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The Real Path to Fulfillment
Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Opening Prayer: Dear Lord, I turn to you and to your words in the Gospel because I believe in you. I believe that you want what is best for me and are able to lead and guide me along the path of spiritual growth and true happiness. I am familiar with these words of the Gospel, but I know you always have something more to say to me, and I always need to hear what you have to say. Open my mind and my heart to courageously welcome the grace you want to give me today.
- Christ’s Core Teachings: Today we begin our annual review of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, which St. Matthew presents to us in Chapters 5-7 of his Gospel. Most Biblical scholars agree that what St. Matthew combines into one long sermon is most likely a summary of many different discourses Jesus gave repeatedly throughout the years of his public ministry. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount contains the key lessons Jesus wanted to give through his teaching. He reinforced these lessons through his other activities, especially his miracles and his Passion, as well as through the teaching he gave with parables—most of those appear later in St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Church is so wise to have us go through these core teachings of Our Lord every year as we leave behind the liturgical season of Easter and get back into Ordinary Time. As human beings living in a fallen world, burdened with our own fallen human nature, we constantly need to be reminded of what is essential for Christian living. We need to keep going back to the basics, just like athletes who drill the fundamentals at the beginning of every new training season. How open am I to hear what God wants to say to me in this particular season of my life through these core teachings of Jesus Christ?
- What Jesus Wants for Us: The very first word Jesus uses at the beginning of this summary of his core teachings is “blessed.” The Greek word, makarios, implies a state of being fully and unassailably prosperous. It means the kind of happiness that comes from living life to the full, from having all that we need to feel fully alive. That’s the first word Jesus speaks as he begins revealing his message about Christian living. This means that his most ardent desire for each one of us, for every one of his followers and potential followers, is for us to live life to the full, to discover the path of meaning and fulfillment that we all yearn for. Human history is littered with countless philosophies and religions that have desperately, and unsuccessfully, searched for the secret to the truly happy life. Jesus knows that our deepest desire is precisely that—to live life to the full, to find the meaning we were created to enjoy. By beginning his Sermon on the Mount with the world “blessed,” and by repeating it nine times, he is opening his own heart to us and saying, as St. John the Evangelist puts it later in his Gospel: “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly!” (John 10:10). That’s what Jesus wants for us— everything he taught, did, and lived, was to help us achieve that goal. Is that how I see Our Lord?
- A Counter-Cultural Path: These first verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as the “Beatitudes,” because the word in Latin for “blessed” is “beatus.” Each Beatitude contains a behavior and a reward. Jesus is teaching us that how we choose to behave in this world has consequences. If we choose to behave in harmony with God’s design for human nature, we will experience more and more the meaning and fulfillment we were created to experience. The Beatitudes are the initial presentation of these behaviors, this way of life, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount explains them and illustrates them. And they need to be explained, because they are not popular behaviors from the world’s perspective. So much of our popular culture promotes the contrary behaviors: instead of poverty of spirit, the world invites us to seek happiness in material wealth and popularity; instead of being sorrowful in the face of sin and its horrible consequences, the world invites us to delight in self-indulgence; instead of being merciful, the world invites us to foster revenge and resentment, to put down others and reject them instead of forgiving them. The Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount for that matter, show clearly that being a follower of Christ is a counter-cultural choice that takes courage, self-sacrifice, and perseverance. In other words, it can be hard. But Jesus invites us to “rejoice and be glad” when we experience that difficulty, because it is a sign we are on the right path and moving in the right direction, and that’s what really matters.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, I can hear your voice through these words of the Gospel. I can hear the love and the eagerness with which you reveal this path of a meaningful life. I can see the light in your eyes, a light filled with hope that I will truly listen to your teaching and do my part to put it into practice in my life. But I also know how easy it is for me to let the noise of the world drown out your voice, and to let the glitter of the world obscure the light of your eyes. Help me, Lord, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” for everything that you desire for me. Help me to follow the path of the Beatitudes, the path of true joy and meaning.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will respond to moments of difficulty, sadness, or frustration by calling to mind the first word of your Sermon on the Mount and remembering what it tells me about your desire for my life: “Blessed”—a life lived to the full.
For Further Reflection: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit: A Retreat Guide on the First Beatitude.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC