4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005

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First Reading - Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel - Matthew 5:1-12a

Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.  He began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Those of you who grew up before the Second Vatican Council will recall that the gold standard for catechesis at that time was the Baltimore Catechism.  The format was simple: students were quizzed with questions that had clear, concise and substantial answers.  This provided for a sound intellectual formation for Catholic youth.  Even though they may not have understood everything they were saying, they were already beginning to speak the language of the Faith and year after year, they would grasp more and more of what they already knew by heart.

One of the questions that you were asked was, "Why did God make me?"  It's the answer to that proverbial question, "What's the meaning or the purpose of life."  A student schooled in the Baltimore Catechism would know that "God made me in order to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next."  This answer had a definitive answer to a huge philosophical question.  The answer indicates that Catholics know their purpose in life - where they are headed and why they live the way they do in this life.

The answer says that we are made to know, love and serve Him in this life so as to be HAPPY with Him in the next?  Happy?  What does that mean?  This desire for happiness is among the deepest human longings.  Even when we sin, we are seeking what we think will make us happy.  The problem lies in seeing and choosing our true God, as opposed to things that only appear to be keys to happiness.  GK Chesterton once said that even the man knocking on the door of the brothel is seeking God.  In other words, sin seems good to us.  We don't choose sin because it's bad for us - we chose sin because we think that it will make us happy.  Sadly, we later learn that this is not the case.

In the eyes of the world, happiness is an emotion, a type of giddiness that is equated with the absence of pain or suffering and the acquisition of pleasure.  This is a rather shallow definition.  Our Gospel today presents us with what true happiness is.  True happiness is not tied to emotions per se, but to something more profound: blessedness.  To be blessed means to do God's will.  We know this because of a scene in the Gospel where Jesus is told that his relatives and mother are waiting for Him outside.  Jesus says that His mother and His relatives are those who do God's will.  So, a person who is blessed may not be emotionally happy or giddy but they may be doing God's will and are thus authentically happy, even if they are suffering through it.

The greatest example of this supernatural happiness or this blessedness is the Cross.  Bishop Fulton Sheen asserts that in the Beatitudes, our Lord is preparing his disciples for the reality that ultimately, true happiness will only be found when we do the Father's will.  In our Lord's case, doing the Father's will meant Calvary.  Any yet, Calvary had little to do with giddiness or an emotional high.  Herein lies the grand paradox of our Faith: suffering is the key to authentic happiness, to blessedness.  Suffering is God's megaphone - His way of reminding us of who is really in charge of our lives.

The beatitudes, then, respond to the deepest and human longing for happiness.  Each of them guarantees a type of suffering in the first part of the formula before we receive the reward.  After all, becoming poor in sprit, pure in heart and meek all require some type of suffering on our part.  it's not easy living up to the demands of the beatitudes.  For that reason, they form the limitless ceiling (paradoxical, I know) of the moral life.

Think of your moral life as a house.  The foundation is the Ten Commandments.  These are the bare minimum we have to do.  Thou shall not go any lower than these ten.  The virtues constitute the walls of the house and finally, the beatitudes are that limitless ceiling.  It's interesting to note that most people probably spend the vast majority of their lives trying to get out of the basement!  The beatitudes can seem so out of reach.  But they are not.  God provides us the graces that we need to begin really working on each of the aspirations of the beatitudes.  This Lent, I invite each of you to take a beatitude every other day and work on it for that day.  Learn what the words mean.  Post the beatitudes on the kitchen refrigerator so that they are visible and easily come to mind.  The beatitudes are the sure way to supernatural happiness - to blessedness.  They are the answer to the question about the meaning of life.  When we strive to live the beatitudes daily, we put ourselves on the road to knowing, loving and serving God in this life so as to be truly happy with Him in the next.

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever!

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