Category: Musings

The Poor: An Intro to a Reflection on the Beatitudes

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST IS VERY, VERY RELIGIOUS. It may not be suitable for all, and I understand this. That’s why I’m warning you now, if you don’t feel like reading something that’s more religious than my normal posts, please stop reading. Thank you.

……….

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:3

The above quote is the first of the beatitudes, a seeming litany proclaimed by Jesus, of who are blessed in the eyes of God. Jesus doesn’t list the wealthy, those who go to church regularly, those who have the highest accolades and titles, or even those who are the most publicly loved. Jesus lists the poor, the meek, the merciful, and countless other groups who are often shamed. Jesus tells us to be more aware of ourselves in the presence of God, not in the presence of how others treat you.

What’s important is that he begins with the “poor in spirit.” Now, the entirety of the beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew begins what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, or when Jesus preached on the Mountain to his disciples, and to those who would hear him. This is him preaching most clearly.

The term, “poor in spirit” then is very much referencing to what Jesus the Preacher would reference. Just as modern preachers reference their material, the bible, Jesus was referencing what is known now as the Old Testament, or what the Jewish people know as the Torah. In the Old Testament, the poor are, “those who are without material possessions and whose confidence is in God.” As the online website for the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website points out, “Matthew added in spirit in order either to indicate that only the devout poor were meant or to extend the beatitude to all, of whatever social rank, who recognized their complete dependence on God.”

So the term “poor in spirit” refers to someone who’s aware of their dependence on God for all, either while also being materially poor, or being of any social standing.

If the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who know that they need God for all, then the question is one of Ego, of pride. I feel that more people acknowledge that they need God, that they have a finite ability to accomplish on their own, and that life in bleak without God.  But for most, we want to do things on our own, to believe we are independent and capable of all on our own. Jesus calls us to know that those who are blessed, before all else, are the most humble among us. Those who will enter the kingdom of heaven are those whose trust in the Lord, above all is, is what guides them.

This is a tough message, especially for non-Christians. But it’s just as tough for me. I may be a devout Catholic, but I struggle with ego so much. I find that the most difficult aspect of my spiritual life is losing my will to put my own desires before God, and to do all without God.

For that reason, I’ve very recently begun praying the Litany of Humility. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it is here. Without a doubt, it is the most difficult prayer I have ever prayed. But it’s been slowly working in me, I can feel it.

If this prayer works for you, let me know. Let us all pray together, that we can begin to understand that we are not always in control, and that is good. All of us are merely human, and that’s perfect. We are human, and being human, being broken and hurt, is beautiful. It is so beautiful that God became human, to be like us, to understand our experience in His own experience, and even died upon the cross for us.

I’ll end this reflection with a song by Sufjan Stevens:

Thank you. A.M.D.G.

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So, that was the first reflection in this short series. I know it was very religious, and not very political. I thought I might start with something more focused on the scripture, and ease my way into a reflection also on the world around us. I could’ve talked about the poor, but trust me, there’s plenty of theology to reflect what’s happening in the world. Plus, I can always come back to talk to the poor. Anyways, please stay tuned tomorrow, as I take on the second of the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. Also, you can read ahead, and also see where I’m getting this translation from right here, at the website for the USCCB. The translation, in case you’re wondering, is the NABRE, or New American Bible Revised Edition, which is what the USCCB recommends.

Peace. A.M.D.G.

Anguish

Frustration. Anger. Contempt. Sorrow. Pain.

These are the things that I have felt in the last month, looking at news headlines, looking at the most opinionated of my “friends” posts, and seeing the suffering world around me refuse to listen to itself. How do you take seriously the point of view of another human that doesn’t take seriously your humanity?

How do you humanize the point of view of someone that disagrees with you?

How do we step outside of our preconceived notions, of our own minds, to realize that we are all wrong? Unless we stand with the suffering, with those who are badly hurt by the world, who are subjugated, who are oppressed, who are murdered; unless we can internalize this suffering, how can we say that we are with them?

It is so easy, yet so cynical, to have an opinion on something, and then to proceed to share that opinion from behind a computer screen, without being the person experiencing the pain. I should know, I’ve done that so often. How then do we begin to change our habits?

We can begin to listen more than we speak. We can also diversify who we are listening to. We can also pay special attention to those who are hurting, just in listening, not so much in speaking. We can pray more, and be with others more. We can try to understand where people are coming from, and why people think and act and live and love the way they do. Above all, though, when we do decide to talk, and to act, we can realize that our actions can no longer be simple. There are no more easy answers. Maybe we may choose to be radical, or to be more moderate, but however we choose to be must change our entire way of being.

A.M.D.G.

From Among Jesuits

Standing near the airport terminal, with my phone plugged in at a charging station, the kind where you stand at a long bar, and it’s right in front of a bunch of chairs, I am reflecting on the serious gratitude I have for the last few days. I should clarify: I’m at the airport in St. Louis, MO, where I spent the last few days with a bunch of Jesuits. I stayed at and around St. Louis University, attending Masses and receptions and meetings revolving around the central event of the weekend which took place yesterday morning: the Ordination of five new priests from the Society of Jesus. It felt like almost the entire Central and Southern Province was here, as well as families of the new priests and many welcomed guests, who all came together to celebrate.

I should also clarify my own role: I was one of those welcomed guests. Though the first part of my being here was as a possible candidate for the Society (the Jesuits), my second was more simple, and more true to the role most people have in mind for me: as a musician, helping with music for the mass. I played the upright bass during the ceremony, along with a full string quartet, trombones, trumpets, winds, a mixed choir (women and men; laity and Jesuits), and even some timpani! All of this under the direction of my soon to be supervisor in my role of Peer Ministry, Mr. Matt Stewart, SJ. I’m grateful he extended to me the opportunity to play, and I’m just as grateful for all the direction I found in my Vocation. I’m still not decided, but I feel this trip was very fruitful. Most fruitful was my opportunity to reconnect with Jesuits I’ve gotten to know from across the province, and also some new faces. Of course I still don’t know everyone, but the connections I did have made my exploration and interactions all the more meaningful.

As I return home, I’m still not sure what I feel exactly, besides happy and grateful. I do know that in my exploring my experience, I’ll be able to truly see the depth of what this weekend has brought for me.

A.M.D.G.

Fighting to be Seen as a Person

Muhammad Ali. One of the greatest boxers of all time. One of the most important figures of the 20th century. One of America’s most influential black men, and most important Muslims. A fighter for titles as well as for rights. A man striving, struggling, fighting for himself, and for his brothers and sisters, to be seen as people, to be treated like the humans that they are. An out-spoken, and self proclaimed “never politically correct,” activist. A hero.

Since his passing I’ve seen people who don’t want muslims in this country and who want to act as if the black man (and the black woman) don’t still have a serious plight in this country try to pay respects to his legacy. But if we are not willing to act in a more humane, loving, and compassionate way, to see all of God’s people as our brothers and sisters, to try to end discrimination and oppression, how can we claim to be paying any respect to this man?

 

Our gift was to have him here, and as unapologetically black as he was, he was never anything if not an example of how to live as a person of deep faith, and of deep conviction rooted in that faith. I may not have agreed with him on some things, but truly his was, and is still, a hero to me. Thank you, Mr. Ali.