The Beatitudes are not about instant gratification!
We live in a society that seems to demand instant gratification. What we want we want now. I remember my parents wanting to buy something. They'd cut back on various things, save, scrimp, whatever, and then they'd have they have the money to get want they wanted. This is very much in line with another did.
"Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew13:45-46).
This fellow, finding something of such value, that he sold all he had, in a way, going into poverty, divesting of all he owned, just to gain it.
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…….
But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation" (Luke 6: 20;24).
Now, some think the Beatitudes is a very poetic teaching with little to really say. Some have used it, especially thin parts, to make poverty seem attractive, and some have used it to say that the Church supports oppressing the poor. But is this really what Christ, and the Church, is telling us?
Another Gospel renders the passage as, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3). The poor in spirit is something more than just a lack of money, of possessions. It goes to the idea of having nothing of our own….nothing.
"What have you to be proud of? If you were so clever and learned that you knew everything and could speak every language, so that the things of Heaven were an open book to you, still you could boast of that. Any of the devils knew more about the things of Heaven, and knows more about the things of the earth, than any human being, even one who might have received from God a special revelation of the highest wisdom. If you were the most handsome and the richest man in the world, and could work wonders and drive out devils, all that would be something extrinsic to you; it would not belong to you and you could not boast of it." (Admonitions V, St. Francis of Assisi)
Whatever we have, our looks, our intellect, our wealth, is not something we got on our own, but was given us by God. It was Bill Gates and Donald Trump's mind, their financial savvy that brought them to their riches. If not for the intellect God gave them, they would just be another person trying to eek out a living. A professional athlete is given his talent and ability. How many have practiced long hours and were unable to come even close to the 'least' of these professional athletes? Even those who inherited their wealth can't boast of it. Their wealth was an 'accident' of birth, another gift of God. There are many, though they're unseen, who see their wealth, their abilities, as a gift from God. As an old adage puts it, 'You can't take it with you.'
"We should all realize that no matter where or how a man dies, if he is in the state of mortal sin and does not repent, when he could have done so and did not, the devil tears his soul from his body with such anguish and distress that only a person who has experienced it can appreciate it. All the talent and ability, all the learning and wisdom which he thought his own, are taken away from him, while his relatives and friends bear off his property and share it among themselves……And the worms feast on his body. So loses both body and soul in this short life and goes to hell, where he will tormented without end." (Letter to the Faithful; St. Francis of Assisi)
Yet, we see people who want everything right now. Who boast of their 'abilities', their 'gifts', Those who see all they have, all they own, all they are, are theirs alone and for their own pleasure and benefit. They love to garner the praise and envy of people. Often they are tormented themselves, and public acclaim acts as a salve to ease these urgings.
"They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men" (Matthew 23:5-7).
Surely, they have received their consolation. For them, the praise and honor of men is more important than the praise and honor of God.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27-28).
"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land'" (Jeremiah 17;5-6).
"...all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written:
'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave, they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:9-18).
"As yet Francis did not preach sermons to the people they met; nevertheless in passing through towns and castles he exhorted all men and women to fear God and to do penance for their sins…When the people heard them, they said: "Who are these men, and why do they speak like this?" They made this comment because at that time the fear of God had died out in the country and no one spoke of penance which indeed was considered as folly. This attitude was caused by the temptations of the flesh, the cupidity of the world, and the pride of life; the whole of mankind seemed engulfed in these evil forces." (Legend of the Three Companions, Ch. IX, #34, St. Francis of Assisi)
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven"
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit" (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
In a world where greed, vice, avarice, etc, are seen to prosper, it's important for us to remember that whatever good they receive from this is their consolation now, their reward now. Though it may have taken them years of toil to reach their pinnacle of power, wealth and acclaim, in the eyes of God, it's only instant gratification.
"And He said to them, 'Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' And He told them a parable, saying, 'The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:15-21).
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven"
Whatever we have, whatever we have attained, isn't ours but is given to us by God for His greater glory, and for His benefit.
"For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth" (Matthew 25:14-30).
We do have one thing which is ours, which we alone can claim is we feel the need to boast.
"But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).
The cross is ours. It was we who put Him on the cross because of our sins, and it through the cross that we are redeemed by Him.
"See, then, you who are blind, deceived by your enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, our fallen nature loves to commit sin and hates to serve God; this is because vice and sin come from the heart of man, as the Gospel says. You have no good in this world and nothing to look forward to in the next. You imagine that you will enjoy the worthless pleasures of this life indefinitely, but you are wrong. The day and hour will come, the day and hour for which you have no thought and of which you have no knowledge whatever." (Letter to the Faithful; St. Francis of Assisi)
To be rich according to the eyes of the world is to be poor before God. And to be poor in the eyes of the world is to be rich in the eyes of God. Not just through Lent, but always.
For past columns by Pat Ludwa, see VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives
March 5, 2001
volume 12, no. 64
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW column