Stories Seldom Heard – September, 2018
Stories Seldom Heard
An Introduction to the Beatitudes
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. Both Matthew and Luke have a set of Beatitudes and not
surprisingly they differ from one another. Luke has four Beatitudes that are followed by four woes. Matthew lists eight Beatitudes. Matthew’s Beatitudes are the ones we traditionally think of when we refer to the Beatitudes. So during the next few months we will be reflecting on the eight Beatitudes according to Matthew’s Gospel.
Some people view the Beatitudes as a table of contents for Matthew’s Gospel. In other words, their meaning will only be revealed when we listen to the parables and observe how Jesus interacts with the diverse people he meets. As we do this, it is good to keep in mind that the Beatitudes are not a list of commandments, but rather a set of promises God makes to us. As we listen to the scriptures and reflect on our own life experience, we will begin to see how the Beatitudes are like abbreviated parables that need to be carefully explored.
The Beatitudes describe our reality– our human situation. As we reflect on our lives, we know we will mourn the loss of loved ones. We will come to know our limitations. If we are disciples of “the way” as the early Christians were called, we will meet resistance from powerful people in the world when we seek justice for the least in our societies. Yet, it is in these very situations, as we come to realize our dependency on God and our interrelationship with all of creation, that we will experience unique “Beatitude Blessings.”
This might sound a little abstract, so maybe a couple of examples might help. Last Friday at the Farmers’ Market while I was checking out the newly arrived tomatoes, I met a neighbor and casually asked her how she was. Her response was, “I’m blessed.” Most of us probably wouldn’t respond in this way if someone asked us how we were, but those words, “I’m blessed,” say a lot about how this woman lives her life – both the joyful and the difficult parts of it. It also speaks of her relationship with God and the way she treats her neighbors. Now my neighbor would never consider herself a theologian, but she is a faithful church “go-ER” and a woman who is wise beyond her years.
At another time when I was in a parish setting, we discussed the meaning of the word “blessed” and what it means to feel blessed. The group’s responses were illuminating. Whether they were born in the United States, Hong Kong, Central America or the Philippines, they had similar insights. What I learned from them is to be blessed is a spiritual quality that affects our choices and the way we live. One of the Filipinas said the word “blessed” in Tagalog is close to the word for “palm.” Because of that it reminded her of the scripture passage that says, God formed us and holds us in the palm of God’s hand. So to be blessed is to be shaped and held by God. Acknowledging our blessedness awakens us, not only to our giftedness, but also enables us to recognize and appreciate the gifts and wonders of all creation. Blessings are freely given to us and in return we who realize our blessedness freely give to others.
Persons who are truly blessed seem to have a capacity to know deep within themselves that God is their security. Even though they might be going through difficult times, they can make a connection between what is happening in their lives and God’s tender care of them. When life is stressful or disheartening, they can still trust because they know they don’t have to face the day by themselves. When the situation seems overwhelming, they don’t shrink from their responsibilities because they know that God will guide them. Friends and sometimes strangers will be there to support or comfort them.
In each of our lives there have been moments when we have felt blessed: a profound sense of God’s presence in our lives. These times often come when we least expect them. We might be in a church praying, silently scanning a hilltop meadow while hiking in the mountains, standing at the seashore on a blustery winter’s night or in a conversation with a long-time friend or spouse. Blessedness is all around us especially in the ordinary work of our day. There’s a well-known story about Martin Luther King Jr. Who was sitting at his kitchen table one day. Suddenly he experienced a profound sense of God’s presence: the God who without words and in the silence of Martin’s heart reassured Martin that God would never leave him alone. That experience sustained Martin. It was a touchstone and enabled Martin to be faithful to the end of his life.
We, too, have had moments when we have felt touched by God, but sometimes we don’t give enough credence to these experiences. Perhaps we gloss over them too quickly because we think we are not worthy or that God only communicates with saintly people even though that is not what scripture says. Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us) and reassures us that his Spirit will always be with us and not just us, but in the lives of those around us. For those who have eyes to see, the blessings are abundant and they flow both ways: the giver becomes the receiver.
The following brief reflections come from our Dominican Sisters who volunteered for The El Paso Project – a project that welcomes parents and children seeking asylum.
Some Reflections from the Sisters On the Border
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How often I have prayed these words of the Our Father and not fully captured their meaning.
The immigrants have shared how their lives have been changed on their perilous journey to the United States by the kindness of people that they had never met before. Those who rode the train called “the Beast” had food thrown up to them by local villagers. Those who walked through the rain told of someone offering them a change of clothes to replace their water-soaked clothing. The mothers and fathers often went without food so that their children would survive.
Each week day we (the sisters and other volunteers) welcomed 40-60 people who coming mainly from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) and also from Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Brazil and Russia.
In this context as we complete our second week on the border I reflect
“Whichever way you turn there is the face of God:”
There is the face of God
*in the mountains that run through the city of El Paso
*in the glorious sunrises we see from our windows
*in the glow of children delighted to have crayons and coloring books
*in the tears of those whose loved ones have been detained
*in the generosity of the people of El Paso who serve so graciously
*in the gratitude of our guests as we bless them on their way
*in the families of our guests as they sacrifice in order to buy plane or bus tickets to complete the journey.
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face among us.
One day I noticed three women sitting at a card table in the dining area. They were from two different countries. They were having coffee as they shared the photos of their families. Before they left on the next leg of their journey they exchanged addresses and promised to stay in touch with each other.
Grace abounds for those who have beatitude eyes.
We are called to be Beatitude People: people who recognize our own blessedness and that of others. So before we continue the work of this day, it might be helpful to pause and pray for those who are in life-threatening situations. Then pause again and recall a time when we felt particularly touched by God: a time of peace in the midst of chaos, of clarity in the face of doubt, of new friendships at a time of confusion or a sense of security even though everything in our lives felt out of balance. These moments are gifts from God. They are blessings that can give us great strength and confidence by just calling them to mind in times of crisis or need. Most of our experiences of gratitude and blessedness are rather ordinary. But for each of us there have been extraordinary moments of awareness. Grace has changed our lives and given us the strength and courage to meet adversity with integrity and grace. After recalling one of these experiences we might respond with a prayer of thanksgiving. If we can’t find words, we can use the faith-filled words of Julian of Norwich, and pray: “All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. “Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.