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RCIA – 6th Sunday Ordinary Time – The Beatitudes

February 14, 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Blessings and Curses

Opening Prayer: Lord, God, you promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to know how we are to live, to be faithful to your word made known through Jesus Christ, and to always live in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Gospel – Luke 6:17, 20-26

Have you ever had an experience of being ostracized, insulted, rejected, or misunderstood? Describe the experience. What feelings did you have at the time? How was the experience resolved?

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Was there anything in the scriptures you heard today that is still unclear? What new understandings did you gain from reflecting on the gospel? Was there anything in the liturgy that struck you or perplexed you?

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Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, Luke 6:12-49. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is equivalent to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:29). Both of these sermons contain the “beatitudes” (Luke 6:20-26 and Matt. 5:3-12), promised blessings if we do good in the eyes of the Lord. The two versions of the beatitudes are similar but different. Luke’s version is more direct and immediate than Matthew: no mention of “poor in spirit” here; it is the poor who are blessed. No hungering for righteousness; it is those who are hungry who will be filled. Notable also are the reversals that are promised: those undergoing trials now will be blessed later. The addition of corresponding woes further highlights the notion of a future of blessedness which awaits Jesus’ disciples. In Luke, the sermon is preached to the disciples, not the crowd as a whole, thus placing added emphasis on Luke’s concern with the theme of discipleship, its requirements and its rewards. For the Christian community of Luke, already struggling for survival in the era of persecutions, these works of reassurance were critical. Not only would their ultimate fate involve a reversal of fortunes; they would enjoy a blessedness that more than compensated for their present sufferings.

We can connect our own lives to the scriptures. Think about how sometimes your faith in God’s presence is challenged, “When people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.” Faithfulness to God or even to our commitment to the church is challenged in the workplace, by our neighborhoods, by a family member or even from within ourselves. How have you been challenged or rejected for your faith?

What do you need in your life or from this community to live faithfully and trusting in God?

Today’s reading from Luke represents Jesus’ initial preaching. We have previously witnessed his baptism, and the return to his home town of Nazareth. It was in the local synagogue that Jesus gave us indications of what his ministry would be like and of what he stood for as a person. He did not identify himself with the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. He did not identify himself with the Zealots who sought to overthrow the Roman government with military power. Rather, Jesus identified himself with the poor, the sick, the outcasts of society. In today’s gospel, he makes it even more clear that the reign of God will be open to all who are poor.

Scripture scholars often analyze the Beatitudes and question the meaning of this word, poor. Does it mean that the wealthy are not welcome in the reign of God? Isn’t that a form of reverse discrimination? Would God actually exclude someone because he was materially rich?

Perhaps this was Jesus’ way of saying that the reign of God is not limited to an in group, but that it is open to all who seek salvation. The poor cannot choose to be rich, but the rich can choose to become poor – poor in the sense that they acknowledge the need for salvation. God’s fulfillment of the promise of salvation in Jesus is an invitation for all human beings to become the poor of God. The rich are those who do not wish to commit to Jesus. They are happy for things to remain as they are; they are comfortable, and do not wish to be reminded of those who are not. Membership in the poor of God is not dependent on social class, but upon willingness to become disciples of Jesus.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not just a verbal commitment, however. It requires action, and the action that is demanded is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable. It is often said that the Jewish prophets came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So it was with Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus never condemned the wealthy. What he criticized was their unwillingness to share their material blessings. If participation in the reign of God were limited to the very lowest social class, probably few of us would be included. It is up to us, therefore, to include ourselves – by our actions, by our solidarity with the suffering and marginalized, by our acknowledgement that each member of the human family is in need of salvation.

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Some extended comments and comparisons to Matthew’s beatitudes

“Truly blessed poverty of spirit is to be found more in humility of heart than in a mere privation of everyday possessions, and it consists more in the renunciation of pride than in a mere contempt for property.”  — Blessed Guerric of Igny (+ 1157)

“You cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions” ~St. John Vianney †

In Matthew’s beatitudes Jesus teaches ”Blessed are the clean (pure) of heart, for they will see God.” In Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette’s book, The Gift of Simplicity, Heart-Mind-Body-Soul, he equates pure with simple. He then goes on to say “When Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure of heart,’ he implied a much broader meaning for the word ‘pure.’ He suggested a wholesomeness, a single-minded orientation towards God and neighbor – an uncluttered heart, free to seek God’s pleasure in all things. This simplicity of heart allows us to remain centered in God alone. For these people, not surprisingly, he promised: ‘… they shall see God’.”

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Prayer – Rite of Blessing

God our Father, you have sent your only Son, Jesus Christ, to free the world from falsehood. Give to your catechumens and candidates fullness of understanding, unwavering faith, and a firm grasp of your truth. Let them grow ever stronger in faith, and give them the courage to profess their faith. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Our Vocation to Beatitude

Name one thing that makes you happy.

Today’s readings offer to us both consolation and challenge. Offering consolation the readings remind us that even in the midst of chaos and trial God is present to us. The challenge is to rely on God alone.

The 1st Reading – Jeremiah 17:5-8

Today’s readings convey a subtle difference between the faith in the old Covenant and the faith in the new. Our reading from Jeremiah gives the sense that those who are faithful are rewarded in this life, while both the gospel reading and the epistle tell us that a Christian’s faith testifies to existence beyond earthly life.

The blessings and curses that we find in the first reading are an adaptation of the form once common to covenants between nations. If one was faithful to the agreement, there were certain advantages that one could expect; if one broke the covenant, there were punishments that would be inflicted. Today’s reading lists the blessings and curses that accompanied the Covenant between Yahweh and the chosen people. The Israelites, as all other Near Eastern tribes, believed that God controlled all forces, both natural and human. If a drought afflicted the land, or if an invading army enslaved the people, that was Yahweh’s punishment for the people’s idolatry or some other failing; if a battle was won or a harvest was plentiful, that was Yahweh’s blessing for their faithfulness. The people believed that to live in right relationship with Yahweh guaranteed long life, the birth of many children, good health, plentiful crops and healthy animals. The opposite would afflict the unfaithful. Whatever the relationship with Yahweh, be it good or bad, it was rewarded or punished in this life.

Paul moves us beyond contemplation of earthly life when he says: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” And certainly, when Jesus calls the poor blessed and promises laughter to the sorrowing (Lk 6:20,21), he departs from the Jewish understanding that the faithful would be rich and happy. Material gains and comfortable lifestyles had been signs of God’s blessing. Jesus turned the tables: God’s blessing now rests upon the marginalized.

Jeremiah’s two-stanza poem lays out what constitutes true wisdom. The formula is quite simple: put your faith in God, letting God be your hope, your source of nourishment. Those who do this are “blessed.”

The prophet Jeremiah preached at a point of great moral decay in the Jewish people’s history, warning them of impending disaster if they did not repent of their sins and renew their fidelity to the covenant with Yahweh. Of particular concern to Jeremiah was the manner in which the kings of Israel were making alliances with various pagan nations. In Jeremiah’s eyes, seeking security through reliance on the military might of their neighbors was tantamount to placing faith in the pagan gods of those nations. Today’s reading reflects a rhetorical style typical of wisdom sayings, in which blessings and curses are juxtaposed to emphasize the only viable path to true happiness: reliance on God alone. The lush imagery associated with a desert oasis, contrasted with the stark picture of a “lava waste, a salt and empty earth,” would have evoked powerful associations in the mind of Jeremiah’s contemporaries. It is not trees that Jeremiah is describing, but us. The consequences he enumerates result from choices, not from accidents. The pattern of our choices determines whether we survive the inevitable periods of dryness in life. Only if we have placed our faith in God by cultivating a relationship with him as the one who matters most, will we survive life’s heat and drought and bear much fruit.

In the background of this passage is a similar text from Deuteronomy, in which the author makes explicit his appeal and what is ultimately at stake in Israel’s choice: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.” (30:19) The selection of Psalm 1 today is an obvious one, given that scholars feel its composition was inspired by this very section from Jeremiah. The psalm refrain (“Happy are they who trust in the Lord”) underlines the common theme found in both the first reading and today’s Gospel.

Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6

Revisit the one thing that makes you happy. Does it still apply in our new understanding of happiness?

How do the Jeremiah reading and the Gospel console you, affirm you, and/or challenge you personally?

In Jeremiah Israel’s choice between dependence on military might or reliance on God was a choice between life or death, and in the Gospel, the disciples choice was to follow Christ knowing that it might lead to persecution. We, like Israel and the disciples, can believe that God’s desire is for us to live a truly blessed life but it often requires a dying to some things in our life in order to find life.

Describe what a truly blessed life would be for you. How would it be the same and different from your current life? If this is something you desire what choices do you need to make now about how you life your life?

The 2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20

Paul devotes all of Chapter 15 of his first letter to the Corinthians to a consideration of Christ’s resurrection. In today’s passage, we are given a clue as to why this topic has drawn his attention. Apparently, some in the community were under the influence of Gnosticism and other currents of Greek philosophy that negated the body in favor of a belief in the immortality of the soul. These were saying “there is no resurrection of the dead” (v. 12). Some Corinthians believed that, through the sacraments, they were already raised and therefore would experience no further Resurrection of the body. Nonsense, says Paul. Our earthly life is not all there is. Paul argues the case against them forcefully, using a relentless logic that leads inexorably to the conclusion that those who hold such views are “the most pitiable of men” (v. 19). Using negative language, Paul nonetheless is able to end by making a strong positive assertion: “Christ has been raised from the dead,” (v. 20), thereby showing that in fact we have been saved from our sins. It is worth noting that here Paul ties our deliverance from sin not to Jesus’ death, but to the resurrection. And Christ is only the first of those who will rise from the dead. “First” implies others to follow – and we are the others!

Catholic Teaching

Today’s readings invite us to look at the meaning of beatitude for our lives and as the hope expressed by the church for all believers. What is a life of beatitude? The beatitudes expressed in the scriptures give a foundation for the Church’s hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise for true happiness. God’s desire is that we attain true happiness and goodness in our life and that the attainment of this goal is not just a matter of a strong will on our part. Instead, God, through grace, helps us in our lives to achieve happiness. Ultimately, true joy comes when we enter into full communion with the love of God.

In reaching “beatitude” the believer achieves the final good that fulfills spiritual beings in grace. Catholic teaching asserts that this final good is God, who is the end point of our natural ways of knowing and loving. Although this end is achieved through our natural human desire to know and to love, ultimately beatitude is a gift given by God.

In other words, we all want to live happily. That desire originates with God who places it within our hearts. Throughout life we pursue happiness, a pursuit that God alone will satisfy. We believe that the desire for happiness has been place within us in order to draw us to the Source that will fulfill it. (CCC 1718)

The scriptural beatitudes recorded in the gospel (both Luke and Matthew) constitute the heart of Jesus’ preaching and they give further shape to the promises made by God to the chosen people since the time of Abraham. Indeed, the beatitudes enunciated by Jesus fulfill those promises by locating them no longer in a territory but in the realm of the kingdom of heaven. (CCC 1716)

Thus, the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ is that people can and will share in the life of God. By human knowing and loving it is possible to attain a full share in the intimate communion of knowing and loving between Father, Son and Holy Spirit which constitutes the life of the Trinity. Attaining this full share in the life of the Trinity is not possible without assistance from God. Basically, being humans, we need God’s gift of grace to attain a share in the life of God, which is true happiness.

The Catholic perspective regarding this assistance, therefore, is that God’s grace builds on a human nature which is intrinsically oriented toward the final happiness of union with the divine. The transcendent blessedness of knowing and loving God is itself a gift from God. So, while the desire for this beatitude rests within our human nature, it also surpasses our understanding and abilities. The grace which disposes us to seek divine joy is entirely the free gift of our gracious God. (CCC 1722)

The beatitudes reveal the ultimate goal of the human person and of our acts: to enter into the full communion of the love of God. This vocation is offered by God to each individual and to the Church as a whole. (CCC 1719)

The promise of beatitude confronts believers with decisive moral choices and teaches us that true human happiness is not found in worldly wealth, comfort, power, science, and art, however good these realities may be. In God alone, the source of every good thing and of all love, our true human happiness and joy is found. (CCC 1723)

What does the world say about morality today? What things/actions does it give a pass to that are sinful or immoral in the eyes of God and the Church. Have you ever felt persecuted by friends and family who are very entrenched in popular culture and think you are a “prude?” How do you respond?

Thus, the beatific vision is one particular way of describing heaven. It is the perfect fulfillment of God’s gracious self-communication to those who accept it, and it results in the most intimate union with the divine, where we will see God face to face. The Church prays, “Father… through all eternity you live in unapproachable light. Source of life and goodness, you have created all things, to fill your creatures with every blessing and lead us all… to the joyful vision of your light.” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV.)

What do you understand the vision of hope to be that we have discussed today?

This vision of hope extends a challenge to the believer who is called to live a life in accordance with the Gospel. The challenge is to hear the voice of God over the world’s voice offering happiness in ways contrary to the gospel.

Achieving true happiness

What does our culture say we need to do to achieve happiness?

What is the true happiness offered by God?

This fulfillment of the pilgrimage of God’s people is described by St. Augustine in his work, The City of God: “There we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise. Behold what will be at the end without end. For what other end do we have, if not to reach the kingdom which has no end?” (De civ. Dei 22, 30, 5: PL 41,804) God has put us in this world to know, to love and to serve God, and so, come to the blessedness of the beatific vision, to the experience of paradise. In beatitude, we enter into the glory of Christ and the surpassing happiness of the life of the Trinity. (CCC 1721)

The Church looks forward to the fulfillment of the pilgrimage of God’s people on earth. This is our greatest hope in the future blessings of God for all people.

The City of God (Latin: De Civitate Dei, also known as De Civitate Dei contra Paganos, “The City of God against the Pagans“) is a book written in Latin by Augustine of Hippo in the early 5th century, dealing with issues concerning God, martyrdom, Jews, and other aspects of Christian philosophy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_God_(book)

Cliff Notes overview of St. Augustine’s Confessions, his autobiography. (November 13, 354 – August 28, 430)

The Confessions is a spiritual autobiography, covering the first 35 years of Augustine’s life, with particular emphasis on Augustine’s spiritual development and how he accepted Christianity. The Confessions is divided into 13 books. Books 1 through 9 contain Augustine’s life story. Book 10 is an exploration of memory. Books 11 through 13 are detailed interpretations of the first chapter of Genesis, which describes the creation of the world.

Book 1: Augustine’s infancy and early childhood. He falls ill and is almost baptized; he is sent to school to study Latin literature.

Book 2: Augustine’s adolescence. He continues his studies; he becomes sexually mature; he steals pears with a group of friends.

Book 3: Augustine’s early adulthood. He goes to Carthage to study; he reads Cicero’s Hortensius, which inspires him with a love of wisdom; he encounters Manichaeism and becomes a Manichee.

Book 4: Augustine becomes a teacher of rhetoric; he takes a concubine; his grief at the death of a close friend drives him away from Thagaste.

Book 5: Augustine teaches at Carthage. He meets the Manichee bishop Faustus and is disappointed by Faustus’ lack of knowledge; Augustine leaves Carthage for Rome and then Milan, where he hears the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, causing him to reject the teachings of the Manichees.

Book 6: Augustine learns more about Christianity but still cannot fully accept it; Monica arranges his marriage to a Christian girl, forcing him to send his concubine away.

Book 7: Augustine reads books of Platonist philosophy, which deepen his understanding of Christianity and the nature of evil; he finally accepts the truth of Christianity and repudiates Manichaeism.

Book 8: Augustine wavers in making a complete commitment to Christianity; after hearing various stories of conversion, he reaches a moment of spiritual crisis. Hearing a voice say, “Take and read,” he picks up the Epistles of St. Paul and reads a passage that convinces him to give up his worldly career and devote himself to God.

Book 9: Augustine resigns his position and withdraws from the world. After his baptism, he sets out for Africa, but is delayed at Ostia, where Monica dies.

Book 10: Examination of memory and the temptations of the senses.

Book 11: Explanation of the first verse of Genesis, in which God begins the creation of the world; discussion of the nature of time and eternity.

Book 12: Explanation of the second verse of Genesis, with emphasis on the Word (Christ); discussion of how scripture may be interpreted.

Book 13: Explanation of the seven days of creation (the remainder of Genesis Chapter 1).

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/St-Augustine-s-Confessions-Book-Summary.id-166,pageNum-2.html

Catholic Culture

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), an Italian, wrote the Divine Comedy, a poem in three parts (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso). Hell is described as an abyss of nine descending circles of various punishments. The poem tells the story of an individual’s journey through the circles of hell, up the mount of purgatory, through the spheres of heaven, until the vision of God is attained. Dante draws on various images and metaphors of pilgrimage and journey to finally describe the great crystal rose (another image) in which are situated all of the elect of God, those saved. His descriptions greatly influenced the Christian imagination in the West. Art, poetry and even theology has drawn on his portrayal of the human quest for beatitude.

Closing Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray today that our catechumens, candidates, sponsors and team members hear your words of wisdom and receive the grace of courage to live the spirit of the beatitudes this week and every week. As we grow in faith together over the coming months, may we all learn to love our Lord Jesus Christ more and more and strive to live a life that is pleasing to Him. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sources:

Magnificat, February 2010, Vol. 11, No. 13

2010 Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, Year C, US Edition RNAB

Year C, Journey of Faith, The Word into Life

Foundations in Faith RCL

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