The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 146:6-10
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:26-31
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 5:1-12
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Upon hearing these words, Julian of Norwich’s unsettled soul entered the calm that only trust in Jesus could bring. Suffering through what those around her assumed to be her last hours on earth, Julian experienced what she believed to be a vision of Jesus and Mary. All her fears about her sinfulness and life problems were washed away by these compassionate words spoken by her Lord, and she regained her health – living another thirty-three years.
Julian’s fears are not unique. We are imperfect people who lead lives that often have rather large bumps in the road. All too often, we look around us and see what appears to be people whose lives float along without trial or difficulty, and we become disheartened as we see ourselves as the losers who can’t seem to get back on track or catch a break.
Those who sat on a Galilean hillside and listened to the words of Jesus were probably not the people who felt that life was a bowl of cherries or that the world was their oyster. It is much more probable that they were people who, to use the words of Norm Peterson from Cheers, felt like the world treated them the way a baby treats a diaper.
But here was Someone who knew and understood their pain, Someone who spoke to their hearts. The words of Jesus in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount let them know that they – the people who St. Paul says are “the lowly and the despised of the world” – were chosen by God Himself. No matter how they saw themselves in relation to the world or how the world saw them, they were the Anawim; they were “God’s poor.”
The promises of Jesus in the Beatitudes remind us of the rewards awaiting those who look not to the world but to Jesus for the answers to life’s problems. They remind us that a life worth living is a life where one is poor in spirit, mourns loss, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, makes peace, is meek, is merciful, is clean of heart, is persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and is insulted and persecuted falsely because of Christ.
Ironically, the word beatitude means happy or blessed. It is difficult to see any happiness or blessing in some of the above list of Christian characteristics. Somehow, “blessed (or happy) are those who mourn” seems a cruel joke upon those who feel deeply about the loss of someone they love. Yet, in the mouth of the One who would weep at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, those words take on their true meaning: we all know that Jesus brought Lazarus back to life, and all who loved him – including Jesus – were comforted.
As we look to the public ministry of Jesus, we can see the fulfillment of not just this Beatitude but of each and every one of them. The Beatitudes aren’t empty words spoken to make people feel better and give them the false assurance of a brighter future. These are not the “pie in the sky” words of a politician on the campaign trail who will say anything to get elected. These are the words of an authentic Messiah who knows that soon He will mount a cross and ask the Father why He was abandoned.
The night after her initial series of visions, Julian of Norwich received one final glimpse into the world beyond the senses. In her last vision, she was tormented and mocked by Satan and his minions but was given the grace to focus her attention and trust in the crucified Messiah. Amidst the jeers and taunts emanating from the bowels of hell, she places herself under the protection of the One whose promises on a hillside in Galilee are paid in full on another hillside in Jerusalem. Only that sort of Messiah could tell her – and each of us – not to worry because we can truly believe that in and through Him, all indeed shall be well.