Let me begin with a heartfelt thank you to all who sent birthday greetings personally or through the Catholic Sun. I am most appreciative for your kind words and thoughtful sentiments. A 75th birthday is a landmark for all of us. For a bishop, however, it marks the beginning of a transition. Together we should pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the months ahead as the process for the selection of a new bishop takes place. Until he is named, I remain faithfully and lovingly devoted to my responsibilities as your bishop.
While Rejoice and Be Glad fits the occasion for a 75th birthday, the topic for this week’s column is not my birthday but Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Be Glad. I addressed the exhortation in a recent Catholic Sun article noting its affirmation of the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the universal call to holiness, the pursuit of holiness through “small gestures of love,” and attentiveness to the “little details of love” (Cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 1,2, 16 and 143-145).
This week I share some thoughts on what Pope Francis calls “a Christian’s identity card” (63). “There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness . . . but nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words and seeing his way of teaching the truth. . . . We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives” (63).
Referencing Matthew’s Gospel, as Pope Francis does, there are eight Beatitudes. Writing about each of them would be a very long article! Therefore, this week I will address the first four. In a subsequent article, I will speak about the remaining four.
• Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This beatitude prompts the question, “Where do I find my security in life?” For the people of Jesus’ day, for many of our contemporaries and perhaps even for us personally security often rests in material wealth. Pope Francis reminds us, “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” (68). Wealth can blind us and give us a false sense of security. At the end of our life, it will not matter how wealthy we are. Rather, the more important considerations will be how we have acquired our wealth and how we have reached out to our brothers and sisters who do not have the basic essentials of life.
• Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. This beatitude prompts a number of questions. Do I place others in categories based on their ideas, customs, their way of speaking and acting? Do I think I have a right to dominate others? Am I constantly upset and impatient with others who are different from me and have different opinions than mine? Jesus proposed the way of meekness. He reminds us that we will find rest if we learn from him who is “gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). Even in the face of the wrongful actions of others and in defending our faith, Sacred Scripture encourages us to act with meekness. “If we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining” (72).
• Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. This beatitude gives us pause to ask, “What place does suffering have in my life?” “How do I meet the cross when it enters my life?” For the Christian, the cross is never absent. We experience sickness and sorrow in our families and all around us. “The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. . . . A person who sees things as they truly are and sympathizes with pain and sorrow is capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness. He or she is consoled, not by the world but by Jesus” (75, 76).
• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. This beatitude asks, “Am I just in my decisions? Am I faithful to God’s will in every aspect of my life? Do I give Jesus’ words and actions too general a meaning and thus avoid active engagement in the defense of the most vulnerable?” Pope Francis asks, “How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life? . . . True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions; it is expressed in their pursuit of justice for the poor and the weak” (78, 79).
There is no doubt that the path of the Beatitudes is countercultural. As Francis reminds us, the teachings of Jesus “clearly run counter to the way things are usually done in our world. . . . The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride” (65).
Take some time this week and reflect on the Beatitudes. Refer to Mt. 5:3-12 and if possible consult Gaudete et Exsultate. It can be read online or downloaded, if like me you prefer a hard copy. Copies are also available for purchase from Our Sunday Visitor and the USCCB website.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.