Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

Readings: Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13; Ps 146:6-10; 1 Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12

“Happy is the man who trusts in the Lord!”

All the Scripture Readings of today speak about how to achieve true and lasting happiness which comes from God, and which is different from the way world sees it. In the First Reading, the Prophet Zephaniah says that those who seek God with lowliness and humility, on the day of judgment they will escape the wrath of the Lord. If they serve God and obey his commands, they will find the peace and happiness they desire. Today’s Gospel Reading is Matthew’s version of ‘the Beatitudes.’ In them Jesus gives his prescription for true and lasting happiness. In the Second Reading, St. Paul implores the Corinthians to consider their calling and shows them the true contrast between the values of Jesus and the values of the world. He reminds them that they owe everything good in their lives to God; therefore, if any one boasts, he should boast in the Lord.

  • There was a boy, whose family was very wealthy. One day his father took him on a trip to the country, where he aimed to show his son, how poor people live. So they arrived at a farm of a very poor family.

    They spent several days there. On their return, the father asked his son, if he liked the trip.”Oh, it was great, dad” – the boy replied. “Did you notice how poor people live?” “Yeah, I did“- said the boy. The father asked his son some more details about his impressions from their trip.

    “Well, we have only one dog, and they have four of them. In our garden there is a pool, while they have a river that has no end. We‘ve got expensive lanterns, but they have stars above their heads at night. We have the patio, and they have the whole horizon. We have only a small piece of land, while they have the endless fields. We buy food, but they grow it. We have high fence for protection of our property, and they don‘t need it, as their friends protect them.”

    The father was stunned. He could not say a word.

    Then the boy added: “Thank you, dad, for letting me see how poor we are.”

    This story shows that the true wealth as well as happiness is not measured by materials things. Love, friendship and freedom are far more valuable.

  • The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints.

    We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.

    We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

    We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

    We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

    We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life.

    We’ve added years to life not life to years.

    We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space.

    We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

    We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

    These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

    These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

The Beatitudes predict that if we are to discover deep happiness at all it has to be via a list of fairly obviously unpleasant life-situations: in poverty, tears, hunger, and even being hunted down by agents of the State. It sounds rather implausible, doesn’t it? Right at the beginning of his teaching, Jesus throws down a challenge to conventional thinking. With the Beatitudes, he turns the world upside-down. Each Beatitude begins with the word ‘Blessed.’ It is a translation of the Greek word ‘makarios’ and the Latin word ‘felix.’ The meaning of these words is a combination of happiness and good fortune. So we could translate either with ‘Happy are those…’ or ‘Fortunate are those…’ Yet, who are those whom Jesus calls thus? The poor, the mourners, the meek or lowly, those deprived of justice, those persecuted and abused. In the eyes of the world, such people can hardly be described as happy or blessed. In fact, they are the world’s embarrassment. It is not the rich, nor the strong, nor the powerful, nor the well-fed, nor the good-life chasers, but those who place their total trust in God are the truly happy or blessed ones. The Beatitudes tell us then that we are not losers but winners because God is on our side. We are blessed even as we suffer because we believe that we will be vindicated, partly here and now, and fully when Christ resolves all things in the end-time. This compensates for any misfortune that may befall us – persecution, contempt, sorrow, poverty or injustice – in living the values of the Kingdom of truth, justice, love and peace.

Let us examine the Beatitudes briefly:

1. The poor in spirit… This has more to do with an attitude of neediness and of humility towards God than with material poverty. The person who is poor in spirit looks to God, not to himself, for salvation, trusting in God’s mercy. “Unless you become like this little one…”

It’s the attitude of seeing oneself as a child in God’s presence, a child who owns nothing: everything I have comes from God and belongs to God. It’s not easy to become detached from material things or to practice austerity in using them, but this is what Jesus asks of each of us.

2. Those who mourn… We are blessed, Jesus tells us, when we suffer and bear our suffering with love and a spirit of atonement. We are also blessed when we are genuinely sorry for our sins, or are pained by the offenses of others. The Spirit of God consoles us when we weep for our sins, and gives us a share in the fullness of happiness and glory in Heaven: these are the blessed.

3. The meek… We are meek when we patiently suffer unjust persecution; when we remain serene, humble and steadfast in adversity; when we don’t give in to resentment or discouragement. Our irritabilities often stem from a lack of humility and interior peace. The virtue of meekness is the antidote; it’s a necessary part of the Christian life.

4. Who hunger and thirst for righteousness… The notion of righteousness (or justice) in Holy Scripture is essentially a religious one. We are righteous when we sincerely strive to do God’s Will by obeying the commandments, by fulfilling our responsibilities to God and each other, and by entering into a life of prayer. Righteousness, in the language of the Bible, is what we today would call holiness. And so Jesus is asking us not simply to have a vague desire for holiness; rather, we should hunger and thirst for it. Our lives should be a striving for holiness in God’s eyes.

The path to Christian holiness is through the Church, the universal vehicle of salvation. We should love what the Church teaches and offers: the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, and an intimate relationship with God in prayer.

5. The merciful… Mercy isn’t just a matter of charitable giving, but also of accepting other people’s defects, overlooking them, helping them cope with them and loving them. Mercy means rejoicing and suffering with others. It’s the practical application of the second of the great commandments: love your neighbor as yourself.

6. The clean of heart… When we speak of a person’s heart, we refer not just to his emotions, but to the whole person in his loving dealings with others. To be clean of heart is a gift of God. It’s the capacity to love, in having an upright and pure attitude to everything noble.

As St. Paul instructed the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Helped by God’s grace, we should constantly strive to cleanse our hearts and acquire this purity, whose reward is the vision of God.

7. The peacemakers… Those who foster peace, in themselves and in others, and therefore try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God. Being at peace with God is the cause and effect of every kind of peace. Any peace on earth not based on this divine peace will be a false peace, shallow and misleading. “They shall be called children of God.” As St. John tells us in his first letter, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are”.

8. The persecuted… Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are holy, or striving to be holy, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus blesses those who suffer persecution for being true to Jesus, those who suffer patiently and joyfully.

Circumstances arise in every Christian’s life that call for a sort of heroism – situations where no compromise is possible. We either stay true to Jesus Christ whatever the cost to our reputation, life or possessions, or we deny Him. St. Bernard called it “the beatitude of the martyrs,” but don’t be deceived into thinking it doesn’t apply to each of us. For the word, “martyr”, means “witness.” And we are all called to be witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ. A refusal to do so is, quite simply, a sign of weak faith, a refusal to trust that God will be with us to support and strengthen us.

Because of Jesus’ promises, you and I can believe that all sacrifice and all suffering has value. Leading the Christian life is never easy, and suffering always tests our faith. But we know we can always trust in God’s help, and in his mercy and forgiveness.

We can say, “Thy will be done,” no matter how difficult the circumstances. For God’s will works in bad times and good. It works in ways far beyond our ability to understand, but we can always trust in it.

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

The message of today´s Scripture Readings, particularly the Beatitudes, is that God’s ways are different than the world’s ways. The world has its own understanding about and criteria for achieving happiness; but unfortunately none of them are true and lasting. But the true winners are those who submit to God’s rule in their lives, and those people are not necessarily the ones racking up the most points on society’s scorecards. But to understand this, everything comes down to a question of faith. Do we believe in eternal life? Do we believe in an eternal reward in heaven? The supreme happiness that Christ promises is true and lasting. He will give a joy that no one can take away to the ones who, like him, are willing to embrace the values of the Kingdom: purity, love, justice, peace…

Let us then today pray that as a believer in God and a follower of Christ, we may proclaim the beatitudes with clarity and live them with fidelity, so that we truly become the children of God and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. “Happy is the man who trusts in the Lord!” And this is the Good news of today.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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