Last weekend, the Gospel we reflected upon was Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. What makes Luke’s presentation of those who are blessed unique is his emphasis on the immediacy of those who are blessed in contrast to the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s take a look at a side by side comparison of the beatitudes from both Gospels.
“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.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But 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 6:20-26)“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
One way to approach these differing texts is to explore the subjective and objective nature of each. With Matthew’s beatitudes, they ring more subjectively, using broader language that can be applied in many ways, making it easier to reflect on questions like, “How am I called to be poor in spirit?” Luke, on the other hand, is radically objective, using language that begs an immediate recognition those who are blessed by God this very moment. Whether it be the stark use of “Blessed are you who are poor” or the insertion of the word “now” when we hear “blessed you who are now hungry,” Luke forces us into an immediacy of finding in this very moment those who are blessed by God.
In regard to blessed are you poor, it reminded me of an experience I had while at a homeless day center in St. Louis, Missouri. I had taken a group of college students from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse on a spring break mission trip to this day center. We stayed there all week, sleeping on the floor, and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the homeless who would come to the shelter. The staff was trying to break those who came of the habit of gambling, so they would not allow card playing at the shelter. However, they would let them play chess. Throughout the day, the day center looked more like an ongoing chess tournament instead of a day shelter for the homeless.
There was one gentleman I had the honor of meeting that shared his life story with me. He grew up in some of the more impoverished areas of St. Louis, but he worked hard, got an education, went to college, and then began his own business. He was married and had two wonderful daughters. As we spoke, my first thought was, “So, how did he end up homeless?” In that moment, the fact he was homeless seemed to disappear. Instead, I felt like I was playing chess with one of my parishioners or students. When I finally found the courage to ask him what led to his homelessness, one word came from his mouth with an expression that was twisted with emotional pain: Heroin.
As he recounted how Heroin destroyed his business, his marriage, and his relationship with his daughters, he suddenly remembered, “It’s my daughter’s birthday today!” He rose from the chess game as if we had never made a move, called her to wish her a happy birthday, and his daughter hung up on him. He came back, sobbing, and told me the heartbreaking end to his conversation.
It was then that Luke’s version of the beatitudes spoke fresh to me when the Gospel proclaims, “Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who now are weeping… Woe to you who are rich… Woe to you who laugh now.” It became clear to me that Luke pointed to the man across the chess board as being blessed in the immediacy of that moment with poverty and grief. And I felt God tug at me, asking,“The blessing of the poor is before you rich young man, how will you assist him in his need?”
I am not qualified to assist him with his heroin addiction. However, I can help him find food to eat, clothes to wear, the basic necessities of life. And this is where we can see Care for Creation in the Catholic Church as not only a question of whether or not we recycle, but to acknowledge that if we are to take care of the poor in our mist to provide food, shelter, and the basic necessities of life, we need an environment that can provide us with the raw materials to make real these Works of Mercy.
As I have shared with you in the past, one of the most hopeful areas of collaboration I see between faith and science are the areas of Care for Creation and the Corporal Works of Mercy. The beatitudes from the Gospel of Luke clearly state that the blessed are ever present, identifiable if we allow our eyes to see them. Yet, for those of use who fit clearly into the “Woe to you” part of Luke’s Gospel, there is a clear call to comfort the poor, to comfort those who grieve, and provide for those who hunger and thirst.
I see a clear connection with the Gospel’s call to care for those in need and the work of NASA and ESA when it comes to monitoring our environment. When I heard of NASA’s Tom and Jerry satellites, I first thought of one my favorite cartoons from my youth. Though I haven’t watched an episode of this ongoing cat and mouse chase for many years, the metaphor was clear and fitting: Two satellites that are constantly chasing each other through the night sky. And what, might you ask, is the purpose for this astronomical game of cat and mouse? The answer is simple, but crucial: Water.
When reflecting on the changes occurring in our environment and the impact it has on drinkable water, I can think of few more important and urgent points of collaboration between faith and science then to ensure water for the peoples of the world. Water, obviously, not only speaks to what we drink, but also is necessary for healthy ecosystems and stable food production. When natural resources become scarce, poverty deepens, homelessness rises, desperation robs the human person of their moral capacities, choosing to justify immoral and criminal behavior for the purpose of survival. This type of social environment can lead to hopelessness and the rise of addictions to cope with reality.
The homeless man I played chess with was a victim of addiction. Yes, one might argue that he made the initial decision to take illegal drugs. At the same time, what started as a free decision became a debilitating addiction and disease. This devastating cycle of choice, impact of the choice, and long term ramification of the choice that robs the person of the ability to choose is at the heart of most addictions.
I see a similar trend in Care for Creation. We can choose to either use the best science set before us to inform our decisions on care for creation or ignore the science and do what we know will harm our environment, similar to someone experimenting with illegal drugs. Whether we want to admit it or not, those decision will have an impact upon not only ourselves, but also those around us and the world we live. In time, if those choices do not change, the environment becomes overwhelmed and the ability to choose what is best for our common home does little to no good for the environment. Similar to addiction, the dangerous part of not caring for creation is that we don’t always see the impact of our decisions immediately. It is only when we become painfully aware that something must change that we find ourselves staring at a mountain many fear they cannot climb. This begs a stark question: What is the mountain we are standing before as a global community that needs to be overcome to properly care for creation?
Spiritual Exercise: Do we see Care for Creation being intimately connected with the moral choices we make? Do we see the call to care for the poor in our midst as including ecological choices to protect our ability to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy? Pray with these questions and, together, let us embrace a life of beatitude that we may both be blessed by God and bless those we have to opportunity to support as fellow sojourners in Christ, sharing the gift of our common home.