Sunday, February 19, 2017

Holiness and The Way of Perfection

St. Teresa Avila (1515-1582)
(7th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on February 18 & 19, 2017 at Holy Apostles Church in Cranston, R.I.  See Matthew 5:38-48)


Our Lord, in the Gospel this weekend, introduces us to the “way of perfection.”  He challenges us to, “Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  I think we could all agree that what Christ is asking of us here is a bit . . . well . . . daunting!  In the face of opposition, Jesus instructs us to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” and “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well” (Matthew 5:39).  Jesus challenges us to love even our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  Such a radically different way of life for us as Christians, this “way of perfection” is daunting indeed, perhaps even overwhelming.  

We need only think about the anger and frustration that so many people experience today when it comes to politics and the things we see happening on the evening news each day.  We all know people, in or families or among our friends, that find themselves frequently embroiled in confrontations about the latest political controversies.  Similarly, many of us know what it is like to sit behind the wheel and become a very different person, filled with frustration and anger towards those we share (or refuse to share!) the road with; on the highway, perhaps we travel very far from the “way of perfection.”  And how many of us have been harmed by the words or actions of others, and find it difficult to forgive and to let go?  How, then, are we to reconcile Jesus’ teachings with the way we sometimes experience the challenges of everyday life?

Some would say that Jesus’ teachings this weekend are simply hyperbole, like when Christ says, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:30).  Obviously, Jesus is not advocating that we literally mutilate our bodies; He is simply emphasizing the essential need for us to break free of sin at any cost so that we can gain eternal life.  While we may wish to consider the call to perfection in a similar vein, the lives of the saints teach us differently.

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, reflecting on this Gospel passage back in the 1940s and 1950s, insists on a literal interpretation applicable to us all:

Your duty is to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you. Who thinks that this task is only for priests and religious?  To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: 'Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect.'
—St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, #291

At the time, many people even within the Church were critical of such an interpretation of this “way of perfection.”  Surely God could not be calling bankers, lawyers, laborers, doctors, and all the Catholic lay faithful to such a high standard of sanctity?  Yet in 1964, in the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium, the Church taught precisely that:

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: "Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them.  The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace.
—Lumen Gentium, #40

We have the ability to live and love in ways heretofore unimaginable, because the Holy Spirit is living in us.  God dwells in us, allowing us to cooperate in the life of Jesus Christ and to live this awesome message of the Gospel.  We respond to the life of grace that God freely gives us, and so we have the power to answer this universal call to holiness.  

But how?  

Practically speaking, how are we to walk in the “way of perfection” and live effectively the holiness that God calls us to?  One of the greatest saints to ever answer that question is the 16th century mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila.  St. Teresa, precocious at times in her teenage years, entered a Carmelite monastery at the age of twenty.  Within a few short years, she was already experiencing the beginning of what the spiritual writers describe as mystical union with God.  By God’s grace she had already advanced to a level of spiritual maturity that would take other saints decades to arrive at.  But then she began to fall away.

The cloister (or enclosure from the outside world) that the monastery was supposed to represent was far from the reality.  On a regular basis, ordinary townspeople would visit the convents throughout Spain and be entertained by the nuns there.  No one was more popular than St. Teresa.  Her biographers describe her personality as irresistible.   She became immersed in the worldly concerns of those around her, and found herself further and further away from God.  At one point in her autobiography she recalls the saints who, at one time, had been the greatest of sinners (she names St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalene specifically) and notes how their lives were totally changed once they had met the Lord.  Her own experience was not only different, but even painfully discouraging.  She writes:

There was one thing that left me inconsolable, as I have mentioned, and that was that the Lord called them only once, and they did not turn back and fall again; whereas in my case I had turned back so often that I was worn out from it.
—St. Teresa of Avila, 
The Book of Her Life, Ch. 9, #7

St. Teresa describes this time in her life as “extremely burdensome,” because she began to recognize, each time she desired to draw closer to God in prayer, the many faults and failures that had separated her from Him.  She would even go so far as to say that simply being in the presence of God took courage, since she felt that she had, in many ways, betrayed Him:

Though I continued to associate with the world, I had the courage to practice prayer.  I say courage, for I do not know what would require greater courage among all the things there are in the world than to betray the king and know that He knows it and yet never leave His presence.

Though we are always in the presence of God, it seems to me the manner is different for those who practice prayer, for they are aware that He is looking at them.  With others, it can happen that several days pass without their recalling that God sees them.

—St. Teresa of Avila, 
The Book of Her Life, Ch. 8, #2

This sense, that God is looking at us, seems very negative at first.  But then the most amazing thing began to happen in her life.  She gradually came to understand that, when God was looking at her, day after day in that place, He was not looking at her in condemnation.  He was not looking at Teresa in anger or frustration, as if to say, “I have given you everything and you have squandered it!”  No.   She sensed that, when God looked at her, day in and day out, He was looking at her with great love.  She began to realize that God was gazing at her in love, and this gaze led her into the depths of a relationship that completely changed and transformed her life.  

Eventually, the nuns in the community with St. Teresa asked for her help, that they might love God the way that she did, to possess that same joy and same passionate fervor in prayer.  They had heard all about the autobiography she had written, out of obedience, and how it had been read by kings, bishops and prominent people all throughout Spain.  But they had never even seen it.  They asked her to write a book especially for them, to teach them how to pray and how to love Christ more completely.  She responded to their request, and the book was eventually entitled, The Way of Perfection.  In that book, Teresa focuses on the gift of prayer that had so captivated her, this gaze of love that transforms the soul within:

I am not asking you now that you think about Him or that you draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect.  I am not asking you to do anything more than look at Him.  For who can keep you from turning the eyes of your soul toward this Lord, even if you do so just for a moment if you can’t do more?  You can look at very ugly things; won’t you be able to look at the most beautiful thing imaginable?  Well now, daughters, your Spouse never takes His eyes off you.
—St. Teresa of Avila, 
The Way of Perfection, Ch. 26, #3

God is constantly gazing at us in love, St. Teresa teaches.  When He does, then we should return that gaze and look back at Him with love.  This is the heart of prayer for her, that we should spend this intimate time in silence with the one that we know loves us, growing ever more deeply in friendship with Him each day (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2709).

In conclusion, we come here today perhaps frustrated and even angry with so many of the complexities and difficulties of life; maybe we carry in our hearts the heaviness that comes from the words or actions of others who have hurt us, those we find difficult to forgive.  But certainly, we are not here today alone.  Here in this place, Jesus Christ Himself comes to us on this altar, in His body and blood, soul and divinity.  He will be here, gazing at us in love in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  He is here, in the tabernacle, like He is every day and every night, looking at us in love.  And whenever we kneel down, in the silence of our own homes, in the early morning or at the end of a long and difficult day, He is there, looking at us and gazing at us in love.

May we take to heart the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila, and simply look back, in love, at Him.  May we answer this universal call to holiness, this awesome invitation to be men and women of prayer; may we gaze back in love at the one that we know loves us, allowing Him to take us by the hand and lead us, each and every day, in the “way of perfection.”

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The Church's Vocation: Light

The Cathedral in Segovia, Spain

By Óscar Ibáñez Fernández (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

(5th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on February 4, 2017 at St. Francis de Sales Church in North Kingstown, R.I. and February 5, 2017 at St. Francis de Sales Church and St. Peter's Church in Warwick, R.I.  See Isaiah 58:7-10 and Matthew 5:13-16)

Our readings for this weekend are focused in a particular way on vocation.  Often the first thing we think about when we hear the word “vocation” is the priesthood.  Frequently we ask our Lord for an increase in vocations to the priesthood.  As rector of our college seminary, I would certainly encourage us all to ask God for more priestly vocations.  But our readings for this weekend are much broader than just the vocation to the priesthood.  The readings for this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time highlight the universal call to holiness.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word, vocare, literally, to call.  God is calling all of us: those who are single and those who are married; He is calling priests and also religious.  Every single one of us are called to be holy, sacred, separate from the world, but for the sake of the world.  That is what Christ is calling us to in the Gospel this weekend.  He proclaims:

“You are the salt of the earth…” (Matthew 5:13).  Salt preserves, it sustains, it gives vitality to that which it seasons.  We are called to be holy so that we might preserve and give vitality to the world around us, seasoning it for the spiritual life that God wishes to bestow upon it.  “You are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14),” Jesus announces.  Light illumines the way; it makes it possible for others to find and discover God in their lives.  We are called to holiness, to be separate from the world, for the sake of preserving and sustaining the culture around us and to help souls find Jesus Christ.

This call, however, is not one that originates with the calling of the first disciples of Christ (what we listened to only two weeks ago in Sunday’s Gospel).  The call to holiness and to be God’s light in this world goes back to the Old Testament, and begins with the calling of Abraham.  God called Abraham in a deeply personal way to follow Him and to obey His word.  He then calls Jacob, whom he names Israel, His chosen one, to whom He makes promises and sustains in the land.  God then calls an entire people, Israel, that He forms as a nation and rescues from slavery in Egypt.  Through Moses He calls them to be holy: “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (Leviticus 11:45).”

Certainly, God did not call Israel because they were better or larger than the nations around them; Assyria and Babylonia were far greater than Israel.  God did not call Israel because they were more advanced than the nations and cultures around them; Egypt was much more advanced than Israel.   These were a nomadic people, roaming through the desert and living in tents.  No, God called them because He loved them, and the purpose for their calling is expressed beautifully in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  To the people returning from exile, who perhaps considered that they had been forgotten by God, Isaiah announces that it  is not the Lord’s desire to merely sustain them and restore them as a people once again.  No, He will make them His instrument and a servant for the salvation of all:

It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
—Isaiah 49:6

God called them to be holy so that He could bring the message of salvation to all peoples.  It is through Israel that the Messiah was to be born, the Son of God.  Jesus, the Christ, is born in Bethlehem and He preaches the Good News throughout the land of Israel.  He gives His life on the cross for the salvation of the world, and is buried outside the walls of Jerusalem.  On the third day, He rises from the dead, and sends His apostles out to the ends of the earth to proclaim the message of mercy, forgiveness and new life.  God’s plan worked!  Israel had become that light to the nations, responding to the vocation to which they were called. 

But in our first reading this weekend, the light that is Israel has grown dim . . .

There is every indication in that first reading today that Israel has not been faithful to her vocation to be holy; that she has not cared for those in need, or lived in a way separate from the other nations around her.  Isaiah the prophet challenges Israel to be that holy nation once again, so that they might experience anew the power of God.  He exhorts them to feed the hungry in their midst, and to clothe those who are naked and in need (Isaiah 58:7); to rid themselves of oppression, false accusation and malicious speech (Isaiah 58:9):

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn . . . then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
Isaiah 58:8,10

In our Gospel this weekend, Christ is challenging the Church to that same fidelity and that same holiness to which we have been called.  He proclaims:

You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
—Matthew 5:13-14
 Pope Francis, in his first encyclical letter, Lumen Fidei, writes about how the Church has faithfully brought the light of faith, and the truth about the human person, to the world.  He explains:

How many benefits has the gaze of Christian faith brought to the city of men for their common life! Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity.
—Lumen Fidei, #54

In the ancient world, particular men had a great dignity, but certainly not women.  Those who were free had personal dignity, but not those who were enslaved; they were regarded as mere property.  But once the message of the Gospel is proclaimed, the inestimable value of every human person is made eminently clear: we are worth the value of God’s only begotten Son.  St. Paul will announce boldly that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  The laws in our nation that govern how we live and how we relate to one another are founded on this vision of human dignity.  How much our culture takes for granted this Gospel truth!

But Pope Francis goes on to explain how God has been systematically removed from our cities and from the public square.  The effects are obvious.  It is not the case today that all persons have equal value and equal dignity in our cities.  The lives of the unborn share no such rights.  They are not protected by our laws and are not valued by society.  We have allowed a culture that has forgotten God to define human dignity, and the unborn are not included in the definition.  We have allowed a society that has forgotten God to redefine marriage and the family, no longer as a covenant of love between one man and one woman.  St. John Paul II cautioned, in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, that man can certainly build a world without God, but that world risks destroying itself.  We are witnessing that destruction—in small ways, and in ways perhaps not so small—all around us.
What is to be our response?  Christ is calling us to be holy, separate from the world, for the sake of the world.  He is calling us to bring His light back into the public square.  Pope Francis, in Lumen Fidei, cites the Letter to the Hebrews, where the biblical author recalls the great fidelity of Abraham, Sarah and the patriarchs.  Hebrews announces, “God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).  But then Pope Francis turns that scenario around, asking:

Could it be the case, instead, that we are the ones who are ashamed to call God our God? That we are the ones who fail to confess him as such in our public life, who fail to propose the grandeur of the life in common which he makes possible? Faith illumines life and society. If it possesses a creative light for each new moment of history, it is because it sets every event in relationship to the origin and destiny of all things in the Father.
—Lumen Fidei, #55

In a word, the world we live in needs God!  We are the ones Christ is calling to bring the light of hope, and the message of faith, to a world that desperately needs to experience the love of God.  Will we answer that call?  I would like to conclude with a story that illustrates well our Gospel for this weekend.

Many years ago, a small church was built on one of the highest mountains in Switzerland.  It was quite beautiful and had been constructed with great care by the people of the nearby village.  But for all the details that were accounted for in that church, there was not a single light.  The mountain was too far from the nearest power station, and the cost of electricity would have been far too much.  Yet every Sunday evening, the people who lived on the mountain opposite that church would witness the most amazing thing.  The church bell would ring and people would gradually make their way up the hill.  As soon as they had all entered the church, it would suddenly become filled with light.  The villagers brought lanterns with them as they walked, and once they arrived they would place them on pegs set into the walls.  Having lit every lantern, the church would quickly fill with light.

After the Mass, the villagers would take their lanterns home, and it was then that the people who watched from a distance would see a flood of light coming out of the church, spreading into the night in every direction across the mountainside.

This is the Church that Christ is calling us to be in our Gospel for this weekend.  We are called to gather around this altar and receive Jesus Christ, the Light of the World; we are called to hear the message of the Gospel and let our hearts be set on fire with that love that conquers all things.  Ultimately, though, we are called to leave this place and spread that light and that love everywhere.  May we listen well to the call of Jesus Christ in our Gospel this weekend:

You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

—Matthew 5:13-14

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Beatitude and the Humility of God


St. Thomas Aquinas, by Carlo Crivelli (1435-1495)

(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on January 28 and January 29, 2017 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Central Falls, R.I.  See Zephaniah 2:3-3:13 and Matthew 5:1-12)

This weekend (January 28) we celebrated the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th Century Doctor of the Church and renowned teacher of the Catholic faith.  The beautiful story is told about St. Thomas, that towards the end of his life the Lord Jesus appeared to him and said, “You have written well of me, Thomas.  What reward would you have for your labor?”  To which Aquinas responded, “Nothing but you, Lord.”

One of the most basic teachings of St. Thomas that reflects this experience, and one that affects us all in a very direct way, is the truth that God created us to be happy.  When God brought us into existence, He intended for us to be truly happy in this life, and to live in eternal happiness with Him.  

Justly could we ask today, however, “Then why are there so many people in this world who are unhappy?”  Why are many people (maybe even most people?) not as happy as they would like to be?  Part of the answer to that question might be that they are not seeking the happiness for which God has created them.  

According to Aquinas, God creates us to be happy in this life by knowing the truth and desiring the good.  Above all, we are created to know the truth about God—that He is loving and merciful, that He is a God of justice and faithfulness, and that He is a God of forgiveness and compassion.  To not know the truth about God, then—to think that He is vengeful, narrow or unforgiving; to believe that God is distant and unconcerned for us; to not believe that He exists or to live as if He did not exist—this is what leads us to great unhappiness.  

To not desire the good, likewise, would inevitably leave us unhappy.  When people desire, instead, things that are harmful or evil, things that God never intended for us, they depart from the path of happiness and begin to walk down the road of discontentment.  To know the truth and desire the good, those are the things that make us happy here in this world.

But St. Thomas Aquinas also teaches that there is something even greater than this happiness for which we are created, an invitation by divine grace to a blessedness and a happiness that begins here, and continues into eternity.  He calls it amicitia dei, friendship with God.   Not only to know the truth about God, or to desire the good things that God provides for us; more than that, we are created to know and love God Himself.  We are called to be in relationship with Him.  We are called to friendship with God.  We spend time with Him, and speak to Him in prayer about what worries us, what saddens us, what we are hopeful about; we give ourselves generously to Him in the silence, that place where He speaks to our souls and refashions them in love.  We become more and more like God by our intimate relationship and friendship with Him: amicitia dei.

This friendship with God is perhaps the best way to understand the Gospel of St. Matthew this weekend: Jesus’ teaching on the Beatitudes.  Jesus is teaching us about the blessed life, the life of happiness, the life of beatitude.  But clearly the program He outlines for us is very different from the one that we ordinarily associate with happiness.  Jesus proclaims:  Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . Blessed are the meek. . .Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. . . 

These are not the things that usually come to mind when we think of happiness.  One of the most radical and profound dimensions of the beatitudes, in fact, is that Jesus does not promise a happiness for these souls in the next life only, or merely in the world to come.  No, he makes it emphatic:

Blessed ARE the poor in spirit!  Right here, right now, they are already blessed.  Blessed ARE those who mourn!  Yes, they will be consoled, they will receive a great recompense in the life to come, but they are already blessed, even in this life.  Blessed ARE they who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . .  Blessed ARE the clean of heart . . .

The remarkable reality of the beatitudes, as described by Christ Himself, is that they already anticipate, and even initiate, the life of heaven—eternal happiness, beatitude—here in this life.  They will ultimately lead us to eternal life and the vision of God, but already they draw heaven down into this world, and imbue this place with divine light.  Pope Benedict XVI, in Volume I of his tryptic, Jesus of Nazareth, writes beautifully on the beatitudes as an encounter with this descent of God into this world in the person of Jesus Christ.

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

In our first reading, from the prophet Zephaniah, we are exhorted: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility” (Zephaniah 2:3).    Those who seek after these things, they are the ones who embody this humility and poverty of  spirit that Jesus indicates will take hold of the kingdom of heaven.  But they will not have the wherewithal to rise up and lay hold of it by their own power.  No, it will come to them, descend upon them in the person of Christ.  God cannot resist drawing close to the humble heart.  Pope Benedict explains:

“Now Israel recognizes that its poverty is exactly what brings it close to God; it recognizes that the poor, in their humility, are the ones closest to God’s heart, whereas the opposite is true of the arrogant pride of the rich, who rely on themselves.”
—Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, pg. 75 

  Constantly in the television ads and the images that are presented by the media and in film we are given the message that wealth will make you happy; power will make you happy; always getting your own way will make you happy.  But those who are most wealthy, or most powerful, or who consistently manage to get their own way are often the unhappiest of all!  Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).  

Pope Benedict also examines the beatitude, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).  He insists that this teaches us exactly the opposite of what the modern world holds about religion and salvation.  He explains that the prevailing view is that everyone should simply follow their own religion and that will lead to a blessed life.  He calls in to question this position, asking whether the destruction of one’s enemies in a holy war will lead to blessedness.  Is Jihad working well in the Middle East and in other places on the earth?  Is that making people happy?  Or, he questions, will blood vengeance?  This practice, held religiously in some places of the world, will that make people happy?  Will atheism and the denial of God make for the blessed life?  Or those who make their own conscience and their own personal desires the moral norm for life,  will these find happiness and the blessed life?  “No,” he answers, “God demands the opposite.”

We hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we do not immediately find it; we long for and pine for more than what we see and experience, and cry out to God for more.  In this hunger and thirst, Pope Benedict explains, we are open to the God who comes to us in that encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.  The Christian religion is unique in that it is ultimately not a quest where we discover God at the end of the journey, but one in which our longing and yearning opens our eyes to the reality that He has come to us.

Finally, in the beatitude “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8), we discover once again the descending love that imbues us with beatitude.  Pope Benedict XVI explains that, ultimately, we are not the ones capable of achieving this purity that will open our eyes to the vision of God.  Purification happens, instead, when we follow Christ and unite ourselves to Him.  It is not our sacrifices that purify us, but His sacrifice on the cross.  Christ descends from heaven to earth, and in that sacrificial offering of Himself on Calvary His blood, poured out in love, is that which purifies and sanctifies us.  Brilliantly, Benedict XVI explains:

“God descends, to the point of death on the cross.  And precisely by doing so, he reveals himself in his true divinity.  We ascend to God by accompanying him on this descending path.”
—Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, pg. 94 

When we unite ourselves to the cross of Christ, we receive that purification that allows us to draw closer and closer to Jesus Christ.  God descends to us in the person of Christ, to the point of the crucifixion, uniting Himself even to our suffering.  We are not alone in the crosses we bear.  He comes to us.  When we unite ourselves to Him, God draws us closer to Himself in the blessed life, and allows us to ascend on the path of beatitude. 

This weekend Christ calls us to a life of beatitude, a life of blessedness and happiness.  Are we willing to follow Him on that path?  Do we desire to be “Poor in spirit,” truly humble as we seek the things that God desires for us?  Do we “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” longing and pining for that which only God can give, awakening our souls to the life of grace?  Do we long to be “clean of heart,” uniting ourselves even in our suffering to the God who loves us enough to die for us on the cross?  If so, we can discover what St. Thomas Aquinas taught about being happy in this world and happy forever in the world to come.  If we follow Christ on the path of beatitude, we will discover what it truly means to live the blessed life.