The Beatitudes 

Matthew 5:1-12
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Like Moses, Jesus gives divine teaching from a mountain, while the people wait at the bottom. The 8 “Blessed”s or Beatitudes are the beginning of this teaching, known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), just as the 10 Commandments begin the giving of the Mosaic Law.

The meaning of the Sermon, and especially the Beatitudes, are discovered in knowing Christ and following him. It is a higher path, a “deep wisdom” offered by Christ to all those with the eyes to see. 

That these teachings constitute a more exalted way, is evident in the whole of the  Sermon (You heard it said … But I say to you…), and is also seen in Christ’s encounter with the rich young man (Matt 19:16-22). There, the man asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus gives him some of the Commandments. But he also tells him that, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor … and come follow me.”

The Commandments (do not kill, do not steal, honor your father and mother, etc.) are a foundation and the Beatitudes are built upon it. The Commandments are clear: do this, don’t do that. The beatitudes concern inner dispositions who’s implications are not fully understood without great knowledge of the one who teaches them. You know what it is to be poor in spirit by knowing the humility of Christ who took human flesh though he was in the form of God. You know what it is to hunger and thirst for righteousness by knowing how Christ yearned to complete his mission, and saw doing the will of God as his bread. You know what it is to mourn by knowing how Christ wept over the hard spiritual blindness of his people, and over his dead friend Lazarus. And so on, with the rest of the Beatitudes. Through the Word of God, through the Sacraments, and through prayer, we come to know Christ intimately, and understand the deep wisdom that is the way of Christ.

Read Matthew 5:1-12, or even all of chapters 5-7, and ask the Lord to teach you to understand it, and live it. Pray for me, too, and we can strive in this task together.

The Mournful Truth

Proverbs 26:12
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. 
This passage gives me hope for myself. I, a foolish man, have come to recognize that I am foolish.
The Lord surely created the human heart a wonder. Painful knowledge of one’s own failings comes with its own consolation: knowing that you’re in a better state than you were before, when you did not know your failings.

In this line, I think that recognition of the painful truth is primarily what Christ meant when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn. They shall be comforted.”

Also, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The truth, the truth – bringing both joy and pain, sets us solidly on the path to freedom from the chains of the hidden, unacknowledged, and unrecognized fact. And the path is trodden by means of mourning.

To look truth straight in the eyes: this is the vocation of the Christian.
Dear reader, may God grant you self-knowledge, and the eyes to see truth.

In lieu of part 3, here is reflection coming from lectio this morning….

“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
How can this be? How is it that the cross of Jesus Christ crucifies Paul to the world and the world to Paul? And why should Paul glory in this? First, let’s think about what is included in the phrase, “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I submit that here Paul means primarily the cross of Jesus Christ as he himself shares in it – that is, his own suffering in union with the Lord. At the least, it seems to me, this is the connecting idea. Thinking of this, we can better understand how it is that this cross has crucified the world to Paul, and Paul to the world. The cross is that suffering which through the grace of Christ detaches one’s heart from the world, from ‘things,’ freeing it up to attach to God. If this is the effect of the cross, then it is clearly something to be gloried in.
Immediately before this passage Paul says “for even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh.” For those people Paul here speaks of, that which is worth glorying in is not that which detaches us from the world and attaches us to God, but that which gives an external appearance of belonging to God. Perhaps, Paul seems to suggest, if they kept the law, the external appearance would be inconsequential; but they do not keep the law.
In the passage immediately after our original one, Paul bears this thought out, saying, “for neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” External appearances of Godliness are not decisive, but internal faith and hope, by which children of God are made, and a new world is made.
This creation of a new world is carried out by God in our current world through the cross of Christ and the grace that flows abundantly from it. In anticipation of his cross and the new creation it would accomplish, Jesus said “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The world, and all of history, including the personal histories of each individual human being, is changed forever and given meaning by the cross and resurrection of the Son of God. Christ judges the world, casting out it’s ruler, the deceiver and evil one, and making all things new. Suffering and death, which were effects of evil, he has made the entryway into life: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” he says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The heart, through suffering, is made to detach itself from fixation on shallow, empty, and passing things – things that have worth only in relation to greater realities, at the top of which is loving communion with our Creator.
God is doing all this for all, and for you in particular. He loves you and each person as if they were the only one in the world. Do you recognize this hidden work of the Cross within you? Do you have the eyes to see? Each person, within their personal history, can accept his grace (free gift) and persevere in it to the end, or can delay and resist until the end. He asks each to believe in Him and become His child, a disciple of Jesus his divine Son. God cannot be outdone in generosity – it is well worth it.

The God I Seek, pt. 2

Finally, for those few of you who give a hoot, the promised “part 2.” It’s obviously been longer than a week since part 1. Do you know what caused the delay, primarily? I kid you not: my laptop died of heat stroke. I left it in my car on a hot day, and it never woke up from its slumber. That makes posting a bit more difficult. I now have the choice of using a hand-held device, or going to the office to use the office desktop computer. Who wants to go to the office on their time off? Ugh! These pesky “First World problems!” … Woe is me!

Now that I’m oriented to my new posting situation, let me set this next one up a bit: In the first part I spoke about the one, hidden, transcendent, all-knowing, sovereign, all-powerful God who created and sustains the universe, and loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, doing everything for the good of the universe He’s created. One of the most important things I wanted to get across was the universality of God. God is the God of all. There is one true God only, and He is not one being among many, but subsistent Being itself: He is truly ‘big enough’ to do the job of being God.

Let’s also repeat another important bit of it, though – God is not a pussycat. He is not to be trifled with. He is not to be toyed with or mocked. He cannot be controlled or objectified. He hides himself from those who try it. God is not an indulgent grandparent. He makes abundant use of corrective discipline in ways which we usually cannot fully understand. And in this way, His mysterious, loving will for us includes the depths of loss and suffering that we experience. Sometimes it is impossible to understand, let alone accept His will without taking, as I said, a “hard, steep, and treacherous path, as if climbing a mountain.” The vast majority of us (humans) do not ever get to understand this clearly; though we still may gain its benefits, because He is the one doing the real work.

As I continue this series on “the God I seek,” I will expand on these thoughts as I explain how this God has revealed Himself fully in Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth: that famous Jewish man who was born in relative poverty in first-century Palestine, worked as a carpenter, became an itinerant preacher and miracle worker at 30 years of age, and a few years later was crucified by the Roman authorities at the instigation of the leaders of his own people. This man brought something unknown into the world: the face of the hidden God; and he changed the world forever.

But many people are scandalized by the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is somehow unique among religious figures and necessary for every person who ever walked the earth. So I will address this question here in part 2 before moving on to discuss who Jesus is and what he brought to the world.

So, here we go!:


 

Many are offended by the Christian claim that Jesus Christ alone is the Way to true life. Less people, on the other hand, tend to blame Jesus himself for the claim – for it was he who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). It can sound like something arrogant or bigoted, like, “We (the Christians) are right and everybody else is wrong.” Or it can seem like an impossibility, for how can the God of all limit Himself in this way? How can the Creator of all that exists be tribal or sectarian?

Well, it is not impossible, but it is a paradox. (By the way, if you decide to study Christianity, expect lots of paradox.) I don’t mean by this to say that God is sectarian, but I do mean to say that He has a people; God is not tribal, but He has a family. If you think about the Christian claim of exclusivity in the light of the Bible, you find a number of important things, all pointing to the same idea:

  1. When God first began to draw together a people for Himself – a family to follow Him – He called Abraham, promised him innumerable descendants, and vowed that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Later on, through the prophets (See Isaiah 49:6), God reminded His people of this very thing, by promising to incorporate the Gentiles (everybody else) into the people. Exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity. 
  2. Later on, in “the fullness of time,” Jesus’s earthly ministry began with “the lost sheep of Israel,” but extended also to Gentiles (See Matthew 15:21-28). Instructed by the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ, the early Christian church also began with the Jews but then extended beyond Jews to include Gentiles, and embarked upon a mission to expand God’s people to include the whole human race through preaching Jesus Christ as Lord (See Acts 10). Exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity. 
  3. Though the name of Jesus is the only name given for the salvation of men (Acts 4:12), the New Testament repeatedly states and in other ways implies that the coming of Jesus Christ has cosmic and hidden implications. Jesus is recorded as saying, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). The message of the Gospel, before it had reached even a quarter of the globe, according to the Apostle Paul had already been “preached to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23). It is implied that those who “formerly did not obey,” not taking refuge in the arc (which prefigures baptism and the Church), are given ‘a second chance’ by the spirit of Christ (See 1 Peter 3:19-20). Those who have a certain expectant faith, though not knowing Christ, will be made perfect though the Church (See Hebrews 11:13-16, 39-40). In other words, it seems that through hidden means God invites all human beings into His one family; He is “the savior of all men, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). “God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).   Indeed in Christ, God has revealed a mysterious “plan to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10), to “reconcile to himself all things … by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). Again, exclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity.

You might ask, why “exclusivity for the sake of inclusivity”? Why not just inclusivity? Because true unity is unity in the truth. You need the exclusivity that draws the right lines between good and evil, that knows the difference between true life and its plausible counterfeits, before inclusivity becomes of value. From the time of the Fall at the beginning of history, until the end of time, from His own power and initiative, God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:19). In visible and hidden ways. The Scriptures Old and New Testament bear witness to this, and it is a work both with the exclusivity of drawing strong lines, and with the inclusivity of a universal invitation.

So as an (I think) generally honest and fair person, when I hear something like “Jesus Christ is the only Way,” I don’t think arrogance or bigotry (unless I think I detect it from the speaker’s tone of voice, non-verbals, etc.), and I certainly don’t think God is being limited and turned into some kind of sectarian deity.

Instead, I think thoughts of praise for the infinite wisdom of God who is bringing to fulfillment His mysterious plan for the unity of the human race, and of all creation, in one family with Himself, its Creator. This family begins now, among those who believe in Christ and follow him in the Church, but it also has a larger future, which we are awaiting.


 

Thank you for reading. Let me know if it has been helpful. Questions are welcomed. So are challenges. I realize that I have gone in uncommon directions interpreting one or two scripture passages, but I think that they are plausible and fit within the logic of the tradition. Part 3 is on the way, but I’ve got other posts in the works, and I don’t know what will come next. Hopefully I’ll post something in a week or so. Here’s hoping another computer doesn’t die on me.

Christ’s Peace.

Mark

The God I Seek, pt. 1

I’m trying anew to get in the habit of writing in this old blog of mine. My primary motivation is to share something about God and what He means to me, especially with my family and other people in my life with whom it is sometimes difficult to have such conversations in person. In most cases, I suspect that the difficulty comes from my own failings – either I am too timid to speak up, or my would-be hearers find it hard to listen to  a flawed messenger about a perfect God. But in general, I think it can be hard these days to discuss God. For many, the idea of God conjures up thoughts of the oppressive intrusion of an arbitrary and alien moral law, or an abusive parent, or an old-fashioned, unscientific worldview long since abandoned. But these things are not who God is to many believers in Him. These things are not who God is to me. To me, God is the great mystery of justice, love, peace, and light that envelops our lives and the world in which we live; and all this precisely in the midst of the injustice, fear, confusion, and darkness that too often pursues us. This God, I believe, has made Himself known in history, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dear reader, whoever you are, I hope that you find something of value here. If you do, please let me know about it. If you don’t, keep your mouth shut!😉

The following is a reflection I wrote about six months ago, and recently edited and added to. A second part will come in a week or so.

 


A Reflection on the God of All Things

We naturally desire and seek after love, goodness, truth, and beauty. But sometimes, our desires seem inexhaustible. This is explained by the fact that we were created to enjoy the infinite God.  Ultimately, God alone can fulfill our desires because He is the One who made all the lovable, good, true, and beautiful things we experience in this life, Himself being Love, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself.

His name is “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). He is infinite and mysterious, within all things but not identified with them. He is above all, but present to all. He simply IS; but all created things are contingent, having existence and various qualities only through participation in His existence and qualities. God is thus not present before us in the same way as created things. He is not one thing among many, but the very ground and condition for all to exist. The love, goodness, truth, and beauty of all things are exemplified in God, and thus all things are meant to be enjoyed in such a way that through them we might come to know, love, and enjoy Him.

At times, many of us can testify, we find that we get an intimation, a taste, of God, through an experience of pure and upright desire that for a moment draws our hearts beyond this world. Or we experience strong emotion or profound peace when we encounter examples or talk of righteousness, Godliness or divine Love, just as if we secretly longed for these things (we in fact do!). Or perhaps we experience some diluted approximation of one of these experiences. But whether pure or diluted, in all such experiences, we do not really see God, but we, so to speak, ‘touch’ Him by desire. He is hidden from our sight, but is in fact above us, below us, to our left, to our right, all around us, and within us, seeking us out, and waiting patiently for us to recognize Him.

St. Paul, His Apostle, said this of Him:

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for `In him we live and move and have our being.'” (Acts 17:24-28a RSV)

This God – the hidden, mysterious ground of all that exists – Has revealed Himself in history, and is actively involved with our lives.

God created us. We each come from God, and, like it or not, will return to Him. We are meant to be like Him and share His life. This God is good, cares for us, and is actively concerned about our life, but He is no tame lion. He is elusive and does not submit to our attempts to control Him – when we think we have grasped Him, tamed Him, in that moment He hides His face from us. All good things are gifts from His hand, but He is not an indulgent parent. He is not a candy machine; or to put it in a crude way, he is nobody’s “sugar daddy.” He showers gifts upon us, and is gentle and kind with us, but He is terrible and mighty, to be feared, for He will not spare us the rod of discipline and correction, and He will not cater to our whims. His goal in everything is always the greater good, but His will is often difficult for us to understand; in fact, sometimes it is impossible to understand without traveling a hard, steep, and treacherous path, as if climbing a mountain.

This God is revealed definitively in Jesus Christ, but known in shadows and images in all times and places. This God is the true God, while other gods are lesser beings, or no beings at all, the clever inventions of myth-makers.


 

Come back for part 2….

 

 

Pilgrimage with the Living Christ

Pilgrimage with the Living Christ

I recently read a friend’s wise post about being single (or should I say, “a wise friend’s post about being single”? Both are true). In my opinion, “Nell” writes of the pains and joys of life with wisdom and grace. What else shall I say? … I think she bears witness to the fact that vivere Christus set, et mori lucrumI think that the heart of her post is this paragraph, in which she describes the night after she and her companions on the Camino de Compostela realized that they were very near the Cathedral, the goal of their journey:

We threw an impromptu party that night, like the homeless vagabonds we were, in the parking lot of the gym where we were spending the night. We ordered pizza and played music, danced and then sat in a circle and spontaneously burst into prayer and sharing and reflection. This night remains one of my favorite memories, not just of the Camino, but of my entire life-experience. It’s cliché to say that it “changed my life,” so I won’t say it, but I will say that I approached the next day differently and I approached my next Camino differently, with the realization that arriving in Santiago was sacred…but so was every step that brought me to Santiago, every conversation that fueled me, every sacred face who shared the road with me, every honey-roasted peanut shared on the side of a highway, every decade prayed with grubby, dehydration-puffed fingers on our rosary beads. Every moment walked on the Camino was a gift. Granted, they were gifts that tended to push me to my physical and spiritual and everything-else limits, but gifts nonetheless.

Ah! The age-old journey/life analogy! And, furthermore, a Christian take on the analogy!

Image
By José Antonio Gil Martínez from Vigo, Spain [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Two things occur to me here: It seems to me (1) that the journey/life analogy and the Christian narrative or view of life go together – in other words, that the Christian view of the world is essentially one of journey, of movement; and (2) that there is no other worldview that speaks to the spiritual and emotional needs of life as it really is, and gives it more satisfying meaning, than the Christian worldview.

Is there a better way to build one’s life, than to build it upon solidly-grounded hope and gratitude?

Is there a better way to approach suffering than to face it “head-on,” with all honesty, strengthened by such hope and gratitude?

And is there a better equation for being able to live freely in sincere love, than to combine unshakable hope, gratitude, and honesty?

Of course, as implied above, one must have a sufficiently solid basis for a strong hope and gratitude. If this does not exist for a person, than they cannot face suffering head-on; or if they do, then they are exposed to despair.

But for people like Nell, the Christian worldview, summed up in the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ provides just this solid basis for a meaningful life of hope, gratitude, honesty, and love.

Image
By José Antonio Gil Martínez from Vigo, Spain [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

For her, the teachings and person of the now living Jesus Christ provides a new power for life. She can live (walk a long journey) with authenticity, because she knows who she is, where she came from, where she’s going, and that HER SAVIOR LIVES. If you haven’t yet read her post, or are unfamiliar with her blog, then, in my humble opinion, “get with it!”

By José Antonio Gil Martínez from Vigo, Spain (Camino de Santiago  Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By José Antonio Gil Martínez from Vigo, Spain (Camino de Santiago Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons