by Fr. Tommy Lane
Everyone wants to be happy. God also wants us to be happy and created us to be happy. Happiness is not in question, the question is how to achieve happiness. When watching TV or reading magazines or newspapers we are given prescriptions for happiness. However they are not prescriptions that will really make us happy. They are prescriptions that will make us unhappy. That is because there is a superficial or passing happiness and there is a deep and abiding happiness that we could call blessedness which is what Jesus’ teaching in our Gospel today is about. What will make us truly happy, what will make us blessed? In our Gospel today Jesus gives us a prescription for real and genuine happiness - a prescription for blessedness - in the Beatitudes. Perhaps we could say that the teaching of our Gospel today is the most important instruction Jesus gave us. The Beatitudes are as important for our happiness as living according to the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament. In the Beatitudes Jesus tells us that what is in our heart is vitally important for our happiness.
Jesus tells us if we are to be really happy we are to be poor in spirit. That does not mean having no money. One could have lots of money and be poor in spirit at the same time although it would be more of a challenge. Being poor in spirit is not relying on own abilities but trusting in God instead. We are poor in spirit when we rely on God for his help to get us through life. We are poor in spirit when we have made plans and they fall asunder and we have to ask God’s help. Being poor in spirit is admitting that we are sinners in need of God’s grace and help. Being poor in spirit is admitting that we are absolutely nothing without God and that everything we have comes from God.
You might say to me that mourning is not a happy experience so how could Jesus say that mourners are blessed. What Jesus meant is “blessed are those who are sorry for their sins and the sins of others.” When we see the murders in our country we mourn as we watch the news. One of the Psalms says, “Tears stream from my eyes because your law is disobeyed.” (Ps 119:136) That is an example of mourning because the law of God is broken. We know that many good people in countries around the world mourn because their countries have introduced laws allowing babies in the womb to be killed. When we are poor in spirit we are aware of our sins and thus we mourn for our sins. We are blessed when we mourn our sins and the sins of others because we have been touched by God and can see the world with the eyes of God.
Jesus also tells us if we want to be happy we are to be meek and gentle. This value is not highly regarded because often in order to advance themselves people throw their weight around. “Might is Right” is a slogan we have all heard. But Jesus teaches us that if we want to advance the way forward is by being gentle and meek, not by throwing our weight around, not overcoming violence with violence. We can look for justice but we are not to do it by violent means. Examples of gentleness and non-violence in achieving their aims are Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Jesus said we will be blessed when we hunger and thirst for what is right. That is because we have a profound respect for others and we want to treat them with dignity. So when we see other people abused in one way or another we hunger and thirst that their dignity will be respected. We will be blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness because we will have learned that every person is a son or daughter of God and respecting others is respecting God.
Jesus said being merciful is a way to achieve happiness and blessedness. Everyone knows it is difficult to forgive, and the bigger the hurt the more difficult it is to forgive and it may take longer until we can bring ourselves to forgive. Jesus is the greatest example of forgiving others. As they crucified him he prayed for forgiveness for his crucifixioners (Luke 23:34). Every time we pray the Our Father we promise God our Father to forgive those who have offended us and so we ask him to forgive us. As long as we hold something in our hearts against somebody we are not free, and so are not happy. Jesus was correct in saying that to achieve happiness we need to let go of those grudges and forgive and be free in our hearts. When we forgive we are free and we are blessed.
Jesus said the pure in heart are blessed. This doesn’t mean just not entertaining impure thoughts. Being pure in heart is living our life according to our beliefs. It means what we do is a reflection of our faith. We would not be pure in heart if we wanted to receive our First Holy Communion or Confirmation but did not practice our faith any more. That would be hypocrisy. Being pure in heart means voting in a way that reflects our faith. If we are not pure in heart we are suffering from some kind of schizophrenia because we would living our lives in one way but holding beliefs that are different. Jesus said if we are not hypocrites but live by our faith then we are blessed.
Jesus said we are blessed when we work for peace. We all long for peace but Jesus said the peacemakers and not just those who long for peace will be blessed. We will indeed be blessed when we help make peace because we will be bringing about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people will persecute us because we are followers of Jesus. We can see this persecution in certain sections of the media unfairly attacking the Church. We can see it in the peer pressure making it difficult for some people to go to Mass. Jesus said we will be blessed if we are persecuted because we are in the right. That is because it is we who are the strong ones and those who insult are the weak ones. Those going with the tide and following the crowd are the weak ones. If you please the crowd to in order to find happiness, you will not be happy. If you want to be happy, follow Jesus.
So we could summarize Jesus’ teaching in this way. When we are poor in spirit we are aware of our sins and mourn for our sins. Therefore we know in our hearts that violence is not the way forward but being meek and gentle and so we hunger and thirst for righteousness when we see violence done to others. We do this in our own lives when we forgive those who hurt us. If we did not live our faith, are not pure in heart, we would not be happy. We always want to bring the peace of Jesus to the world even if others persecute us because giving in to pressure to follow the crowd will never bring us blessedness.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the
kingdom of heaven.
More homilies for the Fourth Sunday Year A
Related Homilies: Jesus’ description of happiness
stories about about reversals
stories: dialogue on the Beatitudes