Sunday, January 30, 2011

The happiness which you desire, Sermon of January 30th

So great is the Love of Christ, that he taught his disciples...
 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
January 30th, 2011
Matthew 5:1-12a

Jesus began to teach them saying, “Blessed are they…”

When we think of morality and Christian ethics, we probably think of one of two ideas – either we consider law or the conscience. If we think of the law as the foundation of ethics, we emphasize the importance of objective principles: the natural law, divine positive law, and even civil law. If, on the other hand, we think of the moral conscience of the individual as the foundation of ethics, we emphasize the particular circumstances of the individual and the importance of having a well-formed conscience.
Nevertheless, for the Catholic tradition, the foundation of Christian ethics is neither the law nor the personal conscience, but the human desire for happiness. The pursuit of happiness is the starting point for all moral doctrine.

The Sermon on the Mount is the summation of the Christian life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ our Savior outlines the whole of Christian ethics and morality – but he does not begin with law or with the personal conscience, rather he begins with the Beatitudes.
Beatitude is nothing other than perfect happiness. When the Lord says “blessed are the poor” or “blessed are the merciful”, this could also be translated as “happy are the poor” and “happy are the merciful”. The blessedness of which Christ speaks in the beatitudes is the happiness of the Christian life, the happiness and joy of the life of grace.

It is happiness and the pursuit of happiness which is the foundation of Christian ethics. The whole goal of morality and of all the laws of the Church is our happiness. Christ knows what will make us happy, for he created us – he has given us the New Law of the Gospel so that we might attain to this perfect happiness.
Most certainly, the perfection of all happiness can only be attained in heaven. Nevertheless, there is something of a participation in this total joy already in this life – this is why our Savior says, “Blessed ARE they…” He does not say, “Blessed will they be”, but “Blessed ARE they”. Already, even in this life, there is a happiness and a blessedness which those who follow God enjoy.
Nothing brings more joy than the possession of God – and, without this participation in the divine life, no other creature can bring any true joy. We have been created for happiness; if we do not find this happiness in the enjoyment of God, we will begin to seek it in all the most inappropriate places in this life. Unless we find happiness in God, especially through the intimate union with God attained only through prayer, we will look for joy in the basest realities of this life.

But this is the great paradox of Christian joy – the soul in the state of grace, united to God, is able to rejoice even in the midst of great suffering and persecution! For this reason Jesus said that the poor and hungry and persecuted are blessed – if we find our consolation in God alone, no suffering or hardship in this life will deprive us of that deepest joy and happiness.

Here, we think of the many martyrs of the early Church. In particular, we consider St. Lawrence, the early roman deacon.
Lawrence was a deacon of the Church of Rome in the early centuries. He was known for his joy and love of the poor, and for his good humor. The emperor, because he hated Christianity and wished to destroy the true faith, persecuted the Christians of Rome greatly. St. Lawrence also was persecuted and even arrested and sentenced to death. He was to be cooked alive over a fire, but he went courageously to his death – so great was his faith, for he found all his happiness in God alone!
When he was being cooked alive over the fire, Lawrence (in his characteristic spirit of good humor) cried out, “I am done on this side, turn me over!” So filled was he with the enjoyment of God and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, that he was able to laugh and be of good cheer even in the midst of terrible physical torments.

You too, as often as you are in the state of grace, are filled with the same Holy Spirit which so inspired St. Lawrence! The great challenge for us is to live more fully from the joy of God and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Rather than seeking consolation in the things of this life, Jesus our Savoir is asking you and I to give ourselves over to his Sacred Heart. Apart from God, there is no joy in this life; but with God, all things fall into place and become a means of attaining the perfect joy which God has reserved for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Shunning the false joys and consolations of this world, we turn with confidence to the Heart of our Savior – in his Most Sacred Heart, we will find the fullness of beatitude: the beginning of life everlasting.