We have been reviewing the Beatitudes and the Sermon of the Mount, which is a wonderful summary of Christian morality.
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17, he goes on to develop the full meaning of those Commandments and their consequences in the following chapters (Exodus 20:18-23:33). Similarly, our Lord develops the full meaning of the Beatitudes throughout the Sermon of the Mount, linking each Beatitude with the Commandments so as to explain their consequences. Toward the end of the Sermon of the Mount, Christ reminds us the ultimate goal of Christian morality:
“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Beatitude is about reaching “kingdom of heaven”—“being comforted,” “inheriting the earth,” “being satisfied,” “obtaining mercy,” “seeing God,” “being children of God,” rejoicing with a great reward in heaven (cf. the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12). And to reach this heavenly reward, it is not enough to teach our Faith to others (“prophesy”) or to help other people overcome their “demons” or to do great “works” of philanthropy; no, we must do the will of God the Father who is in heaven. His will is nothing else than the whole Sermon of the Mount, which is summarized in the Beatitudes.
Another wonderful summary of Christian morality is our Lord’s description of the Last Judgment:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…, he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty…, a stranger…, or naked…, sick or in prison…?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food…’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
St. Pope John Paul II tells us: “This Gospel text is not a simple invitation to charity: it is a page of Christology which sheds a ray of light on the mystery of Christ. By these words, no less than by the orthodoxy of her doctrine, the Church measures her fidelity as the Bride of Christ” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). Let us be faithful to Christ by living out the Beatitudes, by seeing him in the needy, and by living out his Gospel in all our actions.
Fr. John Waiss
The last Beatitude is: “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). Rather than corresponding to any Commandment, this beatitude gives us the ultimate paradigm of Christ’s moral teaching: martyrdom (cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 90-94). What distinguishes Christian morality from non-Christian ethics and ways of life is our willingness to put Christ above ourselves, above pain or sorrow, above comfort and pleasure; that we are ready to die than sin, ready to give our life as a witness to our love for Jesus Christ.
Our Lord knew that following him would entail persecution and misunderstandings: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). So, Jesus’ disciples must expect the cross: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). If we run away from the cross, from the persecution that arises from being Christian, we are effectively running away from Christ: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Our goal is to be a saint. For this reason Christian morality is really about loving God with our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul. If we put anything or anybody ahead of our true love, then we are not ready for God; we are not ready for heaven: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
So, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33). Then we won’t worry about meeting opposition because of our faith, or about the possibility of suffering or of losing some comfort or pleasure… because the kingdom of heaven awaits us. As Pope St. John Paul II tells us: “Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment” (Veritatis Splendor, 93).
So, let us expect to experience opposition for following Jesus Christ. If we do, we are “blessed” and we can “rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven.” As St. Peter summarizes this beatitude: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
As persons of love, let us rejoice in suffering that comes with having Christ.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The next Beatitude is: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10). This corresponds to the Eighth Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” which shows us the value of truth because God is the source of all truth and his Word is truth (Psalm 141:6; cf. CCC 2465). Christ himself is the Truth (John 14:6), who came into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) which will set all men free (John 8:32).
Jesus praises Nathanael when he is sincere, even when his comment about Jesus’ hometown was so negative: “Nathanael said… ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ … [Jesus] said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’” (John 1:46-47). How refreshing it is when we meet someone who is straightforward and sincere, who doesn’t pretend to be someone s/he isn’t. Those who flatter us so as to manipulate us is not only distasteful, they play with our emotions in order to control us or others—this does violence to the truth, just as does lying, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationship” (CCC 2486).
Being truthful and sincere makes us children of God, who is Father of the Truth, whereas lying makes us children of “the father of lies” (John 8:44), the devil. None of us would want that! All lying is offensive, but it is especially grievous in the context of justice, when our false witness (perjury if under oath) causes harm to another. It may get us “out of trouble,” but often by falsely blaming another, injuring their reputation, or causing them to be unjustly punished for something they didn’t do. It may also cause the guilty to go unpunished. Sins against the 8th Commandment include rash judgments, detraction—the unnecessarily revealing hidden facts about someone. These are sins against the truth and cause harm by failing to put the truth in its full context.
Social conventions are not considered lies but are ways of being polite and sociable. For example, if one is asked, “how are you?”, to say, “fine, thank you”, is not a lie even when one is under the weather or one has just experienced something awful. We don’t have to burden other people with all our ailments and sufferings when they are just trying to be nice to us.
Telling the truth may cause suffering, especially when people don’t want to hear the truth. The truth may hurt when we may have to suffer some kind of punishment or loss as a consequence of a regretful action. Yet taking ownership of our failures is noble and brings with it beatitude (How often we experience this in the sacrament of Reconciliation!).
Even just quietly living a consistently Christian life—this is truthfulness— may make some people feel bad and cause us persecution. For example, in a workplace where everyone is cheating “the system” by clocking in and out so as to avoid working the full hours for which they are being paid. Doing what is right and just—telling the truth about the hours we work—may move others at our workplace to feel guilty, which may bring upon us persecution and scorn. Yet Christ showed us the price of being truthful with his death on the Cross.
Truth and trust go hand-in-hand, as they are the foundation of all relationships. Let us build up God’s kingdom upon the truth of Jesus Christ.
Fr. John R. Waiss
We have been going through the Beatitudes, with the next one being: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). I would suggest that this best corresponds to the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”
Why? Is not coveting riches and one’s neighbor’s goods the source of most wars, murder, and
dissention in families? We discussed this disordered desire when covering the
first Beatitude and the 10th Commandment. Yet Christ tells us in the
Sermon of the Mount that the source of true peace is being good children of God
by trusting in our heavenly Father for our material needs.
“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives… What man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).
Dissension and warfare arises when disordered desires lead to unjust hoarding and stealing material goods. This doesn’t mean we should have no personal possessions.
Material possessions are necessary to us human beings because of our bodily
nature: our soul needs the body in order to act, such as to know and to love.
The body needs food for nourishment and other material objects as instruments
to extend the realm of our body’s activity. We would have very few parishioners
at St. Mary of the Angels if the majority of our parishioners did not possess
automobiles: cars extend the range of motion of our body. So, material
possessions can extend the range of good or of bad actions that we human beings
are able carry out. That is why we have a natural right to private property,
although this right is not absolute because it may conflict with the rights of
others to basic material possessions in order to live and fulfill their life’s mission.
The peacemaker prevents war by creating a situation of fairness and respect.
Parents do this within the family, by making sure that everyone has what they
need and that older children share their possessions (toys, clothes, food,
etc.) with their younger siblings. This is what all members of society should
do. Hoarding things for oneself only creates tensions and temptations for
others to steal. We often see this in a family, as when one child hoards all
the candy, the others look for ways to get their share, even if the child had purchased
from the store her/his hoarded treasure. The peacemaker parent will often
intervene ahead of time to motivate the child to do the nobler thing by sharing
her/his stash of candy with the others.
In the family, when one child takes something from another, the parent comes in as
peacemaker, encouraging the taker to return what was taken and to encourage the
other to forgive. Likewise, the peacemaking parent encourages older children to
understand their younger sibling’s desire to play with their toys, clothes,
etc. and how sharing them would build up good relationships for the future.
Often adult children will fight over their parents’ inheritance, destroying the
relationships built up over a lifetime. How sad to see families torn apart with
hatred for one another over such temporal gratuities. A good peacemaker would
put family relationships over any financial benefit s/he would hope to gain
from one’s family.
The same issues we see between siblings arise between nations who go into war. May we learn to “be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50) and to motivate one another to put aright without resentment the injustices we see and to share God’s gifts to us with
those in need.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Mercy Sunday is upon us, the day we celebrate God’s great mercy, which includes a willingness to forgive us even after we have crucified
his only begotten Son.
The resurrected Christ appears to Peter and the other
disciples after they have denied him and abandoned him. Without scolding or
berating them he restores them to his good favor, Christ also goes after the
two disheartened disciples who leave Jerusalem for Emmaus because they lost
faith in him; he brings them back. He does this in his mercy and his mercy
Is God mercy? Is mercy essential to God’s divine nature?
Some have defined mercy as requiring someone in need of
mercy, with some sort of sin, imperfection, or fallenness. Mercy in this case
would require inferiority of the one receiving mercy from the superior merciful
one. If that were the case, then God would not be mercy because there is no
neediness, sin, imperfection, or superiority-inferiority in the Trinity, and
therefore there would be no mercy in him.
Yet Jesus Christ gives us a different concept of mercy. He commands:
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Matthew renders the
same passage as: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is
perfect” (Matthew 5:48). In both places, mercy is presented to us as generosity
toward others independent of their response, which means to love everyone,
friend and enemy, just and unjust, “expecting nothing in return… and [so] you
will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). This is the way the Son imitates
the Father, and how we are to come to share his divine sonship and enter the
inner divine life of the Trinity.
This concept of mercy does indeed apply to God. The Father,
with mercy, eternally shares all that he has with the Son expecting nothing in
return (cf. Matthew 11:27; John 3:35; 5:26; 13:3). Intra-Trinitarian mercy
implies no superiority over the one receiving mercy. It implies no sin,
imperfection, or fallenness. Certainly the sinner needs mercy and forgiveness,
but so does the woman who receives the merciful invitation to marriage from
Christ to become his bride. In this way the Blessed Virgin is grateful and
rejoices in God her merciful Savior (cf. Luke 1:47) even though she never
This is important for us, because Christ reminds us:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). If we
wish to receive the mercy promised us on Mercy Sunday—complete
forgiveness of all our sins if we go to confession, receive Holy Communion
worthily, and trust in his Mercy—we too need to be merciful, “even as
your Father is merciful.” This means our mercy toward others needs to be
conferred on others without any arrogant sense of superiority over those to
whom we are merciful.
Being like the older brother of the prodigal son will only
keep us out of the heavenly celebration (cf. Luke 15:25-32). Haughtiness,
superiority, pride, and looking down on others are all out of place with conferring
the kind of mercy that allows us to enter into Christ’s divine sonship with the
Father. Certainly we need to be merciful toward those who have harmed us, but
in doing so we understand that God has forgiven us million of times more (cf.
God’s generous mercy extends to all, whether sinner or not,
because he mercifully created us and he has invited us to share in the eternal
marriage feast of the Lamb and his bride. So, let us love one another as he has
loved us, entering into God’s eternal mercy by humbly being merciful ourselves.
Fr. John R. Waiss