Tomorrow’s Gospel (Mt 5: 1-12) is Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes, the opening section of the Sermon on the Mount. In modern parlance it is a mission statement of what Christianity is about.
Before sitting down to write this column I asked a number of people what the Beatitudes meant to them. I got as many replies as people I asked. A medical doctor sent me a piece titled “Beatitudes for Caregivers”, which included these words: “Blessed are those who, when nothing can be done or said, do not walk away, but remain to provide a comforting and supportive presence – they will help the sufferer to bear the unbearable.”
Someone else said that they have to be read as a unit and it made little sense to concentrate on any one of them at the expense of the others.
The Beatitudes are about a way of life, a life that is good and wholesome and unfolds God to us, and one where we in turn make ourselves available to God.
In the first reading in tomorrow’s liturgy the prophet Zephaniah (2: 3, 3: 12-13) suggests that we seek the Lord, we who are “the humble of the earth”. The Psalmist (Psalm 145) tells us that it is the Lord who keeps faith for ever.
Oscar Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who flew the flag for the downtrodden and poor and who was eventually murdered for his outspoken views on injustice, has an interesting take on the Beatitudes: “Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.”
I find it interesting that Romero uses the word subversive, indeed uses it twice. He obviously saw the Beatitudes as a way of life recognising that if they were to mean anything they would upset the status quo. And that’s so strange because before being appointed archbishop of San Salvador he was considered a socially conservative man.
Last week aid agency Oxfam published a report outlining how the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. In the last two years the richest 1 per cent have acquired almost twice as much wealth as the remaining 99 per cent of the world’s population. Some 800 million people in the world have not enough to eat.
In Ireland the richest one per cent have 27 per cent of wealth; 1,435 Irish people own over €46.6 million each. This number has more than doubled in 10 years. The richest one per cent have gained 70 times more wealth than the poorest 50 per cent in 10 years. It is an indictment of our imbalanced economic system that a few can accumulate such wealth while thousands struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
Archbishop Oscar Romero never walked away from those who suffered. He was canonised by Pope Francis in 2018.
Is it possible to appreciate the value of the Beatitudes without taking into account the Romero factor? I doubt it. Christianity is about communion, and one might well ask if we have lost our focus on the real meaning of breaking bread with our fellow sisters and brothers.
Jesus told the crowds listening to him that they should be happy " . . . when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account”.
Jesus had little or no time for the status quo. Obviously, Oscar Romero took his cue from Jesus. The Gospels are inspirational. They remind us that the Lord keeps faith in us for ever. He is the one in whom we find freedom and protection, completely outside and removed from the status quo.
Instead of being in awe of the “gospel of wealth” wouldn’t it be far better to take a leaf out of Oscar Romero’s interpretation of the Beatitudes, and for us to be inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ?