April 26, 2003
Living the Beatitudes
We gather this morning for a day of prayer and pilgrimage of prayer for
peace, from Chimayo to Los Alamos, under our theme, “For the future
of earth’s children,” in a plea for the abolition of war and
For me, Jesus’ whole life is about peace. He is the incarnation
of the God of peace and nonviolence. Gandhi said he was the most active
person of nonviolence in the history of the world and the only people
who don’t know Jesus was nonviolent are Christians. He calls us
to love one another and love our enemies, to put down the sword and take
up the cross of nonviolent resistance to imperial warmaking, and to walk
with him on the road to peace, on a permanent pilgrimage of prayer for
peace for the rest of our lives.
I’d just like to say a few word about these beautiful Beatitudes
of Jesus, which begin the Sermon on the Mount, the summit of his teachings
of nonviolence. One way to begin to understand the Beatitudes of Christ
is to look first at the what our culture of war blesses. If we reflect
on our culture of war and violence, we discover the culture’s anti-beatitudes
of violence and war.
First and foremost, the culture of war says: “Blessed are the rich;
the reign of this world is yours.” The rich rule the world; the
poor get poorer and disappear and die.
“Blessed are those who cause others to mourn,” the nations
proclaim. “Blessed are those who kill; who support killing; who
wage war; who pay taxes for killing; who build and maintain nuclear weapons,
who murder of people on death row.” In other words, “blessed
are those who do not mourn or grieve.” In their time of trial, they
shall not be comforted.
“Blessed are the violent,” the culture of violence declares. “Blessed
are the proud; the arrogant; the powerful; those who dominate others;
who oppress the poor; who support the systems of domination.” They
supposedly own everything. They shall inherit nothing.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for injustice,” the
system of structured injustice tells us. “The reign of this world
is yours.” The world belongs to those who support, promote and benefit
from injustice, from the sufferings of the poor. Because of their desire
for injustice, they shall not be satisfied. They shall not find meaning
in their lives.
“Blessed are those who show no mercy,” the world of revenge
teaches, “No mercy to the victims, to children, to the poor, to
women, to the elderly, to the homeless, to social outcasts, to the refugee,
to the hungry, to the enemy, to the unborn, to those on death row.” Yet
the world does not tell us the inevitable spiritual consequences of mercilessness: “They
shall be shown no mercy.”
“Blessed are the warmakers,” the military and its chaplains
announce. “Blessed are those who support militarism; who make the
weapons; who pay for the weapons; who seel the weapons; who use the weapons;
who direct the Pentagon; who send our young people off to war; who bomb
and invade and massacre, who nuke our enemies, who blow up marketplaces
and villages in the name of democracy and liberation and God. They shall
be called the sons and daughters of the idols of death, sons and daughters
of the Bomb.” They are children of the deadly gods of war, not the
living God of peace.
Finally, the world declares: “Blessed are those who are not persecuted
for justice, who are comfortable, safe and secure; who do not get involved
in the struggle for social change; who remain silent; who turn a deaf
ear to the cries of the poor; who fund and participate in systemic injustice.
The reign of this world is theirs.” The spiritual consequence of
complicity with systemic injustice is clear: “the reign of God is
St. Francis says that Jesus turns the world upside down. Jesus’ Beatitudes
are the basic guidelines of his upside down ethic of nonviolence.
First Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Not the
rich, not the powerful, not those in control, but the poor of spirit!
They receive the first and greatest blessing--entrance into God’s
reign. Let go of your possessions, your power over others, your prestige,
Jesus urges us, and in your emptiness, discover the reign of God. The
poor in spirit have learned this first of all. They understand nonviolence
by heart. As we share our lives with the poor, with the children, Jesus
explains, they share with us the one thing they have: the reign of God.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” he continues. Millions of
people in our world mourn because their loved ones, their children, have
been killed by war, starvation or injustice. Do we grieve for those who
die in war; for those incinerated by nuclear weapons and bombs; for the
60,000 who die each day from starvation; for the half a million Iraqi
children killed by our sanctions? Do we allow the sorrow of the world’s
poor to touch our hearts? Do we look the suffering of the world in the
eye, and take on the task of ending injustice, or do we turn away in denial,
and thus postpone our own inevitable confrontation with grief? According
to these beatitudes, peacemaking begins with poverty of spirit and grief
and mourning. As we mourn the death of our sisters and brothers around
the world, as we enter their struggle for justice and peace, Jesus promises,
God will console us, and we will find a peace.
“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus teaches. “They shall
inherit the earth.” This is the biblical word for “nonviolence.” Though
the world praises the violent, the arrogant, the proud, Jesus invites
humility, gentleness, and nonviolence. He challenges us to renounce every
form of violence in our hearts and in our world. As we enter into his
spirit of creative nonviolence, we receive the blessing of creation itself.
We inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” Jesus
insists. “They shall be satisfied.” Be passionate for justice,
he tells us. In other words, resist injustice with every bone in your
body. How much do we crave justice? To the extent that we struggle for
justice, Jesus seems to say, we will find meaning and purpose in our lives.
In the struggle itself, Jesus explains, speaking from his own experience,
we find true satisfaction.
“Blessed are the merciful; they shall be shown mercy.” While
we struggle for justice on the one hand, Jesus instructs, we offer mercy
with our other hand, especially toward those who have hurt us and seek
our forgiveness. Mercy is the very heart of God. Thomas Merton described
God as “Mercy within Mercy within Mercy.” Be as compassionate,
as merciful, as God, forgiving ourselves and everyone we meet. Instead
of seeking retaliation or revenge toward those who hurt us, we offer forgiveness
and compassion. As we share mercy, we sow seeds of mercy, and on the last
day, we will receive God’s own mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart; they shall see God.” To be
a person of nonviolence, for Jesus, is to be at peace within ourselves,
to live with disarmed hearts, to root out the violence within us through
prayer, to allow the God of peace disarm our hearts of our inner violence
and become people with sacred hearts, fashioned after the heart of Jesus.
As we cultivate nonviolence of the heart, and root all we do in our relationship
with the God of peace, we begin to see God everywhere--in the poor, in
children, in the struggle for justice and peace, in our communities, in
the gifts of bread and wine, in creation itself, in our enemies, in one
another. We will see God face to face.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus teaches. Jesus wants
his followers to make peace, to end war, to address the conditions for
war. He wants us to reconcile with everyone--in our families, our neighborhoods,
our cities, our nation and the world. To make peace, he calls us to renounce
war and nuclear weapons, seek disarmament, and persistently reconcile
with all peoples. He wants us to love our enemies, beginning with the
people of Iraq and Palestine. The powerful lesson here is that our work
for peace is the key to the spiritual life. If we help make peace, we
will be like God, and be called God’s very sons and daughters of
“Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, for My name’s
sake. Rejoice and be glad!” This last instruction may be the hardest
of all. Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement noted that we can
measure our discipleship by the amount of persecution we undergo. For
Jesus, the greatest blessing comes in the struggle for peace and justice,
in suffering for justice and peace. If we get in trouble, we can rejoice
because our lives will bear fruit, because we are really following Jesus
who was always in trouble until they finally killed him. Ultimately, peace
and justice come about through our participation in the paschal mystery,
in his cross and resurrection.
So today as we walk the road of peace, I invite us to be people of prayer
and nonviolence, to ask God to disarm our hearts, disarm Los Alamos and
disarm the world. And the last thing I want to point out about the Beatitudes
and the spirituality of nonviolence, is that if you read them carefully,
you see that God is hard at work doing thing among us.
According to Jesus, God takes the initiative. God is blessing us. God
gives us God’s reign; God consoles us; God gives us the earth for
an inheritance; God satisfies our longings for social justice; God bestows
mercy upon us; God shows God’s face to us; God calls us God’s
sons and daughters; God gives us joy; and God offers us the fullness of
life in heaven. God is active.
For the rest of the day and the rest of our lives, let’s be people
who live out these Beatitudes, who walk the road to peace, who share in
the nonviolence of Jesus, who live at peace with ourselves and with God,
with our families and spouses and children and parents, with everyone
in our communities and our country and the whole world, and find out want
it means to be blessed, to be sons and daughters of the God of peace.
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