A Cycle – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time 23
Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they who mourn and blessed are the clean of heart. I get the clean of heart but those mourning and those whose spirit is broken would tell you they do not feel blessed at that moment.
I grew up in a city that was over 90% Catholic. I attended church each week with my family, and I will admit during my childhood and adolescent years I was not engaged by anything happening in the Pre Vatican II church. Church was something we did as a family, but I also noticed in the people around me that same unengaged, bored appearance. As a child, I interpreted the “poor in spirit” as one being unmoved by anything going on in church. We were present, listening but left unmoved, nothing spiritual uplifting happened. I was fulfilling an obligated to be at mass and the words of the gospel only confirmed I was doomed because I did not feel blessed at all.
But I was not alone as I could see the same boredom in the people surrounding me. Yet on every Friday night, in the fall, I would see them at a football game jumping up and down, shouting, cheering, and showing their displeasure at every missed call by a referee. Looking back at my religious education, what I was being taught as a child was how to avoid going to hell. I did not encounter anything in church that would help me avoid hell because it seemed every Sunday all I heard was how much of a sinner I was.
Going to church became an insurance policy that would pay off when I died but nothing, I heard from the pulpit was not making me feel blessed. It was not until I was married and moved away from my home state and experienced a mass where the congregation worshipped. The congregation were not attending mass to check off a box or to appease God. No, it was obvious they were pleased with God and let him know it by being engaged in worship.
My wife found everything about a Post Vatican II mass refreshing, I found it challenging. Songs being sung by the congregation were songs of worship, coming deep from within their hearts. They were not just going through the motions; they were everything the psalmist says about worshiping God with their whole being.
They had been to the mountain top and had encountered Jesus by attending one of those renewal movements of the time. They understood the beatitudes were blessings because they were the broken hearted Christ came to restore and comfort. They were those mourning who had experience joy because God wept with them and there were the freed captives who now knew they were heirs to the kingdom. It took me a while to get there but it was their witness that motivated me to look inward and discover how I was relying on myself to follow the rules for my salvation rather than seeking an encounter with Christ.
I needed to have an encounter with Christ and yet I was not comfortable attending one of those renewal events. They were too emotional for me. But there were two places, in church where I kept hearing the call of Christ to allow him to speak to my heart. I heard him in the songs and in the homilies of the priest who would break down the Word of God. Instead of homilies about theology, dogma, or a dry recap of the word, I heard inspiring homilies about God’s forgiveness and love.
That brings me back to today’s gospel and the beatitudes. It took me a decade to allow God into my life because it took me that long to grasp the words spoken are not about our broken condition but about God’s grace. Christ came to change our condition not to tell us we are blessed to be poor in spirit, or how we are falling short while at the same time desiring to be righteous. No Christ is telling us we are called, and equipped for holiness by his death and resurrection and by the gift of the Spirit.
In fact, the very next verse after telling us we are blessed when we are persecuted, insulted, and have every kind of evil uttered against us, Jesus tells us we are the “salt of the earth” (Mt.5:13). He is telling us something profound here because we can feel sorry for ourselves if we do not look beyond the everyday routine, we have allowed our faith to become. We come to church each week not to be bored but to be filled with the grace of God’s presence. We come to mass to be built up into the “body of Christ” and to be strengthened by encountering Christ in the Word and in the Sacrament.
Salt brings out the flavor of food, it is used to preserve food, if it looses its flavor the word of God tells us it is thrown out. Salt was a valuable commodity during the time of Jesus and could be used to purchase items or to be received as payment for work performed. We are called to be the ones who bring flavor to others while we worship. After all God told us he wants us burning with zeal not lukewarm. He said if we are “neither hot nor cold” he will reject us (Rev.3:15-16). God does not want us to be robots, going through the motions but he wants us to be salt, light and yeast to impact others. Didn’t Jesus say, “I have come to cast fire on the earth and how I wish it were ignited” (LK. 12:49).
He desires us to make a difference by making our light shine, causing others to examine themselves in the light of the gospel. It is not about changing our personalities for I will never be the life of a party, but I can be an effective witness by not holding back because of what others may think of me. It took courage to begin a life of prayer, reading scriptures and joining others in worship.
The beatitudes are a more than a list of blessings they are a call to allow your own lights to shine, your own witness to influence others and help others discover the joy of living in the kingdom of God on earth.