Homily 4th Sunday Ordinary Time – 29th January
Reform is never a simple process. Sometimes it is outright painful. Certainly, each period of reform in the history of the Church has been costly in terms of membership.
It has happened many times in our 2,000-year history. This cycle of growth and reform. Many times the Church has rebuilt on a few, on what the prophet Zephaniah calls in the first reading a faithful remnant. And no doubt it will happen many times again.
And each time it has, or will yet, the spark has always been the same. Someone has taken seriously this Gospel reading today, the Beatitudes, the values upon which the New Kingdom of God will be built. To those who see only with the eyes of the world, the Beatitudes are absurd. They certainly are not the values urged on us by our society, and anyone who follows them wholeheartedly runs a real risk of looking ridiculous in the eyes of the world. There is nothing at all in this reading that guarantees us comfort, popularity, the respect of our peers, success, position and so on.
We are to be poor in spirit. That means that we should be satisfied and grateful if we are comfortable and well off, and satisfied and grateful if we are not. We are called to be detached from things, but never from people. We must always care for the afflicted.
Happy are the gentle, the peacemakers. Now, this says nothing about the morality of self-defence or the morality of a just war. But it does mean that a Christian refuses to see life as a battle, a contest, refuses to see any exchange between human beings in terms of who wins and who loses.
Happy are those who can mourn well and creatively. Those who can accept, even welcome, the pains and disappointments of life, those who recognise that as being as much and as creative a part of human living as are its joys.
Happy are the pure in heart, the single-minded those who hunger and thirst for what is right, those who are even persecuted in the cause of righteousness. Those who are more concerned with whether or not a thing is right than with whether or not it is profitable, popular.
Happy are the merciful, the forgiving, those who refuse to keep scorecards on their friends, neighbours, enemies, those who refuse to replay over and over in their minds old hurts, offenses, insults. Those who refuse to surrender their ownership of the present to past hurts.
These are Christian values. The struggle to become like that is what it means to be a Christian. They are, most often, not the values of the world into which Christ sends us. And so it is in that struggle that the reform to which Christ calls us is accomplished in the Church, in the world, and in ourselves.