Jan. 27, 2013
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

The Beatitudes have been variously translated as “Blessed are…” or “Happy are…” It might very well have been a time when individuals saw these two words as signifying the same reality. For Charles Schultz, the cartoonist, happiness is a warm puppy. For most, happiness can be a fleeting pleasure or a continued feeling of well-being. For me, being blessed is different and sometimes something that we know only in the most difficult times of our lives.

Any one of the Beatitudes could be the subject of a column or a homily. All of them could constitute a book or college course. At times, one of them is more important to us than the other. It is the day-to-day experience of life that calls them to mind at important times. Today I am particularly mindful of “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I saw it when the media covered the one month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy. The entire world wanted to comfort and while the people of Sandy Hook did not need all those teddy bears, every one of them was a sign of someone reaching out to comfort. On an individual level, most of us have experienced that at the death of someone dear to us. We learn that we are blessed and we are loved.

In the ancient world, there was no middle class. Poverty was taken for granted. Because the people did not have the things that brought pleasure to the rich, they looked for their joy in the Lord with the conviction that the poor were God’s special concern. In Jesus, the community experienced that power need not be rooted in wealth. They discovered the blessedness that comes from reaching out to others, in being merciful and comforting, meek and clean of heart. They learned the blessedness of allowing others to be a blessing to you.

The “humble of the earth” of whom the prophet speaks in the first reading are those who have totally abandoned themselves to God’s will. They are the “lowly” of whom Isaiah speaks and the “meek” who hold fast to justice and humility. The reading captures the spirit of the Beatitudes. This remnant of the faithful knows that prosperity and possessions are not a reflection of morality and right.

Paul clearly announces that our faith comes from the merciful goodness of God rather than from anything that we have done no matter how good.

It would seem an accomplishment to live only one of the Beatitudes. To live all of them is a challenge. We are asked to reexamine what we value. The Beatitudes seem to bless the very experiences that most of us shun throughout life: poverty, sorrow and persecution. In the natural order of things, none of these brings happiness. The key is to relate the conditions to the total Gospel message. The answer to the puzzle is in seeking identity with Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount we find the answer to the question: “What would Jesus do?”