03 February 2008

Beatitudes vs. Diabolicals

4th Sunday OT: Zeph 2.3, 3.12-13; 1 Cor 1.26-31; Matt 5.1-12
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Paul
& Church of the Incarnation

In all fairness, we must equal time to the loyal opposition. Therefore, a reading from the Diabolical Litanies of St. Malefactor: “When our Infernal Lord saw the mewling crowds, he went up the mountain to get away from them, and after he had sat down and had drunk his fill of unwatered wine, his dark priests came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the vulgar in passion, for theirs is the kingdom of pleasure and vice. Cursed are they who mourn, for they will die wallowing in their own weakness. Blessed are the aggressive, for they will inherit the land. Cursed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be constantly disappointed in the fruits of slavery to morality. Blessed are the ruthless, for they will never be caught unawares. Blessed are those with cynical hearts, for they will never see entertain betrayal. Cursed are the peacemakers, for they will disrupt the business and fun of war. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for they provide the ruthless with violent amusement. Blessed are you when they insult you and look down on you and utter every kind of vile lie against you. Celebrate and be bawdy, for they have joined us and their reward will be great in Hell.”

Much like the Beatitudes that these Diabolicals so obviously mimic, it is less than satisfactory to simply quote them and let them speak for themselves. It seems that commentary is necessary. Therefore, let me point out just a few features of this dark text. First, we have to note that the Diabolicals contain both blessings and curses. One might be tempted to conclude that the “blessing” statements are “good.” Not so. When evil blesses evil only evil results. Here “blessing” is the functional equivalent of “cursing” for those taken by evil. Also, you will note that many of these Diabolicals sound very familiar. In one form or another, our secular, materialist culture has adopted almost all of the Diabolicals as foundational to liberal democracy and capitalist freedom. You can, no doubt, find several books at Borders in the business section that seriously entertain and argue for 99% of the what the Diabolicals are teaching.

Sad though this may be, it is predictable for a society that sees its children as cut/gain investments; sees the elderly as bothersome and expensive and unwanted children as disposable; lauds aggressive competition even when it so obviously bruises our best relationships; adopts in the name of “fighting back” the inhumane tactics of war used by our worse enemies, especially torture; demands that the allegedly servile media show us only that which outrages us from Their Side; and, finally, the Diabolicals speak directly to our secular sense of justice and fairness: me and mine, first…then, you and yours…and then, maybe, just maybe, them and theirs. We always seem to think that justice is about equality. For those of us who have died with Christ and risen with him again, our Father’s justice is about the excessive overflowing of Love. In this case, keep your justice! And give me mercy!

Here is the single job of the Beatitudes as preached by Christ…Paul writes to the Corinthians: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong…[He choose] those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something…” Why would we think to boast about this task? Why brag? Or why hold this task up as something to be envied? We do not boast before God. We not brag to God. Paul reminds us, “It is due to [God] that you are in Christ Jesus…”, so what could we possibly have to get all puffed up about? What righteousness we have, what sanctification we have, what redemption we have, we have because they were given to us, simply handed over to us and released by God. We have two jobs: 1) gives thanks to God and 2) share the wealth!

I noted in an earlier homily on the Beatitudes that there is a particularly powerful grammar at work in these sayings. The Beatitudes teach us that there is a pattern to justice and peace, a grammar, if you will, that begins right where we are. Where we are always results in where we will be. Just look at the text. Blessed ARE they who mourn, for they WILL BE comforted. Blessed ARE the clean of heart, for they WILL see God. All the way through the teaching, Jesus makes the practical, moral connection between where we are with where we will be. Blessed are, blessed are, blessed are. . .will inherit, will be shown mercy, will be satisfied. How easy for us to see that if we ARE NOT where we ought to be, or that if we ARE NOT who we ought to be, how easy is it to see that we WILL NOT receive the supernatural gift that comes with being where we ought to be and being who we ought to be. Let’s say this just a little more clearly. There are two pillars to Christian morality: The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Together…together!...these two constitute the Thou Shall Not and the Thou Sall Be of our moral lives. Together, followed with a graced faith and earnest desire for holiness, together these two make up one gifted person. You. Me. And you and me together to make the One Body of Christ.

Remember what Paul wrote the always troubling Corinthians: “Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth…God choose the foolish of the world to shame the wise…to reduce to nothing those who are something…” The poor in spirit are poor b/c they know that they need God. Those who mourn are grieving b/c they know that only God can comfort them fully. The meek will inherit the land b/c they will rely on the Hand of the Father to inherit and not on their own craft and wiles. And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied b/c in their long hunger and thirst they have come to know that there is nothing that will squash their hunger and slake their thirst but God and Him alone.

We can be learned and wise and beautiful and rich by the world’s standards, but if we are not learned and wise and beautiful and rich in the Father’s gifts, then we are simply ugly and stupid. We are ignorant and poor. We are doing little more than hanging out waiting to be reduced to nothing by the fools of God. And, yes, we should be worried if the Diabolicals sound more useful to us, more practical and philosophically sound. The author of that litany will give us all we want. But his gifts vanish at the first sign of fire, flaming up into smoke and ash the moment it is too late to turn around. Then we will choke on our boasts.

This coming Wednesday fires the starting pistol for our forty-day race to Holy Thursday. At the sound of that doleful crack with the smell of ash still fresh in our noses, we will jump the starting line and run like cows with our tails on fire! Lent is something To Be Done and done quickly. This is what the world-wise believe anyway. For the poor in spirit, the meek, the mournful, and the hunger, the race is not against the clock or the calendar but against all of our collected temptations, against all those desires and vices and empty promises that long to drag us to Hell. If you will be Beautiful come Easter morning, spend your race-time in thanksgiving to God, spend your time being joyful, being glad, because if you do “your reward will be great in heaven.”

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