Wednesday, November 1, 2017
1. Listening to the text
a) Opening prayer:
Lord, the meaning of our life is to seek your Word, which came to us in the person of Christ. Make me capable of welcoming what is new in the Gospel of the Beatitudes, so that I may change my life. I would know nothing about you were it not for the light of the words spoken by your Son Jesus, who came to tell us of your marvels. When I am weak, if I go to Him, the Word of God, then I become strong. When I act foolishly, the wisdom of His Gospel restores me to relish God and the kindness of His love. He guides me to the paths of life. When some deformity appears in me, I reflect on His Word and the image of my personality becomes beautiful. When solitude tries to make me dry, my spiritual marriage to Him makes my life fruitful. When I discover some sadness or unhappiness in myself, the thought of Him, my only good, opens the way to joy. Therese of the Child Jesus has a saying that sums up the desire for holiness as an intense search for God and a listening to others: "If you are nothing, remember that Jesus is all. You must therefore lose your little nothing into His infinite all and think of nothing else but this uniquely lovable all…" (Letters, 87, to Marie Guérin).
b) Reading the Gospel:
1 Seeing the crowds, He went onto the mountain. And when He was seated His disciples came to him. 2 Then He began to speak. This is what He taught them:
3 How blessed are the poor in spirit:
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 Blessed are the gentle:
they shall have the earth as inheritance.
5 Blessed are those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness:
they shall have their fill.
7 Blessed are the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers:
they shall be recognized as children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness:
the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 'Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.
c) A moment of prayerful silence:
It is important to be able to listen in deep silence so that the word of Christ may speak to us and so that the Word made flesh may dwell in us and us in him. It is only in silent hearts that the Word of God can take root and, on this Solemnity of All Saints, become flesh in us.
2. Light shed on the Word (lectio)
a) The context:
Jesus’ words on the Beatitudes that Matthew drew from his sources were condensed in short and isolated phrases, and The Evangelist has placed them in a broader context which Biblical scholars call the “sermon on the mount” (chapters 5-7). This sermon is considered to be like the statutes or Magna Carta that Jesus gave to the community as a normative and binding word that defines a Christian.
The many themes contained in this long sermon are not to be seen as collection of exhortations, but rather as a clear and radical indication of the new attitude of the disciples towards God, oneself, and the brothers and sisters. Some expressions used by Jesus may seem exaggerated, but they are used to stress reality and thus are realistic in the context, although not so in a literary sense. For instance in vv.29-30: "If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away, for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body go to hell". This manner of speaking indicates the effect to be created in the reader, who must understand Jesus’ words correctly and not distort their meaning.
Our focus, for liturgical reasons, will be on the first part of the “sermon on the mount”. That is the part dealing with the proclamation of the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12).
b) Some details:
Matthew invites the reader to listen to the beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus with a rich concentration of details. First he indicates the place where Jesus proclaims His sermon: “Jesus went onto the mountain” (5:1). That is why exegetes call this the “sermon on the mount” even though Luke places this sermon on level ground (Lk 6:20-26). The geographic location of the “mountain” could be a veiled reference to an episode in the OT quite like this, when Moses proclaims the Decalogue on mount Sinai. It is possible that Matthew wishes to present Jesus as the new Moses who proclaims the new law.
Another detail that strikes us is the physical posture of Jesus who proclaims His words: “when He was seated”. This posture confers upon Him a note of authority in the legislative sense. The disciples and the “crowd” gather around him. This detail shows what Jesus had to say was for all to hear. We note that Jesus’ words do not present impossible matters, nor are they addressed to a special group of people, nor do they mean to establish a code of ethics exclusively for His inner circle. Jesus’ demands are concrete, binding and decisively radical.
Someone branded Jesus’ sermon as follows: "For me, this is the most important text in the history of humankind. It is addressed to all, believers and non, and after twenty centuries it is still the only light still shining in the darkness of violence, fear and solitude in which the West finds itself because of its pride and selfishness" (Gilbert Cesbron).
The word “blessed” (in Greek makarioi) in our context does not say “softly” but cries out happiness found throughout the Bible. For instance, in the OT, those called “blessed” are those who live out the precepts of Wisdom (Sir 25,7-10). The prayerful person of the Psalms defines “blessed” as those who “fear”, or more precisely those who love the Lord, expressing this love in the observance of the precepts contained in the word of God (Sal 1,1; 128,1).
Matthew’s originality lies in adding a secondary phrase that specifies each beatitude. For instance, the main assertion “blessed are the poor in spirit” is clarified by an added phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Another difference with the OT is that Jesus’ words proclaim a saving blessedness here and now and without any limitations. For Jesus, all can attain happiness on condition that they remain united to Him.
c) The first three beatitudes:
i) The first cry concerns the poor: “How blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs”. The reader may be shocked. How can the poor be happy? In the Bible, the poor are those who empty themselves of themselves and, above all, renounce the presumption of building their own present and future alone. They leave room for, and focus on, God’s project and His Word. The poor, always in the biblical sense, is not someone closed in on himself, miserable and negative, but someone who nurtures being open to God and to others. God is all his/her treasure. We could say with St.Teresa of Avila that “God alone suffices!”,.
A great modern spiritual author described poverty as follows: "As long as one does not empty one’s heart, God cannot fill it with Himself. As you empty your heart, so does the Lord fill it. Poverty is emptiness, not only in what concerns the future but also the past. Not a regret or memory, not a worry or wish! God is not in the past, God is not in the future: He is in the present! Leave your past to God, leave your future to God. Your poverty is to live the present, the Presence of God who is Eternity” (Divo Barsotti).
This is the first beatitude, not just because it is the first of many, but because it seems to encapsulate all the others in their diversity.
ii) ”Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted”. One can mourn because ofgreat pain or suffering. This underlines the fact that we are dealing with a serious situation even though the motives or the cause are not mentioned. If we wish to identify today “those who mourn”, we could think of all the Christians who hold dear the demands of the kingdom and suffer because of many negative stories in the Church rather than focus on holiness. For them, the Church seems to present divisions and lacerations. They may also be those who suffer because of their sins and inconsistencies and who, in some way, slow down their conversion. To these, only God can bring the news of “consolation”.
iii) ”Blessed are the gentle, they shall inherit the earth”. The third beatitude is about gentleness. This is a quality that is not popular today. For many it has a negative connotation and is taken for weakness or the kind of imperturbability that knows how to calculatingly control one’s emotions. What does the word “gentle” mean in the Bible? The gentle are remembered as those who enjoy great peace (Ps 37:10), are happy, blessed, and loved by God. They are also contrasted with evildoers, the ungodly, and sinners. Thus the OT gives us a wealth of meanings that do not allow for one single definition.
In the NT, the first time we meet the word is in Mt 11:29: “Learn from me because I am gentle and humble of heart”. A second time is in Mt 21:5, when Matthew describes Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and cites the prophet Zechariah in 2:9: “Behold your servant comes to you, meek [gentle]”. Truly, Matthew’s Gospel may be described as the Gospel of gentleness.
Paul also says that gentleness is an identifying quality of the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 10:1 he exhorts believers “I urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. In Galatians 5:22 gentleness is considered one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers and consists in being meek, moderate, slow to punish, kind and patient towards others. Again in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12 gentleness is an attitude that is part of the Christian and a sign of the new man in Christ.
Finally, an eloquent witness comes from 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”.
How does Jesus use the word “gentle”? A truly enlightening definition is the one given by the gentle person of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini: “The gentle person, according to the beatitudes, is one who, in spite of the fervor of his/her feelings, remains docile and calm, not possessive, interiorly free, always extremely respectful of the mystery of freedom, imitating God in this respect who does everything with respect for the person, and urges the person to obedience without ever using violence. Gentleness is opposed to all forms of material or moral arrogance, it gains the victory of peace over war, of dialogue over imposition”.
To this wise interpretation we add that of another famous exegete: “The gentleness spoken of in the beatitudes is none other than that aspect of humility that manifests itself in practical affability in one’s dealings with the other. Such gentleness finds its image and its perfect model in the person of Jesus, gentle and humble of heart. Truly, such gentleness seems to us like a form of charity, patient and delicately attentive towards others” (Jacques Dupont).
3. The word enlightens me (to meditate)
a) Am I able to accept those little signs of poverty in my regard? For instance, the poverty of poor health and little indispositions? Do I make exorbitant demands?
b) Am I able to accept my poverty and fragility?
c) Do I pray like a poor person, as one who asks with humility the grace of God, His pardon and His mercy?
d) Inspired by Jesus’ message concerning gentleness, do I renounce violence, vengeance and a vengeful spirit?
e) Do I encourage, in families and in my place of work, a spirit of kindness, gentleness and peace?
f) Do I pay back malice and insults with evil?
g) Do I look after the weakest who cannot defend themselves? Am I patient with old people? Do I welcome lonely strangers who are often exploited at work?
4. To Pray
a) Psalm 23:
The Psalm seems to rotate around the title “The Lord is my shepherd”. The saints are the image of the flock on the way: they are accompanied by the goodness and loyalty of God, until they finally reach the house of the Father (L.Alonso Schökel, I salmi della fiducia, Dehoniana libri, Bologna 2006, 54)
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows He lets me lie.
By tranquil streams He leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits His name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh
for all time to come.
(The common translation of psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.)
b) Closing prayer:
Lord Jesus, you show us the way of the beatitudes so that we may come to that happiness that is fullness of life and thus holiness. We are all called to holiness, but the only treasure of the saints is God. Your Word, Lord, calls saints all those who in baptism were chosen by your love of a Father, to be conformed to Christ. Grant, Lord, that by your grace we may achieve this conformity to Jesus Christ. We thank you, Lord, for the saints you have placed on our way and who manifest your love. We ask for your pardon if we have tarnished your face in us and denied our calling to be saints.