29 January 2011

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Although this Reading is specifically for those who returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile, surely all of us can relate to a figurative captivity, when things aren't going well and the weight of the world seems to rest on our shoulders. The prophet Zephaniah's advice is to seek the Lord. This advice might seem like a bit of a religious cliché but there are many figures in Scripture and history who have found that the Lord is indeed the answer. Stress has a habit of causing temporary amnesia. There's a tendency to forget about God or push Him away and suddenly the only realistic solution is to bear it alone. And certainly the dark side of spirituality is quite satisfied with a "do not involve God" approach. Humility can often be over-dramatized but on a real practical level, having a daily prayer life and involving our Lord in our lives is humility. The Lord says He will leave in our midst a people humble and lowly who shall take refuge in Him. The choice is ours whether or not to be a humble and lowly people, and take refuge in Him. Where can Christ be found? By our choice to seek Him, He is found in the Scriptures, in prayer and Eucharistic adoration; but in the ups and downs of daily life He is often found in others who have also made the choice to seek refuge in Him. It's not necessary to be a prominent figure or reach a certain level educationally to have a meaningful relationship with our Lord. Spiritual blindness causes reliance on physical sight only. When putting the spiritual eyes to work, they will see that God loves us unconditionally and not because of what we have achieved in society. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ left the pasturing of His flock and their spiritual well-being in the hands of fishermen.

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
The politics of Saint Paul's day may have been different from what we experience today but the concept of what it means to be "worldly" can easily be discerned during any period of human history. While the individual examples of worldliness may change from age to age, the idea of what it means to be heavenly stays the same because God never changes. That which is heavenly seeks righteousness and justice as well as mercy for those trapped in the frequent deceptions and cruelties of worldliness. Virtually every human being seeks peace and happiness. Unfortunately, many seek it in ways such as material wealth, power, promiscuity, or even the extremes of drug and alcohol abuse. Worldliness dares not to exist beyond the world. In other words, worldliness attempts to dictate what the standard for living will be and offers temptations to promote that the physicality of the here and now is all that really matters, while generally ignoring any spiritual and moral obligations. Sadly today, for example, the world allows a mother-to-be to have a choice as to whether or not a human life ever gets the chance to exist in this world. That "choice" is a deception because quite often an expectant mother is left to feel that terminating her pregnancy is the only choice she has. The world also allows us to decide if someone's physical or mental capabilities are still useful enough to continue to live in the world. If this is the alternative to a Christocentric life, then as Christians we gladly accept the role of being lowly and despised. And we are despised because the cultural standard of living is inconsistent and we are bound to make a few enemies because of it; if not as individuals -- then at least in our ideologies and theologies. Oddly enough, with the exception of those whose minds are diabolical, many people who do not accept the Christian lifestyle at least seem to have some level of respect for it. As a faith-filled Christian, consider the occasions when others have avoided things like cursing or bringing up risqué subjects simply because you were in the same room. That's the Power of Christ working in you and that Power can change the world; and His Power lasts far beyond the physical world. His Power is eternal!

Gospel, Saint Matthew 5:1-12a
Jesus is preaching what is traditionally known as the Beatitudes. The word "beatitude" means "supreme blessedness". The mountain can be symbolic of a couple of things. First, the mountain is Christ's pulpit which depicts Him as the Creator because from a mountain one can see all that surrounds it and thus echoes the words from the psalmist under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: "The world is Mine and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 49 [50]:12). Secondly, as disciples of Christ, the mountain is a reminder to us that receiving the promises of the Beatitudes will be an uphill climb. In this Gospel passage Christ's homily is preceded by the words: "He began to teach them, saying. . . “These words are a little more instructive in the ancient texts because they translate as: "And opening His Mouth. . . “These words imply that Jesus was always teaching but the ancient usage chooses to make a distinction between opening His Mouth and/or speaking versus His silence and/or actions. The Beatitudes inform us that we will mourn; we will hunger and thirst for righteousness, be persecuted and insulted. But our faithfulness promises the Kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheritance, satisfaction, mercy, and the privilege of being called children of God. The "poor in spirit" are the lowly in adversity that humbly place their trust in God; and therefore the Kingdom of heaven awaits them. Mourning in the ancient texts seems to imply mourning without complaint. This is a supreme challenge for us. An example of this is displayed to the extreme as our Blessed Mother watches her Son die on the Cross. "Meek" seems to have a similar meaning to "poor in spirit" but focuses on placing our adversity in the Lap of God more than the actual adversity itself. The meek inheriting the land reiterates what is written in the Psalms: "The meek shall inherit the land and shall delight in abundance of peace" (Psalm 36 [37]:11). The "land" is the land of Promise and/or the Kingdom of heaven. The promised comfort for mourning will far exceed the suffering and any joy experienced in this life. Our Lord speaks of this when He says: "Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned to joy" (Saint John 16:20). Hungering and thirsting for righteousness speaks of a longing for the prevalence of God's ways. Mercy, of course, is our willingness to forgive others which promises God's mercy; and His mercy far surpasses humanity's forgiveness. The "clean of heart" is defined in Scripture as those who are not devoted to idols or have not taken their soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to others (cf. Psalm 23 [24]:4). Idols are anything or anyone inhibiting our relationship with our Lord. And for pushing aside all obstacles, we are promised that we will see God. The peacemakers are those who possess inner peace and make efforts to share and spread that peace to a tumultuous world. The martyrs of our faith were certainly no strangers to persecution and insults because of their faith in Christ; it is the reason for their martyrdom. But they all now share in Christ's promise of a great reward in heaven. It's interesting to contrast the ways of God with the way humanity sees things. The sufferings laid out for us in this Gospel, by human standards are all negatives in this sojourn of life; but Christ declares blessed all the victims of these sufferings. And for this reason our faith and trust in God must exceed what we perceive as common sense. Our lives need not be bogged down by our situation -- but instead lifted up because of our trust in revelation.