|(Photos by Donna Ryckaert)|
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29, 2017
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
1st Corinthians 1:26-31
Throughout the next several weeks, the Lectionary offers us readings from Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount is the heart of Christ’s moral and spiritual teaching. The Sermon begins today with His teaching on what have become known as the Beatitudes, the most distinguishing aspect of an authentically Christian life. It is appropriate that we should begin our reading and reflection of Christ’s teaching of the Sermon on the Mount on this Sunday when we begin Catholic Schools Week.
|Sermon On the Mount, Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890), public domain|
The Mission of our Catholic schools is to teach as Christ Jesus taught; today He begins His teaching with the first Beatitude, Blessed are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The Beatitudes are presented in an order whereby each subsequent beatitude builds on the previous one. Christ, who in other parts of the Gospel states “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart,” begins the Sermon by identifying the disposition of poverty of spirit or meekness as the entrance way for our goal of heaven. This is the disposition that is most important and runs through all of the beatitudes and shows that growth in accord with this teaching is more than memorization, or simply an external compliance to rules; rather it involves a conversion of heart and a changing of our character from the behavior that is expected as a usual part of the status quo in society.
There are two groups depicted in today’s Gospel: the crowd and the disciples. Jesus teaches His disciples and they listen because they belong to Him. The crowd is without identity. They belong to nobody. The crowd is the place where other people are considered to be problems in our imagination, instead of being respected as people who have problems in reality. The crowd is also a place that we seek out for ourselves when we avoid the difficult decision to be meek in following Jesus. The crowd is a place where we seek to hide and to isolate ourselves out of fear, preferring the anonymity of the admirer and the bystander over the challenge of the meekness and poverty of spirit offered to the disciple by the beatitudes.
Discipleship involves identity, a coming to be of who we really are in our truest selves through the meekness of the beatitudes. The gift and mission of the beatitudes is to keep us from isolating ourselves crowded behind a spiritual wall of fear and willful ignorance replete with excuses, and instead to trust God who calls us, and who offers us His wisdom to resolve problems together through faith and right reason. The meekness and poverty of spirit of the beatitudes prevent us mercifully from being dominated by a dangerous and destructive idealism. The meekness and poverty of spirit of the disciple invite others to convert from being alone in a crowd to a place of belonging with Christ in His Church.
The Poverty of Spirit revealed by Christ involved His emptying of self in being totally and lovingly obedient to the Will of the Father. He empties Himself and is faithful. The meekness and poverty of spirit that we receive and that He offers us involves our loving obedience in discernment of what Christ asks of us. It is the path for those who are humble and seek the Lord as prophesied by Zephaniah in today’s reading. To be meek is to be willing to make a sacrifice to follow Christ, to offer ourselves and to be willing to be inconvenienced for the Kingdom of God that is larger than my own preferred manner or way of doing things.
The conversion is to move gradually through growth in the beatitudes from beginning to ask questions like, “Where does God fit into my life?” Or, “what role does the Church play in my life?” Or, “what does my family mean to me?” to more mature questions of discernment like “how do I contribute to the life of my family?” Or, “where do I serve in the Church?” Or, “where do I fit into the very life of God–that is, the Kingdom of Heaven?” Poverty of Spirit involves the recognition that I rely upon God’s Grace for everything. It enables me to discover and to hear the call of God to where I am part of something bigger than my own cursory desires or plans. It is meekness and poverty of spirit that enable me confidently to discern a vocation from God for my life. As one spiritual author put it, “God calls you to what you need most to do and what the world most needs to have done. It is that place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”
It is in this manner that the mission of our Catholic schools is to be lived out for the sake of others. This mission of Catholic education, which is always reforming and renewing itself, is meant to involve the transformation of each and every person involved in the ministry–the students, the parents, the teachers, the administrators, and even the bishop towards the meekness and poverty of spirit of discipleship. It involves the transformation and conversion of the system itself. It cannot simply become a type of a private education that defines itself by what it is not; it is not that which turns inward upon itself walled off in isolation from God and my neighbor. If we hide from our problems, we hide from God. God’s Grace is in the struggle of confronting our problems. It’s in the Cross. Christ did not deny the Cup offered to Him by His Father on that first Holy Thursday. He did not build a wall around Gethsemane. Catholic education, as a means of formation in discipleship, is not a place for us to hide from our challenges, or simply for each of us to become just another anonymous face in the crowd.
Meekness prevents us from becoming simply a part of a crowd. Meekness is required to listen and to discern. Meekness is required to become my true self, to grow into my authentic identity as created and redeemed in the image and likeness of God. Meekness involves the courage and vulnerability to face our fears, not to cower from them behind a spiritual wall of denial. Jesus begins His teaching today to His disciples whom He has called away from the crowd of bystanders or admirers. The mission of His teaching of transformation is the mission of Catholic education–a transformation in meekness in order to inherit the earth here and now, and the kingdom of heaven for all eternity as He promises.
+ Most Rev. Michael F. Olson
Bishop of Fort Worth
|Bishop Michael Olson with students at the 2016 Eighth Grade Mass.|
(Photos by Donna Ryckaert)