No Light Squibs of Mirth
Fourth Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Ombres unpacks the profound vision of the Beatitudes.
Jesus is not promising ‘light squibs of mirth’ to his followers. The Beatitudes described in today’s gospel tell of a more rooted happiness, of a joy that can be unexpected and unlikely, a blessing that lasts even against the odds.
Jesus was in fact describing himself before he was offering us a sustaining vision. It is Christ who makes it possible for us to be transformed and to be transforming because what we might become and do is already and permanently achieved in him. Roots are generally invisible, yet what flourishes openly depends on them. Our happiness as Christians is rooted, and it flourishes because it is planted not only in human resources.
This kind of happiness leads to experiences of joy when situations of say mourning or persecution make them unexpected and unlikely. This side of heaven is not only a time of hopeful waiting for what will come in future, with no impact now. In the whole of the New Testament it is St Matthew who uniquely and repeatedly writes of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. Think of his account of parables. In Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven has come among us and actively transforms. Grace is an energy to act and behave in a certain way as well as a source of happiness. Our lives in Christ will include paradoxes and dislocations, and the teaching on the Beatitudes prepares us for this both as a reassurance and a task.
Baptism is a blessing that places us in Christ so firmly and deeply that we can venture and risk when other lifestyles and more worldly wisdom would suggest otherwise. It could indeed be a venture and a risk, and the gospel of the Beatitudes does not hide this painful truth. Yet rejoice and be glad now, we are told, and what is experienced partially will be completed in heaven.
In fact, living the Beatitudes in the power of the Spirit mingles heaven and earth. Today’s gospel on how we are to live is framed at the beginning and end by references to heaven. At the same time as we are being transformed by God we contribute to transforming the world into the Kingdom. Each of us is unfinished, and so is the world. There is a divine, Christ-centred dynamism at work in history and it matters that there be those who are poor in spirit, who are meek, who hunger and thirst for what is right, and so on. We use the gifts of the Spirit, practising the natural and supernatural virtues, even by small daily responses to people and events.
People of the Beatitudes have therefore a blend of present and future blessings, happiness and joy to sustain them in what can be very unpromising situations when they risk being overwhelmed. They are able to understand why the poet John Donne asked the Lord that we be delivered:
From being anxious, or secure,
Dead clods of sadness, or light squibs of mirth.
Consider more closely one of the Beatitudes, that which concerns peacemakers. Today’s world is not short of violence and war on a large scale, whilst domestic life has its conflicts. And there is also within each of us a distancing from God, a rejection and opposition that we call sin. Peace then needs to come at different levels, and its violations could well make us anxious, placing on us dead clods of sadness. Or we might become smugly self-absorbed and largely indifferent to the effects of the lack of peace, settling for light squibs of mirth. Christ’s teaching on the Beatitudes frees us from the attraction of these two responses. He has reconciled us to God, made peace, and he asks that we bring such peace to others; it is the peacemakers, those who make peace where it is absent or threatened, who have this blessing, this happiness, not those who might only consider that they themselves are at peace.
The teaching on the Beatitudes, then, reassures us when we are struggling and tempted to give-up on living in this Christ-like way. It also gives us the task to be transformed by God and to transform life on earth when we might settle for a life with less commitment and the search for happiness at a superficial level.