As we begin the Lunar New Year, many of us would like to begin the year with new resolutions so that we can begin this year with new hopes.
The “Beatitudes” that we just heard proclaimed in today’s Gospel are saying to us that if life does not seem to be treating you well and seem to be unjust, if you are then feeling down and depressed, if your are mourning, and even if people are persecuting you for the cause of right, the “Beatitudes” are proclaiming to us: rejoice, congratulations, how “Happy are you” or should you be . . . because “. . . yours is the Kingdom of heaven.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we wish to begin to live this year with renewed hope, then we need to listen more intently to and allow the words of wisdom of the “Beatitudes” to enter our hearts more fully.
The “Beatitudes” of St Matthew’s Gospel known as the “Sermon on the Mount” are the Words of the Wisdom of Jesus who is teaching the crowds how to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life; a life that will bring lasting peace and renewed hopes.
The first “Beatitudes” begins with “How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What is this “poverty of Spirit” that we should be so happy about? Clearly, it says, we should be happy because we will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Take the case of a young, very capable and successful professional who may even be enjoying great popularity, power and influence in his career and where he or she is the envy of everyone . . . These are all very good . . . but, the question that the wisdom of the “poverty of spirit” would ask such a “successful” person is “Are you truly happy?” The spontaneous answer is generally, “Yes, I think I am happy.” Then, the next question is, “Do you feel secure in your life?” Again, the spontaneous answer is, “Well, I believe so.” If so, then, “What if because of some mistake, you have lost your bosses favour or what if you suddenly get a massive heart attack? Can these not possibly happen to you or to me?”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the “Beatitudes’ poverty of spirit urges us to reflect more deeply on what we mean when we say that we are “happy and secure in life.” In all that we have been reflecting on, I am not trying to be negative about life. On the contrary, I am only trying to help us face the reality of life, and it is only when we face such a reality can we build our present and future life on Jesus.
In other words, the wisdom of the first “Beatitude” on Blessed are the “poor in spirit” challenges us to face the truth that as a human person, we are “utterly finite and as such, we are basically helpless and incapable of coping with the challenges of life and are actually also very ignorant about life.
Within such “utter finiteness and helplessness,” we then need to have the wisdom of first, to be and become as detached as possible from things of this world, and then to be as fully attached on God as much as possible. And, make God our only source of our strength, security and hope in life. And if we can do this, Jesus assures us that we will surely inherit the Kingdom of heaven and have happiness in this world and for all eternity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we find the demands of asking us to be detached from things of this world and to be attached to God in all things to be too demanding, then let us remember that the Christian faith is not about getting an easier life, but about gaining eternal life. Can we tell our children that they will be successful in life, but in the meantime, they do not need to study hard or do their homework? Can you tell your spouse and family that you love them or me telling our archbishop that I am serious about my priesthood, and at the same time, we are not willing to make the needed sacrifices for our vocations? In all that we do, insofar as we are sincere and we try, God will never fail to give us His Light and Love to be faithful to His Will.
The “Beatitude” that is easiest to understand is “Happy the gentle . . .” for we know from experiences that we can never be happy if we are aggressive, angry and arrogant in the way we treat others. However, to be “gentle” is to be respectful and accepting of others, and such “happiness” is one that brings joy, peace and love in relationships.
Perhaps, the “Beatitude” that we find most perplexing is “Happy those who mourn, for they shall be comforted?” This is because none of us would wish to “mourn” or experience such pain in life let alone find “happiness” in mourning.
James and Julie have a daughter, Jane. Jane is their only daughter and child. Jane is brilliant, successful and even a good practicing Catholic; she was only 25 years of age . . . Suddenly, she contacted a rare illness after a vacation with friends and became very ill.
James and Julie begged God to save their successful, filial and good practicing Catholic daughter. In the eyes of everyone, God should answer their prayers and heal Jane. However, after several months Jane died. James and Julie were devastated and was in mourning for many years as they could not get over the tragic loss of their dear daughter whom they were so proud of. Certainly, the “Beatitude” that says, “Happy those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” did not make any sense to James and Julie at all.
When James and Julie eventually died and went to heaven, they found out the truth that actually when Jane their daughter had died early, it was God’s Mercy of allowing her to die at a young age. This was because if Jane had lived on . . . her success would have made her so proud that she would eventually have rejected God, the Church and the practice of the faith . . . through living a sinful life. For this to happen during James and Julie’s lifetime would have been a greater tragedy for them.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us be reminded from this story, that to understand the deeper meaning of the “Beatitudes” we need a spiritual perception of life that goes beyond our human needs and worldly perception.We need toperceive and understand that regardless of whatever challenges we are facing or going to face in life, we must believe that all of them happen in God’s Providence and Mercy. In other words, even as we are facing the trials and pains of life, God is still Loving us infinitely and personally. Can we accept this Truth?
The other “Beatitudes” that affirm that we are rightly to be “Blessed and congratulated are when we “hunger and thirst for what is right, if we are merciful, pure in heart and if we are peacemakers.” All these “Beatitudes” are very simply urging us to live a life of “Holiness” that models after the life that Jesus has shown us . . .
And if we can live and develop such virtues of holiness, then the final “Beatitude” that says, “Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on My account, Rejoice, and be glad . . . for your reward will be great in heaven,” is a CALL to a higher level of “holiness” . . . This is a personal call of God to us to be selfless, self-effacing and humble that like Jesus where we willingly accept all the insults, pain and persecution . . . all simply because we want to LOVE like JESUS.
And, so as I conclude, let me just add that all the “Beatitudes” that we profess and proclaim to be our faith fits in well with the symbol of the Rooster of our Lunar New Year celebration today. This is because the Catholic Christian symbolism the Cock or Rooster is a symbol that represents watchfulness and vigilance. So uniformly does the cock keeps time that Jesus could prophesy that Peter would deny knowing Him three times before the cock crowed twice.
Let us then be reminded that the “Beatitudes” affirm the Great blessings of God in our lives regardless of the situations we find ourselves in; even though they may be trials or we may be mourning in life. This is simply because in God’s’ Providence and with God’s Permission God our Father continues to Love us totally, infinitely and personally in all situations of our lives, as in the case of Jack and Julie, in our story who lost their daughter Jane.However, like the “Rooster” we pray that this year in particular, we would be living our faith with greater watchfulness and vigilance, of becoming more like Christ. And, we can see that it is only when we live in such a Christ-like manner that we will begin to comprehend the WISDOM of the Beatitudes and experience concretely the new hopes of this Lunar New Year and finally inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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