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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

4th SUNDAY (A) January 29, 2023

Zephaniah: 2:3, 3:12-13;
1 Corinthians 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12a

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

We heard the Beatitudes proclaimed to us in today’s gospel. But even if we are not regular Bible readers we have heard and seen the Beatitudes many times. They are posted at the entrances of churches, religious institutions, schools, hospitals and featured on memorial cards for our dead. They are even quoted on the talk shows in discussions on the world’s wars and disasters, "Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are the merciful…" Etc.

Some people hear the Beatitudes as a New Testament revision of the Ten Commandments. These are the ways we must behave, they think, to please God. But they are not commandments. In the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures they are Wisdom sayings. They invite us to take a second look at our world and its values and choose instead God’s ways which Jesus announces to us.

Society is ruled by those in power, high standing and who have all that people call "blessings." The implication is, that to have much is a sign of God’s favor. After all, doesn’t God reward good behavior and don’t the positive signs of my life indicate how God is pleased with me? That’s the reasoning of the world. But the wisdom Jesus shares with us in the Beatitudes is that God chooses to be on the side of those whose lives don’t show the expected signs of God’s favor: the weak and forgotten; those who seek justice, and who are persecuted for their beliefs. In other words, in God’s realm, the undervalued are worth much – worth Jesus giving his life for them. The Beatitudes are not entrance requirements to the kingdom, they are not orders for proper behavior. Nor are they a call to action, but are promises. They are indicative of where and how God is present and acting in our lives. In biblical language, the Beatitudes are "eschatological," i.e., they are present promises to oppressed people that point to the future – a future that is in God’s hands. To be "Blessed" is not simply to be "happy," but to know that we are already included in the realm (kingdom) that Jesus has come to announce.

While there are crowds following Jesus, he is teaching the Beatitudes to his disciples. He draws upon the promises and prophetic utterances of the Hebrew Scriptures. The account begins, for example, with Jesus going up a mountain: an allusion to Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from God (Exodus 19; 24; 34). The Beatitudes also contain many indirect quotations from Isaiah (e.g. chapter 61).

Matthew’s church was not a model of perfection, but had a lot in common with today’s church. His congregation also faced external persecution and internal problems. We can listen then to Jesus announcing to our community what Matthew’s church heard. Beatitudes were for them an assurance that those who faithfully endured could look forward, and even begin to enjoy now, full participation in God’s realm. Those Jesus names as "Blessed" live with confidence because we know that we are secure in God’s hands.

The Beatitude life is present tense. For example, "mourning" usually applies to our feelings when someone dies. But the sadness the Beatitude stirs is what we feel for a world that is far from God’s purposes: disciples mourn the idolatry, exploitation and violence that surround us. We mourn for a broken world. Each of us looks at the particular environment in which we live and mourn for what it reveals about how far we are from faithfully living God’s plan for the human community.

While we may tend to focus on one or two favorite Beatitudes, we need to see them as part of the whole; not as individual teachings. For example, if I am meek I’m also likely to "hunger and thirst for righteousness"; I will be a peacemaker and not respond to violence with more violence; and be merciful, forgiving the wrongs done against me, etc. Are the Beatitudes just impossible challenges for an elite group of Christians – Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, ML King, etc.? No, Jesus is speaking to each and all of his disciples, not just back then, but now.

Jesus himself embodies the Beatitudes. By his words and actions he turned the standards of our world upside down. In his teachings he is passing on the Wisdom that is his Spirit to us. By that Spirit we become his followers and can learn from him and follow his way of life. Along the way we "Beatitude People" falter and fail and from the One who is meekness and mercy himself, we receive forgiveness and strength to keep on striving to live his Beatitudes. We are not discouraged, for Paul reminds us, God chose the foolish and the weak (1 Cor 1:27). That described those disciples who sat close to Jesus on the Mount, and us who, with them, are being gifted with the Spirit of wisdom and thus, becoming "beatitude people."

The Beatitudes begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, 7). The rest of the Sermon will spell out the necessary instructions, i.e., how to live out the virtues described in the blessings. But remember, the Sermon begins not with commandments on how to please God, but with God’s initiative, blessing those who don’t usually feel blessed; giving a vision for what those awaiting Christ’s return.

The Beatitudes are a message of confidence and hope for all who suffer and are oppressed; who have no hope and nothing to expect in their lives. Someone I know, who has had terrible disappointments in her family, says often, "It is, what it is." But the Beatitudes stand against such resignation. My friend’s words might offer her some consolation, but they lack the hope that God can bring about change. In Jesus, God was offering a whole new start; a beginning that can only come from God. If we hear Jesus’ announcement that God is doing something new, then we can’t close the door on God. "It isn’t what it is – but what it will be."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012923.cfm

QUOTABLE

"I would like to mention some of those ‘hidden exiles’ who are treated as foreign bodies in society. Many persons with disabilities ‘feel that they exist without belonging and without participating.’ Much still prevents them from being fully enfranchised. Our concern should be not only to care for them but to ensure their ‘active participation in the civil and ecclesial community. That is a demanding and even tiring process, yet one that will gradually contribute to the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person’." (FT 98).

----Pope Francis in, "Fratelli Tutti"

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"Blessed are the. . .."
Matthew 5:1-12A

I have heard this litany so frequently that sometimes I think that it just washes over me. So, I decided to re-read what the Church teaches about the Beatitudes in order to have some fresh understanding of justice from God’s perspective. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) provides an opening reflection in its very title about this subject, "Our Vocation to Beatitude." That’s right, the word, beatitude, is singular. . .and we have a vocation to it. "The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching" (CCC 1716) as they "reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to his own beatitude" (CCC 1719). And what is God’s own beatitude to which we are called? To be "blessed" (from the Latin beatus ) means to be happy, not in a self-serving way but, in a joyful contentedness knowing that we are loved. "The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portrays his charity. . .they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life. . ." (CCC 1717). In the Jubilee Year 2000, the U.S. Catholic Bishops affirmed this eloquently in their message titled, "Because God Loves You,"

"Because God loves you, you can care for the weak, remove injustices, alleviate poverty, annihilate oppression, and restore righteousness in our world. The love of God in you gives you strength to defend the unborn, support the elderly, and lift the hearts of those without hope. God's grace in you helps you to see that in every person beats a heart yearning to be loved. Because God loves you, you have the power to touch hearts with compassion, heal wounds in those around you, and act selflessly." https://archive.org/details/becausegodlovesy0000cath

Gregory J. Polan, O.S.B., writes that the author of the Book of Wisdom "encouraged the pursuit of justice, for it brings forth the fruit of moderation, prudence, righteousness and fortitude" ( The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology , 512). These fruits are evident in the Beatitudes:

  • Blessed are the merciful. . .
  • Blessed are the peacemakers. . .
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. . .
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake...

Indeed, the Catechism states that "The beatitude we are promised, confronts us with decisive moral choices" (CCC 1723). Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral has many justice ministries to live one’s vocation to beatitude. Be blessed. Be love to others. Be joy-filled. Beatitude.

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,

Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Gospel reading:

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you

and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

Reflection:

People of faith, inspired by the Beatitudes, have a different way of looking at life. Living our "beatitude calling" is difficult, but we know God stands with us and, in our daily lives, help us put flesh on the Beatitudes. Even as we try, stumble and try again to live the Beatitudes, we hear Jesus’ reassurance, "You are already blessed."

So we ask ourselves:

  • Concretely how do we experience the opposition of others because of our faith?

  • What gives us strength to continue to live out that faith despite the obstacles we face?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."

But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.

Killing is the problem, not the solution.

----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman,

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Russell Tucker #0413011 (On death row since 2/21/1996)
  • Guy LeGrande #0238344 (4/26/1996)
  • Jamie Smith #0376917 (5/10/1996)
  • Robbie Locklear #0246186 (4/14/1996)

----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131

Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP:

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars.

Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation:
https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory & Novitiate

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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