GOD IN OUR MIDST
The Beatitudes' Promises
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 justice—where 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 God.

"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.

Jesus' Mission

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.

ROBERT 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).

Questions for Reflection:

• What makes you happy? Talk about a time when you experienced great joy.
• Which of the Beatitudes do you find most difficult to appreciate?

Respond to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."

 

FAMILY CORNER
The Gift of Happiness
By Judith Dunlap

When my children were young, every December I would search for the perfect gift for each of them—a 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 never end.

 

For Family Response:

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.

Respond to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

MEDIA WATCH
Harry Potter
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 immortal—and 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?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. 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 women—the Sisters of Charity.

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 later.

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's—and the Church's—most beloved saints. Her feast day is January 4.

Viola Elizondo

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 of Cincinnati.

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 people—friends and neighbors, most of them Mexican-American like herself—who 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."

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

Jesus' Plan for a New World (book)
"Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"Happy Hunger," Youth Update




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