We have gone through Advent, the season of the church’s new year building up to Christ’s birth, a festive time of love and gift giving. In my hometown of Mbaise, Nigeria, we celebrate Christmas with the Igbo cultural eight market days, or the Christmas octave. On market days, Mbaise families customarily welcome guests, both known and unknown, with food and hospitality. After the celebration, the new year begins. This is when many of us, individually and as a family, make future resolutions. This year was different, because a lot of people made these kinds of resolutions in the style of the Beatitudes. They prayed to God to give them gentle hearts so the elections would go well without bloodshed, hearts that could sense need, hearts that felt sympathy for those tormented by the frequent killings and violence, etc. These prayers reflect the readings of this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In today’s reading, Zephaniah warns the people that Judah and Jerusalem would fall and die. He advises humble prayer. Today, we should too. This new year is a time to seek the Lord. The Lord calls us from stupidity to wisdom. We won’t cheat or deceive. We boast in the Lord.
In reference to the gospel passage on the Beatitudes, the psalmist declares that “blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount are a well-known part of the gospels. In fact, they are so well-known that both Matthew and Luke wrote them down, even though they did it in different ways. But the way they are usually portrayed is against the backdrop of the first Christians, who were persecuted as a small minority in the decades after Christ’s resurrection. Central to the sermon are the promises of Christ meant to help Christians overcome fears and threats. As “Be-attitudes,” they portray the attitudes necessary to be a “Christian-overcomer” in those trying times. They contain: “to Be” attitudes in the true sense of the word. As we start a new year, this is the right time for us to think about the Beatitudes, which give us good advice on how to stay in God’s love and wisdom.
I invite us to look closely at some of these Beatitudes, to appreciate their meaning for us today. One thing that is noticeable immediately is that the characteristics expressed in these Beatitudes are not limited to a small elite group of Christians, like the clergy, nuns, and religious men and women in monasteries. That, I believe, should inspire all to make the Christian life more convincing.
BLESSED ARE THE POOR
Jesus promises heaven to the poor. This means knowing our personal poverty and neediness before God. St. Francis, through his attitude toward life, expressed this awareness that we cannot live unless God gives us such rich gifts daily, in the form of life, light, food, and the people we meet. So, the right way to think about poverty is to show that earthly and material things are not the most important things in life. Jesus’ example invites us to solidarity with the poor and the needy. In his preaching and lifestyle, Pope Francis underlines and lives this attitude.
BLESSED ARE THE GRIEVING
Jesus beatifies those who mourn. Although they grieve, they will be comforted in the end. We are not exempt from suffering. We are affected when bad things happen. We have compassion, and we do so with lasting effect. Think of the many Christians who soberly hold on to their faith, even with little religious experience. Think of those who do not stop praying and attending church services and, even in great need and deep sorrow, hope that God is close to them, even when all seems bleak. As we continue to suffer from the COVID pandemic, there couldn’t be more fitting portraits than those of the blessed mourners.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK
Jesus promises the fullness of life to the non-violent; he was non-violent himself. Paul hunted and imprisoned Christians before converting. He then accepted incarceration by embracing the beatitude, “Blessed are the nonviolent.” We should go beyond our church to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi’s preaching. I also think of people who have given up violence and try not to hurt others with their words. I think about individuals who avoid bullying and violence against the weak. However, the Russia-Ukraine war shows the contrary in our social and political realms.
In honor of the feast of the birth of Emmanuel, which just ended, may we look for ways to live out our beatitudes with each other. And let us pray to God, like the people of Mbaise did, for the grace to embrace these beatitudes and live accordingly.
Sr. Chioma Ahanihu, SLW