What does it mean to be blessed? It means to be in God’s grace, to enjoy his favor and it leads to true joy and everlasting happiness. We all say that we seek to be happy but what we really seek is to be blessed, that is, to enjoy God’s favor, both here and for all eternity in heaven. So, how do we become blessed? Fortunately, in his infinite love and wisdom, God has shown us the way to true blessedness. How does God guide us? Through Sacred Scripture, of course. We learn about how to be blessed today in both the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and from the Gospel passage proclaimed to us. Listen to the words of Jesus in the Gospels. They are truly God speaking to us. Jesus is the Word of God who teaches us all about God and how God calls us to live. The Beatitudes are the heart of Jesus’ teaching. As we will hear next week, the Beatitudes teach us to love our neighbor and even our enemies. At the core of the sermon is Jesus’ teaching on love. This week, however, we hear the beginning of St. Luke’s version of Jesus’ well-known Sermon on the Mount, with his version of the beatitudes – that is, blessings. St. Luke’s version is a little different from the better known version found in Matthew’s Gospel. And, the difference is important for us. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount focuses on the spiritual journey that we all share, calling us to be “poor in spirit,” that is, recognizing our absolute dependence upon God, and to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” that is, to hunger for God. Luke’s blessings, on the other hand, are aimed at the people of his day – persecuted followers of Jesus – to assure them that their current poverty, hunger and sorrow – the result of their fidelity to Christ and the resulting persecution they are experiencing from both their families and friends and the Roman officials – would be turned into the blessing of eternal joy in the kingdom of God. You see, St. Luke was writing to the early Christians who refused to worship the Roman gods and, as a result, were excluded from better jobs and from important governmental positions and often ostracized by their friends, neighbors and even family members. Many of them were living in poverty and isolation, were hungry and weeping. To encourage them, St. Luke assured them that the promise of eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven was real and that their current sufferings aligned them with the way that Jesus had taught – to take up their cross daily and follow him; this would lead them to heaven! After all, as we hear St. Paul declare in today’s second reading, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
After assuring those who strove to be faithful to Jesus, St. Luke looks beyond them and adds a list of woes to those who were willing to sell out to the Romans so that they could have good jobs and live well; “you have received your consolation,” St. Luke warns them. These woes are similar to the curses we hear in today’s first reading.
As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it” (1718). It is part of God’s plan that we search for happiness. And, only God can fulfill our deepest longings for happiness – real blessedness.
We find ourselves living in a time when there are many in our society who want to disregard God’s laws, making up their own definitions for marriage and when life begins and even what gender you are, and devising their own morality, based on human opinion or feelings rather than divine truths. Some are even going further and want to force their godless ways on the rest of society. We sometimes find ourselves on the outs with some of our family members or friends and, like the early Christians, we have to decide where we stand. Is it more important for us to have others speak well of us or to be blessed – in a right relationship with God?
There are consequences to straying from God’s vision of human happiness. St. Luke provides these four “woes” after his description of the beatitudes – the blessings – to warn that disaster comes upon those whose worldly comfort and prosperity has turned them away from God and fidelity to the demands of his commandments. The woes remind us that satisfaction in worldly wealth and prestige can give us a false sense of security and lead us to overlook our radical dependence on God.
One of the areas where we find our beliefs to be most challenged is in marriage and family life. We believe that marriage is to be found only between a man and a woman and that it has two purposes: the good of the spouses and the procreation and care of offspring who will, in turn, be invited into the blessed life of following God’s commands. Today, we celebrate all of you who have been faithful to your vocation of marriage, a sacred call to be that clearest sign here on earth of God’s creative love. You all know the challenges you have faced in committing yourselves, day in and day out, to loving each other and the family you have created. And, if you have been open to hearing God’s word, you have experienced God’s blessings even in the darkest moments of your lives. In the name of your fellow parishioners and, indeed, the entire Church, allow me to commend you on your dedication to your sacred vocation.
Today, let us all heed God’s warnings about the dangers of a life lived apart from him, and follow the path of blessing that he has charted