Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Beatitudes Are Way Better Than You Think

It's difficult to explain, but sometimes when you preach a homily, you have the sense that God is doing something at that particular moment. Today at Mass, I just felt like the congregation and I were totally together, and stuff that is kind of complicated was made easy to all of us.  In other words, the Holy Spirit took over and didn't let my limitations stand in the way.  I didn't use a text, but this was the general idea.  (I also need to thank Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Langrange whose writings helped me in my homily).

In a couple of months, several of our number will be baptized at the Easter Vigil.  We'll all be really happy for them.  You'll applaud and congratulate them.  I'll be all happy about it.  But, why?  Why will that make us happy?  Same thing for an infant baptism.  People get all dressed up, throw a party, take photos.  But, why?  Just because it's cute?  Posing with Mickey Mouse is cute too.  Is baptism any different?

How many here have heard of sanctifying grace?  Show of hands?  Ahhh.....good, then that means I won't bore you by telling you something you already know.   Okay, so on our own, we cannot get to God.  Things are ordered towards their proper end. This piano is ordered towards making music.  It's not ordered to get me to California.  I can sit on that piano bench all day, but it's not going to get me to California.  It's not ordered toward that kind of thing. Similarly, my natural capacities are not capable of getting me to know and love the supernatural. When I was in the seminary, I had this professor who would tell us, "If you don't remember anything else that I taught you, remember that the sacraments do something."  If you didn't know the answer to a question, you could give that answer and it would, at least, diffuse the tension.  The sacraments do something.  The sacrament of baptism does something.  It washes away sin. It also gives to us sanctifying grace.  This grace makes us friends with God. It also infuses the soul with the theological and moral virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  This is great, right?  All of these things make it possible for us to live the theological life, the life of grace.  On our own, no matter how hard we tried, we couldn't do this, but grace makes it possible.

But wait, this is about to get so much better.  Remember in the Old Testament how Moses goes up the mountain?  Right, so he's up on the mountain and God gives him the Law.  And what does Moses do?   He brings the law down to the people and says, "Here's how God wants you to live.  Now do it."  But in today's Gospel, Jesus goes up the mountain, but he doesn't come down with a whole new set of commandments.  He goes up and his disciples follow him up there. In other words, Jesus brings his disciples up to the beatitudinal life. I don't know if "beatitudinal" is a word, but it ought to be.  So often, when we hear the beatitudes, we read them as though Jesus is assigning us a life of drudgery.  "Okay, be poor, sorrowful, and persecuted a lot and your life will be great."  It doesn't sound all that appealing, right?

But the beatitudes aren't a bunch of burdensome commands.  Jesus doesn't come down from the mountain with these new rules and say, "Well, good luck."  Instead, he brings his disciples up the mountain.  The beatitudes aren't really a bunch of commands. They are actually a description of the Christian life. St. Thomas Aquinas has this great schema where he associates each of the beatitudes with a gift of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, these beatitudes are not some project for us to work really hard at. The beatitudes are the result of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of one who is living the life of grace.

The first three beatitudes have to do with the beginning of the life of grace. 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit."  Blessed are those who recognize their dependence upon God. They are not attached to possessions, their reputations, or honors. Their main concern is the Kingdom.  The Holy Spirit gives the Christian the Gift of Fear of the Lord.  We are no longer afraid of losing earthly possessions.  Instead, we fear losing God. 

"Blessed are the meek". When we  hear "meek," we often think "weak," but this is not the case.  The meek person learns how to temper and control the passions within himself. You have to be strong to do that!  In turn, the person who does this is able to deal directly but without vengeance and anger towards others.  St. Thomas says that this beatitude of meekness comes from the Gift of Piety.  Piety helps us to see that God is our loving father.  Our devotion to our loving Father helps us to treat all other as brothers and sisters.

Next is "Blesses are those who mourn."  The Gift of Knowledge helps us to experience sin as the greatest of evils. it teaches us to weep for our sins and to be consoled by the knowledge of God's profound love for us. 

Now, we move onto what some spiritual writers call the level of "proficients."  Are you still with me?  Great, because this is great stuff, right?  Okay:

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice." This is when we have interiorly a profound desire that God be given all that is due Him and that, in turn, every person be given what they are due.  The Christian so desires that justice be done, that they feel it as a hunger, a thirst.  St. Thomas says that just like a miser never stops wanting more gold, so the Christian never stops hungering for justice.  But, when we confront difficulties and obstacles, we can grow weak in this hunger. We can give up.  Thus, the Holy Spirit gives us the Gift of Fortitude.  This gift strengthens us and keeps us from ever being disheartened in the face of injustice.

Now, if we are going to hunger for Justice, we must be cautious that this hunger isn't accompanied by bitterness towards the guilty and those who oppose such justice. "Blessed are the merciful." The Christian is inclined toward pardoning those who offend us and not brooding over past injuries.  To help us, the Holy Spirit gives us the Gift of Counsel.  This gift helps us to see what cure is needed in each situation. It opens our hearts to the needs of others.

The next three are the Beatitudes of the perfect.

"Blessed are the pure of heart." The pure of heart reflect the life of God. When we are pure in heart, we are free from mixed motivations and soiled intentions. When we are pure in heart, we already see in some way the beauty and goodness of God. This beatitude is assisted by the Gift of Understanding. We are given insight and clarity about the ways of God. Even amid trials and sufferings, we see the providential hand of God. 

"Blessed are the peace makers." I'm sure you've had this experience before in your life. You find yourself praying and suddenly you feel so loved by God and you experience a profound peace.  This is the result of the Gift of Wisdom.  When have this sense that no matter what might befall us, God has us in his hand. We can practically taste Divine things. This peace, however, is not just something we experience within ourselves.  It overflows and shapes how we see everything, even painful events. 

Lastly, we have the beatitude, "Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you."  This beatitude does not seem to have a Gift of the Holy Spirit unique to it.  This is because it the most perfect of all the beatitudes.  It is the culmination of all the others.  When we have experienced all of these other beatitudes and their corresponding Gifts, we are willing to suffer for Christ because we are more confident in the beatitude that we are already experiencing than the menaces of the opposition.  We are willing to suffer anything to be closer to God.

I know I'm talking a lot today, but this stuff is so great, right?  So, the temptation is to think that Christianity is all about us trying really, really, really, really, really hard to get to God. And the fact is, that really, really, really, really, really doesn't work. The Christian life is Jesus bringing us up to God by flooding our souls with His Divine life. 

So, what's the takeaway?  I think the takeaway is to allow God to work in us.  All of this works if we are in the state of grace.  So, if you need to go to confession, go to confession. When we sin in a serious way, we lose sanctifying grace. Serious sin and the love of God cannot exist in the same soul at the same time. What does that mean? Does it mean we are doomed?  It would, except that Jesus gives us the Sacrament of Penance as a way to have that life rekindled within us.  The awesome thing is that if we sin and are truly remorseful, if we are truly contrite, Jesus can bring us higher up the mountain than when we fell.  God is so awesome.  So, the first thing is keep going to confession.

Secondly, the best way we can grow in grace is to receive the Eucharist with ever increasing devotion and love.  Every time we receive the Eucharist, we should receive it with greater love.  So confession and devout communion.  Pretty easy right?  

Friends, Jesus has brought us up the mountain and he is giving us the life of beatitude; the life of grace. Let's not stand in the way. Blessed are we, the Kingdom of Heaven is ours.

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