not seek to impress but is rather unassuming, appreciative and open to fresh ideas. Humility imbues us with a solidity and authenticity of character. It makes us more like the Lord who came,“not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Humility is our gate way to beatitude! Humility helps us to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. Humility does not insist on having its way all the time but is always open to correction. Humility is selfless – we do it not for what is in it for us but rather for the love of God. Humility means being a signpost helping others find their way without expecting pay backs.

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Humility is no stupidity; it does not mean lacking in initiative or being blown about by the wind. Humility means stepping off the highway of arrogance onto the narrow path of obedience to Christ. Humility means reaching for the stars but with a realization that someone higher than us put them up there. Humility opens the soul to receive divine gifts. The arrogant soul is closed in on itself. No one can get in, not even God, the giver of everything good. Humility transports us self-assuredness to faith and trust in God.

Therefore, we pray to the Lord for the grace to hearken to the words of the prophet in the First Reading: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger” (Zeph. 2:3). Amen!

 


 

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