This reflection is based on Matthew 5:1-12 on the occasion of the Solemnity of All Saints.
Trust the Lord Jesus to bless the very people the world considers cursed. Let’s run down the Beatitudes, and ask yourself which ones you would like to be.
- the poor in spirit
- the mourners
- the meek
- those who seek justice
- the merciful
- the pure of heart
- the peacemakers, and
- the persecuted.
These are hardly the people we would normally consider blessed, not to mention aspire to become! Yes, there are some “nice guys” on that list (#3 to 7, for example), but remember what they say about nice guys finishing last? It would seem, therefore, that the Beatitudes is nothing more than the Lord expressing his compassion for the faint-hearted, the downtrodden, and–to put it bluntly–the losers of the world.
But to do so is to misread the Beatitudes. In this excerpt from her poem “Who the Meek Are Not,” Mary Karr talks about this misunderstanding.
My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.
In other words, contrary to what we usually imagine, the meekness exalted in the Beatitudes is not so much characterized by timidity or faint-heartedness. Far from these stereotypes, it is, in fact, defined by a surrendering of one’s will to its master’s. The meek that our Lord blesses are people who have a passionate commitment to obeying the Father’s Will. Certainly not for the fainthearted and downtrodden, the meekness of the Beatitudes refers to those who, like the mighty stallion, are ready to race forward to do whatever their Master bids them.
I have to confess that after Mary Karr’s poem, I never read the Beatitudes the same way again. As it turns out, every single blessing uttered by our Lord in the Beatitudes is not, when you think about it, intended for the timid and the faint-hearted. The Lord speaks of them with his characteristic compassion in many other passages, but here in the Beatitudes, his blessings are reserved for those who have the courage and the passion to do what they are called to do, and who are willing to suffer for it.
Fr. Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who has for many years been working with gangs in Los Angeles, describes the Beatitudes not so much as a spirituality, but a geography because it tells us where we should stand. Far from a merely pious expression of sympathy for the oppressed and downtrodden, the Beatitudes is a call to arms, inviting each one of us to ask ourselves if we have the courage, the passion, and the endurance to stand with the oppressed and downtrodden.
As we commemorate all the saints and blessed today, both named and unnamed, let us recall that they are the personifications of the Beatitudes. Far from the stampita stereotype of the timid and unassertive, eyes turned heavenward, they were, in fact, a bunch of daring and passionate men and women whose eyes were always focused on their cross-bearing Master.
So the obvious question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we have the guts to live so that we receive these special blessings from the Lord?
8 replies on “NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED”
Good to hear from you again,Fr. J. Thanks for the reflection.
Welcome back, Father J. I missed your Sunday reflections! To keep “in touch” during your absence, I read your reflections in October last year. The challenges you pose keep me focused. Let me share an anecdote. After mass yesterday, my husband declared that he was blessed! Because, he said, everyday he was being persecuted. By me! But really, our case is one of bilateral persecution. So, we keep each other blessed! Thank God.
Thank you for being now back among us. Your original reading of the Beatitudes is welcome in a chaotic world environment which is threatening not only humanity but all life on earth. In his encyclical “Laudato si” Pope Francis launches with great force a cry of alarm which is both a call for critical vigilance and an invitation to engage action
In this context that challenges every person of good will to rethink his lifestyle, your interpretation of the Beatitudes is bright. It is a strong invitation to engage us in action with courage, passion, generosity and determination to stand up on the side of the downtrodden. Therefore on the side of life, on the side of the earth that God entrusted us to prosper it whereas our economic system is in the process of transforming it into a huge garbage dump. Yes ! Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. But they will continue to be meek and humble in their efforts to establish justice without which no peace is possible. And, refusing to use any violence, they should be aware that they will probably have to suffer painful consequences as they will be insulted and persecuted.
And in conclusion you are asking us insistently. Will we have the courage to commit ourselves in this demanding and possible painful way ?
Another question arises from the reading of the Beatitudes. How should we interpret the first of the Beatitudes declaring “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. And how do we reconcile the two dimensions of spiritual and material poverty whereas the growing inequality of wealth distribution, rush more and more people into extreme poverty? Should it call this not more accurately misery? Can we honestly believe that those who are sitting on mountains of wealth can be poor in spirit? And how can we believe that those who are living destitute circumstances, who daily struggle to find a little food and for simply survive, have time and patience, to be poor in spirit, to be anawin, to be humble?
On this subject, Majid RAHNEMA (1) says in his book “When misery hunting poverty”: “The misery expresses on the one hand, the extreme and intolerable nature of the adversities that can threaten from the outside, a particular person, on the other hand the possibilities and limits of the resistances that may oppose from within himself the same person. It results from a ruthless spiral of external factors that sometimes breaks the poor both in his body and in his soul, sometimes corrupts and destroys his personality. ”
In his encyclical, Pope Francis encourages to follow a kind of material poverty that he designates as the happy sobriety, “one poverty that allows us to stop and appreciate what is small, to thank the possibilities that life offers, without focus us on what we have or make us sad on what we do not possess. This implies avoiding the dynamics of domination and accumulation of simple pleasures.”
I translated your homily in French and I wish to issue it on December 2015 in our newsletter.
Thank you wholeheartedly
PS:I hope my English is not too bad
(1)Who is majid RAHNEMA?
Hi Fr J, welcome back, and thanks for sharing this fresh insight on what the Beatitudes are really all about. Only with His grace can we find the guts needed. Please help me pray for that.
Welcome back Father Johnny!
Welcome back, Father J! We pray for courage to be meek and compassionate as Jesus teaches us, not to be righteous and arrogant. We need strength of mind, body and spirit to constantly remember to look up (at Jesus) not sideways (at other people) in order to gain a nod from Him. Everyome wants to go to heaven, but the way is hard and challenging. Thank you for your insights that guide and lead us to our Lord.
Fr Johnny, welcome back to the real world. I hope your retreat cleared many cobwebs.
Thank you for the new definition of “meek”, because it gives me a chance to be considered as one. This article is mind-changing.