IN OUR MIDST
By Bishop Robert F. Morneau
Who are the happy, fortunate, blessed people? What is the
source of human happiness?
One of the most important and paradoxical sections in all
Scripture is the vision of happiness Jesus gives in his Sermon
on the Mount. In the Gospels of Matthew (5:3-10) and Luke
(6:20-26), Jesus proclaims what blessedness is and makes promises
to those who follow his proclamation. The blessed, the happy,
the fortunate, he tells us, are the poor in spirit, those
who mourn and are merciful, those who seek righteousness and
peace, the ones pure in heart, the persecuted. The promise
that awaits them is God's kingdom!
The Greek word makarios means "blessed" or "happy,"
which implies a certain freedom from anxieties and worries.
In Matthew's Gospel the notion of beatitudes conveys deep
joy flowing from the grace of salvation and the promise of
God's kingdom. The blessed and "successful" people are those
who put on Jesus' mind and heart.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven." In our more honest moments, we recognize our
profound neediness, our intellectual limitations, our spiritual
inadequacy, our moral failures. In our helplessness, we turn
to God. Our response of gratitude and trust, itself a grace,
means that the kingdom of heaven is ours.
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."
The journey of life involves having our heart broken time
and time again. Sometimes this is due to our own sin, sometimes
because of the cruelty of others. Jesus reminds us that the
truth does set us free. Those who are honest about their sorrows
and sins will gain the consolation of the Lord. They will
be comforted and will be given the gift of courage.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land."
God seems to be vulnerable to those who are humble and lowly.
These meek individuals place themselves under the Lordship
of Jesus, striving to emulate him in obedience and submission
to whatever is sent their way. But the meek know that God
is ultimately in control, and they are about doing the divine
will. The great inheritance that will be given is peace. This
is not an earthly inheritance but one that is everlasting.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied." We all have longings: for
meaning, for intimacy, for depth. But one of the deepest is
for justicewhere relationships and life are properly
ordered. Only when rights are protected and promoted, only
when we fulfill our obligations to God and to one another
will we have this hunger and thirst satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
If we give mercy, we shall get mercy. God has been merciful
to us, and we are to pass the gift on to others. A merciless
Christian is a contradiction in terms. Mercy is love in the
face of sin and injury. Mercy is the presence of Jesus in
a wounded and fractured world.
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God."
The pure of heart are those who are not defiled and polluted
by values and attitudes that take us away from God. We know
that our seeing is dependent upon the condition of our hearts.
If pure, we shall see the glory of God and our own as well
as others' dignity.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children
of God." God's peace is the rightness of relationships.
Peace embraces four satellites: truth, charity, freedom and
justice. Peacemakers are instruments of all four of these
graces. When that work is done well, they know themselves
to be blessed because they are truly sons and daughters of
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This Beatitude shows
how radical the message of Jesus is: that persecution and
happiness go together. The true Christian longs to share fully
in the life of Jesus: his life, suffering, death and resurrection.
This is the gateway into the kingdom of heaven.
The mission of Jesus was to take people from the mysteries
of sin and death into the happiness of heaven. The Beatitudes
describe his vision and chart the paths to make that journey.
In the end, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit.
F. MORNEAU is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green
Bay, Wisconsin. He is the author of numerous books, including
Paths to Prayer (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and two
children's books, The Gift and A Tale from Paleface
Creek (Paulist Press).
What makes you happy? Talk about a time when
you experienced great joy.
Which of the Beatitudes do you find most difficult
to this month's Questions for Reflection
from "God in Our Midst."
Gift of Happiness
By Judith Dunlap
When my children were young, every December I would search
for the perfect gift for each of thema gift that would
light up their eyes on Christmas morning. Like every parent,
my greatest delight is seeing my children happy.
Imagine the satisfaction of being able to offer that joy
with something that won't break when it's dropped or go
out of fashion in a few months. That's the kind of happiness
Jesus offers when he talks about the Beatitudes. Indeed,
in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus suggests we can be blessed
with deep happiness in the most unpleasant of circumstances.
What's the secret of this joy, and how can we find it? We
know it doesn't simply come with being poor or persecuted,
meek or mournful. It might, however, be found in the way
we look at and live through each of those situations.
Rich or poor, we all have to endure life's downs as well
as ups. Perhaps the secret to happiness is in our accepting
whatever life has to offer, certain that all will be well
and confident of a happy ending. All will be well because
God is with us to comfort and support us no matter what;
confident in a happy ending because Jesus promised us one
in the next life.
In the months to follow we will look at the individual Beatitudes
and talk about how we can approach each of them to uncover
the blessings they have to offer. In the meantime, you can
help your children get to know Jesus by reading one of the
Gospels from beginning to end. God has a gift for you and
your children that promises a joy beyond Christmas mornings:
faith in Jesus, hope in his promises and a love that will
Have family members draw a picture (stick figures
are fine) of a family time they remember being most
happy. Compare and talk about your pictures.
to this month's FAMILY CORNER.
By Frank Frost
With 116 million copies of the Harry Potter books already
published in 200 languages, the makers of the movie Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone surely felt the pressure
to get it right. Well, they did.
Daniel Radcliffe is perfect as Harry Potter, as are Rupert
Grint as Ron Weasley and Emma Watson as Hermione Granger.
A stellar cast of veterans plays the adult roles, Richard
Harris and Maggie Smith among them. And with the help of
extraordinary special effects, the mood and spirit of Hogwarts
School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is all that we can ask.
True to J.K. Rowling's book, Harry Potter is the
story of a mistreated orphan who becomes empowered when
he is invited to discover and develop his own special gifts.
Director Chris Columbus's deft telling of the Rowling story
should be a matter of rejoicing for all of us who long for
our culture to reflect traditional values. Wrapped in a
good adventure yarn and the magical world of ghosts and
goblins, witches and wizards and tons of cool stuff like
hundreds of owls delivering mail and castle stairs moving
and the game of Quidditch, this Harry Potter tale
bears a host of life lessons about fairness, loyalty, goodness
in the face of evil and self-giving love.
From the time he is rescued from the imprisonment he suffered
at the hands of the Dursleys and discovers he is famous
in the world of wizards, Harry Potter must withstand a series
of tests. These include standing up for his friends to overcome
a giant troll and winning the school Quidditch match in
spite of a curse upon him.
But most important, he soon discovers that his own life
is in danger from the evil wizard Voldemort, the same wizard
who killed his parents and left the infant Harry with a
jagged scar on his forehead. Voldemort snuffed out most
of his own life-force in the process and now is in search
of the Sorcerer's Stone, which produces an elixir of life
that makes the drinker immortaland in this case will
make evil invincible. Keeping the stone out of Voldemort's
possession will be Harry's greatest test.
He cannot succeed without the help of Hermione's book learning
and Ron's mastery of chess. But the key is in his own self.
When at last he must face Voldemort, he discovers that he
has taken possession of the Sorcerer's Stone because of
what he sees reflected in a magic mirror, a mirror that
"shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate
desire of our hearts." What is in Harry's heart is not the
desire to use the Sorcerer's Stone for himself, but rather
a love so strong it overcomes evil. A love, Professor Dumbledore
tells him, he received from his mother who sacrificed her
life so Harry would live.
To face down evil with courage and love: What more can we
ask of a movie hero today?
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)
Almost every story about Elizabeth Ann Seton begins predictably:
She is the first native-born North American saint. She opened
the first American parish school. She founded the first
American religious community for womenthe Sisters
After that, however, the story can take any number of directions.
It could speak of her distinguished colonial family and
the lessons in prayer and compassion learned at her beloved
father's knee. It might mention her early interest in working
with the sick and poor, particularly women and children.
It could highlight her marriage at 19 to William Magee Seton,
the son of a wealthy shipping merchant who lost his fortune
six years into their marriage, then his life three years
The story of Elizabeth Bayley Seton could deal with her
determination as the widowed mother of five to keep her
young family together. It might highlight the courage behind
her conversion to Catholicism, a decision that offended
her Episcopalian family members and resulted in personal
and financial ostracism by friends and relatives horrified
that she was now associating with working-class immigrants.
But these pieces make up only part of the tapestry of Elizabeth
Ann Bayley Seton's life. Her major contributions to the
Church came when the young widow opened a school for girls
in Baltimore and, a short time later, organized a group
of like-minded women into a congregation of women religious
that thrives to this day.
When Mother Seton was born, the United States was not yet
a nation. Today she is one of America'sand the Church'smost
beloved saints. Her feast day is January 4.
Viola Elizondo won't be joining the religious community
founded by Elizabeth Ann Seton, but she is utterly drawn
to her charism. "Elizabeth Seton has a strong hold on my
prayer life and my world," says Ms. Elizondo, a longtime
member of the Associate Program of the Sisters of Charity
She first became aware of Elizabeth Seton in 1975, when
her mother witnessed the saint's canonization ceremony in
Rome and returned to talk about her amazing life and legacy.
As years passed, she met contemporary followers of the saint,
beginning with Sister of Charity Anne D. Wojtowicz, now
her closest friend. In her she found a woman religious "who
was down to earth, very much a part of the world, had a
strong prayer life and knew who she was"qualities
Elizabeth Seton herself possessed.
As the chief executive officer of the Weslaco Catholic Federal
Credit Union in Texas, Ms. Elizondo lives in a world Elizabeth
Seton would be comfortable with. She works daily with peoplefriends
and neighbors, most of them Mexican-American like herselfwho
struggle to get on firm financial footing. Often they do
not qualify for bank services, have no credit, cannot get
loans and live from paycheck to paycheck.
"We tell them there are alternatives," says Ms. Elizondo,
56, who is proud to live in the same barrio where she grew
up in Weslaco. Drawing on her bachelor's in psychology and
her master's in religious community development, she reminds
the 2,000+ credit union members that people of small means
can learn to handle money wisely.
"In my job I try to bring out the best in people and bring
justice to a world that does not value it."
products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan
Plan for a New World (book)
on the Mount" (audiocassette)
Hunger," Youth Update