A trip to the Holy Land is a trip of a lifetime for most Christians and Jews. I have traveled to Israel and experienced many moments that made the stories in the Bible come to life.
The Mount of Beatitudes struck me deeply as one of the most peaceful places on earth. As I sat on this mountain and read the words of Jesus, they became alive. As I read them now, I vividly recall that experience.
The beatitudes fundamentally tell us how to live our relationship with God. In Matthew’s version of the beatitudes, Jesus presents the foundation of God’s kingdom. Jesus offers us blessedness, the qualities of God’s reign that give us peace. This is different from happiness, which is merely a temporary feeling. A blessing from God results in holiness and humility. Holiness is not acquired through luck, chance and random happenings. Our contentment is found by seeking the will of God.
The news media blitz we face each day frequently shapes our values. The world and its secularist ways propose that happiness is found in the latest fad, the newest beverage, looking out for No. 1. Scripture presents a different pitch: Run the risk of being different. Look deeply within your faith to identify a hidden and more personal value system.
Aristotle said, “Happiness is that which we all seek.” The great philosopher also observed that everything we do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is what we hope will bring happiness. However, we are often mistaken in thinking that material wealth and worldly endeavors will provide the true happiness we so desperately seek. Aristotle wisely said that the ethical person knows and does what truly brings lasting happiness.
Maybe the word we are looking for is not happiness, but “blessedness” or “beatitude.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus implores his followers to pursue eternal happiness. Note that Jesus does not use the word “happy” but “blessed.” During the Gospel on the Beatitudes, Jesus lays out a road map for everlasting happiness through sanctity.
Ask anyone what makes them happy and size it up with Jesus’ precepts. Everyone espouses a different happiness model. If a committee of secularists wrote the beatitudes, they could look something like this:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” might read, “Blessed are those who are comfortable.”
“Blessed are those who mourn” might read, “Blessed are those having fun.”
“Blessed are the meek” might read, “Blessed are the well-educated.”
“Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness” might read, “Blessed are those who wine and dine.”
“Blessed are the merciful” might read, “Blessed are the powerful.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart” might read, blessed are those who look great in a swimming suit.
“Blessed are the peacemakers” might read, “Blessed are the news makers.”
The values that Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount are countercultural. We cannot accept Jesus’ teaching and accept all the values of the current social order. Jesus asserts that if we put God first, God will provide true happiness and peace. Nothing in this world gives everlasting peace and nothing in this world can take God’s peace away.
As a pastoral reminder, this year the Solemnity of the “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” falls on a Sunday. This is also known as the “Candle Mass.” We will bless the candles we use for the year at this Sunday’s Mass. If you would like to have any candles blessed for personal use, you may take them with you to Mass.
The Rev. James Williams is pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salida.