How to be joyful?

by Ben Cheng
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Matthew 5:1-12A

Today's Gospel is one of the most beautiful and important text in the New Testament. It is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount - the eight Beatitudes.

"Jesus went onto the mountain site. And when he was seated his disciples came to him." (Matthew 5:1) In Old Testament, Moses went up the mountain to get the Ten Commandments, and Jesus is now the new Moses, giving us the new law. "Seat", in the ancient world, was a position of authority. A teacher would be seated, and his disciples would be at his feet. So, Jesus is in a solemn way, teaching us about his vision, laying out his program. Why is this text so important? Because it is the Son of God telling us how to be happy! Please notice that Jesus speaks not primarily about obligation, law, or demand. He first talks about joy. Joy is what the Lord has wanted from the beginning. It is what religion is all about! "Beatitudos", in Latin, means joy and happiness. Everything flows from this; everything circles around it.

As we listen with great attention to this sermon, I would suggest a new way of ordering the famous eight Beatitudes, with the beginning of these two: "Blessed are the merciful" (Matthew 5:7), and "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:7). These two named the very heart of the spiritual program, in which we participate most directly in the divine life. God is mercy. "Hesed," in Hebrew, means "tender mercy." It is often used to describe God. God is merciful and compassionate (from Latin word "compati" - to suffer with). When we are full of compassion, we are entering into the suffering of the others, their joy, anguish, and pain. This is what compassion means and what God is, who is by nature, compassion and love. Therefore, how blessed are we if we live like God as a person of mercy. If we are feeling depressed and unhappy, engage in a simple act of compassionate love. Show mercy and we will find joy.

Secondly, God is essentially peace, harmony, and consonance. He is a communio of peace. When God creates, he creates in a non-violent manner to assure it is a generous act of love that brings the world into being. When the risen Jesus appears to his disciples, he says to them, "Shalom", which is the peace that comes from the very heart of God. It is offered to his disciples and to our Church. Therefore, when we make peace, we are participating in the divine life. Become someone who in all his gestures creates the conditions for peace. This is Christian life. Seek mercy and peace, and become a conduit of these two.

Once the goal is clear, then we should want them with all our heart, soul, and strength. We should desire them in a clear and focused way. So, listen to one of the other two Beatitudes. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness" (Matthew 5:7). What are we hungering and thirsting for? It is a good spiritual question. Jesus says you will be happy if you seek your hunger and thirst, not for the trivial things in this world, but for righteousness, and this means for mercy and peace. Here is a related one: "Blessed are the pure in heart (cleanness of heart)" (Matthew 5:8). It means that we have one clear desire and focus in our heart, the deepest center of the self. What is in your heart? Is it cluttered, unclean, divert in all things? Seek this one thing with purity of heart: Seek to be like God, which is the divine mercy, and you will be happy.

Having surveying the above four Beatitudes, may I suggest the remaining ones can be seen in clear light, because they give us the conditions that make this central desire possible. They articulate means by which great end can be best achieved.

One of the principle blocks to attaining mercy and peace is a preoccupation with material things. So, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3). How happy we will be if we are detached from material things, because then we can hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we will have room in our heart for the tender mercy of God. Moreover, if we have some wealth, we will know what to do with it. We will use it as means of expressing God's mercy.

Another blockage to attain divine life is that we get hung up on good feelings. So, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:5). We think we would not be happy unless we feel good all the time. If negative experiences flooded into our life, we convince ourselves we are not content. In fact, authentic compassion, mercy and love will sometimes hurt deeply. When we walk in a way of love, it will be the center of our life, not pleasure. Therefore, we must rid ourselves of attachment to good feelings if we want to be truly happy.

A preoccupation with power is also another stumbling block to attain mercy and peace. So, "Blessed are the meek (lowly)" (Matthew 5:4). When we are so hooked up on the goods and values of this world, we become ruthless in pursuit. We make ourselves interiorly miserable. Blessed are those who are detached from earthly power, honor, and glory. It frees us for what is truly good, which is doing God's will. Blessed are we if we find that freedom.

Finally, an obsession with being liked can prevent the realization of divine life in us. So, "Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account" (Matthew 5:11) Many of us base our lives on seeking approval of others. We crave popularity among our friends and find titles in workplace. Nevertheless, doing the will of God sometimes can involve anything but approval. Therefore, how happy are we if we are not attached to the approval of others, because then we can achieve mercy and peace, with cleanness of heart. We can hunger and thirst for what is right and good.

So, friends, here it is the program. Do you want to be a joyful person? Incorporate these eight Beatitudes as the structuring elements of our life. We have the guarantee from the son of God for happiness.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron's homilies, including BLESSED ARE WE”, “HOW TO BE HAPPY”, “THE BEATITUDES: A SPIRITUAL PROGRAM” and “THE PROGRAM FOR FREEDOM. For more information, please visit Word On Fire