|by Angela Lambert|
January 29th, 2017; 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of Matthew 5:1-12a NAB
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Mountains make us think of God. Their height, their beauty, and their majesty inspire a sense of our smallness, and of God’s greatness. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to encounter God. He prayed and fasted for 40 days and nights, during which God spoke to Him “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). To form His People in wisdom, justice, and peace, God gave to Moses the Law, written by God’s own hand.
“When the Lord had finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18
After this encounter, Moses’ face radiated such glory that Aaron and the other Israelites feared being near to him; so much so that Moses had to wear a veil when in their presence (Ex 34:29-34).
Moses’ relationship with God, the immediacy of God’s interaction with him, was unparalleled. At the end of Moses’ life, he prophesied that God would one day send a New Moses. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)
Jesus ascended the Mount as the New Moses. The immediacy of God’s word became even more immanent as the Word made Flesh spoke to the people. Christ affirmed the Law given to Moses, but he further extended it to its full intent by God. Through Moses, God had liberated the Jews form physical slavery and reformed their actions through the wisdom of the 10 Commandments. Christ now extended the call to conversion to our interior intentions and desires. As He set about the task of liberating us from slavery to sin and establishing the eternal Kingdom of God, the Beatitudes mark the fullness of God’s rule for His People – one of authentic love for God and one another.
St. Therese of Lisieux asserted that we ascend the mountain of God, by way of descending the valley of humility. The Beatitudes, the heart of the New Law, express this paradox, building on one another in a beautiful way, as they signify the progression of the spiritual life. The first three commandments in the Old Law began by establishing proper relationship with God – worshipping Him alone, with reverence, and every Sabbath. In the New Law, Christ begins by affirming the interior disposition needed to make this fruitful – poverty of spirit. The poor recognize their neediness and dependency. The poor in spirit surrender the illusion of self-sufficiency and accept their dependence on God.
How often have we experienced the frustration of wanting to help someone but they refused to be receptive to our advice or our aid? Common obstacles to accepting dependence on God stem from a desire for security located in things we think we can control – such as wealth, career, relationships, status, self-help, etc. If we cling to a desire to redeem ourselves, we will resist the mercy of our only Redeemer. The poor in spirit have hit rock bottom. Regardless of their wealth or accomplishments, they are keenly aware that only God can heal their wounds, release them from self-destructive addictions or thoughts, and provide them with security which isn’t dependent on the market, the weather, or even their employer.
Once a person looks to God, who is full of mercy, whose Son demonstrated His sacrificial love, they are moved to sorrow. This sorrow wells up from an honest view of themselves and their sins – free of the rationalizations and false beliefs they had clung to in the past. They see now that their sinful choices, rather than liberating, were in fact petty at best, and disloyal to their greatest defender at worst. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have failed a friend who has been there for you, or worse, betraying them despite their faithfulness through your hardest times. When a person faces themselves however, rather than the harsh judgment they fear, they experience the warm, merciful, comfort of their Savior.
Having shed false pretentions about oneself, a person develops a beautiful authenticity which is characterized by meekness. Meekness is not weakness. Meekness means a person has greater compassion and patience toward others because they know that “but for the grace of God, there go I.” In consequence, surrender to God, gratitude for His mercy and comfort, and humble authenticity, causes one to bear much more fruit in their life and work.
As gratitude for God’s love, and experiential knowledge of the wisdom of His ways increases, a person begins to hunger and thirst for righteousness. They desire even greater freedom and deeper joy, which they know with deep conviction, can only be found in Christ. This is a prayer to which God always says yes.
The joy of freedom in Christ’s love creates so much gratitude that it spills over in a person’s heart and they can’t help wanting to give back to Christ the kindness He has shown to them. Thus, they show mercy to others because they empathize with the struggle of sin and desire to follow the example of Christ who has shown them mercy in their weakness.
Union with Christ in the Beatific Vision is the essence of Heaven. Thus, those that have forsaken all for Him, whose heart is pure, begin to experience a taste of the vision of God. Reconciled to God through His son, they extend this peace to others as it radiates from their own interior peace from union with the Lord.
Finally, the more perfect a union one has with Christ, the more others will treat that person the same way they would of Him. Jesus warned His apostles that those of the world who persecute Him, will persecute them. And those that love Him, will love them (John 15:18-25). Thus, Christ ends the Beatitudes with the summation of the spiritual life – when one is persecuted because Christ, they ought to rejoice, because it means they are finally living in union with Him and following in His example. In a sense, it’s confirmation that one is conformed to Christ. Others wouldn’t bother with you if you were worldly enough to leave their consciences undisturbed.
Jesus provides the Way by teaching us the Beatitudes and showing us how to follow them by His example. Moreover, He provides the supernatural grace, virtues, and love we need to live such a profoundly spiritual life. The world offers countless distractions to discourage us from introspection, and our own pride can further resist taking an honest look inside our hearts. Christ exhorts us to bravely journey within, promising to accompany us and to conform what we find to His own perfect love.
- Have you ever seen a mountain up close or hiked up one? How did it affect your perspective?
- Consider the immanence of God – His revelation to Moses and His revelation through Christ. In what way does His closeness make you somewhat afraid, like the Israelites? In what way, does it comfort or strengthen you to have Him so near?
- God continues to dwell with us in an immanent way in the Eucharist. Consider how it has pleased God in every age, to draw near to us. In what ways, do you appreciate His gift? In what ways, do you sometimes take it for granted? How might you increase your appreciation?
- Consider the spiritual journey laid out by the beatitudes. How does your spiritual life correspond to some of the stages?
- Which beatitude touches you the most? Is there one that sticks out to you as the most moving?
- How has your love for God grown through the years as a response of gratitude for His grace at work in your soul. What do you know is His work and not your own?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Reflect on one beatitude each day this week and try to live it out in an intentional way.
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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