By Fr. Matt Keller, C.PP.S.
When I was in high school, I was sent to a Catholic Youth Conference that concluded with Sunday Mass. I remember that the priest got up to give his homily and asked that a 15-minute timer to be set so that he would know when to end his homily. I remember thinking at the start of the homily, fifteen minutes, oh boy, brace yourself, this is going to be a long one.
Next thing I knew, 15 minutes were up and he was finishing. What he said that day I do not remember, other than it was engaging and energic. And I think I could have listened to him a little bit longer.
In our scriptures today, Jesus begins to deliver what is his longest sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. Over the next several weeks, we are going to hear from this sermon. The thing that strikes me is that with most sermons/homilies, we tend to remember how it was delivered and perhaps bits and pieces of what was said but we typically do not remember every detail. Ironically, with Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount there is nothing written on how the message was delivered other than he went up the mountain and began teaching. But it seems that we have nearly every word that he said.
Today Jesus instructs us in the Beatitudes. I have been told that the Beatitudes are like the Ten Commandments in that both provide us with a moral code on how we are to live our lives. They differ in that the Ten Commandments tend to be straightforward, and they tell us often what we are not supposed to do. A common repeated phrase is “Thou shalt not.” It is easy for us to know if someone is following them.
The Beatitudes, on the other hand, tell us what we are supposed to do or who we are to be. It is not always clearly if one is living the Beatitudes, yet when one lives the Beatitudes, that person’s example is a witness of faith to us.
What is striking about the teaching of the Beatitudes is who Jesus says is blessed: the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, peace makers, the persecuted, and those who are insulted. To be described as poor, meek, persecuted or insulted, by many standards, does not seem to be blessed. In fact, in fact it might suggest that you are the opposite of being blessed. We often define our being blessed based on our good fortune, the good things that we have.
Perhaps in teaching the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching us to see being blessed as something different. Perhaps being blessed is recognizing that our world is not perfect and we must work to perfect it. For it is when we are poor, mourn, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted, and insulted we recognize the imperfections of our world and we are seeking to make the world better, with hope in something better to come.
As we hear Jesus teaching us the Beatitudes today, may we recognize the imperfections of our world and seek to make our world a better place because we know the best is yet to come.
Fr. Matt Keller, C.PP.S., is the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Glandorf, Ohio.