Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Inconsolable Secret

(6th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given on 11 February, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Luke 6:17-26)

In this morning’s gospel we hear some of Jesus’ most challenging teachings on the Christian life: the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes have been described as shocking, even disturbing: How is it possible that those who are poor, hungry and weeping can be blessed? It is a teaching that is not immediately appealing to us.

There are two different accounts in the gospels where Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Christ gives His well-known Sermon on the Mount; He goes up on a high mountain and presents to the people eight Beatitudes or blessings.

In the gospel we listened to this morning, from St. Luke, it is different. Jesus gives not the Sermon on the Mount, but the Sermon on the Plain. St. Luke tells us He “Stood on a stretch of level ground.” In a striking way He “levels” with the people gathered there, and instead of eight Beatitudes, he relates only four Beatitudes (blessings):

Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.

Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.

—Luke 6:20-23

But then, in direct contrast to those blessings, Jesus announces four woes:

Woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

—Luke 6:24-26

Again, it is a very challenging and perhaps even disturbing teaching. Is Christ saying there is something wrong with being wealthy? Is there something wrong with having riches or possessions? Is there something wrong with those who laugh in this world? Didn’t Christ Himself laugh when He was among His disciples and those whom He loved? Of course He did. There is nothing wrong with those things. The problem comes when we take those very things and use them in place of the things we should want and desire most of all: the things of heaven and the things of God.

The key to understanding that danger, and to understanding the blessings and the woes in this morning’s gospel, can be found in the first statement of woe that Jesus mentions:

Woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
—Luke 6:24

The word Jesus uses for “have received” is the very same word used to describe someone who has been given payment in full on a loan. It means they have received all they have coming; there is nothing left. It is like having a bank account that not a single dime more can be added to, or like having a brand new computer that is fast and efficient, but can never again be upgraded or replaced. These are simply full, and that’s it.

Jesus is not saying woe to them because they have wealth, laughter, and abundance. No, He is saying woe to them because that is all they have! They have no room left for anything else:

They have left no room left for the Kingdom of God.
No room left for Christ.
No room left for eternal life.
They have already received what they wanted.

The Blessed are different.

Jesus says blessed are poor, for the Kingdom of God will be theirs. They still have room left for the Kingdom and for Christ. Yes, they are hungry now, but they will be satisfied. Now they weep, but they will laugh because they have faith in a life that goes beyond this one. They realize that this life is not all there is!

St. Paul, in our second reading this morning, says very much the same thing. He says,

If for this life only we have hoped in Christ
we are the most pitiable people of all.
—1 Corinthians 15:19

Even a full Christian life here on earth, with all of its benefits and blessings in this life, is as nothing compared to what awaits us. We are called to a life of eternity with God. Nothing else can ever take the place of that.

One of the best-known sermons of the late C. S. Lewis was one given at Oxford back in 1942. It is called “The Weight of Glory.” In that sermon, he describes what he refers to as the inconsolable secret in each one of us. He says we each carry within us this secret that is so personal and so deep that we are almost embarrassed by it and afraid to speak about it openly. It is the secret desire we have—even when we are content and filled with life’s blessings, or when we find ourselves completely in want—the desire still for something more. He says we long for a “far-away country” where we will finally be fulfilled. It is a place so deep within us that God alone can reach it.

Ultimately, what C.S. Lewis is referring to is the reality that we are made not for this life only, but for eternal life in God. As we look at our own lives in light of the teachings of Christ in the Beatitudes, are we able to recognize that inconsolable secret within us? Are we able to share it with the One Person who has the ability and the desire to satisfy that longing and yearning for eternity?

If so, then in the words of Jesus, blessed are we. Blessed are we indeed, for the Kingdom of God is ours.