Spirituality of the Readings
Happy Are You
“The glass is either half empty …
… or broken,” said a discouraged detective in one of Jonathan Kellermann’s mystery novels.
The beatitudes Jesus proclaims this Sunday seem for all the world like the broken option. Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced. Are these really beatitudes?
What is a beatitude supposed to be, anyway?
They were an ancient formula for encouraging people to do good. For instance, in this week’s Responsorial Psalm, which is the first psalm in the bible, we read, “Blessed is the one who does not take the wicked for his guide, nor walks the road that sinners tread.”
And Psalm 41 says, “Happy those concerned for the lowly and poor; when misfortune strikes, the Lord delivers them. … ” Jeremiah 17 has “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord . . , he is like a tree planted [next to] water that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green.”
Beatitudes are numerous and beautiful in the Old Testament. They all say this: if you do a particular thing, you will receive blessings. Beatitudes were consolations, helping their hearers to be good persons.
But Jesus seems to have reversed the idea. Blessed are you if you do the deed of suffering.
Wait, Lord, what do you mean? I am supposed to seek to be penniless and sorrowful and in pain? Why would you want me to be in such a terrible state?
There have been many opinions on this. But your author has his own guess.
A person has to be open and empty in order to let God and others come in. If we want to love and be loved we need to have space at the center of who we are. And then goodness will come in.
Consider a rich person who “has everything.” Isn’t he tempted to let his possessions define who he is? “Attack my property and you attack me,” he might say. Possessions become an “instead of.” Instead of love I choose something more stable [so it looks]: cars or boats or corporations or just plain power. Instead of eating only what I need, each North American who goes to a restaurant can eat enough for five people! Would you like another order of French fries, the waiter asks after we have already finished a steak the size of a serving plate and a quadruple order of fries.
Yet the principle running through all the beatitudes is this: you are blessed if you don’t cram yourself full. Full of food, drink, pride, drugs, fame, sex, visits to the beach, stunning hair-do’s, flattest abs, shiny teeth, fast cars, every kind of wealth, and of course reputation. Instead, blessed are you if you stay empty, if you become a spacious home for God, for other human beings, for the long-suffering earth.
We are built to be quiet receivers, people who know they are empty and yet are patient. There is only one reality, only one Being who can give us the bread of life, who can satisfy our deep hunger for love. Don’t you want to welcome it into your soul instead of flying around at fastest pace having fun fun fun?
Blessed are you if you let go into his arms.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University