Tag Archives: beatitudes

The True Judge

Fra Angelico, Detail of the Crucifixion (ca.1437-46)

12th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Matthew 7:1-5

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.”

Restlessness afflicts the untamed human condition. Worry about the body (food, drink, and clothing) and worry about how we and others are “measuring up” plague the mind. 

The birds of the air, grass, and lilies of the field do not worry about these things, Jesus pointed out (Matthew 6:25-34). Their simplicity and trust in the heavenly Father are innate—a simplicity that also belonged to Adam’s original nature. 

Birds and lilies do not have to discipline a mind, of course, which St. James described as a wild “fire” (James 3:6). He wrote about taming the tongue, but the tongue is a servant of the mind. Above all, the mind must be calmed and divinized by grace. The discipline of fasting extends beyond the body to the mind—to the thoughts that provoke speech and action. 

Judging is a loveless mental action, unlike the correction a mother gives a child out of tender care. The kind of judging Jesus is redirecting to love wishes to stand over another in order to feel superior. Judging arises from the consciousness of the good that forked out of the “knowledge of good and evil.” Fixation on the perceived evil of a brother or sister makes one feel good by comparison. Insecurity takes refuge in judging.

The test of a pure heart is the Cross. Are we willing to identify with (be at one with) the person whom we judge? Jesus, the only true judge, did so. 

-GMC

Secret Friendship

“Lockdown”
©️2020 by Gloria M. Chang

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

2 Kings 2:1-14, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Jesus’ command sounded strange to his hearers then and now. How can one hand be ignorant of the other?

We should ask the question in reverse: How does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? Why are humans self-conscious? 

The injunction follows the exhortation not to perform righteous deeds in order to be seen or win the praise of others. Pure actions proceed spontaneously without ulterior motives or self-satisfaction. Children of the Father are good without even knowing it. 

In the paradisal state, goodness is not even a category. The mind recognizes “good” only because it also recognizes “evil.” Consciousness of the good spiraled out from the “knowledge of good and evil,” the splitting of the original, one-pointed mind. Communion in the deified state will know nothing of either goodness or evil, love or hate, kindness or unkindness. When the Trinity is all in all, distinctions and categories disappear. Love is a reality, not a category. These very words are being burned up as we speak.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

Distinctions between an “inner” and an “outer” room also resulted from Adam’s breakdown. In personal communion there are no outside individuals to impress. We commune with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit as one Body of Christ. In the silent prayer of the heart, we can begin to quiet the senses and let go of the vanity of public image.

But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

We are called to develop a hidden interior life in the heart of the Father. Life in the Trinity is a personal friendship, and intimacy is a privilege of persons. Jesus gave us a hint of what this means when he refused to divulge John’s destiny to Peter (John 21:22). Each of us is called to a particular and unique friendship unlike any other—a secret known only to the Father. We are wasting time when we look for human applause or compare ourselves with one another. The way to unity among human persons is to turn to the Person of the Father first. In the Father’s maternal heart, personal union and communion are forged.

Elijah’s glorious assumption into heaven shows us that heaven is not so far away. We can begin to find heaven in our heart and in our midst through hidden prayer today: “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). 

-GMC

Children of the Heavenly Father

Icon of Desert Fathers and Mothers

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)

I Kings 21:17-29, Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The journey to become “children of the heavenly Father” is infinitely short and infinitely long—a journey to the center of the heart where the Trinity dwells. 

That place of tranquility in the still, silent center is what the desert tradition calls hesychia (from the Greek, meaning stillness, quiet, rest, silence). In this state, a person has conquered the passions through prayer, watchfulness and self-denial. A watchman is alert, awake and aware, like the wise servants waiting for their master to return from the marriage feast (Luke 12:35-38), or the five wise virgins who had their lamps alight when the bridegroom came (Matthew 25:1-13). 

The desert tradition also calls this state of tranquility apatheia (passionlessness)—a condition of inner equanimity when one is no longer moved against the will by thoughts and emotions. The person is fully aware of every action proceeding from thought and emotion, and takes responsibility for it. 

The state of being tossed in the storm of thoughts and emotions may be compared to the troposphere—the lowest layer of the atmosphere where weather occurs. Rain, sunshine, snow, hail, mist, clouds, etc… thoughts and emotions change continuously.

Above and beyond this tropospheric state, the person in hesychia/apatheia can observe with clarity the thoughts and emotions as they come and go, and act freely rather than by impulse or habit. Prayer, watchfulness and self-denial lead a person to interior freedom.

Self-conquest by the grace of the Holy Spirit allows one to sit in the lap of the heavenly Father and appreciate how “he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” The One who provides the weather for the earth is infinitely above it, and therefore perfectly loving and detached. Love and detachment go hand in hand. Above the spiritual troposphere, Jesus had compassion on those who hated him because he saw clearly that they were injuring themselves far more than they injured him. Such is the divine state to which we are called.

A watchful Eve and Adam would have stopped the serpent in his tracks as soon as the words, “Did God say…?” slipped out. A watchful Cain would have left his gift at the altar and reconciled himself with his brother before making his offering. 

There is hope for the Ahabs and Jezebels of the world. Murderers, robbers, prostitutes and ruffians became some of the holiest saints in the desert. Holiness is open to all, just like the sun and the rain.

-GMC

Becoming a Person

Icon of Jesus and Pontius Pilate

11th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

I Kings 21:1-16, Matthew 5:38-42

Humans are the oddest creatures on the planet. The account of Naboth’s stoning is odd from beginning to end.  

King Ahab tried to strike a deal with his neighbor Naboth to acquire his vineyard, which was next to his palace. He was refused and went home dejected. Ahab lived in splendor. Why did he need to increase his property?

Jezebel assumed that a potentate has the right to take the property of another. Might makes right. Her spiritual discernment was dulled to the point of insensitivity by layers of power politics, materialism, and brutality. With impunity she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and he didn’t even bother to inquire about her specific plans. From wallowing in self-pity to being led along by Jezebel in her schemes, Ahab proved himself utterly passive and languid.

Naboth’s fellow citizens were exceedingly odd. A letter arriving with Ahab’s seal directing them to “get two scoundrels” to falsely accuse Naboth and stone him to death was carried out without a single voice of protest.

The same mob mentality that crucified Christ was at work in these false accusations. The same absence of personal consciousness animated the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and other mob atrocities. Countless rulers in history have waged war to seize territories not their own, or increase their wealth beyond rational limits. Something deeply irrational lies at the root of these destructive behaviors.

In mass scapegoating, advertising, and other instances of artificially manufactured desires, humans behave almost as automatons—following the lead of another, and another, until collective desire reaches such a pitch as to become unstoppable.

The revelation of the Trinity liberates persons from the cage of relativity in which individuals look to the left and right to get their cues for how to think and behave. Humans are imitative, according to one theory (René Girard’s mimetic theory). Copycat behavior stems from a lack of  interiority and conviction.

An anthropology based on the Trinity offers the richest and most satisfying solution to the collective ills of humanity. The absolute diversity of persons in Trinitarian communion satisfies the innate desire to possess or be, singly or uniquely. The desire of individuals to stand out or possess “more than” someone else (envy) is quelled by the truth that each and every person is unique and unrepeatable. Persons transcend relativity by the very fact of absolute diversification.

At the same time, the absolute identity of persons in communion, in which the whole, deified human nature is possessed by each, satisfies the innate desire to be complete in every way. 

Envy was the sin identified by Jesus and even Pontius Pilate as the chief motivation for the mob crucifixion of Christ. The final end of the Cross is life in the Trinity. For that life, we must die to our individual selves and selfish desires and become whole persons animated by the Holy Spirit. Spirit-filled persons do not look to the left or right for their moral compass, but are guided from within, by the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father.

The revolutionary teaching of Christ to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” radically subverts individual, self-protecting instincts. Risky, to be sure, but love is the ultimate risk. The Son of God staked everything for love of us to bring us home to the Father. We are free to accept or reject that love.

-GMC

The Law Made Flesh

Fra Angelico: The Crucifixion (detail), ca.1437-46
Source: Wikimedia Commons

10th week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

1 Kings 18:20-39, Psalm 25, Matthew 5:17-19

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

In the legalistic society Jesus grew up in, he witnessed the meticulous ways in which people carried out their ritual purifications, food laws, and Sabbath regulations. The heart and soul of these minute rules was love, Jesus pointed out earlier to the wise scribe (Mark 12:28-34). He had no battle to pick about words and letters in the law. Such scholarly disputations were a hindrance to his simple yet inexhaustibly profound message from the Father’s heart: the only-begotten Son of God is the Law made flesh.

All of the sacrifices of the Old Law were nailed to the Cross in Jesus Christ. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not live. Seen in the light of the Trinity, Jesus showed us that the way to authentic personhood and communion is self-emptying. By detaching from ego and its illusory, finite possessions both material and spiritual (“mine”), persons are released into the infinity of the Triune Love (“all mine are thine, and thine are mine”).

Spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually, over centuries and generations, as humanity crawls from babyhood to adulthood as one man. In the dramatic episode of Elijah’s glorious defeat of the prophets of Baal, the lukewarm children of Israel returned to their God. However, zeal and fanaticism led Elijah to kill his opponents. With the heat of Jezebel’s threat on his neck to take his life in return, he fell into depression under a broom tree, begging the Lord to let him die. He was not fully aware of the reason for his slump, but it probably came from his excessive zeal.

No prophet ever died for his enemies but Jesus Christ. All of the arrows, violence, scorn, beatings, and hatred of the scattered children of Adam were hurled upon the Cross. And Jesus said, “I thirst.” He thirsts for our love and unity. He thirsts for our ultimate happiness which can only be obtained by dropping our arrows and emptying our hands. We are one, he told his disciples at the Last Supper. If you hurt one of the least of my brethren, you hurt me, he told Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus. 

In the childhood of humankind, the line between good and evil was drawn outside in the world of material extension. “Us” versus “Them,” “friends” versus “enemies,” “I” versus “You.” The line between good and evil, however, is found within the human heart, the true altar of sacrifice. The message of the Beatitudes is conquer yourself. The battle with sin and evil is within. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is replaced by, “Love your enemies.”

Stories abound from the desert fathers and mothers about the discovery of God’s universal love for all without discrimination, a realization obtained only after a great interior battle and purification. They hold up a high standard for Christian perfection, which is Jesus’ own standard: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Let us pray with the Psalmist, “Teach me your paths, my God, and guide me in your truth” (Psalm 25:4b, 5a). 

-GMC

Bread from Ravens

Elijah on Mount Horeb, as depicted in a Greek Orthodox icon

10th week in Ordinary Time, Monday

I Kings 17:1-6, Psalm 121, Matthew 5:1-12

In a world of individuals where people scrape and fend for themselves in order to survive, the image of a ragged Elijah in haircloth being fed by ravens seems unreal. Elijah is a type of monk or hermit—St. John the Baptist was compared to him (Luke 1:17)—and is claimed by the Carmelites as their founder and inspiration. Freed from self-care, Elijah was able to focus all of his energy on God. 

In the third century after Pentecost, a wave of Elijah and Baptist imitators swept across Egypt and Syria as men and women fled the cities to seek God alone in the desert. The clothing worn by the two prophets inspired their simple habits—sleeveless tunics, belts and sandals—and signified their renunciation of the pomp and vanity of this world. 

Like Elijah, the early Christian ascetics lived simply and relied on Divine Providence for their daily needs. They earned only enough to sustain bare necessities in order to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade” (Psalm 121:5),  they believed, receiving bread from the Father’s ravens. 

The prophets and ascetics in salvation history demonstrate with their own lives that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world, but begins in the human heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” was the motto of the desert. In a world of measurable distances, corners, edges and surfaces, we need not travel an inch to find the infinite space for the divine within the heart, the dwelling place of the Trinity.

In the blissful state of heavenly communion—when “all mine are thine, and thine are mine”—all persons will be freed from self-care, rejoicing in the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can begin today by trusting in the Lord to provide for our needs and those of the whole world.

-GMC

Beatitudes

By Orlando Hernandez

In today’s Gospel (Lk 6: 20-26) we’re blessed with the “Four Beatitudes” of the Gospel of Luke. I was led to reread Max Lucado’s wonderful book “ The Applause of Heaven”, with his incredibly beautiful interpretation of the Beatitudes. Then I also read pages 70-99 in Pope Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth”. In these pages on the Beatitudes I always discover new treasures that lead me to the meaning of who Christ is, what our church should be about, and what Christian life always is: the unfolding of Love. I really recommend these books.

Rather than present the wonderful thoughts in these two works, I was led to view the
Gospel reading as a form of prayer, a chance for a Christian to discover what message Jesus has for him or her today. He blesses us with the grace of His words.

This is what I experienced. First, I encountered a fifth beatitude (besides the four presented in Luke). The first line in the reading is , “Raising His eyes toward His disciples Jesus said:”(v..20a). I imagine what it would have been like to have been there, and to experience those eyes, probably closed in meditation, slowly opening and looking into your heart! Sometimes prayer can be just so rewarding. My mind searches anxiously into the darkness, and suddenly a light seems to dawn, bathing my soul with a Love too great to bear! This is a blessing, a happiness, that sooner or later the Beautiful One brings to anyone who wishes to be His disciple.

Then He says: “ Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.”( v..20b). I imagine the folks in Florida, coming out of their hot, dark houses to see the devastation outside. They look at the bright sky after the storm has left. The quality of their lives has certainly been impoverished, but they are safe! They relish in the fact of their being alive, God’s great gift, and many of us are blessed with a delightful sense of gratitude. Loved ones call from everywhere. Neighbors and volunteers are there for each other. We get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord says: “Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be satisfied.”(v..21a). What an awesome sensation, the hunger for Jesus! What an incredible gift He offers us everyday in the Eucharist. I experience this overwhelming sensation that is simultaneously physical, mental, and spiritual, this need for Him. And He gives Himself to us. Why does He love us like this?

“Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.”(v..21b) . Father John Powers CP often says that sorrow is the flaw in love. I was remembering my friend Edith, whom we buried only last week. Her daughter had told me who that beautiful young man in that Bar Mitzvah portrait had been. In our visits Edith had never talked about him. She had lost him many years ago when he was only 20. I thought of the pain she must have carried all these years. I thought about how it would feel to lose my son, or one of my grandchildren. And I missed her. I began to cry in the most loud, unseemly way, out there alone in my backyard. It sounded like laughter, and it reminded me of the many times we had laughed together. She was a lot of fun. I know we will laugh together again.

The Lord says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”(v..22) Last Friday, at the Douglaston Center I saw the Martin Scorsese movie, “Silence”, presented by Father Robert Lauder. Being a disciple of Christ can lead to much horrible suffering and death. My discipleship has fortunately never challenged me this way. When I was young, and I had left he church, I would see Christians expressing their faith, talking to me about it. I would be respectful, but in my mind I would laugh and say, “fanatics”, “crazy hallelujahs”, or “poor deluded people”. I would feel sorry for them. Sometimes I had to tell them, “Listen, leave me alone!”.

Funny how now I am one of “those people”, and get some of my old attitude directed at me. It makes me sad, because when I “Rejoice and leap for joy” with my Sunday prayer group, I realize what they’re missing, and I pray for them.

I know that tomorrow I could read this same passage again and receive different messages, different graces, different words from the Word of God, whose love for us is inexhaustible. He pours upon us Beatitude upon Beatitude. Thank you, Beloved.

Orlando Hernandez

Blessed are the poor in spirit

There is no doubt that the poor find it easier than the rich to receive the blessing of humility; for gentleness goes with poverty just as pride more commonly goes with riches. Nevertheless,  many rich people find that their wealth does not swell them up with pride: rather, they do good and benevolent things with it. For these people the greatest treasure is what they spend in relieving the distress and hardship of others.

  In the virtue of humility people of every kind and every standing meet together, because though they differ in their means they share a common purpose. Their inequality of wealth makes no difference if they are equal in spiritual blessings.
  What kind of poverty, then, is blessed? The kind that is not in love with earthly things and does not seek worldly riches: the kind that longs to be filled with the blessings of heaven.
Pope Leo the Great

Seeing God

St. Gregory of Nyssa has a beautiful reflection in today’s readings on the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

He begins by saying that “It does not say that it is blessed to know something about the Lord God, but that it is blessed to have God within oneself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“I do not think that this is simply intended to promise a direct vision of God if one purifies one’s soul. On the other hand, perhaps the magnificence of this saying is hinting at the same thing that is said more clearly elsewhere: The kingdom of God is within you. That is, we are to understand that by purging our souls of every illusion and every disordered affection, we will see our own beauty as an image of the divine nature.

“Our own beauty as an image of the divine nature,”

We are sharers in the divine nature. We’re not God, who is transcendent, inaccessible, beyond our minds and knowing, but we can “see” God in ourselves, our own image, as we are purified from our illusions, our sins, our disordered love. Like many early eastern theologians, Gregory appreciates the basic goodness of human nature restored by the grace of the Redeeming Christ. No demeaning of humanity here.

The saints goes on:

“And those pure in heart are blessed because, seeing their own purity, they see the archetype reflected in the image. If you see the sun in a mirror then you are not looking directly at the sky, but still you are seeing the sun just as much as someone who looks directly at it. In the same way, the Lord is saying, although you do not have the strength to withstand the direct sight of the great and inaccessible light of God, if you look within yourselves once you have returned to the grace of the image that was placed in you from the beginning, you will find in yourselves all that you seek… the sight of God.”

Going a step further, can the saint’s words apply also to creation itself? If our created world as well as our human world mirrors God, aren’t we meant to see God there too? If it is marred and disfigured by human greed and loses its place as a sacrament of God’s presence, does the beatitude about purifying the human heart also extend to renewing and purifying creation?