Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.
Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.
We work to discover through advocacy, healing and reconciliation, God's presence in our world.
We are to be on earth the heart of God. God has no other heart but ours.
- Published: Wednesday, 25 January 2017 11:42
LITURGY NOTES FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, CYCLE A
Claude Mostowik MSC
Fourth Sunday of the Year
January 29, 2017
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we stand.
We pay our respects to them and for their care of the land.
May we walk gently on this land.
We acknowledge the traditional owners and occupiers of the land where we are now gathered, (the N. people) and recognise that it continues to be sacred to them.
We hail them: as guardians of the earth and of all things that grow and breed in the soil; as trustees of the waters – [the seas, the streams and rivers, the ponds and the lakes] - and the rich variety of life in those waters.
We thank them for passing this heritage to every people since the Dreamtime.
We acknowledge the wrongs done to them by newcomers to this land and we seek to be partners with them in righting these wrongs and in living together in peace and harmony.
First Reading Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 Blessed the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel Matthew 5:1-12a
- You secure justice for the oppressed and give food to the hungry. Jesus, have mercy.
- You raise up those who are bowed down and protect the stranger. Christ, have mercy.
- §You call us to reveal your heart in our peacemaking. Jesus, have mercy.
God of our hearts, [or Encouraging God]
you have made your heart visible in Jesus:
you are poor, gentle and humble,
merciful and just, a lover of peace.
Make us people who will arise to transform our world,
as we weep with those who mourn,
hunger and thirst with those who seek what is right and just;
and seek peace by building bridges and roads of peace.
Introduction: Let us pray to God that we may be among those who seek humility and seek justice. Let us pray, May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- For those who mourn their loved ones lost to war, disease, injustice and hunger in West Papua, Central African Republic, Myanmar, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia: may they find justice for themselves and peace in their lives, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- For the people of South Sudan we pray for the spirit of reconciliation and peace to descend upon them: may those whose lives have been full of violence and instability find protection, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- For people who are persecuted for their following of Jesus: may we live our lives in such ways where we stand strong in the face of injustice and abuse of power, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- 4.For those who pursue active nonviolence in their lives by challenging the powerful, by engaging in dialogue and by striving to raise up those who are made to feel voiceless and powerless: may they see that they are sons and daughters of God, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- 5.For those who are passionate for justice and right relationship between people: may they not be discouraged when they do not always see the peace and transformation they seek in their lifetime, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- For those who reveal God’s kindness and compassion by their solidarity with the poor, the vulnerable, the homeless, refugees, people who are different, the aged and children: may they know they are close to God’s heart, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God
- For those who are persecuted or harassed for meeting hatred with love, for refusing to be silent, or indifferent or walk away from injustice and violence: may they know they are on the same path as the prophets and martyrs for peace, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God.
- For the people of the Philippines who continue to live with the consequences of natural disasters: may Christ’s heart be made visible in the ‘acts of God’ where children are sheltered, the hungry fed, money donated, the sick and aged assisted, and those lost rescued, let us pray: May we be your heart in the world, O God
Concluding Prayer: Encouraging God, you are present in all the good things that come to us. We pray that we may also see your presence in the challenges we encounter and find strength to reveal your face to the world.
Prayers of the Faithful for the Feast of the Presentation
- For the Church: that the Light of Christ may shine through our lives and reveal God to all who are searching
- For the grace of awareness: that we may recognize Christ in all the ways that Christ is present in our lives, particularly through the poor and in ordinary events
- For the Light of Wisdom for all who lead the church: that their decisions may lead others to Christ and bind the Church in greater unity
- For all who live in darkness: that the Light of the Gospel may open new insight and show the path to life
- For the Light of Justice: that all who suffer unjustly may be strengthen and that God’s saving mercy may bring freedom
- For all members of Religious Communities: that the Spirit will renew them and empower them to give faithful witness to Christ who is the center of their lives
- For growth in prayer: that like Simeon and Anna, we may patiently await God’s word in the silence of our hearts and reflect upon all that God has done for us
- For the Light of Understanding: that God will draw all who study the scriptures into a deeper relationship and toward greater understanding of all that God asks of us
- For all senior citizens: that we may appreciate the gift that they are and learn from their lives
- For all legislators: that God will guide their work for the protection of the powerless and in promoting the common good
- For Light for all world leaders: that God will help all world leaders to see the value and dignity of human life and work tirelessly for peace
- For all who are called to be prophets: that God will strengthen their courage and give them a clear grasp of the truth
- For courage and zeal: that our words and deeds may show forth God’s glory as we live our discipleship each day
- For all who struggle with the cold, for the homeless, for migrant workers, and those who have no heat
- For all who will be participating or attending the Olympic Games: that God will preserve them from harm and help them to recognize the unity of the human family
Prayer over the Gifts
God of our hearts, [or Encouraging God]
these are the gifts of the poor: a bit of food, a little wine.
May we experience life as a gift from you
so that we may give ourselves to you and one another.
Thanksgiving after Communion (Brueggemann- Zuidberg)
The following text is a model for a prayer of thanksgiving after communion, which could take the place of the song or the silent thanksgiving after communion. If it is in the people's leaflet, all could pray it together or it may be slowly read by the prayer leader, perhaps with a very brief pause after each part. If it is read by the priest, he concludes with the Prayer after Communion. Changes have been made for gender inclusiveness.
We thank you, God,
for people who have made themselves poor to enrich others,
whose house is always a place of welcome even to strangers.
We thank you, God,
for people who can listen to the miseries of others,
who heal wounds by making pain bearable,
for people who can console.
We thank you, God,
for people who spread peace and rest,
who are attentive to little things,
who are happy when others are great.
We thank you, God,
for people who hunger for justice
who crave to see every person free,
who suffer when injustice is done to their neighbor.
We thank you, God,
for people whose judgment is gentle,
who respect the mystery of all life,
who open their hearts to forgiveness and reconciliation.
We thank you, God,
for people whose intentions are straightforward,
whose words are sincere,
for people loyal to their friends.
We thank you, God,
for people who believe in roads to peace,
who turn their swords into instruments of friendship,
who work to make their faith credible
by committing themselves to one another.
We thank you, God,
for all the happy people
whose joy and sense of humor
bring smiles to those around them,
and whose liberating lifestyle
is a refreshing ray of hope to all. R/ Amen.
Prayer after Communion
God of our hearts, [or Encouraging God]
you give us Jesus as companion
especially for those who are victims of pride and power.
As we have celebrated this Eucharist together
and received Jesus who has become bread for us,
may we recognise each day your presence in those we encounter.
Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.
Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.
Teresa of Avila
We do not live to win. We do not live even to finish. We live to persevere and to endure. Nothing more than this is necessary, but nothing less than this will do until that new heaven and that new earth come, the former things have passed away, the sea is no more, and the vision has become the reality.
Peter J. Gomes
A prayer for greatness of heart
Keep us, O God, from all pettiness;
let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.
Let us be done with fault-finding
and leave off all self-seeking.
May we put away all pretense
and meet each other face-to-face,
without self-pity and without prejudice.
May we never be hasty in judgment,
and always generous.
Let us always take time for all things,
and make us grow calm, serene, and gentle.
Teach us to put into action our better impulses,
to be straightforward and unafraid.
Grant that we may realize
that it is the little things of life that create differences,
that in the big things of life, we are as one.
And, O God, let us not forget to be kind!
attributed to Queen Mary Stuart.
How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Listening is the first expression of communication in prayer. We know that listening precedes speaking in the development of children’s language skills. The same order applies to the development of our prayer life. Something in our spirit is touched by the Divine Spirit before we are drawn to speak.
Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast
We still need prophets to summon us back to the spiritual roots of wholeness and peace. We still need broadcasters of God’s word and magnifiers of God’s truth, so that we will understand and turn and be healed.
Kenneth L. Waters, Sr. I Saw the Lord
As harsh as nature is for animals, cruelty comes only from human hands. We are the creature of conscience, aware of the wrongs we do and fully capable of making things right. Our best instincts will always tend in that direction, because there is a bond with animals that’s built into every one of us. That bond of kinship and fellow-feeling has been with us through the entire arc of human experience—from our first bare-footed steps on the planet through the era of the domestication of animals and into the modern age. For all that sets humanity apart, animals remain ‘our companions in Creation,’ to borrow a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI, bound up with us in the story of life on earth. Every act of callousness toward an animal is a betrayal of that bond. In every act of kindness we keep faith with the bond. And broadly speaking, the whole mission of the animal welfare cause is to repair the bond—for their sake and for our own.
In our day, there are stresses and fractures of the human-animal bond, and some forces at work that would sever it once and for all. They pull us in the wrong direction and away from the decent and honorable code that makes us care for creatures who are entirely at our mercy. Especially within the last 200 years, we’ve come to apply an industrial mindset to the use of animals, too often viewing them as if they were nothing but articles of commerce, the raw material of science, or mere obstacles in the path of our own progress. Here, as in other pursuits, human ingenuity has a way of outrunning human conscience, and some things we do only because we can—forgetting to ask whether we should.
Excerpt from the Preface of Wayne Pacelle’s book, The Bond (Harper Collins/William Morrow)
The word of the Lord to all of us in any form of exile is, ‘You shall be called Sought Out.’ Those who believe they are far from the life they envisioned may hear the news that someone is looking for them. Lostness is not our permanent state. Loneliness will be filled with the arrival of the One who seeks us.
Gerrit Scott Dawson, Called by a New Name
Too often I looked at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’ Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people.
Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus
Volumes can be and have been written about the issue of freedom versus dictatorship, but, in essence, it comes down to a single question: do you consider it moral to treat men as sacrificial animals and to rule them by physical force?
Ayn Rand, (1905-1982)
Stability and peace in our land will not come from the barrel of a gun, because peace without justice is an impossibility.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Prize for Peace recipient 1984
The greater the importance to safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion.
Charles Evans Hughes, (1862-1948) Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
Everything, everything in war is barbaric . . . But the worst barbarity of war is that it forces men collectively to commit acts against which individually they would revolt with their whole being.
Ellen Key, 1916
The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The evils of government are directly proportional to the tolerance of the people.
Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.
Sir Francis Bacon
The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.
When we tolerate what we know to be wrong--when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened--when we fail to speak up and speak out--we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
Robert Francis Kennedy
Let them call me a rebel and I welcome it; I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of demons should I make a whore of my soul.
By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy - indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction.
It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you - try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will yourself!
The history of the race, and each individual's experience, are thick with evidence that a truth is not hard to kill and that a lie told well is immortal.
Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~
When you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a communist.
Archbishop Helder Camara
It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labours of peace.
Violence is shrouded in justifying myths that lend it moral legitimacy, and these myths for the most part kept people from recognizing the violence for what it was. The people who burned witches at the stake never for one moment thought of their act as violence; rather they though of it as an act of divinely mandated righteousness. The same can be said of most of the violence we humans have ever committed.
The hottest fires in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.
The problems of this world are so gigantic that some are paralysed by their own uncertainty. Courage and wisdom are needed to reach out above this sense of helplessness. Desire for vengeance against deeds of hatred offers no solution. An eye for an eye makes the world blind. If we wish to choose the other path, we will have to search for ways to break the spiral of animosity. To fight evil one must also recognize one's own responsibility. The values for which we stand must be expressed in the way we think of, and how we deal with, our fellow humans.
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands from her 2001 Christmas Message
We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.
General Omar Bradley
We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one's country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others... Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognises justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with...the other nations of the world. The first step to this end is to develop peace and goodwill within our borders, by training our youth of both sexes to its practice as their habit of life, so that the jealousies of town against town, class against class and sect against sect no longer exist; and then to extend this good feeling beyond our frontiers towards our neighbours.
I hate it when they say, 'He gave his life for his country.' Nobody gives their life for anything. We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them. They don't die for the honour and glory of their country. We kill them.
Admiral Gene LaRocque.
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don't want to hear.
It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics.
Robert A. Heinlein
Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object.
Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.
Beware of being too rational. In the country of the insane, the integrated man doesn't become king. He gets lynched.
Aldous Huxley, Island
The ideal set up by the Party was something huge, terrible, and glittering - a world of steel and concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons - a nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting - three hundred million people all with the same face.
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
If you assume that there's no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there's a chance for you to contribute to making a better world. That's your choice.
Noam Chomsky, The Chronicles of Dissent
Either man is obsolete or war is. War is the ultimate tool of politics. Political leaders look out only for their own side. Politicians are always realistically manoeuvring for the next election. They are obsolete as fundamental problem-solvers.
Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.
Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them. There is almost no kind of outrage - torture, imprisonment without trial, assassination, the bombing of civilians .. . which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side. The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
Being an artist is not just about making art...It is about delivering the vision one is given…and about doing the right thing without sparing oneself.
When I see brokenness, poverty and crime in inner cities, I also see the enormous potential and readiness for transformation and rebirth. We are creating an art form that comes from the heart and reflects the pain and sorrow of people's lives. It also expresses joy, beauty, and love. This process lays the foundation of building a genuine community in which people are reconnected with their families, sustained by meaningful work, nurtured by the care of each other and will together raise and educate their children. Then we witness social change in action.
Psychic void and loss of cultural memory confront the West. How can we recover our identity and cultural meaning without confronting five hundred years of cultural invasion and cultural resistance? The way to new myths is through the path of truth which uncovers the suppressed history and myths of the defeated.
We live in an age which portends danger and even disaster….the expanding hole in the ozone layer, the ‘greenhouse effect,’ the accelerating extinction of plant and animal species, and a dozen more….The roots of these problems are cultural in nature. Humans have been known to inhabit environments for thousands of years with little life-threatening impact. It is modern Western culture which has created the most alarming of these problems.
The West has achieved world domination. Western worldviews and political agendas dominate every political capital in the world…Western ideologies, views toward nature, versions of economics, art, literature, popular culture, products, and prejudices are practically universal….The West assumes that, to the extend that other peoples are legitimate, they have the same wants and desires, the same propensity for deviousness and competition, the same or nearly the same ambitions as Westerners….
The West has long erred in the direction of dangerous speculation and absence of respect for the obvious dependency of our species on the world which has in fact created us. Science and technology could conceivably exist in a cultural environment of respect and reverence with the forces of life designated as nature. Human knowledge about how natural phenomena function does not necessarily lead to irresponsible behaviors, animal and plant extinction, and the destruction of the biosphere….
The element of our culture which makes a dangerous distance from the natural world is its anthropocentrism — the belief that we are not only different form others, but inherently superior….To recover a relationship to nature we must adopt an art which not only tolerates but celebrates difference and complexity in all things, including life forms and cultures. The reason whole species of plants and animals are being destroyed is that the West is so anthropocentric that there is simply not enough value placed on other species of life. Our culture suffers from an inadequate tradition of delight found in things different from ourselves, an inadequate body of stories, images, sounds, and experiences which reinforce that celebration of difference.
John Mohawk, ‘Toward a Reverence for Nature,’ unpublished paper
They plucked our fruit
They cut our branches
They burned our trunk
But they could not kill our roots
Committee of United Campesinos, Guatemala
No one likes to be criticized, but criticism can be something like the desert wind that, in whipping the tender stalks, forces them to strike their roots down deeper for security.
Polingaysi Qoyawayma, Hopi
How can you own land? In our Inuit knowledge, it's the land that owns us, it's the land that supports us, it's the land that feeds us and we have to respect it.
Aiju Peter, Inuit
We are forced to live in a society that is not of our own making, and which causes a lot of social problems. And we spend millions of dollars trying to address these problems.
Louis Taparjuk, Inuit
Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.
Christopher Columbus is a symbol, not of a man, but of imperialism. Imperialism and colonialism are not something that happened decades ago or generations ago, but they are still happening now with the exploitation of people ... The kind of thing that took place long ago in which people were dispossessed from their land and forced out of subsistence economies and into market economies -- those processes are still happening today.
John Mohawk, Seneca, 1992
Go through with the remainder of your days treating everyone fair. That you may be treated the same. When you come to the road to the singing and dancing gourds, you will have no regret, knowing you have done your part while here.
George Webb, Akimel O'odham
We were put here for a reason, to take care of this land. Not because it's something that maybe you say you own ... but because it belongs to the next generation.
Rex Buck Jr., Wanapum
The most cowardly way of quitting is hitting.
As we walk along the trail of life we carry a bowl and each experience we have is like a stone we pick up and put into the bowl. To change all we have to do is turn the bowl upside down and then show our light there.
Alex Pua, Hawaiian Elder
Everything that gives birth is female. When men begin to understand the relationships of the universe that women have always known, the world will begin to change for the better
Lorraine Canoe, Mohawk
This is what my spirit tells me – get my people together. Get them to believe because if you don’t they are going to go wild. They are going to kill one another. Whoever has sacred places must wake them up, the same as I am doing here – to keep my old world within my heart and with the spiritual. For them to help me and for me to help my people.
Flora Jones, Wintu
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
We all come from the same root, but the leaves are all different.
John Fire Lame Deer, Lakota
The ... advice I have to give you is, do not live your life safely. I would take risks and not do things just because everybody else does them. In my generation someone who had a big impact on me was Robert Kennedy, who in one speech said, 'Some people see things the way they are and ask why, and others dream things that never were and ask why not?' I think that is where I hope many of you will be – people that question why things are and why we have to do them the way we have always done them. I hope you will take some risks, exert some real leadership on issues, and if you will, dance along the edge of the roof as you continue for life.
Wilma P. Mankiller, 1992 Principal Chief, Cherokee Nation
We do not want riches, but we want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches, we want peace and love.
Red Cloud, Oglala Lakota
Reflections on the readings
We have another glimpse into God’s heart in the gospel as we ‘hear’ Jesus preaching for the first time and poignantly stating in the Beatitudes the sentiments of God’s heart toward people. They are also radical and elemental challenges which Matthew places at the beginning of Jesus’ public teaching. The readings remind us that God is found in the poorest, the weakest and the most vulnerable among us; that God is not found only in our sanctuaries but in the world we walk through each week. The Beatitudes cover a number of bases - the poor, the meek, the mourner, the peacemaker, etc., - all categories in which many in the crowd could identify with. Jesus speaks to them and calls them blessed even in the midst of their challenges and the opposition they face. What a hopeful thing to hear!
I wonder if the millions of women who gathered in cities all around the world last week also heard words of hope and possibility despite feelings of despair, pain, fear, memories of violence, concern and incapacity. And, one word that emerged was ‘arise’, ‘get up’ during another period of political turmoil and uncertainty. Herein, lies the hope that all seek.
In the non-Catholic lectionary today, Micah speaks to a people during a time of political turmoil and transition. For most of the 8th century BC, the Assyrian Empire conducted a massive military conquest of Israel and Judah. At the time, this empire was the largest that the world had ever known with its formidable army, advanced weaponry and military tactics, as well as psychological warfare. This supported the empire’s ambitions for political and economic expansion through exploitation resulting in massive deportations and gross economic stratification and equality.
The sense of despair in Micah time may be similar to that of many people today whether in Europe, the United States, African, Asia or Latin America. All wonder if anyone cares. Micah tells the people to ‘rise up!’ As did the leaders among the women who marched around the world last weekend, Micah does not silence the complaints and concerns of the people, but rather affirms their right to rise up and voice their complaints and anxieties about the future. The people are called always to remember God’s faithfulness: that God has brought the people out of slavery and sent leaders to challenge and guide them; and to remember that God walks amongst them. That faithfulness, however, is expressed through the actions of our sisters and brothers who put their voices and their bodies on the line for others.
The unprecedented participation in the worldwide March of Women’s Rights suggests that the spirit of Micah continues. It is alive and well. His view of justice demands that we will continue on behalf of the margins, and that the Women’s March will be much more than a cathartic expression of protest. These actions of justice will prevail despite the political system in power. Justice and love naturally emerge from a covenantal relationship with an unrelenting God.
Zephaniah is clear about what God wants: to seek justice. The psalm complements Zephaniah by praising God for bringing justice to the oppressed, feeding hungry people, and upholding the vulnerable such as widows and orphans. The justice, kindness and humility that God requires are nothing less than a reflection of God’s heart, God’s passion. There is nothing passive about relationship with God and others in the world. Christianity is active, energetic and alive; it movesfrom despair to hope.
God requires us to seek justice with a passion – and maybe even suffer for it. ‘Seek justice’ is a central demand of God. Zephaniah calls for a re-shaping of human society according to God’s ways, i.e., which has practical consequences for people – both the powerful and the powerless. The Beatitudes make some people cringe – especially those of who are comfortable or who do not suffer much for justice sake. Others might cringe when they hear the Beatitudes proclaimed because they seem very passive about our situation in the world when in fact the gospel is not something idealistic but something to be lived.
The gospel passage is often used when explaining the ‘preferential option for the poor’ which recognises that those on the margins and those most negatively affected by the injustices of our world are especially beloved by God and must be especially served by us. Our interconnectedness with God must be lived in justice and mercy if our faith is not be more than platitudes and dreams. There cannot be any division between our worship and justice. This means we constantly look around to see who is left out. This way of looking at things means that would should not be preoccupied with seeing the words of Jesus as directed towards us when we could instead be watching for these people who, in spite of their struggles, have a special closeness with the divine.
In a culture that celebrates wealth and power and uses military might to achieve its ends, Jesus lifts up those on the opposite end of that spectrum as blessed. This is not possible with an individualist spirituality or where self-protection, material gain, power and human wisdom dominate even if considered measures of God’s blessing by some. The gospel says that we encounter God by following different values, different interactions with others and different ways of being in the world. These are expressed by sacrifice, justice, compassion and integrity. We encounter God in the least and most vulnerable in our world who are blessed, not because they were particularly happy or esteemed, or without troubles, but because in a unique and profound way God was near to them.
So, God is known and encountered by living Christ’s different values, different interactions with others and different ways of being in the world. The doorway to God’s presence is through sacrifice, justice, compassion and integrity. This calls us away from a spirituality that separates worship and social action; that separates God’s presence and the work of justice; that leaves us hoping for ‘evacuation’ to another world as this world suffers and dies. Our worship should lead us into lives of justice and transformation, and teach us to encounter God in the least and most vulnerable in our world. Brian McLaren, an American pastor and writer dismisses that ‘evacuation theology’ which believes that this life is merely a ‘testing ground for another, better world’, and that ‘faith is about separation from this world and its issues in order to be ready for this other world’. Such a view makes sense of hating and killing people who have different beliefs to us. Such a view makes sense of treating women, gay and lesbian people, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the stranger as less than human and deserve to be disadvantaged or treated inequitably. Such a view legitimatises abuse the planet with little care for the impact of consumption of resources. This is not Jesus’ message today. As we look again at the Gospel, we find that God is found in our working for justice, in our caring for the least and in our opposing forces of violence, destruction, materialism, greed, and power.
So what does a person of God’s Reign look like? Today’s gospel does not describe eight different people but provides snapshots of people of God’s Reign from different angles. Jesus’ values are very different, counter-cultural: we are confronted with Jesus’ values and those of society. The basic question today is who do we follow – the values of the world or those of Jesus.
Through the centuries, those who have voiced serious doubts about the feasibility of living in response to these radical statements have been as numerous, and perhaps even louder and more convincing in their logic, than those who surrender to the paradox of Christ’s challenges and attempt to live according to them. Tolstoy, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi and Bonhoeffer among others understood Matthew 5:1-12 to contain the central tenets of the Christian faith. Others favour modifying these verses. They claim that they are hyperbole and so can only be taken seriously when toned down. Others teach that Jesus’ words are invitation for believers to live according to an ethic that is the standard for God’s reign which has come near in Jesus, and so believers are to think, speak and do as Jesus did, thus making his mind and heart their own. Nowhere does Jesus more clearly set forth his mind and heart than in the blessings he pronounces in this Gospel.
Today’s readings invite us to collaborate with God and one another in addressing God’s concerns for humanity. Whilst they are not specific actions they are meant to guide and inspire us to act – to be people of the heart, and wounded hearts. Last Sunday we heard from Paul as he was concerned about disunity in the Corinthian community. It was not for the sake of unity but because it was a tool to present an alternative to the world’s way of doing things, to overturn our familiar world and do things differently – to say that we live for others; for right relationship or justice-making, for inclusiveness. Injustice and abuse of power was concretely expressed in the Corinthian community where members believed that they were set apart [special] and superior to others. In these cases, how is it possible to recognise God’s presence in others? Love making and justice making take us beyond ourselves whereas a society based on power, success and materialism tends to close in on itself. This is at the heart of the Beatitudes. Paul spoke of himself as an ambassador for Christ. How can we do that today? It begins first by recognising the humanity of the other; that we are sisters and brothers; that we are called to love one another even when they wound us or commit crimes against us. In the context of the Beatitudes and the situation of the world today we might call it becoming ambassadors of nonviolence.
There was nothing passive about Jesus, the prophets or Paul. We see the heart of God and the heart of Jesus reflected in the Beatitudes. We see where God’s heart and passion lay. The direction of God’s gaze and concern is toward the marginalised and oppressed. God notices the poor, the left behind people; the people who yearn for and attempt to change the world. Do we notice? There is nothing passive about the Beatitudes. Jesus did not pat people on the head and say ‘there, there’. How can one say to a child in Gaza today, 'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied’? How can one say that to a person enslaved for sex work or a child soldier? How can one go into a poor or socially disadvantaged area and say ‘Blessed are you poor’. How could one go to a persecuted young man or woman in a Palestinian refugee camp and say, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the reign of heaven’? I think we would be dismssed as failing to understand the plight of those who are persecuted – and we would reflect God’s lack of understanding as well.
To hunger and thirst for justice – means doing it. And Jesus’ ‘blessed’ is a congratulations and encouragement to those who do seek justice, work for peace. We must make it happen. It means talking to those who have hurt us, not avoiding them or cutting them off. We cannot just admire justice, but we work for it. If we want peace, we must work for it. If we want peace we must find an alternative to the hatred which can make us into monsters. It is impossible to care only about our own community without seeking to reach out to those beyond it. How can have a church where certain groups of people feel excluded? How can we have a country based on the fair go if people feel excluded because of their social status, social abilities, race, gender or religion?
The former archbishop of Galilee, Elias Chacour in his book, We Belong to the Land, offers a powerful translation of ‘blessed’. ‘Blessed’ is the translation of the word makarioi, used in the Greek New Testament, but his study of Jesus’ Aramaic, reveals that the original word was ashray. This word has a very active quality to it. So he translates Jesus words in the Aramaic, as:
‘Get up, go ahead, do something, move,’ Jesus said to his disciples (Chacour, We Belong to the Land, pp. 143-144). Get up, go ahead. Do something, move, you who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for you shall be satisfied. Get up, go ahead, do something, move, you peacemakers, for you shall be called children of God. Do something if you want to be a peacemaker, not a peace contemplator, to build bridges where others build walls.
It is a call to all of to get our hands dirty, to build a humane society where people will not be abused and tortured, where voiceless find their voices and are heard, where the powerless are lifted up and stand in dignity. So when Jesus says ‘blessed’ he is saying both ‘congratulations’ and ‘keep at it’. The congratulations and encouragement is there when we struggle to do what is right, what is just and stand with those who grieve. He also urges us to get up and do something.. ‘do something you peacemaker, you who are hungry or thirsty for justice, you who long to have a pure heart… and you will be satisfied. You will be called children of God’.
So let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s also encourage and congratulate those amongst us who are tireless partners with God and others to create a more human world in their little acre of God’s world.
What attitudes need to be stripped away to see the presence of God in the marginal and most vulnerable? Open your eyes to the possibility of Christ dwelling within each of us and calling us on our journey to build a Church that renews the world. The Pope says that mere administration is not enough. Each of us must do some self-examination in order to be an effective part of the Body of Christ. Pope Francis concludes:‘...The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades....’ (Evangelii Gaudium, (2), November 24, 2013). May we also be a light to those in darkness.
No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.