The Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Please forgive the tardiness of this post. Since it is the fifth Sunday of the month, our regularly scheduled reflection-writers were off the hook, and I dropped the ball in finding a replacement reflection! On top of that, today is the fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year A of the 3-year Cycle, which means today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel is the Beatitudes.
In this morning’s Angelus, Pope Francis spoke about not wasting the gifts that we have been given. It would be scandalous to leave you empty-handed! So (I thought) why not take the opportunity to share — using this website, which has been a gift to so many of us — the gift of Pope Francis’s message from earlier today, as well as a few other things he’s said about these words of Jesus Christ?
First, the Beatitudes:
“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.”
(Mt 5:3-12a, NABRE)
This morning, Pope Francis said to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square:
In today’s liturgy, the Beatitudes according to the Gospel of Matthew are proclaimed (cf. Mt 5:1-12). The first is fundamental. This is what it says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3).
Who are the “poor in spirit”? They are the ones who know they cannot rely on themselves, that they are not self-sufficient, and they live as “beggars before God”. They feel their need for God and recognize every good that comes from him as a gift, as a grace. Those who are poor in spirit treasure what they receive. Therefore, they desire that no gift should go to waste. Today, I would like to pause on this typical aspect of the poor in spirit: not to waste. The poor in spirit try not to waste anything. Jesus shows us the importance of not wasting. For example, after the multiplication of the loaves and the fish, he asks that the leftover food be gathered so that nothing would be wasted (cf. Jn 6:12). Not wasting allows us to appreciate the value of ourselves, of people and of things. Unfortunately, however, there is a principle that is often disregarded, above all in more affluent societies where the culture of waste, the throw-away culture is predominant. Both are a plague. So, I would like to propose to you three challenges against the waste mentality, the throw-away mentality.
The first challenge: not to waste the gift that we are. Each one of us is a good, independent of the gifts we have. Every woman, every man, is rich not only in talents, but in dignity. He or she is loved by God, is valuable, is precious. Jesus reminds us that we are blessed not for what we have, but for who we are. And when a person lets go and throws him or herself away, he or she wastes themselves. Let us struggle, with God’s help, against the temptations of believing ourselves inadequate, wrong, and to feel sorry for ourselves.
Then, the second challenge: not to waste the gifts we have. It is a fact that about one-third of total food production goes to waste in the world each year, while so many die of hunger! Nature’s resources cannot be used like this. Goods should be taken care of and shared in such a way that no one lack what is necessary. Rather than waste what we have, let us disseminate an ecology of justice and charity, of sharing!
Lastly, the third challenge: not to throw people away. The throw-away culture says, “I use you in as much as I need you. When I am not interested in you anymore, or you are in my way, I throw you out”. It is especially the weakest who are treated this way – unborn children, the elderly, the needy and the disadvantaged. But people are never to be thrown out, the disadvantaged cannot be through away! Every person is a sacred gift, each person is a unique gift, no matter what their age or condition. Let us always respect and promote life! Let’s not throw life away!
Exactly three years ago today, During his Wednesday General Audience Pope Francis began his catechesis series on the Beatitudes. In his address, he explains that the Beatitudes are not a set of rules, but in them Jesus “reveals the way of happiness.” He describes the way each beatitude consists of three parts: (1) the word “blessed,” (2) the situation of the blessed, and (3) why this is a reason for blessedness and happiness. Just as he did today, Francis explained that this happiness (which many would describe as counter-intuitive) is a gift from God:
Jesus begins to teach a new law: to be poor, to be meek, to be merciful…. These “new commandments” are much more than a set of rules. Indeed, Jesus does not impose anything but reveals the way of happiness — his way — by repeating the word “blessed” eight times.
Each Beatitude is composed of three parts. Firstly, there is always the word “blessed”. Then there is the situation in which the blesseds find themselves: poverty of spirit, affliction, hunger and thirst for justice, and so on. Lastly, there is thereason for the beatitude, introduced by the conjunction “because”: “Blessed are they because, blessed are those because…”. The eight Beatitudes are like this and it would be good to learn them off by heart so as to repeat them, to have this law that Jesus gave us, precisely in our minds and hearts.
Let us pay attention to this fact: the reason behind the Beatitudes is not a current situation, but rather the new condition that the blessed receive as a gift from God: because “theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”, because “they shall be comforted”, because “they shall inherit the earth” and so on.
In the third element which is the reason for happiness, Jesus often uses the future passive voice: “they shall be comforted”, “they shall be satisfied”, “they shall be forgiven”, “they shall be called children of God”.
In a General Audience address on the Beatitudes in August 2014, Pope Francis described them as “the path that God indicates as the answer to man’s innate desire for happiness, and they perfect the Commandments of the Old Covenant.” He then gave us a couple of “homework” assignments. The first was to commit the Beatitudes to memory. He said, “We are accustomed to learning the Ten Commandments — of course, you all know them, you learned them in the Catechesis — but we are not used to repeating the Beatitudes. Let us try however, to remember them and to impress them upon our heart.”
The second homework assignment was to begin to carry the Gospels with us, saying, “Take the Gospel, the one you carry with you…. Remember that you should always carry a little Gospel with you, in your pocket, purse, always; the one you have at home. Carry the Gospel, and in the first Chapters of Matthew — I believe in five — there are the Beatitudes. And today, tomorrow at home, read them. Will you do it?”
Francis continued, offering the reminder that “In these words is all the newness that Christ brought, all the newness of Christ is in these words. In fact, the Beatitudes are the portrait of Jesus, his way of life; and they are the path to true happiness, which we too can travel with the grace that Jesus gives us.” This was not the Pope’s first reference to carrying the Gospels around with you — in during an Angelus address in April of that year, he sponsored a giveaway of small, pocket-sized editions of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles for everyone in the crowd. Shortly afterwards, the USCCB followed suit, producing an English version of the pocket-sized book. Unfortunately it seems to be out of print, but used copies (and editions from other publishers) are available.
Finally, from the report of Pope Francis’s daily homily in Casa Santa Marta on June 13, 2014, Pope Francis described the Beatitudes as the Christian’s “identity card.” From the report:
Pope Francis reflected on each point of the passage in the Gospel that day (Mt 5:1-12). The Beatitudes are “the Christian’s identity card”, the Pope remarked, urging us to reread those pages of the Gospel in order to live to the fullest a “plan of holiness” that goes “against the grain” of the world’s mentality.
He reiterated the Beatitudes, interjecting them into an everyday context, explaining that Jesus speaks with total simplicity, paraphrasing the meaning of the two great commandments: “Love the Lord” and “Love thy neighbours”. Thus, when someone asks, “How does one become a good Christian?”, the answer is simple: do what Jesus says in his discourse on the Beatitudes. A discourse, the Pope indicated, which really goes “against the grain” of what is generally the norm. The Lord knows sin and grace, and he knows the paths that lead to sin and to grace.
Finally, to conclude his Angelus address this morning, Pope Francis reminded us that the Beatitudes “are the paths to reach joy.” He then offered us a suggestion, saying, “It will do us good to take Matthew’s Gospel today, chapter 5, verses 1-11, and to read the Beatitudes — perhaps a few more times throughout the week — in order to understand this very beautiful path, so sure of the happiness the Lord offers us.”
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and have a blessed week!
Image: By Jan Brueghel the Elder – RgGkF6dvZuOywA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21993527
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.