Bottom line: The Beatitudes show us who Jesus is and how - in Him - we can have justice with mercy, truth that leads to peace.
We just listened to the Beatitudes. In my homily I will argue that the Beatitudes are more about Jesus than about us - and that only in Jesus can we begin to live them.
I will start with a story. It was told by the twelfth century preacher, Bernard of Clairvaux. The sermon has this intriguing title: The Four Daughters of God. They are Truth, Justice, Mercy and Peace. In the sermon the Four Daughters come before God after our first parents fell, that is, after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The held a kind of trial:
Truth spoke first. She pointed out the obvious: Adam and Eve had every advantage, but they turned their back on God. Next came Justice. She said that the man and woman did not deserve a second chance. They knew the rules and they deliberately broke them. But Mercy said, "Yes, I agree they do not merit a second chance, but, still, I plead for them." Finally Peace said that if God did not do something for Adam and Eve, there would only be enmity between heaven and earth.
God faced a dilemma. He loves all of his daughters - but how can he affirm one without losing another? Strict justice seems to exclude mercy. Keeping the peace seems to require hiding a bit of the truth. Here on earth we sometimes fudge the truth in order to keep the peace. But it cannot be that way in heaven. How does God keep his daughters together: Justice with Mercy and Peace with Truth?
God came up with a this solution: He would himself become man.
Jesus -who is God in human flesh - brings together truth and peace, justice and mercy. We see that it the Beatitudes. In reality, the Beatitudes are more about Jesus than they are about us. He is the key to understanding them. Jesus is the poor man - the one who emptied himself. He brings together righteousness (justice) and mercy. He - and he alone - makes peace between heaven and earth. Even though he had created galaxies, he walked meekly on this small planet. And he put up with insults and false accusations from beings he himself had made. He did all this for only one reason - to bring us salvation.
The Beatitudes give us a way of thinking about Jesus and our relationship to him. The Beatitudes at first puzzle us. No one wants to be impoverished. No one wants to mourn - to lose a dear one. No one wants humiliation, insults and false accusations. Yet Jesus tells us to embrace those things.
Many people think that the Beatitudes are mere poetry - or sentimentality. But that is not the case. The Beatitudes are as hard as nails. They face reality head on. We do live in a world of inequality. Some seem born lucky - others not. Beyond accidents of birth, everyone experiences some unfair treatment. We live in a world of broken promises and cruel words. We see inexplicable suffering and terrible tragedies. Inevitably, it seems to come to every family.
How do we respond to all this? A person can easily become bitter and cynical - maybe even through in the towel. But Jesus gives a different way. He summarizes that way in the Beatitudes:
- Blessed are the poor - Blessed are those who mourn - Blessed are the merciful - Blessed are you when they insult you
The Beatitudes are demanding, but the alternative is worse - despair. Only in Jesus can we live the Beatitudes.
To return to Bernard's allegory about the Four Daughters of God: Jesus came that not one of them would be excluded. We all want justice - to be treated fairly. But strict justice can be harsh. As Shakespeare said, "Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?" We need mercy along with justice. And we want truth, but we have seen people use truth like a club.** Truth has to lead to peace.
Jesus came to keep justice and mercy, truth and peace together. He came to save us. And today he teaches us the Beatitudes: they show us who Jesus is and how - in Him - we can have justice with mercy, truth that leads to peace.***
*For further explanation of Bernard's allegory of the Four Daughters of God, see William Cook's Lives of Great Christians (Teaching Company)
**People who beat others over the head with "the truth" inevitably become so attached to their club that they stop caring about truth for its own sake. Something similar happens when people pursue justice without mercy. The communist regimes of the last century show what happens when men go after justice with no regard for mercy.
***It would take a separate homily to develop it, but mercy without justice also has adverse consequences. Our modern educational system could illustrate some of those consequences. And for consequences of peace without truth, look to the U.S. Catholic Church. Consider what has happened since the "truce of 1968" - when church leaders quietly shelved Humanae Vitae.
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