A reading from the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 7:2-4, 9-14)
The Book of Revelation is most difficult book of the New Testament to understand. The context in which it was written is an important factor in increasing our understanding. It was a time of persecution, around 65 AD. Christians were being martyred for their faith, and it seemed to them to be the end of days. Many thought the world as they knew it would end. The author of Revelation assures them that they are the elect and will be saved by Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Over the centuries, and even in our time, various sects have taken these words literally and gone to a mountain or desert to wait for the end of the world. Of course, nothing happens, and then they go about their lives wondering what it was all about.
Sometimes, in the worst times of our lives, we experience our own little apocalypse when we do not know how we might go on in the face of loss or deep suffering. At those times, we can experience the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is always with us but whose presence is often somewhere in the background of our lives. The worst times can turn out to be times of enlightenment and healing in the Spirit. Has that happened to you? Do you pray to the Spirit of God within you during those times?
(Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6)
“Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” We are that people today. We long to see God’s face but in good time, not yet. Most of us would like to stay in this life as long as we are able, and so we can see the face of God even now in so many ways, in so many people, if we have the eyes and hearts to see. Where or in whom do you see the face of God?
A reading from the first Letter of Saint John
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Wow! That is one of the most joyful and amazing passages in the whole Bible: “We shall be like him., for we shall see him as he is.” Please spend some time reflecting on what that means to you. This is what our faith teaches us. It is what we believe as Christians, but too often it gets lost in so many other laws, teachings, and rituals. This is it. This is the promise. This is our greatest hope. Let us rejoice.A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Here we have the Beatitudes, one of the most important sets of teachings in the gospels. Jesus starts each of the Beatitudes with the word “blessed.” He also uses the word “righteousness” twice.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
What do these words mean to Jesus? The most frequent use of the concept of righteousness today is in the term self-righteous, and it is usually used as a negative quality in a person who thinks he or she is above everyone else, someone who is proud of doing the right thing and lets you know about it. But real righteousness is not only to “do the right thing,” but to live with a mind and heart that are open to the love of God and maintain that focus even in the hard times of persecution or rejection.
The qualities that Jesus mentions—being merciful, being a peacemaker, being clean of heart and poor in spirit, having a hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice—all bring blessings. In times of stress or disappointment, people often say, “Count your blessings,” but it is something we need to do often, because we are blessed in so many ways by God. For example, have you experienced blessings when you have been merciful? Pope Francis is calling for all of us and for the Church as an institution to be more merciful and accepting. Is that quality of mercy in you? How do you show it? Try praying over the Beatitudes, discover what they mean to you, and ask for God’s blessings so you can live them and share them every day.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
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Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.