Sunday Sermon for January 30, 2011, 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 first reading, the Prophet Zephaniah tells us that our only hope of shelter on the day when the Lord’s wrath is released upon the earth is to be humble and lowly. This is hardly the way most Americans think, but when we are judged the Lord will not be impressed by the simple fact that someone was an American. More than that, the three things that seem to plague us the most are our pride, our lack of faith and our lack of trust. Each of these takes on many different forms, but the result is the same: We become self reliant, act like we do not need God and think ourselves better than others.
The Church, in her wisdom, gives us the second reading, taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, reminding us that most of us are not too wise, powerful or of noble birth, so there really is nothing to brag about. Putting things into the context of the time St. Paul was writing, and this still holds true in many places today, even if someone was well born or powerful, the fact that they became Christian would cause them to be considered foolish and, sometimes, to be rejected by family and friends.
No problem. St. Paul reminds us that God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong, what the world considers foolish to shame the wise and those who are nothing to bring to nothing those who think they are something. This is divine wisdom at work. Like most things in the spiritual life it is just the opposite of the way we would look at things on the natural level.
To demonstrate this most perfectly, the all powerful, all wise God chose to be born as the son of a common laborer, to be raised in a poor home and to be rejected crucified. It does not get much lower than that, yet in God’s providence, this is the wisest and most powerful thing and the only means to our salvation. One either has to have faith and humility to accept this or the pride will reject the apparent foolishness of the whole enterprise.
In the Gospel reading we see a variety of means by which we can approach true humility and lowliness. It all has to begin by recognizing our dependence upon God. I know that we will all acknowledge that we are dependent upon Him, but do we really live that way? This cannot be a merely theoretical concept; it must become a practical reality of us.
We need to start by being poor in spirit. This is hard not only because of our pride, but because we are used to living rather cushy lives, because we have a false sense of strength and security because we are part of the world’s superpower and because we have been so caught up in materialism. We need to learn to mourn those things which grieve the Lord: the loss of souls, the ignorance of the truth, the mess within the Church, the rejection of our Lord by so many and, most of all, our own sins.
We need to learn meekness, which is the opposite of anger. In our pride we tend to get angry when things do not go our way. We think we are deprived or unjustly treated if we are not recognized or if someone else has something we do not. We need to hunger and thirst for righteousness rather that for the various sensual pleasures we seek so desperately in our society. We need to learn mercy toward others rather than looking down upon them or being concerned only with our own wants and desires. We need purity of heart so that nothing is in the way of our relationship with God. We need to learn peace, to reach out to others in order to heal rifts rather than holding on to grudges or jumping quickly to a violent response.
Needless to say, these things will not only be difficult for us to obtain, but they will bring about a good deal of ridicule and rejection from those who, like we were before striving for these virtues, think that all of this is foolishness and weakness. This will automatically bring about the insults and persecution our Lord speaks of in the last beatitude.
These things are not only good because they are right and proper, but because they provide us with the disposition that will allow us to be humble, to have faith in God and to trust God. Then, on the Day of the Lord, these people will find a shelter in the Lord while the proud, the strong and the wise are lost because they thought they did not need the Lord.
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.