Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Restoration of the Soul

February 3, 2008 Year A

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Zeph 2:3; 3:12-13; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

1 Cor 1:26-31; Mt 5:1-12a

Theme:  The Restoration of the Soul

My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! (Galatians 4:19)

Matthew presents Jesus as the New Moses.  Jesus is on a mountain presenting the teachings of the New Covenant, the Kingdom of God.  The Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount, which is the first of five discourses found in Matthew.  Jesus is drawing his disciples and those who followed him into what it means to be a new creation.  

The Beatitudes begin with the word blessed, denoting a person in a favorable or right standing in God's covenant of grace.  This is a good place to be.  And it is instructive that this Gospel is read just prior to the beginning of Lent.  Ash Wednesday is three days away and we now contemplate what it means to be filled with the life of Christ.

We can review the Beatitudes under three headings.  

First, let us look at the sayings that speak directly to interior renewal.  Jesus is aware of the effects of sin and the estrangement from God that resulted.  Jesus invites us to a lifetime and lifestyle of spiritual renewal.  The transformation of which Jesus speaks addresses our attitude, desires, and attachments.  Blessed says Jesus, are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, hunger and thirst, and the pure in heart.  Spiritual ardor begins within.  It is a personal relationship with the living Lord in our heart where God reveals himself to us.  It is from our heart the Lord receives the glory due his name.  The Scriptures speak often of this place of transformation.  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51)

This interior renewal we may understand as the Church has as the purgative way.  We must own for ourselves the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Confronting the bitter jealousy and selfish ambitions in our hearts means embracing the way of grace and renewal through self-denial, fasting, confession and penance.  The wisdom we seek is from above and is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. (James 3) 

Second, Jesus' words reveal a disposition of grace.  Blessed are the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers.  These Beatitudes are about the strength of the Christian witness.  Rather than indications of weakness, they are dispositions fortified by an inner transformation, an inner light.  Learning to love God with all that is within us, we also learn that God wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  God loves our neighbor; we can do no less.  

Many in our world do not know that God has humbled himself and walked among us.  Nor do many know He is merciful and offers His peace to all. This revelation is sorely lacking in our relationships with one another.  Being guided by the spiritual formation within is to walk in love and in the light. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. (I John 1:7)

Jesus asks us to be aware of his presence in the poor, the naked, the imprisoned and the hungry. To ignore the face of the Lord in those among us is to betray the face of the Lord in our heart.  We are called to commune with the Lord not only in our heart, but also from our heart. 

This disposition of grace we may understand as the illuminative way.  It is our Lord's delight to see us letting our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.  God is light.  And Jesus said you and me are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  

Thirdly, Jesus' sayings call is to be resolved to persevere. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Jesus said, "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also."  

From the beginning of the Incarnation, violence and hostility surrounded our Lord.  So much so that Jesus said, "from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.  But where the rulers of the people despised him, the people heard him gladly.   

We find inspiration for perseverance in our Lord.  We read: When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)  It is Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  We must continually look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

Let us also in our patience and perseverance rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.  In this we embrace what the Church calls the unitive way, knowing that perfect love casts out fear.  It is not the praise of men we seek.  Nor do we solicit the persecution of the world.  But in all things we desire to persuade men that Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and that outside of him there is only death and destruction.

Being sold out to Jesus is a daily exercise.  Jesus will in the balance of Matthew 5 and chapters 6 & 7 describe in detail how a citizen of his kingdom finds life and that more abundantly.  Let us always with unveiled face, behold the glory of the Lord, and be changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, send again among us the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son is glorified.  Be glorified in your people O Lord.  Keep us from spiritual dangers, the deception of the eye and the pride of life. Restore our soul.  Amen.    



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