Monday, January 31, 2011

The beatitudes - Jesus' Real Hard Truths

I received some requests after I preached this homily over the weekend, from some of my parishioners to have it posted on this blog. I rarely do accede to such requests, but I do hold the Beatitudes very closely to my heart as a Disciple of Jesus Christ. As an exception, here is what I preached, and I do hope that this will invite many to re-look at how we have been living out our Christian culture. God bless.

The Hard Truths of Jesus Christ
In most areas of our lives, when we enter into a new culture, a new school, a new workplace, a new social group, there is a need to orientate ourselves. Schools have orientation camps or programmes, and so do many companies. Offices have what is known as ‘office culture’ where one needs to learn the silent and often unwritten ways of doing things, and learn to adapt to the psychology of the place. And often, one does this so that one can adequately ‘fit in’.

Is there a Christian culture? Certainly. Christianity, from the onset of the arrival of the Kingdom of God in Christ, set to establish or rather re-establish a certain culture, a way of living, and a way of loving, which is markedly different from the ways that the world was used to. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us in a summarized form, the Christian Culture. But he knows that it will not be something easily accepted. But it is real hard truth.

Known also as the Sermon on the Mount, “beatitude” is from the Latin beatus meaning blessed. We Catholics have a great tradition to bless all sorts of things, from our rosaries and crucifixes to our homes, cars, to even our animals. Many see being blessed as being loved and favoured by God, and each blessing reminds us of that, and it is. But if we extend this to the beatitudes, we will face a huge problem, because none of the beatitudes seem to be anything like a blessing. At least on the surface.

The Greek for the word ‘blessed’ is makarioi, or makarios, which translates to either ‘congratulations’ or ‘lucky’. It’s a bit like our familiar Gong Xi in Mandarin or Gong Hei in Cantonese that we use freely during the New Year or when something good happens. Imagine the ire evoked if we greet anyone of our friends and relatives with the spirit of the beatitudes – may you have the luck of poverty, the ‘congrats’ for being mournful, ‘may you have the luck’ of being hungry, thirsty and experiencing persecution. Or ‘May you be abused on account of Jesus’. It will be highly unlikely that you will get a smile as a response.

So is there more than meets the eye here? Yes. It is problematic; and it’s hard to understand and almost repulsive to our ears! When we hear the Beatitudes proclaimed, do we feel unsettled or uncomfortable? Do we say to ourselves “this is insane”? That’s a likely response. But if we said “I don’t think I get it, but I’d like to see what Jesus really means”, we are on the cusp of allowing ourselves to understand God’s peculiar language.

First of all, let’s set the record straight. God does not want us to suffer and be miserable in life. If that’s your vision of God, banish it, because that God doesn’t exist. You have created that God, and it’s a false God. You could be guilty, I suppose, of worshipping a false god. But the beatitudes seem to imply that God is like this, and it may seem that God wants us to suffer and be hungry in order to be happy. It’s not that at all; it is far from being the truth. Jesus is really trying to give us the key to happiness that many seek, but simply cannot find because they are looking at the wrong places.

Secondly, what does being poor in spirit mean? It means that you are unsettled in your life, despite all that you have achieved and attained in your life. That’s a poverty of spirit. Let’s just say you have that dream job, attained that title, that double PhD, that fat pay cheque, that fully paid up landed property, and one day, you are looking at all this and are saying to yourself – why am I still not happy? Jesus is saying to you – if you feel that way in your life right now, you are blessed. And ‘lucky’ are you when you reach that point in life, because you will begin to realize that true happiness lies in things beyond the material, beyond the possessing and beyond the achieving, it’s found ironically, not in the obtaining of all that, but in the letting go of all that. You have come to the all important second half of life. That they are not yours to possess and hoard is something that the beatitudes are trying to teach us. And that is a hard truth.

Thirdly, ‘lucky’ are you also when you see the virtue in being lowly and small. The language of the world speaks totally against this. The name of the game in just about every field is to rule and be on top, to thumb others down, to shut out the voice of the opposition. That is not Hard Truth. In fact, it is hardly true. In fact, tomes are written about these ‘methods’, and those methods do not the test of time stand.

But Jesus is saying that these ways are not the ways to true blessedness, and in fact, the many generations of people who have been despots and political bullies have shown that they have been insecure and were constantly on the lookout for those who shook their dominance. And some even openly say that they need to demolish their opponents.

You want lasting happiness? You want happiness perdures; happiness that is secure? It’s not up there in the winners’ circle. And if you know this, you will be happy because you are in the humble state, the earthy state, the state of the humus, from where ‘humility’ gets its root. That is hard truth.

Lucky are you when you are pure in heart. Too many of us have only one definition of purity, and that is related to sexual purity. It is just one of the many forms of purity. But sexual purity seems to be the only kind that we can relate to because that’s the only category that many of us think in. But purity is also being unadulterated, unmixed, clear and with nothing hidden. If that is the case, then purity must go beyond just the sexual. You want happiness in you life? Then attain a purity, a state of being unmixed, and clear in all areas of your life. Be focused; be unsullied – in your business dealings, in your relationship with your children and your spouses, in your reasons for doing anything in life. If you are clear of your intentions, not bluffing yourselves or others, and refuse to be deceived by impure motivations, you will see God working clearly in your life. You have a point of reference that is clear and purposeful. And that is another hard truth.

Reflecting on the Beatitudes in this way gives us a point of entry into the mystery of God’s language. Try to do it for each of the other beatitudes. It’s not impossible, but I’d admit that it isn’t easy and it can be dangerous. It is dangerous because if we are serious about it, it will shake us from our complacency of our secure platforms that we have built in our lives.

It requires a certain willingness to see life from another side; another angle. But when you do, I think you would be doing what the prophet Zephaniah told the people to do – you will be seeking integrity, and seeking humility. You will be earthy people in touch with your true roots. And our true roots are in God. It doesn’t take a whole lot of intelligence to do this. In fact, too much of intelligence becomes a stumbling block to entering into the key. Even St Paul says it to the Corinthians – it’s not the influential, not the noble, and not those wise in the ordinary sense of the word that respond appropriately, but those who are willing to be weak.

But none of us are willing to be weak. It doesn’t feel good to be weak, but that’s the whole spirit of the beatitudes – a willingness on our part to not be slaves to our feelings and to not let our feelings determine our morality, our choices in life, and our paths towards happiness. That’s the spirit of the Beatitudes, possible only in the spirit of Jesus.

This then, is the corporate Christian culture that we need to appreciate over and over again. Some of us have never seen it this way. May our eyes be opened to usher in a new light. And that is a Hard Truth.

I hope people don't misunderstand me - I am not saying that it's wrong to read about other peoples’ definition of Hard Truths. But it would be a travesty of our Christian identity if we only read those, and can speak about life in those categories, and have never before read the words of Jesus, who is after all, the way, the (real hard) TRUTH, and the life.


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    In our daily struggle to lead a good Catholic lives, that is, to be authentic followers of Christ - surely the greatest difficulty to overcome is that of the ego. To want to be "weak" and "seek the lower place" seems to go against our natural state. But this is precisely what is required of us.

    And if we were to try to do this by our own efforts, most of the time we would be guilty of false modesty. For only by the grace of God could we truly live as "weaklings" in the Christian sense. As Christians, we march to the beat of a different drum - as played by the Divine Percussionist.

    Thus, the Christian culture is defined as; a way of being that is, for the most part, opposed to everything the world holds dear - literally, "a people set apart".

    Btw, do your non-believing friends view you as a complete fool because of your Christian living? Take heart. Actually, rejoice! You must be doing something right.

    God Bless,

  2. Fr Luke,

    your invitation to reflect on the Beatitudes as.....'a point of entry into the mystery of God's language......' makes me realize that Jesus, the consummate teacher, is summarizing the highlights of his teaching of the Way - in poetic form. As poetry,the language of the heart, the Beatitudes encourage easy memorising - though it actually incorporates the teaching of the Decalogue . He makes the first 3 commandments easier to understand at our human level, when he says that to be spiritually impoverished we are actually asking for a submissive spirit in our relationship with God. For if we acknowledge Him as Father and creator, then the 'I' spirit has to decrease/fade so that His spirit will increase in our life. That's what he was teaching us in the submissive prayer of the Our Father !
    To keep the rest of the commandments, he tells us to be meek,lowly & small. In so doing, not to be doormats but to actively rein in our ego-centric need to project our self-prominence, dominance over others. To focus on others and leave self behind is his Way to be happy or blessed for then when we forget self we do not fret or worry much, we become 'comfortable in our own skin.'

    And if we really want to see God then purity of heart truly mirrors God who is Truth, Integrity and Light. Just see what he says to Nathanael - no deceit, no wiles or giles ! ( Jn 1:47-51 )
    God bless you.

  3. everstrugglingbelieverJanuary 31, 2011 at 8:58 PM

    A humble and sincere Thank you, Father.

  4. Ahhhh…it is the same story again. Each time you preach about the Beatitudes, you have people coming up to you asking for a transcript.

    Thank you for posting it on your blog. Have you ever wondered why this is so, that people are clamouring for your homilies on the Beatitudes?

    I believe the answer is in the title of your blog. To many, these are Jesus’ “real hard truths”? Somehow, our daily living seems disconnected with these truths so much so that the Beatitudes become esoteric statements. Talking with fellow Catholics, I am amazed a majority thinks this is a secret so hidden that an enlightened minority can understand and live them. Many will say it is impossible to go with Jesus’ truths about life – to be poor, meek and pure to name some you had mentioned.

    Thank you so much for putting this up in your blog. From your blog and the follow-up comments, we know that these “secrets to joyful living” is, and should always be, our Christian Culture, our Way of living. We start first by changing these “secrets” to “truths”, however hard they may be.

    Seen in the right light, it is not God asking us to give up everything we have just to be near Him. Instead, Jesus is saying that to truly live, and to live in abundance, we just give everything to God. We simply surrender.

  5. It is in my sorrow and grieving that i feel closest to God, our loving Father.

    And it is true that in sharing the word of God, i am often misunderstood and remembering the Beatitude, i am consoled.

    Thank You, Jesus, for Your Sermon on the Mount:)


  6. Dear Fr Luke

    As I grow older in my life on this earth I begin to discover that the hard truth is that you are never in control of anything in your life.

    The beatitudes are the opposite of the things that matter in corporate life. I have come to realise that faith and trust in GOD is the central pillar of our faith and that the Beatitudes shows us how we are to live our Christian life on earth putting our faith and trust in GOD.

    Thank you for your thoughts.