Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
We easily recognize Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. This is Luke's version, the version where the blessed are starkly contrasted with the cursed. “Blessed are you” vs. “Woe to you.” No serious follower of Christ hopes to be among the cursed, and no one lands in their company by accident or through ignorance. Jesus preaches his famous sermon from the mount—probably many times in many places—so that no one may later claim, “But Lord! I didn't know that I was suppose to be holy! I thought just being a nice guy was enough.” In logical terms, being nice is necessary but not sufficient when pursuing holiness. The Lord's invitation to each of us to begin a pilgrimage toward a holy life is given a more modern translation by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. From their document, Lumen gentium, we read, “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation—[the sacraments],—all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect”(11). Thus we are called; thus we are warned.
Let's be clear in our own minds what it means to be holy. Holiness is not about piety; that is, you can behave piously and remain comfortably among the accursed. Who was it that described the Pharisees, in all their pious finery, as “white-washed tombs”? Nor is being holy about morality; that is, you can successfully avoid every immoral thought, word, and deed that tempts you and still remain entrenched among the accursed. Does Jesus ever bless a good moral act in his sermon on blessedness? Nor is being holy about assenting to the truth of dogma or doctrine; that is, you can memorize the Catechism and the Bible, recite them both w/o error in front of the Holy Father, swear you believe every word, and still find yourself playing among the accursed. Even the Devil can quote scripture. Having said all that, being pious, morally good, and orthodox are all necessary to growing in holiness but none of them (nor all of them together) is what it means to be holy. Holiness (blessedness) is principally about how we choose to suffer—that is, how we choose to understand and act on the pain and deprivation we experience while separated from our Father. Who does Jesus say is blessed? The poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and those who suffer for the sake of his Name.
And why are these folks blessed? What's so holy about being poor, hungry, mournful, and persecuted? There's nothing especially holy about any of these conditions as such. What's special about being poor, hungry, etc. is that each of these states in life offers the ones who endure them the chance to see beyond their earthly limitations and rely completely on the loving-care of God. They are given a clearer vision of what it means to be humble before the Lord than those who might rely on their wealth and good name for comfort. The Council Fathers note that we are all called to holiness regardless of our state in life or the condition of our lives. Any one of us might choose to suffer poorly and attach ourselves to the bottle, the casino, the needle, or some other false god. Or we might choose to avoid pain and deprivation by causing others pain and depriving them of their due. True holiness entails genuine piety, righteous words and deeds, and right belief about the faith. But the next step beyond these necessities is choosing to throw ourselves completely and w/o hesitation on the loving-care of God. We call this abandonment to divine providence humility. The truly humble are already among the blessed._____________
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