During our trip to the Holy Land last November one of the places we visited was the Mount of the Beatitudes. Our guide told us this was a place of quiet and reflection and suggested each of us find a spot and spend some time in peace and quiet. From this mount we could look down over green fields and on the Sea of Galilee. The place was packed by other pilgrims, everyone was taking pictures, and there was a cacophony of different languages as guides explained the importance of the Mount. The church was not all that impressive. It didn’t take long to realize this was not a place of solitude; in fact it was rather noisy. The lasting memory I have of the Mount was meeting a nun from Malta who was a friend of our guide. This nun asked us to pray that her superior in Malta would send her more sisters to help her in her work of hosting the many pilgrims who came to this special place. Right after Christmas we got word that this nun and two of her assistants were killed in an automobile accident while on their way to midnight Mass in Bethlehem. Having heard this gospel and with my memories of my visit to the Mount of the Beatitudes last November I ask you to pray for these good Sisters and pray too that the important work they did on the Mount of the Beatitudes will continue.
We’ve heard today’s beatitudes so many times – we’ve heard that these beatitudes are at the very heart of what it means to live a Christ-like life. And always there’s that little voice within us that says – easy for you to say, sure they sound great but just try living them in this dog-eat-dog world I live in. Just try living them in the daily grind of my life where I have to live and work with people who are pushy and impossible. Just try living them working for a boss you don’t like and can’t trust. Just try living them when you’re living through a separation or divorce that’s loaded with anger and resentment. Just try living them when you’re dealing with the humiliation of losing a job. Just try living them while you’re grieving the death of someone you love. Just try living them when you’re dealing with disrespectful, rebellious teenagers. Just try living them when your parents don’t listen to you and don’t care what you think or how you feel. Just try living them when old age is robbing you of independence and mobility. Just try living them when it’s just so hard to keep your head above water. Get real.
There is an author named J.B. Philips who wrote a version of the beatitudes which come closer to the reality of our lives; “Happy are the pushers, for they get on in the world. Happy are the hardboiled for they never let life hurt them. Happy are they who complain, for they get their own way. Happy are the blasé, for they never have to worry about their sins. Happy are the slave drivers, for they get results. Happy are the knowledgeable of the world, for they know their way around. Happy are the well connected for they get ahead.”
There is another way of hearing the Beatitudes we can consider. Have you ever received a Birthday card with a picture of Bill Clinton on it and the wording, “I feel your pain?” It’s a funny card but the message is important. It is, I know how you feel, and I know what you’re going through. I know how you feel can be an exercise in empathy, compassion and understanding of another’s situation. It’s a way of saying, “I’m with you, you are not alone.”
There are different translations for the word ‘blessed’ in today’s gospel. One of them is: ‘of the blessedness of those who know what it is like to be poor in spirit.’ Oh the blessedness of those who know the pain of those who mourn. Oh the blessedness of those who admire people who are not puffed up with a sense of their own importance. Oh the blessedness of those who know what it is like to hunger and thirst for justice and fairness in life. Oh the blessedness of those who appreciate people of integrity. Oh the blessedness of those who are one with men and women who are willing to put anger and division behind them and reach out to reconciliation and peace. Oh the blessedness of those who can honestly say, I feel your pain, I share you joy, I understand.
If we can come to such a sense of empathy, compassion and understanding to which the Beatitudes call us, we will be better prepared to meet and sustain Christ as we meet him in others. Blessed with such blessedness we are willing to feed him when we find him hungry, give him drink when we find him thirsty, clothe him when we meet him naked, be there when he is sick or in prison. Blessed with such blessedness we feel another’s pain and we are with them in the joys and sorrows of their lives.
It is in trying to live these beatitudes, having an empathy for the joys and pains of those around us that we truly live out the opening prayer of today’s Mass: “help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all others as you love them.”