Blessed are the Cursed
Gospel Reflection for January 30, 2023 - Mt 5:1-12
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him.
And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake:
Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. (Mt 5:1-12 DRA)
The readings for this Sunday, culminating in Our Lord’s Beatitudes, reveal the very heart of God and the central message of the Gospel: true love is sacrificial. For all of us, whenever we experience pain or discomfort, our automatic response is resistance. Pain indicates something is wrong, that something needs to be fixed or fought. The body on its own cannot interpret pain in any other way. However, through the discipline of the intellect and will, we can teach our body that sometimes pain is the only means to a greater good. Children learn this when they have to take medicine that is gross or invasive; at first they fight it, but guided by their parents, they soon realize that the pain was necessary for their healing.
Yet this is not the highest meaning of suffering. The value of suffering is not merely in pain, which of itself is an evil. God is not a sadist who simply enjoys torturing us. Rather, He knows what true love is: charity, precisely because, as St. John wrote, “God is charity.” (1 Jn 4:8) Charity is more than emotional affection, familiarity or pleasure. Charity is the emptying of self for the good of the other. And true charity thus requires sacrifice. However, we cannot love God with charity, since He deserves our love; thus, to be truly like Him in perfect charity, God gave us our neighbors whom we can love as God loves us, as Christ revealed to St. Catherine of Siena:
All the love which you have for Me you owe to Me, so that it is not of grace that you love Me, but because you ought to do so. While I love you of grace, and not because I owe you My love. Therefore to Me, in person, you cannot repay the love which I require of you, and I have placed you in the midst of your fellows, that you may do to them that which you cannot do to Me, that is to say, that you may love your neighbor of free grace, without expecting any return from him, and what you do to him, I count as done to Me. (The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena)
After hearing the readings for this week, a common question will arise: how can Scripture describe God feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind and thwarting the wicked as in the Psalm when there is so much tragedy in this world and evildoers often go unpunished? Jesus Christ gives – and is – the answer. Although in the End Times God will ultimately thwart the wicked and eternally shelter the just, even now, those who love God are victorious while His enemies are defeated. Despite their riches, safety, health and worldly pleasures, the wicked lack the goal of all human action, the final end which everyone seeks: happiness in God. On the other hand, while those who love God, like Job, may be afflicted with illness, poverty, persecution and death, which the Old Testament described as curses,1 (Dt 28) deprived of every earthly comfort, their very pains are the sacrifices which unite them to Christ on the Cross and thus ensure their resurrection to eternal life in Him. As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote,
If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil – historically considered. But the historical version is, of course, not the only one. All things and deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their ‘causes’ and ‘effects’. No man can estimate what is really happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labours with vast power and perpetual success – in vain: preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in. (Letter 64)
Cf. Brant Pitre, “The Beatitudes: Paradoxical Promises of the New Covenant,” at YouTube, www.youtube.com.