2017 Lenten Parish Mission
St Peter the Apostle, Naples Florida
March 5, 2017
Introduction at Weekend Masses
After Jesus leaves the desert he makes his way into Galilee which for him is home territory since Nazareth is in that area. There he meets and calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John. We are told that crowds gathered around, and so like another Moses, up the mountain he goes and there he unfolds the conditions of a new covenant that will be sealed in his blood. Like the commandments which expressed the old covenant, the Beatitudes Jesus speaks of unfold the conditions and promises of the new covenant, and into that new covenant we will venture this week during our Parish Lenten Mission.
These Beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be. They are not glowing prophecies of some future bliss. They are exclamations of what is. It is not for some future world postponed, either. It is a state into which the Christian has already entered. The beatitudes are a proclamation of what it is to know Jesus as Lord. They proclaim the conditions in which people of the Covenant live. Saint Augustine wrote a powerful commentary on the Beatitudes, and he said that anyone who ponders the Sermon on the Mount will find there the perfect standard of Christian life, because the Beatitudes are directed inward toward our own poverty and spiritual peace. They are not about someone else or about some other time. St Augustine insists that the Beatitudes describe the “attitudes” that lead to satisfaction. If you want to find out how to be holy? Internalize the Beatitudes. When you recognize someone who is holy, you have recognized the Beatitudes being lived. So, that is exactly what I would like to do with you three nights this week: reflect upon the Beatitudes that can lead us to a holy life.
Early in life we develop a sense of how one thing leads to another; and that makes it possible for us to become calculating, “If I do this, then I will look good and be in a position for getting that.” Once you delve into the mystery of God who is present without a past or a future, there is no such thing as a “good position” in our dealings with God. God does not have a past or a future. There is no time with God only the present. We do not have to work out how to get into a good position for having a relationship with God. We do not have to put on our “happy face”, be pious or act holy. Think of it this way: a man ran up to Jesus and asked a question. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” There is no answer to that question because it is irrelevant and actually counter-productive. We can’t DO anything. It’s already been done by that man on the cross. We must BE something, “Blessed”.
There is no reason whatsoever to think that “if only we had nicer neighbors, if only I knew how to pray, if only I were humbler, everything would be great. There is no “if” or no “if only” with God. All that matter is what IS. We do not have to figure out how to explain our position to God. God cuts through all of that. God knows. Forget the excuses and the blaming. We are exactly what God made: good, and we cannot be other that what God has made. Meister Eckhart (QMA V, 206) once wrote that a truly spiritual person does not seek tranquility because they are in no way hampered by the lack of it.
The Beatitudes are not goals or some kind of perfection we much achieve. Trying to become poor, for instance, is completely absurd. First of all, we start “trying” which is a completely different experience from being. It’s like pretending, like acting, or “trying out” for a play. We must not try. We must discover what we really are, poor; and the best thing to do is stop trying. We are all, in the end, equally privileged but unentitled beggars before the door of mercy.
The beatitudes draw a strange picture of one who is blessed: they are poor and unimpressive, hungry and in mourning, trodden on, yet able to make peace. We always think of “those poor” when we think of the poor, and then most likely move on to a rather condescending concern to improve their lot. Or, maybe worse, we indulge in a highly dramatic version of “I in my poverty and pain…” and go ranting around the stage like a badly produced melodrama. It is hard for us to say, “I am poor” and leave it at that. Usually we want to go on and say: “And something should be done about it.” Or, “How about some applause?” We always want some outrage about poverty. We have to turn it into something else because as a Beatitude it is something different.
The Beatitudes are about me, not someone else. “Blessed are you” is the way it goes. It does not say “Blessed are those poor.” So, the Beatitudes are a call to see ourselves in a way that does not come easily to us. We have to give up the effort to see ourselves in a “good” light. Righteousness for a follower of Christ does not feel like righteousness the way this world see righteousness. The world’s way is a do-it-yourself kind of justification. “What do I have to do to be saved?” That is the world speaking in that man who runs up to Jesus. In the world, what you do makes you righteous, and the consequence is a feeling that we deserve something. You can hear that in the prayers of those who complain to God. “How could this happen to me; I have been faithful and prayerful. What did I do to deserve this?” This is that old kind of thinking that Jesus came to confront and challenge. People at his time who were sick, lame, blind, or deaf were not suffering because of their sin or the sins of their parents. Feelings and expectations that we deserve something because of something we have done or refrained from doing are ridiculous. There is a powerful and sometimes troubling parable about a servant who works all day, and when night comes, that servant puts on an apron and then waits on the master. Why? Because after all that’s what they are, servants who deserve nothing. It is not about deserving or earning. It is about grace and the beauty of grace and the attitude of someone who is living in that state of grace. When we feel ourselves poor, humiliated, desperate and all the rest of it that is when we can qualify for the label “blessed”. If you want to count yourself among the Blessed and discover what it really means, come and join me this week.