26 Jan Is Your Life Blessed?
By Fr. Denis Lemieux
So, how’s your life going? Political pollsters as a sort of bellwether of public sentiment like to ask people the most generic of questions: “Is this country on the right track?” Such a question is seen to often presage a shift in political fortunes for one party or another, one candidate or another.
Well, forget about the country. How about you? Are you on the right track? How’s your life going? In the troubled times we find ourselves in, this question might seem provocative or even a bit impolite.
Between wars, natural disasters, social breakdown, and general civilizational decline manifesting in so many ways, perhaps it is a bit insensitive to ask about such things. “How do you think it’s going, dummy… er… Father!”
The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan 29) should give us pause in how we answer this question. The Gospel is Matthew 5: 1-12, the Beatitudes which begin the Sermon on the Mount and are arguably the very heart of Jesus’ Gospel preaching.
We all know them so well: blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for what is right.
These are part of the spiritual DNA of the Christian, our very baptismal heritage, the way of life of a follower of Jesus Christ. So very familiar to us, and yet so elusive in their meaning.
Take the very word “blessed.” What do we mean when we call someone blessed or say our lives are blessed? So often it seems we understand it in a very subjective and emotional way—an experience of happiness or satisfaction or perhaps closeness to God.
But the word has a very different and deep meaning in its Hebrew antecedent. In the Old Testament (cf. Psalm 1) the word translated as “blessed” is asher, and its root meaning is, indeed, to be on the right track. To have one’s footsteps directed on a path that assuredly leads to a good end.
So how’s your life going, then? Are you on the right track? Or to put it in biblical terms, are you blessed? Because this is what it means to be poor in spirit, mourning, hungry, and all the rest of it. All of this is what it means to be on the right track, to be moving in the right direction.
This is so important for us to really understand and (more importantly) embrace the Beatitudes in our life.
If we think it’s about positive emotional experiences, we are likely to get very discouraged and perhaps doubtful about the whole endeavour.
It doesn’t feel good to be poor, mourning, hungry, persecuted. Peacemaking, mercy, and purity may sound a bit more positive, but they also sound like a lot of hard work with no guarantee of success.
If being blessed means we feel a certain way about things, then the Beatitudes of Christ will always suffer from comparison to the world’s beatitudes: blessed are the rich, the laughing, the full, the popular, the rich, powerful.
We may have just enough wisdom to know that all those worldly promises of beatitude ring a bit false, but gosh—they sure do feel good in the moment!
So we need to get it that biblical beatitude is not about how you’re feeling but about how (and where) your life is going. And even there, we are thrown by the radicality of Christ’s message and called by it to a deep act of faith and trust.
To be poor in spirit—that is, to know your own radical poverty as a creature of God, your incapacity to secure your own life, your utter need for God and for mercy—to live in this place of utter dependence is to be moving in the right direction?
If you are more or less falling apart inside and wondering how you are going to hang on for another day and desperately constantly crying out to God for help and salvation, and someone casually asks you “How’s it going?”, will your answer be “Great! Couldn’t be going better!”?
Because that’s pretty much what Jesus is telling us in the first beatitude. Well, Lord, if you say so … but it takes some believing.
If I had unlimited space for this article, I could run through all eight beatitudes just to muse on how radically the Lord upends our ideas of what it means to be living a good life, what it means to have things go well, what it means to be on the right path. What it means to be blessed.
And of course, in the end it is a sheer matter of faith—either Jesus is truly God and (hence) knows what he is talking about and tells us the truth about these matters, or he is not.
We can, mind you, look around at our normal human world and we do see that a life spent in pursuit of wealth, power, privilege, pleasure may or may not end well for the person, but has in fact created the very world we see all about us—a world of greed, selfishness, breakdown in families and societies.
We may need faith to believe the Lord; we only need a bit of life experience to question the world’s alternatives.
In our world today when so many things do seem according to normal human thinking to be going badly, when we are surrounded on many sides by afflictions and turmoil, perhaps we do well to plunge our minds and hearts anew into the Lord’s beatitudes, to set our feet firmly on that path of Gospel radicality.
If enough of us baptized folk who have these luminous words of Christ in our spiritual DNA did that, perhaps the world’s troubles and afflictions might become just a little less grave. Just maybe, the path of love and mercy will begin to swell in this world and more and more people of good will, will find it and tread it alongside us. It’s worth a try, anyhow.