Last week the stomach flu swept through our house. With the exception of Diane, we all fell victim to it. I felt it coming on Saturday evening and by Sunday I found myself immersed in total misery. At one point or another, I’m sure you all have succumbed to the stomach flu and you know just how dreadful the experience can be so I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, lying in bed, feeling like death, and in between sprints to the bathroom, I sought to lighten the mood with a little humor. So I called to Diane who was down the hall. I said, “Diane, would you please bring me a pad of paper and a pen?” She said, “Why do you need paper and a pen?” I said, “I’m thinking that I should probably get to work on my obituary.” Giving my exaggeration the acknowledgement that it deserved, she said, “Could you possibly be more dramatic?”
I share this exchange with you today not only because of its amusing nature but also because, as I thought about it later, I did actually think to myself at one point this week, what would my obituary look like. Hopefully it won’t be written for another 50 years, but still its contents bear consideration. My Irish brother in law refers to the obituaries as the Irish sports page. And he will, on occasion, comment on countless many he has read. We’ve often joked about the words or images that our love ones would use to describe the completeness of our lives. What would our family, friends, neighbors, or coworkers say about us? This last point leads me to today’s Gospel. The beatitudes, as they are commonly known, lay out for us the framework for leading, what can only be described as a perfect life.
“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” The poor in spirit are those who have come to a point in their lives where they truly seek to be close to God. They have an attraction to God that can’t be explained or rationalized. This desire can only be satisfied by taking steps towards strengthening their own union with God.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean those who are sad or in pain. Rather, Jesus refers to those who grieve the distance between themselves and God. They weep because they have come to the understanding that they cannot achieve a sense of holiness on their own and need the boundless mercy afforded by God and modeled by Jesus.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Humility is a great thing; being aware of our own short coming, our faults, our weaknesses, our temptations. To carry this awareness as we approach our daily lives, grounds us and brings forth our true and authentic selves. Scripture tells us that God will not turn away a true and contrite heart.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” To hunger and thirst for righteousness, within ourselves, is to strive for holiness. It means that we seek a moral conformity to the character of God. Through prayer, reflection, active participation in the sacraments, we seek the Godly counsel which will direct our lives.
“Blessed are the merciful, they will be shown mercy.” To always be patient, kind and loving. To constantly be forgiving and empathetic. To consistently be accepting and understanding of others. These are the traits that define the merciful. These are the gifts that the merciful share with total abandon. The merciful are moved by compassion. They remain restless until the goodness in their heart has been emptied and the serenity of knowing they have shared in God’s will is all that remains.
“Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Try as we may none of us here are free from sin. We’ve all at one point given into temptation. Whatever it may have been, large or small, we’ve all sinned. When we sin, we create distance between us and God. The more we fight off temptation and the less we sin, we experience God. In part because we are allowing the Holy Spirit within us to strengthen us and fill us with the courage and determination we need to turn away from sinfulness and towards God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Now more than ever the voice of the peacemaker is being drowned out by the screams of division. I don’t ever recall living in a time with so much contention and discord. The divisions between religious, political, socio-economic, and racial lines are growing and walls of hate, animosity, intolerance, and bigotry are being erected as their monument. Our socio economic standing, our nationality, our race or even our political affiliation, DO NOT define who we are. Our openness to let God’s goodness flow through us, our wiliness to walk along God’s path with Christ as our guide should define who we are.
“Blessed are the persecuted.” Often times the voice that references Christ’s call to be understanding and tolerant, or just plain kind is scoffed at or ridiculed. I’ve heard it called old fashioned and out of touch. I’ve seen it openly belittled and insulted. I’ve experienced our Catholic traditions mocked and laughed at. We’ve all read recent accounts of people being slaughtered for clinging to their Christian faith. Persecution comes in many forms. But our response to persecution should never take the form of an attack. We simply need to gaze upon the crucifix hanging in this church to see Christ’s response to persecution.
Our time on earth is temporary. The impact we make can affect generations. Just what we choose that impact to be is a direct result of the way we choose to live our lives. Christ modeled for us perfect love and sacrifice. Through the Beatitudes he provides a way for us follow his example.
All the Beatitudes pronounce “blessed” are those who abandon control over their lives to the God who loves them in the core of their being. This pattern is necessary for us to grow just as it was for Jesus. At the Eucharist we give thanks by communing with Christ’s sacrificial death only to have God raise him and send his Spirit into us to have this pattern repeated in us.