HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Bishop Rene Henry Gracida
The essence of the message contained in the texts of today’s Mass is to be found in the Gospel, in the Beatitudes preached by Jesus to the multitude of people on the Mount now known as the Mount of the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes speak to the dignity of the human person and our vocation to beatitude.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a beautifully concise explanation of the Beatitudes:
The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven:
The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it:
We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.13
How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.14
God alone satisfies.15
The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and live from it in faith.
The New Testament uses several expressions to characterize the beatitude to which God calls man:
– the coming of the Kingdom of God;16 – the vision of God: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”17
– entering into the joy of the Lord;18
– entering into God’s rest:19
There we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise. Behold what will be at the end without end. For what other end do we have, if not to reach the kingdom which has no end?20
God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve him, and so to come to paradise. Beatitude makes us “partakers of the divine nature” and of eternal life.21 With beatitude, man enters into the glory of Christ22 and into the joy of the Trinitarian life.
Such beatitude surpasses the understanding and powers of man. It comes from an entirely free gift of God: whence it is called supernatural, as is the grace that disposes man to enter into the divine joy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” It is true, because of the greatness and inexpressible glory of God, that “man shall not see me and live,” for the Father cannot be grasped. But because of God’s love and goodness toward us, and because he can do all things, he goes so far as to grant those who love him the privilege of seeing him. . . . For “what is impossible for men is possible for God.”23
The state of beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:
All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world – it may be called “newspaper fame” – has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.24
The Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic catechesis describe for us the paths that lead to the Kingdom of heaven. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.25
The Beatitudes take up and fulfill God’s promises from Abraham on by ordering them to the Kingdom of heaven. They respond to the desire for happiness that God has placed in the human heart.
The Beatitudes teach us the final end to which God calls us: the Kingdom, the vision of God, participation in the divine nature, eternal life, filiation, rest in God.
The beatitude of eternal life is a gratuitous gift of God. It is supernatural, as is the grace that leads us there.
The Beatitudes confront us with decisive choices concerning earthly goods; they purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things.
The beatitude of heaven sets the standards for discernment in the use of earthly goods in keeping with the law of God.
The Beatitudes are More Important Than the Ten Commandments
Comparing The Ten Commandments and The Beatitudes reveals an important distinction. The Commandments come with the threat of punishment for any human being that does not submit to their edict. The Beatitudes come with the potential for reward for any human being willing to give enough focus to come to some understanding of what they have to say. The Beatitudes have particular value today because they teach empathy and allow you to consider what it might be like to be in a position of weakness.
The Commandments require little contemplation because they are black and white. There is no wiggle room. By way of example here is an excerpt from The Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Do not have any other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Notice how the Commandments use words like “do not” and “shall not?” The language also threatens by referring to past acts of punishment. Look at another statement: “For six days you shall labour and do all your work.” Notice that there is no grey area within this statement. No exception is allowed for a particularly busy week.
The Beatitudes, on the other hand, are inspirational. For example, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.” The language here offers incentive, in this case your “fill” in exchange for your effort in seeking justice.
As one can see in the language of The Beatitudes, there is an emphasis on good acts. Let’s look at another example: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” The Beatitudes often dangle the “carrot” in front of the reader instead of threatening the whip. In this case the “carrot” is “the land.” The Beatitudes reflect on the state of the human being in his human condition, with human condition consisting of suffering, inequity, and injustice.
OBEY THE TEN COMMANDMENTS,
BUT LIVE THE TEN BEATITUDES.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!