Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blessed Are the Poor In Spirit


Humility is one of the most important virtues of our faith because it enables us to put God’s will first in our lives.  Pride, on the other hand, has a way of making our own wills more important than God’s.  Zephaniah the prophet spoke to the Jewish people encouraging them to put aside the pagan religious practices they embraced during their time of exile.  The Jewish people intermarried with pagans and they lost their identity which was rooted in the covenant relationship they shared with God.  They had become complacent, overly comfortable with foreign ways of worshiping false idols. 

St. Paul admonished the members of the Christian Church in Corinth to seek greater unity in their faith.  The community was divided into different camps that had their own evangelical heroes.  Each group thought they were smarter and better than the others.  Saint Paul said that none of them were all that important or wise before they were baptized, and they were acting quite foolishly after they were baptized.   He said that God chooses weak and lowly people because they boast in God who is the Lord of their lives.  Instead they were boasting about how great their own little groups were, while they hated the rest of their brothers and sisters in the faith.

Human nature does not seem to have changed much.  We so easily fall into the understanding that we are better off living our lives in our own ways; worshiping our own idols and gods, seeing our own wills and desires as more important than God’s will.  We do this in our pride because that’s what seems to make the most sense.  It seems much more logical to trust ourselves because of what we can see, feel and do with our lives.  We so easily trust our own rules for living, our own sense of morality and our quest for enrichment, happiness and contentment over the peace of salvation Christ offers us. 

Steve and Pat were married in 1973, two years after Steve returned from Viet Nam.  They were married in the Catholic Church because they were baptized Catholics.  However, neither of them had been practicing the faith. They didn’t feel they needed the Church.  Nor did they feel the Church needed them. 

They worked hard to keep their marriage strong, though, and that was a challenge because Steve had terrible bouts with depression and anxiety caused by what he experienced in Viet Nam.  He had painful nightmares.  There were times when he would be filled with uncontrollable and inconsolable rage.  He would lash out at Pat and the children with harsh, abusive language.  Ultimately, Pat would send him to a psychiatrist who helped him with medications and therapy.

These episodes always caused tremendous anguish in Pat’s life.  There were times when his irrational temper was so abusive she was convinced that she could never love him again, and she doubted that he ever loved her.  One lonely night after a very bad fight, Steve went to the basement to be alone, and Pat just sat at the dining room table with a copy of the liturgy aid they used for their wedding Mass.  She saw that the gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, the Beatitudes.  She found a Bible and read the words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

For years Pat had seen her marriage as a living hell.  She was resigned to the fact that she and Steve were cursed by God.  But she saw in those words, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” a promise that gave her a glimmer of hope.  She saw, for the very first time, that her life was not hell, but it was, rather, a kind of poverty; a sense of homelessness, loneliness, a hunger for peace, a brokenness that only God’s love could heal.  After years of being away from the Church she started going to Mass again.  About a year later, Steve started going with her, then their nearly grown children started going too and they went as a family.  No miracles were performed, they still struggle through difficult times, but they work through them more effectively now.  Their faith has given them a better sense of direction in the difficult times.  It has strengthened and nourished them in the good times.  They see themselves as living in the kingdom even in their poverty.

We see poverty as a curse because those who are poor suffer so much.  But sometimes poverty can actually bring us to that sense of humility that enables us find our peace in God’s love which is so powerfully expressed in our love for each other, and in the love of Christ.  It is in our lowliness that we find comfort, support and unity in each other.  We all have a place in the Kingdom of God, the Church in the world.  We need each other, we are to love one another in such a way that we can build up the Christian community.

The Beatitudes teach us that in our lowliness, our humility and even our poverty we are truly blessed by God.  It may not always seem to make a lot of sense to us, but placing God’s will first reveals the beauty of our lives in his eternal kingdom.

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