Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Beginning this Sunday, the Gospel passages proclaimed during Sunday Mass will be taken from the Sermon on the Mount, which is found on chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
The Sermon on the Mount is the Charter for Christian living. In it, the Lord gives us detailed instructions for our lives. It is an extremely important text to understand and live Christian morality, which is founded on love, a virtuous life and together with grace enables us to live according to the natural law, the order of things willed by God, so as to become truly free.
Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, that is why the Beatitudes were not proclaimed. They are the preamble of the Sermon. They are worth reading again and again to keep them always in mind and act according to their logic which appears to be contrary to that of the world. St. Augustine pointed out in a sermon he preached during a spiritual retreat for clergy that the Beatitudes are the synthesis of Christian morality. Pope Francis pointed out in a series of catechesis on the Beatitudes started last week that “this passage, which starts the “Sermon on the Mount”, illuminated the lives of believers and also that of many non-believers. It is difficult not to be touched by these words of Jesus, and the desire to understand them and welcome them ever more fully is righteous. The Beatitudes provide the “identity card” of Christians — this is our identity card — because they outline the face of Jesus himself, his style of living.
Let us now frame Jesus’ words within a wider context. Over the next catechesis we will comment on each individual Beatitude, one by one.
First of all, how the proclamation of this message occurred, is important: seeing the multitude that followed him, Jesus scaled the gentle slope overlooking the Sea of Galilee, sat down and, turning to the disciples, announced the Beatitudes. His message was thus addressed to his disciples. However, the multitude, that is, all of humanity, was on the horizon. It is a message for all of humanity.
Moreover, the “mount” recalls Sinai, where God gave Moses the Commandments. 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 blessed find themselves: poverty of spirit, affliction, hunger and thirst for justice, and so on. Lastly, there is the reason 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”.
But what does the word “blessed” mean? Because each of the eight Beatitudes begins with the word “blessed”. The original term does not mean one with a full belly or one who is doing well, but rather it is a person who is in a condition of grace, who progresses in God’s grace and progresses on God’s path: patience, poverty, service to others, comfort…. Those who advance in these things are happy and shall be blessed.
In order to give himself to us, God often chooses unthinkable paths, perhaps the path of our limitations, of our tears, of our defeats. It is the paschal joy of which our Oriental brothers and sisters speak, the one that has the stigmata but is alive, has been through death and has experienced the Power of God. The Beatitudes always bring you to joy. They are the paths to reach joy. 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.”
A virtuous life, Christian morality is the path to joy and the fullness of life. Yet, they are very demanding and often encounter rejection in the world as witnessed by the many martyrs through the history of the Church. We must always bear in mind however, that it only sin separates us from God. As St. Paul reminds us in the Letter to the Romans, neither persecution nor death can separate us from the love of Christ.
St. Augustine points out that it is only at the end of the Beatitudes that the Lord explicitly addresses his disciples. He tells us that we are blessed when we encounter persecution, suffering and rejection on account of our faithfulness to Him. The Lord forewarns us. To encounter the cross out of love for Christ is to reign with Him. That is why we, Christians, must be bold in our constant and consistent witness. To become the salt of the earth and the light of the world we must live in the love of God, we must strive to be holy!
Fr. Roberto M. Cid