Today’s readings teach us that true happiness, or beatitude, lies in the awareness that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father and that we will be happy only when we share our blessings with our brothers and sisters in need, and when we work to uplift them, thus declaring our “option for the poor,” as Jesus did. Contrary to the popular belief, wealth, health, power, and influence are not the sources of true happiness. The word “beatitude” means “blessedness” in a double sense: both enjoying God’s favour and enjoying true or supreme happiness.
In the first reading, Jeremiah tells us that true happiness consists in our placing our trust in God and in putting our trust in His promises. The Responsorial Psalm finds beatitude in keeping God’s Law. In the second reading St. Paul warns us that true beatitude is obtainable only in Heaven, and that Christ’s Resurrection gives us our assurance of reaching Heaven for an everlasting life of happiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples in the paradoxical blessedness of poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution. “Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted and denounced,” because in poverty, we recognize our dependence on God; in hunger, God’s providence; in sorrow for sins, reconciliation with God; and in persecution, the true joy of standing for the Faith with heroic convictions. What makes one blessed is not simply poverty or hunger or sadness or suffering for the Faith but living these in the context of one’s commitment to Jesus and his spirit of sharing. Beatitudes consist in humble selflessness and compassionate, generous sharing of our blessings with the needy. The beatitudes must be understood as eschatological statements which see and evaluate the present in terms of the future glory and everlasting happiness.
Today’s Gospel reading clearly outlines the reality of following Jesus as being completely at odds with what society values as important. Jesus brought a message of hope to those who were not valued by the rest of society. He told them that their lives had meaning and that they were blessed and loved. We have always had the poor and we always will. It would be wonderful to believe that one day poverty can be eradicated, but the reality is that today there are millions who go hungry every day, who live in substandard housing or are homeless, and who are denied the basic human right of education.
Jesus spoke out against injustice and inequality. It’s on every page in the Gospels. Jesus challenged the authorities of his day and spoke of the way to true happiness. His message was too much, and it led to His crucifixion and death, and the triumph of the Resurrection. This is the essence of our faith.
Some may say that if the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, and the hated are all blessed, then why should anyone attempt to help them improve their lot? The answer is that there is a difference between choosing poverty and being plunged into it without one’s choice, due to an unjust socio-political situation. There are a few, only a few, saints, like Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) who freely chose the sufferings and hardships that poverty brings. That is not what the Beatitude suggests, nor what Jesus asks of most of us. It is true that we are unable to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth. But we can help, either directly or by working with others for our poor brothers and sisters, to improve their living conditions and education, so that they may choose to free themselves from the poverty thrust upon them by greedy exploiters. Luke’s account offers the rich the Good News that their salvation lies in their concern for the poor and in the good stewardship of sharing their goods with others in need. But the rich among us remain cursed if they remain unwilling to share their surplus with the needy. In short, in the Beatitudes, Jesus envisions a society where the resources which belong to all are divided among all according to need, making everyone blessed and happy.
The challenge of the beatitudes is: “Are you going to be happy in the world’s way or in Christ’s way?” If we choose the world’s way, we are seeking our blessings in the wrong place.