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Reflections

Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes

Sr. Raya Hanlon, OP

Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes

Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes; Matt 5: 1-12

Preaching by Sr. Raya Hanlon, OP on the Occasion of the 170th Anniversary of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael: December 6, 2020

Today we find Jesus preaching on a mountainside, what’s he doing there?  For such an important teaching as this Sermon was to be, I would have thought he would be standing in a synagogue, but not so.  Jesus chose to come up the mountain, sit down, and gather others around him.  Who were these followers?  Were they expecting or at least hoping to hear something new?  or something old affirmed?  They already had the Ten Commandments; they must have been hungry for something more sustaining.  Whatever individually they came to hear, Jesus had in mind what he wanted them to hear, how to identify as his followers.

We gather today to celebrate 170 years as a congregation. Tracing our origins to Marie Goemaere’s arrival in California in 1850, we know there have been countless ups and downs the mountain. At times the mountain must have seemed insurmountable; yet in navigating those ups and downs together, we have come to this day.

With this celebration of our collective life past and present, it seemed most appropriate to gather in the company of our preachers at Lourdes to break open today’s scripture. Here are a few of their sharings in our socially-distanced wisdom circle.

  • Poor in spirit and being single-hearted enables us to have a relationship with God’s Spirit.
  • From the mountainside of history, one sees both the appearing and the disappearing, the highs and the lows.
  • The beatitudes present a paradox, even while there is tension in the world we are called to a zest for life.
  • We can take a lesson from nature where places of new growth appear even after terrible devastation.
  • At the time of the 125th anniversary we were bursting with energy (remember Showboat?), now at our 170th we are living with loss, living in the mystery of God’s own.
  • If we enter into the beatitudes, they are self-explanatory. Jesus, the new Moses, goes up the mountain not to give us commandments but to show us how to live in relationship.
  • Jesus is inviting us to pursue happiness, not to live in misery. Mary is our model of how to live our life fully.

We all know the beatitudes well, maybe we even know them by heart.  If we were to weave a tapestry of these 8 virtues, we would have an image of the Christian life.  We spend our lives attempting to weave together what it means to become and to be a Christian. These threads make visible that identity.

From the vantage point of a mountain top, I think Jesus, seeing with the heart, must have seen all of these “blesseds” in the crowd and had compassion for them.

  • The poor gaining heaven
  • The mourning consoled
  • The gentle garnering land
  • The hungry being filled
  • The merciful receiving mercy
  • The single-hearted given the vision of God
  • The peacemakers gaining heaven
  • The persecuted being rewarded.

Jesus lived, as did his followers for generations, under the oppression of a foreign power.  When woven together the couplets of the beatitudes contradict common sense, each matching a reality with a dream—setting up scenarios we can hardly imagine ourselves clinging to.  Yet, don’t we all live in such hope? And haven’t we put our life energies into bringing this reality to fruition by our own lives lived in faith and constancy?

Historically, Matthew was writing to the early Christian community, he was speaking to a community in transition, the ground was shifting beneath their feet.  Matthew put on the lips of Jesus the directive to be beatitudinal people even in this time of great upheaval.  Jesus himself was to be and is the bridge between what is and what should be; Jesus is the beatitude of God.  And our identity derives from that place of mercy, compassion, forgiveness—to become ourselves a continuation of that bridge between what is and what should be. For our identity as Jesus’ disciples must flow from that place of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Volumes have been written and thousands of words spoken about the beatitudes, singly or as a whole.  As we closed our Lourdes wisdom circle, it was summed up, “it’s so simple, just be kind.”

As we approach the beatitudes, we see that they invite us into a way of being in the world which in turn leads us to certain practices.  The invitation of these couplets directs us to three principles for living into the spirit of the beatitudes:  simplicity, hopefulness, compassion together making up a blessed community.

Yes, it is together on the mountainside and in the daily valleys that we are weaving our identities as Jesus’ followers.  Such weaving is a complex art.  If you have been to a tapestry exhibit at the deYoung or Legion of Honor or seen a tapestry elsewhere, you would, no doubt, have marveled at the intricacy of detail, intensity, originality, color, and design, that is the complexity of the story-telling embedded in the weaving.

So, when I look in the mirror, who do I see? When you look, who do you see?  Is it the weaving together of one who is humble, consoling, gentle, thirsty for justice, merciful?

When Jesus finished speaking from the mountainside, he came down to sea level, bringing his followers to a new level of seeing.  In 170 years nearly 500 of our sisters have taken that trip up and down the mountain, time and again, listening to Jesus, the Christ, counseling, encouraging, and even cajoling all along the way. As we celebrate this milestone, we know the weaving is still on the loom, still being woven into the image of Christ.

Preachers of  Truth • Love • Justice