On Tuesday, April 19 I gathered with the faithful of the archdiocese at St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa, for the Mass of Atonement.
We come together each year to acknowledge the impact the clergy abuse crisis has had on the lives of all the faithful. We ask forgiveness for the sins of those who committed heinous crimes against innocent victims. We gather in order to recall and acknowledge our wrongs and unite in the atonement and reconciliation so we can continue to rebuild our relationships within God’s family.
The Gospel we reflected on at this year’s Mass of Atonement was the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 1-12). I often wonder what it would have been like to sit on that hill 2,000 years ago and listen as the Sod of God taught about how to live with a faithful obedience of the heart in order to please God.
Perhaps, like the disciples, I, too, would have asked, “Who then can be saved?” and when Jesus replied, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible,” I would have known then it isn’t just about listening to the words being taught but it is for me, as well as all Christians, to continually live out those words so that I would obey and please God.
When Jesus teaches the Beatitudes, he does not ask us to change a few of our behaviors; he says to each and every one of us that we need to radically change our lives. While we recognize that asking another to change their manner of life completely is not something people necessarily have the right to do, Jesus does, and in doing so he offers a better way of living – one that brings about salvation.
The Beatitudes do not describe different types of Christians. They do not single out separate groups or people. They are applicable to all – meaning all Christians are meant to manifest all of these virtues. Not an easy task.
These eight principles are in direct opposition to what society teaches us in everyday life. The Beatitudes signify a quality of life that separates the children of God from the rest of the world. While Christ promises a selfless, God-centered attitude is what is needed to have a lifestyle of happiness, joy and blessedness, society offers its own version of attitudes needed for personal success.
Our culture has tendency to promote and encourage a striving of power, pride and prestige, popularity and self-indulgence; these are quick and easy ways to achieve “happiness.” But these are only superficial, empty and fleeting.
When we focus on living out the Beatitudes, it is then that we achieve the everlasting joy and happiness God has to offer. It is not always the easy road, but it is the only road to salvation.
When teaching the Beatitudes, Jesus is challenging people to a new and better standard of living. He does not say, “If you follow these principles, you will be a Christian.” Rather, he says, “Because you are Christian, you should follow these principles.”
These are the virtues in life one must live up to so that they are blessed – living the
Beatitudes are what give us power in life.
Jesus teaches, it is:
– the poor (not the arrogant);
– the sorrowful (not the unrepentant);
– the meek (not the proud),
– those who long for righteousness (not the deviant);
– the merciful (not the spiteful);
– the pure of heart (not hypocrisy);
– the peacemakers (not the disruptors);
– to be right with God (not to conform to the majority) who are blessed by God.
Jesus teaches us the transformation of the inner person by giving us the message of humility, charity and love.
The Beatitudes establish the foundation for making life good and just for the people of God. They are the true will of God and the standard that must be adhered to in order for us to repent and become a part of the kingdom on earth and in heaven.
Blessed. Each verse begins with the word blessed. Blessedness should never be seen as a reward for religious accomplishments but rather as an act of God’s grace within the lives of each of us.
It is not about our moral or spiritual achievements but each Beatitude stresses that we, as sinners, are in a forgiving relationship with the Father. This relationship has been made possible by Christ’s atonement. Each Beatitude tells us of the joy and peace that come with being right with God.
In the world, there is a strong desire to translate the word “blessed” with the word “happy.” The Beatitudes tell us there is a happiness that comes out of pain, sorrow, sickness and grief. That is the happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us — a happiness and joy felt by those who have been blessed by God to receive a divine reward for their righteousness.
The Beatitudes have a strong eschatological meaning – that is, they promise us salvation. A salvation we so greatly long for that is not of this world but also of solace and peace for our trials and tribulations we face while on this earth.
They are also Christological because Jesus, himself, taught them and they reach their perfection in him. It is in the perfection of Jesus that they become descriptive of the promised salvation. It is not enough to hear the words of Jesus; we must obey him.
Perhaps it is best to listen to how St. Gregory of Nyssa, a mystic who lived in Cappadocia in Asia Minor around 380 A.D., describes the Beatitudes. He says, “Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good, from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.
Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clear to us if it is compared with its opposite. Now the opposite of beatitude is misery. Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings.”
Therefore, we can conclude that there is everlasting peace and joy in living the Beatitudes. When we hear Jesus tell us “blessed are they,” he is not only describing us as being filled with inner peace and joy because we are right with God, he is also telling us about the divine reward we will inherit.
Our Atonement begins with our confidence that our Lord can bring a new moment for us if we seek to live and fashion our lives in response to the Beatitudes.