Sunday Sermon for January 29, 2017, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Zeph 2:3, 3:12-13; 1Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12a
In the Gospel reading today we hear the Beatitudes, all those whom the Lord pronounces blessed for their goodness. Most of us can look at one or two of these and think properly that we may fit into this or that category. Among the Saints there are some who are truly outstanding in one or the other of these virtues. However, if we look closely at the lives of the Saints, I think that we will see that they live all of these beatitudes. While they may excel in one or two of them, they live them all.
This is what separates us from the Saints: we might be able to see ourselves in one or two of the beatitudes, but the rest do not seem to fit us at all. We might even be tempted to think that is is not possible for anyone to be able to practice all of them. But in the lives of the Saints we see some extraordinary people who practiced them all, even though they might have exercised one or two to a greater degree.
Well, you might say, they could do this because they were extraordinary; I on the other hand am merely ordinary, so it will not be expected that I should strive to live them all. While we may never be able to live them all, it is expected that we strive to live all of the beatitudes. Of course, we recognize immediately that if we live this way we will be very different from the vast majority of people around us. In fact, we will probably be the butt of a lot of jabs. I suspect that this is the reason our Lord added the last two beatitudes, because those who live the others will be persecuted and will be spoken about negatively.
Since most of us are not too keen on being persecuted or being treated badly, we retreat, once again, into the idea that we should not strive to live according the the beatitudes or that one or two of them are sufficient. In the first reading the Prophet Zephaniah tells us that God will leave in the midst of the people a remnant that is lowly and humble. These people, the Prophet says, will do no wrong, speak no lies, and they will not have a deceitful tongue. So, we see that the key to being able to live the beatitudes is to be lowly and humble.
Sadly, lowliness and humility do not come naturally to most of us. Considering what St. Paul reminds us of in the second reading, they should be easy for us, but our pride makes it very difficult for us to obtain any sense of lowliness or humility. But St. Paul tells us that God chose the weak, the foolish, the lowly, and the despised of the world. This being the case, then if we have been chosen by God, and we have, it can only be because we fit into the categories listed above.
Only when we accept that we are weak, foolish and lowly will be actually be despised by the world. In other words, only when we can embrace the fact of our weakness, foolishness, and lowliness will we be able to live according to the beatitudes. And only when we live according to the beatitudes will we be despised and spoken ill of for the sake of Christ.
If, as we read in Zephaniah, that there will be a remnant left which is humble and lowly, then we need to strive for humility and lowliness. I realize that this goes against the grain, but it is against the grain of worldliness. On the other hand, it fits perfectly with the plan of God. At the same time, if we can obtain this level of humility, the Prophet tells us that nothing will disturb us. It is only because of our pride that we are offended by people ridiculing us. It is only because of our pride that we are afraid to live according to the beatitudes due to what people might think.
If we were truly humble, not only would we be living according to the beatitudes, but we would be at peace: at peace with God, at peace within ourselves, and even at peace with the world. The world may not be at peace with us, but we will be at peace with it. If this sounds too difficult or too lofty for us to achieve we need to recall that it is actually because we are weak, lowly, and foolish that we were chosen. So, it should not be too difficult to reach this goal. Just pray for humility and let the Lord do the rest. Be humble, live all the beatitudes, and live like a Saint.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.