Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year A

Edward Hattrick, O.S.A.
(1929 – 2007)

Zep 2:3; 3:12-13
Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Cor 1:26-31
Mt 5:1-12a

Today’s gospel is our Lord’s answer to that perennially asked, endlessly debated, most vital question. Indeed, Jesus repeats the word happy (translated in our lectionary as blessed) nine times, and throws in the words rejoice and be glad for good measure. It’s pretty hard to miss the point.

Fairy tales end with the words, “they lived happily ever after.” Today’s gospel tells how we can do the same. To discuss all eight Beatitudes today would take too long, so let’s look at just two: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Perhaps looking at a child will provide an answer. Children are totally powerless, totally dependent – and yet, often quite happy. The reason is simple: Their tomorrows are entrusted to loving parents, so they can live in today. A small girl is rich because she’s poor, strong because she’s weak, free because she’s dependent, and it’s all because of the confidence she has in her parent’s love.

The serpent in Eden said to our parents, “You will become like God if you eat the apple. You’ll be able to determine your own future, dependent on no one.” It will be like praying to yourself and then being able to answer your own prayers. Poverty of spirit is the exact opposite. It is the awareness of our absolute need for God’s help. Another word for poverty of spirit is humility. Humility comes from the Latin word humus. It means earth or soil.

God does not give us full-blown virtues, only the seeds of virtue. Love, kindness, patience, forgiveness must be planted in the earth, in the humus, in humility, or they will never grow. Humility is the soil in which all the other good things grow, especially gratitude and hope. That’s why poverty of spirit is mentioned first. All the other beatitudes – save one – promise future happiness: “they will be comforted, they will see God.” But poverty of spirit or humility is in the present tense: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s now, it’s today, it’s the present moment. It’s not easy for us adults to put all our trust in God. Unlike the child, we often don’t have the confidence that we are loved by God.

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Of all our Lord’s words, none perhaps are harder to understand than these. Who would ever associate mourning with happiness? What is our Lord getting at here? True, he’s looking towards our resurrection: “They will be comforted,” he says. In a world of injustice and sudden death, eternal life has to be our hope.

But there’s more to mourning than that. It’s not all future happiness. I’m thinking now of another word: compassion. Compassion means to suffer with another. There are two types of suffering: one is shown by Jesus on the cross, the other by Mary beneath the cross, watching her son in agony. Was her suffering less than his?

Happy are those who mourn when someone else suffers. Happy are those who bring food to the poor. Happy are those who are concerned about the unemployed, those whose hearts ache for the sick without medicine and orphans without protection, and who marry that mourning to action, who do something. Like Mary, they shall be comforted. And that comfort comes even now.