Homily – January – 2023

29 JANUARY 2023

 Readings  Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13  1 Corinthians 1:26-31  Gospel Matthew 5:1-12

The Gospel today is from Matthew 5. We are well and truly on the pilgrimage road in this Liturgical year – the Year of Matthew. After preliminary chapters we now find Jesus formally inaugurating his Kingdom with the Magna Carta speech of the Beatitudes in today’s Gospel.

We find Jesus going up the mountain (the word “hill” is too weak a word) to proclaim the attitudes of being a Christian…the Beatitudes. By going up the mountain, Mathew’s audience, largely Jews, would experience resemblances of Moses going up God’s mountain in the Old Testament to receive the Ten Commandments. But here we have in Jesus not just simply the “New” Moses but somebody far greater than Moses. Moses received the Ten Commandments. Jesus actually gives the Gospel commandments of the Beatitudes to all. Jesus, the Son of God, articulated to us human beings the Kingdom’s values.

We then find in the Gospel today that He “sat down.” Here Jesus, the great teacher and Rabbi, sits down to give this monumental teaching in true rabbinical style.

In articulating the Beatitudes he uses the word “blessed” (the word “happy” is too weak a word for what is happening here). We find that those who personalise and take into their lives the Beatitudes show signs that God has blessed them. Therefore we find the attributes of being a Disciple (a student of the Master) are found in “the poor in spirit…the gentle…those who mourn…the merciful…those pure in heart…the peacemakers…”

Each one of these Beatitudes could be well and truly meditated upon at great length.

It is an interesting choice that the Church chooses its Second Reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The emerging Christian community in Corinth (present day Greece) was a complicated and rather sophisticated society, perhaps not entirely different to our own culture here in Australia. It is an interesting choice because they, like us, had difficulties living out the Beatitudes in the culture in which they lived.

In a subtle rebuke to them St Paul reminds them of their backgrounds. He states, “how many of you were influential people, or came from noble families?” Despite all this “God chose…those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.”

So to be able to embrace the Beatitudes with our whole life there must be a humility in our hearts. Self-made, privileged societies struggle in understanding this basic message of Christianity – just like us in Australia.

This came to my mind a few years ago when a young man considering becoming a priest contacted me. He sought my advice regarding becoming a Seminarian. I contacted him and asked if he could write me an overview of his life and reasons that he felt God was now calling him to the priesthood.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I received a rather fulsome response. However, the response disappointed me somewhat. It was more of a resume of his life. It was almost a curriculum vitae (CV). Although I was delighted to learn of his qualifications, his places of employment and interests, I was more interested to see these details placed in a broader perspective of God’s call in his life and why he felt that call was directed towards the priesthood. In other words, I was looking not so much for a “resume self” but a “eulogy self.”

Eulogies are often said at the funerals of our deceased loved ones. Maybe somebody will give an appreciation of their contribution taking their whole life in as the panorama. Indeed, it is a good idea for all of us to have that idea of a self-eulogy going through our mind and heart as we progress on life’s journey. Otherwise we find ourselves just simply articulating the little “trophies” that we have accumulated. This is in contrast to perhaps what we have learnt about life and how we have responded to the Beatitudes in our lives of faith.

A good example of this in more recent times happened in the days after the death of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is a good example of a “eulogy self.”

We heard, for example, that the last words that he uttered were the following, “Jesus, I love you!” What a beautiful summary eulogy he had on his lips as he was about to meet his Maker.

In the days following his death, also, a spiritual testimony that he wrote some years ago was published. In this testimony he reviewed his life and offered some simple comments. It was a real “eulogy” type of appreciation.

Pope Benedict XVI talked in a very humble and simple way about his gratitude to God for his wonderful parents and his brother and sister. He also talked about his life tasks as to show forth a reasonableness of our faith. It was as simple as that. I found this incredible given the fact that Pope Benedict was one of the most academic and sophisticated Germanic Popes the Church has ever produced. Yet his self-eulogy was so simple and humble. Clearly he was a man of the Beatitudes.

In those early days after his death Pope Francis summarised it beautifully. He said that the key to understanding the long years of priesthood of Joseph Ratzinger was to appreciate the following expression, “the search for the beloved.” Joseph Ratzinger had a great sense that he was loved by God. His life’s journey was to search for God more and more and to explain in terms that were reasonable to human beings of our time and place, how this search for the beloved is a universal search.

In this light it is interesting to note in the First Reading today the word “seek” occurs four times.

Zephaniah states, “Seek the Lord…Seek integrity…Seek humility…Seek refuge in the name of the Lord.” Seeking and searching are surely the same thing. Living out the Beatitudes is a continual search for God, the Beloved. So as we now go on with the Mass let us use for our “Gospill” the final words of Pope Benedict. Let us find in our heart and on our lips in the coming week his beautiful prayer and say with him, “Jesus I love you!”