Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

Jesus Christ, a Living Sermon

23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday (Year II)

Luke 6:20-26

The life of Jesus is the epitome of his “Sermon on the Mount” or “Sermon on the Plain,” as it is called in Luke. The living sermon who is Jesus himself continues in his disciples, the Body of Christ.

Raising his eyes toward his disciples Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.

Born in a manger to poor Mary and Joseph, the Son of God entered the world naked and empty-handed like all newborn babes. The family’s poverty was evident in the ritual purification of Mary and Joseph forty days after his birth: they offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in lieu of a costly lamb (Luke 2:24). Joseph the carpenter apprenticed Jesus in the humble trade of skilled manual labor. 

During Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus was poorer than a fox: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58).

Matthew’s version reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3), for material poverty is no guarantee of inner abandonment to divine providence. Abraham is the classic case of a rich man who passes through the “eye of a needle” because he is poor in spirit. The fundamental truth is that we are radically poor and empty at bottom: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). Our very existence is a gift.

Yet existence alone does not constitute the kingdom of God. Existence alone may even lead to despair. A deeper poverty must be found—the primordial poverty of persons in communion. Each “I” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is simultaneously empty and full in the mutual indwelling of one within the other: “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10). 

Persons in the Body of Christ also dwell within one another in undivided division: “All mine (the theandric Body) are thine, and thine are mine.” Since nothing lies outside the deified humanity—the perichoresis of the two natures in Christ—poverty and wealth are one and the same thing. The deified person has nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

After fasting for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, Jesus was hungry. Yet when tempted to turn stones into bread he responded, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). The hunger of the spirit for truth and divine communion infinitely surpasses the hunger of the body. 

Yet Jesus did not ignore the needs of the body. He and his disciples were hungry enough to pick grain on the Sabbath. Compassion moved Jesus to feed thousands in the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Hunger for love and mercy drove him to alleviate the hunger of his neighbors. 

The crying hunger of humanity for deification drew Jesus to give himself as food and drink: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:56). In the Eucharistic banquet, persons become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

On the Cross, Jesus’ hunger for love and communion reached its climax with his final words, “I thirst” and “It is finished” (John 19:28-30).

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus when he died (John 11:35). He wept for Martha and Mary, the dead man’s sisters, and for the plight of humanity represented by the tomb. Death and division, sin and strife tear humanity apart within and without. Jesus’ self-emptying love to the Father in the Holy Spirit opened the way for weeping humanity to enter the laughter of eternal communion. 

“In the heart of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us” (Meister Eckhart).

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. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.  For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. 

By his Incarnation Jesus became an object of love and hatred—an individual among individuals. It was better for him to go to the Father, he told Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, so that the Holy Spirit would guide her from within (John 20:17; 16:7). The deification of humankind is a gradual process of awakening to the reality of mutual indwelling and communion. 

Hatred and insult come from the state of division—the illusion of interpersonal separation and objectification (individualism). Communion transcends the duality of subject and object. The indivisibility of persons in communion is an invisible reality that only the spiritual eye can perceive.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

If invisible riches were as palpable as cash in the hand, there would be no need for “woes” and warnings. For the mystics of the Church, deification did become as palpable, even in this life. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the inner eye must be awakened to see that earthly riches and satiety are nothing in comparison with the treasure of becoming one with the infinite and incorruptible Trinity: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34).


Whoever Loves Me

Icon of the Sermon on the Mount

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

Matthew 7:21-29

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Jesus’ sobering words cast presumption aside. We must come before the Father as a little child emptied of self-will and ready to obey, however difficult it may be. Jesus directs us to the Father rather than to himself, for the Father and the Son have one will. The Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts to lead us to the Father through the Son. 

Hearts need to be watchful and silent to hear the Spirit’s still, small voice. Since the Spirit enlightens and guides our inner spirit, obedience is not violently coerced from without, but freely offered from within. We can trust the testimony of the saints, and pray for the gift of the Spirit for ourselves and for the Church. After Pentecost, Peter and the disciples transformed into persons full of grace and power. 

Jesus is not impressed with “mighty deeds” apart from a childlike trust in the Father and continuous metanoia (inner conversion). Outsiders see what we do; the Father sees what we are—the condition of our hearts, including our thoughts and intentions. Everything must be surrendered to him.

Jesus, an expert carpenter, advises us to build our house on solid rock. Rain and floods will come, winds will blow and buffet, but a house built on solid rock will not collapse. Every day is a new beginning to listen to his words and act on them. “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7-8; Hebrews 3:15). Many todays flow into eternity. 

“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him” (John 14:23).


Returning to Simplicity

18th century icon of the Prophet Elisha (from the iconostasis of Kizhi Monastery, Russia)

10th week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

1 Kings 19:19-21, Psalm 16, Matthew 5:33-37 

Have you ever had to “think twice?” In our complex society, everything from politics to online shopping usually involves deliberation. Avoidance of swindling is a big business—how many insurance companies and lawyers are there?

This state of affairs has come to be accepted as normal, even wise—Jesus acknowledged this in his parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13). 

The forked mind (and forked tongue), however, is a sad departure from the state of primal simplicity enjoyed by paradisal man. Prior to “the knowledge of good and evil,” a condition of pure, childlike trust was the norm. 

Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.

At the core of our being where the image of the Trinity is inscribed, simplicity and transparency are the norm. Our spiritual DNA is oriented to love, trust, and abandonment to a loving Father.

In a normal universe, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb… and a little child shall lead them… The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den” (Isaiah 11:6-8).

Oaths are a by-product of the knowledge of good and evil—the splitting of the original, one-eyed mind which was free of suspicion and mistrust, and free to give without holding back.

Another by-product of Adam’s forked mind is the bifurcation of reality into what is of God, and what is not of God. Swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or one’s own head (without explicitly calling on God as witness) was a loophole to get out of fulfilling a promise. But God owns the whole world and everything in it, Jesus said, including the hairs on your head. Another tendency of the double mind is to give Sunday to God, but set him aside on Monday. All space and time belong to God.

The prophets leading up to Jesus Christ give us glimpses of our original simplicity: Elijah being fed by ravens, and Elisha’s ability to see invisible realities as if they were visible (2 Kings 6:16-17). 

Elisha’s “Yes” to God’s call was wholehearted and simple. He burned all his cash (roasted his oxen for a farewell party) and left with Elijah.

“You are my inheritance, O Lord.”


Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1

In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain, a place Moses once chose to speak to the Jews. From a mountain Jesus now speaks God’s revelation to a wider world. Yet, the words he speaks from here are loyal to Jewish traditions and laws that Moses taught. He’s not abolishing them. Jesus came “not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

First, remember them. That’s what the Jewish scriptures tell us to do. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Second, practice them, from the greatest of the commandments to the least. Lent leads us to great thoughts and great visions of faith, but this season reminds us to remember small things as well. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things like these. They’re always at hand, readily available. They’re within our power to do, and the greatest in the kingdom of God are best at doing them.

What’s the Right Way to Pray?

By Orlando Hernandez

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) continues the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. This same Gospel is read at the beginning of the Lenten Season, when we resolve to give alms, fast, and pray. Of course, our love of God should lead us to do this all year round. However, our Lord warns us not to be “ show-offs” when we do good for others or when we fast from so many things that we have too much of. He warns us, “ do not blow a trumpet before you” nor “neglect your appearance” so people might admire your kindness and piety.
The part about prayer, though, is the section that has captivated my attention:

“ When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. 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. ( Mt 6: 5-6 )

Jesus says that we will be rewarded. I believe that God’s repayment for our attempts at prayer happens then and there, at the moment of true connection. The increase in faith that our efforts and His grace give us, the consolation and joy that His luminous Presence gives us, the love we feel, from Him and for Him, are great rewards indeed. And during those dry, frustrating days, when prayer does not seem to “ work “ and we don’t get any of those consolations, the faith He endows us with gives us the hope that He, in His love and goodness will eventually “ repay “ us, perhaps for all eternity. Either way, something powerful always happens because we return and try again and again.

Our Lord seems to say, that, rather than a public display of piety, prayer is a very private activity. In the end, it has to be an intimate one-on-one encounter with the loving God, in that “ inner room“, within our inmost selves, where I know the Lord lives. The less  “babbling”, the better. The essence, it seems to me, is the knowledge of a being together, a silent mutual awareness of loving intentions, a union, all initiated by Him.

And yet, I have to say something in defense of those “ who love to stand and pray “ loudly and boisterously in churches and prayer groups, even in street corners! Nine years ago my Lord beckoned me back into the faith through His Body, His people: peasants on their knees, advancing painfully towards the Blessed Mother’s Shrine at Fatima, Portugal; hundreds of people singing and moving toward the altar to receive Communion during Mass in Miami, Florida;  women loudly praying the Rosary in perfect synchrony in a church in Puerto Rico; people full of devotion, with eyes closed and arms raised, praising God at he top of their voices in a Charismatic Meeting in Queens, N.Y.  They were all shining examples to me ( and to many others I am sure ), bringing the Presence of the Living God into my life. Of course, I believe that during those moments each one of them, at some point or another, were totally lost in the power and love of their God, in that place where He sees us all in secret. Private and communal prayer in the end must merge, because our Lord loves us, each and every one of us, together and individually, and calls us to communion with Him and community with each other.

In the end the mystery of prayer is beyond me. My spiritual director, Fr. Richard Schiner, used to say that the only right way to pray is to just pray, trying again and again. And so I push on and on, alone and with others. All I can say is that I feel so much cherished by this God who lovingly created each one of us. He calls me to love, and to work for His people, each one a shining light where He lives and loves.
Thank You Lord!

Saturday, 1st Week of Lent

Lent 1
Matthew 5,43-48

We pray often in the liturgy to grow in love, as individuals and together as a church. Jesus in today’s reading tells us to imitate our heavenly Father “who makes his sun rise on the bad and the good and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” We’re called even to love our enemies.

Be careful, though, we’re told from our earliest years. There are some people you can’t trust; they’ll take advantage of you; they’ll do you harm. You have enemies in this world.

Certainly Jesus doesn’t condemn reasonable caution; evil and evil people do exist. He had enemies too and he was careful what he said to them. Rather, he was concerned with a pessimism that leads us to condemn someone or some groups absolutely. If we see no possible goodness or possible change in people, only intractable evil, then we don’t see as God sees.

The sun of God’s goodness shines on this world; the rain of his mercy softens its hardest places. His love changes people for the good.

But we can’t just reason our way to a love like this, St. Paul of the Cross taught, we grow to it through prayer, and so we need to rest in God whose love is so much greater than ours.

“So lose yourself completely in God, rest on his divine breast, adore him, love him, and, if you cannot say a word, that’s even better. Remain continually in prayer, recollected in God. Love speaks little and expresses itself more in silence. One loving word is enough: ‘Father! Great Father! Goodness! Love!’ One word is enough to hold a loving soul for a long time in prayer.” (Letter 1156)

Teach us, Lord, a love like yours,
that never gives up or draw limits,
or settles for those in its small circle.
Help us to love like the sun and the rain
that reach everywhere.

Ready for Lent?

Lent 1
Communicating isn’t easy. Before the Olympics a Russian writer wrote an article in one the papers about how hard it is for Russians and Americans to understand each other. She gave as an example the simple phrase “How are you?” If you ask an American “How are you?” the answer might be “I’m great,” “Wonderful,” the writer said. But if you ask a Russian “How are you?” you’ll likely get a litany of complaints about health, the government, the neighbors, and everything else that’s going wrong.

I was with some of priests the other day, one is from Ireland the other from Argentina. If you ask the Irish priest “How are you?” his answer usually is “Not too bad.” That seems to be somewhere between the American and the Russian. The Argentinian priest told me that a friend of his was flying to America on an American carrier and he had a bad accident and had to cancel his flight. He called for a refund for his ticket, but was told it was a “non cancellation” ticket. You’re out of luck. After realizing he was getting nowhere his friend said: “OK, Goodbye.” The American agent on the line said. “Goodbye. And have a wonderful day!”

If human communication can be difficult, so is our communication with God. For the last few Sundays we’ve been reading from the Sermon on the Mount from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-8. Jesus goes up a mountain and calls his disciples to himself and begins to teach them. He calls them “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world.” The Sermon on the Mount is a summary of Jesus’ teaching, and what he teaches can bring flavor and light to our world.

Jesus’ words are not always easy to understand, however. So much of the Sermon on the Mount sounds beautiful, but we find ourselves asking What do you mean by that? What do you mean when you say “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, what you will wear?” I have to pay bills, keep my job, take care of my family. I worry about them. Is that bad? What do you mean when you say, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” “Turn the other cheek… give someone your cloak…give to everyone who asks. Go the extra mile.”

The Lenten season begins this week. It’s a time to turn to God and ask what’s he saying to us and to our world? Let’s go up the mountain and listen to him.

Lent is a time to imitate the way God acts. From the mountain where he taught Jesus came down and cured a leper, according to Matthew’s Gospel. His miracles of healing and kindness reveal a God who heals and comes to the aid of the poor. Lent’s a time to imitate God’s way of acting through acts of kindness towards those in need.

Lent is a time to see how God acts towards us. He ascends another mountain at the end of Lent and dies for us. That vivid sign is something we need to look at again and again. What are you saying to me and to the world? Do you really love us that much?