At the heart of this Sunday’s readings is the teaching which Jesus gives us in the Beatitudes. This teaching can seem so contradictory to us, because Jesus proclaims as blessed precisely those who do not seem at all blessed in the eyes of the world, and he gives a stern warning to those who seem, in the world’s estimation, to be most blessed. Why does he say that the blessed ones are the poor, the hungry, those who are weeping, those who are hated and insulted? Why is he saying “woe” to those who are rich, those who have plenty to eat, those who are laughing, and those of whom everyone speaks well? This turns our usual way of looking at things on its head, and it can make us uncomfortable, especially if we find ourselves among those who have enough in this world, and who strive to be secure and well spoken of.
This week’s selection from the writings of Pope Francis gives us a key to understanding the Lord’s words: “Wealth ensures nothing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all. That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who have a poor heart, for there the Lord can enter with his perennial newness.”
The most important thing we do in this life is to grow in love, love for God and for our brothers and sisters. Ultimately God’s plan is to transform us into the very likeness of Christ himself, who showed us the perfect love of God and neighbor. When asked which commandment of the Law was the greatest, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mt 22:36-39). This is what life is for. If we are growing in love of God and neighbor, then we are fulfilling our highest purpose in this life, and we are preparing ourselves for an eternity of loving communion with God in the next life.
If this is our true purpose and goal, then the natural question is, what can help us toward that goal and what will hinder our progress? This is the point that Pope Francis makes in the passage above. Does wealth help us to grow in love? Usually it does not. Of course, a person can be wealthy and also be very loving. However, as the Pope warns, generally we find that when we have wealth, when we have plenty of possessions and food, when we have a position of honor in the world, we tend to put our security in these things. We tend to feel satisfied and “full.” We begin to treasure these things and put our energy into getting more of them, and we give little time or thought to love of God or our brothers and sisters. As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us in the first reading, if we are putting our trust in anything or anyone other than God, we are “cursed,” not “blessed.”
When we fix our hearts, not on the pursuit of wealth and honor, but on growing in love, we soon get in touch with our own deep poverty. We discover, if we examine our consciences honestly, that we do not love very well. In truth, we are awfully self-centered. We want to love, but in our broken sin condition we don’t really love very much, even those closest to us. And we cannot produce more love in ourselves. We turn to God in our poverty and need, begging him to transform our stony hearts into hearts full of real love. We hunger for God’s grace, crying out to him for his mercy, knowing that we will be misunderstood and hated by the world as we pursue this way. And yet this is the way to fulfillment and glory. That is why Jesus calls those who follow in this way the blessed ones.
Paul speaks about this in the second reading, as he makes clear to the Corinthians that those who follow Christ are not putting their hopes in this life. If Christ had not been raised from the dead, then we would have no hope of eternal life after this life. Then it might make sense to focus our time and energy on making this life as comfortable as possible, and anyone who gave up a chance at wealth and power in this life in order to follow Christ would be “the most pitiable.” However, we know that Christ has been raised from the dead, and that we are called to a life of loving communion with God in eternity. Because of this, we do well to ponder deeply on Christ’s warning of “woe” to those who spend their time and energy seeking advantages for themselves in this life. Let us today allow ourselves to experience emptiness and poverty, knowing our need for God and waiting for him to fill us with his grace and mercy. Let us rejoice to be counted among the “blessed.”
What is my perception of blessedness? How can I grow in love each day? In what life do I place my hope? Do my daily choices lead me to eternal life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.