Matthew and Consolation (Mt 5:4)

“Blessed the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.” Sometimes this beatitude is translated: “Blessed those who mourn.” This is the beatitude that enters our conscientiousness whenever we are faced with the death of a friend or loved one. The human heart cannot avoid the sorrow it feels at the prospect of losing someone held dear. And the Lord is confirming our natural reaction: “You will be consoled.” Our sorrow will be turned to joy.

However, unless one is in the midst of a sorrowful time, this beatitude isn’t too consoling. No one looks forward to sorrow or to mourning. We also mourn for other kinds of loss. Sorrow in the sense of regret or penance is not a negative, but a cause of great consolation (all around). The great announcement of Jesus was this: “Reform your lives, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!” This is a command that each of us should take seriously. By complying with it we will please Jesus and be worthy of entering his kingdom. Our sorrowing should also extend to all sin, to every sinner, to all social and institutional evil, to all malice, ill-will, scandal, and to every evil, all of which require repentance along with mercy. Those embroiled in any of these things will not necessarily recognize their state or what is happening to others because of their choices. If we do see the error, the sin, we are called to sorrow for it, to mourn it. Allow yourself to be grieved by offense to God, to be moved by the modern Ninevites who don’t know their moral right hand from their left. Take them to heart, suffer for them and with them. In this way you will console the heart of God and be consoled in turn. This is to possess the heart of God.

Among a set of sentences found around the tabernacle in each chapel of the Pauline Family, is one that speaks to this beatitude. It says: “Live with a penitent heart.” In other words, be constantly attentive to the sufferings around you be they an offense of God or simply a breach of good sense. Do not think of this as a morbid sentiment. This kind of sensitivity is beautiful and helps one develop a closeness to the heart of the Lord of Life who went so far as to die for the sins of humanity. In his human nature, Jesus was the great consolation of God.

Matthew and the Message (Mt 4:23 – 5:1-2)

Christ Preaching - Rembrandt

Christ Preaching – Rembrandt

Jesus’ disciples, those first fishers of men were certainly rewarded in what they witnessed early on. Jesus was on a tour of Galilee. He was invited to speak in synagogues, he preached, he cured the sick, and his reputation continued to expand. People from all over the area brought their sick to him and he cured all of them of every kind of malady. Great crowds actually followed him, coming from Jerusalem and all the known locations around, but the fishermen were his men. These were days of euphoria!

The Gospel reads as if all this activity happened in a single day. Matthew says, “when Jesus saw the crowd….” Maybe he was just so preoccupied with all those in need that he didn’t notice the huge following he now had. However, it more likely reads that ‘now that there was such a crowd following him, Jesus went up above them on an elevation and took the opportunity to speak to them.’ It might also be a way of saying that now, as his ministry began, he took the opportunity of this large, docile following to lay out what the kingdom meant. He centered the message on his listeners. He caught them up immediately by telling them what was in it for them, why this was crucial and how it involved them. He laid out what are known as the beatitudes. These are the description of the blessed, the attitudes or keys to the promised kingdom – promised, and in fact, right in their midst. Not solely of the future, but life beginning now.

These statements are so simple and in-your-face that they can actually elude us. They can be read through as if they were only poetic platitudes, or on the contrary, too distant or too difficult to be meaningful in the here and now. The beatitudes are an individual and collective description of membership in the Kingdom. They are a very easy set of guidelines for being a follower of Christ (which by the way is not a passive thing – we can no longer come along for the ride, to enjoy the hype and sympathize with the troubled times). This is us! We are Christ! So the beatitudes, this description set out by Jesus is something very real and very now!

In Matthew every beatitude begins with the word “blessed”, that is, happy with finality. It is not a happiness that is here now and gone tomorrow. This is abiding happiness; this is joy. Not giddy, not untested and unpestered happiness, but enduring, deep, and eternal. It means to have the hand of God resting on you. Here and hereafter are one.

In the real (liturgical) world, we are entering the fifth week of Lent. We are a bit more serious now because next Sunday is Passion Sunday and the climax of the Lenten Season follows. If I may make a suggestion: pick up your Bible and turn to the beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12). Spend a little time reflecting on how the beatitudes define the life of Jesus right up to the Cross, and then how they define your life as well.

Matthew and the Dawn (Mt 4:12-22)

After hearing of John’s arrest, Jesus left Nazareth and went to Capernaum in Galilee. This was not a bad choice; it was by the sea. But Jesus went because it was the plan. Not vacation, not even an escape. Prophecy placed him there. And Jesus knew that John’s ministry was nearly over and his must commence. He was to begin in “heathen Galilee” with “a people living in darkness.” Not unlike our reformers who begin with an inner city ghetto or some outpost of sin. Why shouldn’t the Dawn begin in darkness? Prophecy has Galilee sounding so bad that death hangs over it like a threatening cloud, but no longer, for “Light has arisen.” And so Jesus begins by taking up John’s theme: “Reform your lives. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Here is the other reason why prophecy places Jesus in Galilee: the future apostles are there. We can suppose many things then about Galilee. Either it wasn’t totally a bad place or Jesus had been preaching awhile and had won these men over from not so stellar lives by his call to reform. Perhaps as Matthew encapsulates the scene, these men were immediately taken by the presence and invitation of Jesus. Or, we could speculate that they had occasion to hear him preach and had taken time to observe this new man in town. When he happened by their boats with his invitation, they literally ‘jumped ship’ and followed him. Both sets of brothers – Peter and Andrew, James and John – were in the process of casting nets so Jesus’ words, “I will make you fishers of men,” hit the right chord.

Perhaps we know nothing practical or realistic about the art of fishing, but the concept makes sense. Every Christian wants to be part of the great fishing fleet of the Church. It is a great thrill to bring someone to Jesus. It may be a family member, a friend, a total stranger, someone who comes because of us, but without our being aware of doing anything. That someone may be a person we taught, greeted, served, prayed for, or simply loved.

Matthew and the Baptizer (Mt 3:1-12)

What an interesting man John the Baptizer must have been! No wonder people came out to see him. He had one basic message: “Get your act together. God’s kingdom is about to come.” We imagine him a bit wild looking. His clothing was out of the ordinary (animal hides) and his food as well (grasshoppers and wild honey). Yum!  People not only came to hear him, but they confessed their sins to him and received the baptism he gave. He demanded true repentance, as seen in his rejection of the leaders who came only to check things out. He was severe with them: “Brood of vipers! Give some evidence of your sincerity. Don’t simply count on being children of Abraham. God will give other children to Abraham. Things are about to change dramatically. I’m only a herald, a sign of the One who comes. In fact, I’m unworthy to even serve Him. His baptism will be in the Holy Spirit and in fire. He will clear the threshing floor of this life, gathering the good and throwing the chaff into unending fire.”

Well then…!

This is a message for the ages! Even today John continues preparing the way because we keep losing it, both as a people and individually. The reign is actually here, but each of us needs reminding that our own threshing will be over at death. It’s time to start heading for the good pile. The image of gathered wheat and burning chaff is very compelling.

John was born for his mission. He was the one who rejoiced in his mother’s womb at the approach of the unborn Messiah in Mary’s womb. Sometimes it seems so hard to identify our life’s mission, never mind following it from birth, and with such gusto throughout life. And yet, we who received Baptism as babies do have our mission early on: we were reborn as followers of Jesus Christ. That may appear a little wild to some folks; our clothing is Christ himself and our food is definitely Unique!

John lived a Lenten existence for his thirty-some years. May his message and example inspire us this Lent to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord we follow.

Matthew and Wisdom (Mt 2:1-12)

One of my earlier posts was about the Magi, but I’m giving them a repeat performance. Why? Because they offer such a necessary example for us who are seekers today.

Matthew’s Gospel describes men of faith who are in search of truth. They are star-gazers, men learned in the study of the physical heavens. They were obviously familiar with Jewish prophecy for they knew where the Messiah-King was to be expected. It seems that their inquiry with King Herod took him by surprise (probably not a very religious man) and he had to call in his own scholars (also not too religious, it would seem). The Gospel reads as if they had the appropriate scripture at hand (in the library perhaps), but aren’t aware of the star (inattentive). Herod tries to play nice, promising to go adore the new king as soon as his visitors returned with a location. He didn’t offer to accompany them or to send anyone with them, but must have put a tail on them because, even though they didn’t report back to him, his soldiers were sent to kill all young boys in Bethlehem. Actually, the prophecy pinpointed Bethlehem, but I don’t doubt that Herod had spies.

As for the Wise Men, the star brought them straight to the “house” where Jesus was to be found. Interestingly, we now hear of the child and a house, so probably some time had passed since the night in the stable. These truly wise seekers prostrated themselves before the child and did him homage. Imagine his parents astonishment that such persons are aware of Jesus’ existence and have sought him out. They offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh – prophetic gifts we are told. Then because of a dream (whose we don’t know), they quietly return home.

I ask myself how aware I am of the signs of my time – this present time we all live in? Where is Christ to be found in all of it? Am I a Herod, reigning in my own little kingdom oblivious to the greater plan? Am I wrapped up in my own version of truth, considering my opinions, wants, and desires to be the definition of that truth? Am I instead a true seeker?  Am I one of those wise persons, ever alert and attuned to earth and heaven, ready and willing to put myself out in order to pursue the meaning and purpose of what is revealed? When I come into the presence of God’s plan, what gift am I prepared to offer?

Matthew and the Upright Prayer (Mt 1:18-25)

In his Gospel, Matthew mentions nothing about the Annunciation of the angel to Mary which resulted in the Incarnation of the Word. Instead Matthew begins with the annunciation to Joseph who realizes Mary is pregnant, but not by him. Although Matthew says that this pregnancy is through the power of the Holy Spirit, it seems that Joseph didn’t know that. He only knew what he could see. Being an upright man, a just man, he would quietly divorce this woman who was to be his wife. We assume he also loved her and could not allow the law, which he also loved, get hold of her. Now the Gospel doesn’t mention that Joseph prayed about this matter, however, he most certainly must have since he was upright. One thing that the Gospel does show us is that an upright life in itself is a prayer. Joseph was a man of God. It seems he was both fervent and devout. God saw his prayer of anguish, his prayer of concern for Mary’s safety above his own humiliation.

God sent an angel to answer an unasked prayer. Proceed as planned, the angel said. He explained the role of the Spirit. He calmed Joseph’s fear: Take Mary. She will give birth to a Son. You, as her husband, as head of the family, as foster-father, are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Imagine how long Joseph would be processing such a thought! This potentially tragic event has taken an unbelievable turn. A prophecy dear to every Jewish heart has been fulfilled. So Joseph took Mary as his wife and lived with her in God’s sight. It is amazing how the two of them continued to live as normal people knowing, that literally, God was with them. Only the upright of heart shall see God.

In the kingdom here and now, I am a privileged woman. I’ve been called, chosen, graced, and blessed, but I must confront myself: am I really upright? How often I think of my life as upside down, meaning things are out of order with me. Sometimes things don’t go as I planned; sometimes a monkey wrench gets thrown into the mix; sometimes circumstances try to trip me up. I may even actually pray in those moments, but am I simply asking for a quick-fix? Would I change my ways if an angel suddenly appeared with an explanation? This is the crux: are my everyday ways those of the Lord? Am I standing upright in front of God? Is my life a prayer as was the life of Joseph?

Matthew’s Prologue and Me

All profitable films seem to get at least one sequel and possibly a prequel. The more details given about beloved characters the better. For Jesus the sequel is ongoing, and his prequel is billed in the Gospel of Matthew as a prologue, appropriately since Jesus is the Word. And so, a word about the preparation for the Word. It is offered to us very neatly and in a very orderly manner: three sets of fourteen generations. All the greats are there, some not so great, and many unknowns (their inclusion in the Prologue stems from being in the right place at the right time). All, however, are necessary to the list. Gratefully, some notable mothers are included among so many fathers, each like an exotic spice adding a specific flavor to the coming of the Messiah.

My little life also had a prologue and it includes a sprinkling of notables, a large contingent of unknowns, and a couple of just plain interesting characters. And certainly in a couple more generations I, too, will be one of the unknowns, but nonetheless necessary.

Grandmother Hill and Grandfather Toce provided written “prologues” in the form of family trees, but the other fifty percent of my heritage remains for the most part only blessed moments of the history that got me here. And to those histories I am not adding any generations, but by my religious consecration I hope to add a dollop of grace up and down the generations.

Each of us has a place in history – maybe a very modest place, but an important place to fill. Our life touches those before and those after us, who would not be connected without us filling our place. Are we the connecting link to an important historic happening? Do we keep some meaningful memory alive or do we point to coming greatness? Actually in the eyes of God, each of us is that living memory, that irreplaceable link, that coming greatness. Give us joy, dear God, in the place that is ours until we are all together in You, our true home.