My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the SpiritI hope that you all receive some token of the Love during this Valentine’s Day/weekend. It’s good to feel loved, isn’t it? I know that one of the most exciting and hopefully parts of my ministry here at St. Thomas is being able to celebrate a wedding with a couple and watch them celebrate their love for each other. It just sort of warms your heart to hear them profess their love for each other and know that the love you are witnessing is God himself uniting them together.
In a past assignment, I used to do something else that warmed my heart, celebrating mass for Catholic grade school children. It was always an exciting and loud experience for me. However, around this time of year, Fr. Dennis would kind of become Father Downer. I would start talking to them about sin and how the children should look out for their neighbor. I remember being approached by a mother after a mass who asked a question that I think many parents can sympathize with. She said that she knew kids have a really tough time with self-esteem issues and so she was always trying to affirm her daughter and let her know how special she was but that she also knew that there were times when the gospel seemed to indicate that that was not exactly the right attitude to have, gospels like today for instance.
Because, let’s face it, this is a really hard gospel. You can overcontextualize the message by saying that the Gospel of Matthew adds “in spirit” to the first beatitude, thus making it a statement all about the spiritual realm. We should be spiritually poor. In other words, we shouldn’t become so dependent on our wealth that it becomes our god. But, Luke is different. He only has four blesseds; the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and those who are hated and persecuted but has contrary “woes” for each of these.
In some ways, the real challenge from this gospel to us today is that we have become a little too…accepted. We think that the whole point of religion should be to make us feel good about ourselves, to make us feel happy. But, happiness is not synonymous with holiness. And, the gospel challenges those of us who are the most comfortable. It’s easy to see how the poor, hungry, weeping, and despised of the world are suffering like Christ suffered. How are we who are sitting in our comfortable apartments, dorm rooms, and houses suffering? How are we preparing for the Kingdom of heaven if we have heaven on earth?
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a time in which we Catholics tend to reflect on the areas of our life that are broken, whether that be instances of sin in our life or times when we have taken for granted the gifts God has given us. I invite each of you to take some time this week before Ash Wednesday to really think about what specific act you are going to do as a Lenten observance. Don’t just make it some arbitrary exercise of giving something up in order to feel better about yourself. Instead, do something that will help you understand the suffering of Christ better by becoming poor, hungry, sorrowful, or persecuted. And don’t do it for some great earthly reward or recognition. Your reward will be great in heaven.