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Archbishop Follo: The Beatitudes

With the wish to understand that the Beatitudes are the law of joy.

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VI Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C – February 17, 2019
Roman Rite:
Jer 17.5-8; PS 1; 1 Cor 15: 12-16-20; Lk 6, 17.20-26
Ambrosian Rite
Is 56.1-8; Ps 66; Rom 7: 14-25a; Lk 6, 17,11-19
VI Sunday after the Epiphany
Let us meditate on the words of Jesus who today tells us: “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.” (Lk 6, 20 – 26).
Listening to these words, let’s allow Christ to touch our mind and our heart and to heal ourselves completely, from the root of our illnesses. Indeed, Jesus came to bring love and life that overcome selfishness and death. The egoist seeks riches and takes everything to dominate others and be superior to everyone. The one who loves gives everything, up to the point of giving himself, serves the others with humility, and is blessed, happy on earth and for eternity.
1) The Beatitudes according to Luke.
The initial verse of today’s Gospel (Lk 6:17) is very solemn and precise. After praying all night and then having chosen his twelve apostles, the Redeemer descends from the mountain to flat ground and pronounces his speech surrounded by the disciples and a crowd that is coming from everywhere, even from the pagan districts of Tire and Sidon. The comparison with the Beatitudes of Matthew (5.3-12) offers us the way to notice some peculiarities of the narration of Luke, whose way of narrating is more personal than that of Matthew and directly involves the listener (“Blessed are you poor”). Moreover, Luke speaks of the poor, the crying, the hungry and the persecuted, without specifying – as Matthew does – that they are poor in spirit and hungry for justice. Finally, Luke lists three menaces, which give the speech a tone that is very drastic and radical (6,24-26).
The prophets had described the messianic time as the time when God would have taken care of the poor, the hungry and the persecuted. Jesus proclaims that this time has arrived. For the prophets, the beatitudes were a hope: “There will come a time when the poor will be blessed”. For Jesus it is a
present: today the poor are blessed. The reason is only one, fundamental:  the Messiah, the King of kings and the Kingdom, has arrived. It is in the light of the Kingdom that has arrived – a Kingdom that overturns common values – that the paradoxicality of the words of Jesus is justified.
While Matthew lists eight Beatitudes, Luke proposes four which concern the poor, the weeping, the hungry, and the persecuted. Starting from the same source, Matthew and Luke offer different texts because the evangelists are not simply reporters interested only in transmitting facts and words, but witnesses. The words of Jesus are a ferment of life: the primitive Church transmits them only wrapped in its own life (J. Dupont).
According to Luke’s way of thinking and living, “poor” does not simply mean who he is devoid of means, but indicates the situation of the neglected beggar, poor alongside rich people, and mocked. The weeping and hungry are basically a repetition of the poor. More than to virtues (like Matthew), Luke seems to refer to the multitude of the poor who have not sought their poverty and yet are called to live it. The fourth beatitude (the persecuted) is that of the disciple, of the one who has chosen to follow Jesus finding himself involved in his destiny of persecution. These brief explanations bring out a severe judgment on the world of the rich: a judgment that is strengthened if you read the four menaces: “Woe to you rich, woe to you who are satiated, woe to you who now laugh, woe to you who are now applauded “.
With the Beatitudes and the “menaces”, Christ presents another criterion of values. While the scale of values that we follow nowadays are exactly the principle of violence, war, killing, death, the killing of being children and being brothers, and the extermination of the goods of the earth, the other, instead, is the principle of love, gift, solidarity, life, livable life, of being children, of being brothers.
2) “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”
If we follow the non-Christian logic, we say: “Blessed are the rich, blessed are satiated, blessed are the joyful, and blessed the honored and famous”. The one who says the opposite is considered a madman or someone who wants to joke.
Let’s see what it means to be blessed in a Christian way. Blessed means: I congratulate you, you won. You’re on the right side: lucky you! Blessed are you is a form of congratulation. And Jesus congratulates the poor! The gospel of Luke in Greek uses the word “poor”. Poor would be the opposite of rich. The rich is the one who has a lot with little effort, ideally without effort. The poor is the one who has little with great effort. The word used in Greek by Luke is “ptochoi“. Who is the “miser”? It is the one who possesses nothing and is in great pain. Therefore, he lives on almsgiving, gifts, dependence. Speaking of these people, Luke says the reason why they are blessed: not because they are poor, but because “yours is the Kingdom of God “.
This bliss is in the present: the kingdom of God is already “yours”. What does it mean that the kingdom of God belongs to the miser? The kingdom of God is God himself who reigns on earth.  On Earth, we see that the ones who rule are the rich who dominate over the others.
God reigns in another way. God reigns by serving because he is love. Love gives everything, up to the point of giving itself. God is extremely poor because he loves, gives everything, and gives himself.
God himself is a gift. Sin is wanting to possess the gift as we please, and so we destroy it. The gift is significant because it is related to those who donate and, therefore, we do not fall into fetishism and into the idolatry of things.
If we live a gift by sharing it, it always remains a gift and is revived. If, however, we greedily seize the gift, in the end, we deny the very life that is a gift. Life is a gift; all the fundamental things are a gift. We are called to live of gifts, like the poor.
Accumulating and finding the good only in things is believing that our life is made of things that we must hold tightly. We become slaves of things. We immolate our life to things. The poor die of hunger and the rich die of stress. This is not life.
The desire for things divides us and destroys us. This is why poverty -as very often, fortunately, Pope Francis reminds us – it is the most sublime thing that there is to learn for the salvation of the world. Otherwise, the world is lost because if we all want to own ourselves, we destroy each other. The important thing is to understand the beauty of this poverty and that every true relationship is poor because it is not control over the other person who is not our property. Let’s receive the other for free, otherwise what kind of relationship is that? The children must be loved for free and husband and wife truly love each other when they love each other for free: one is a gift for the other and both are a gift from God.
The consecrated Virgins are called to live and witness this life of gift. They, with the total gift of themselves to Christ Spouse, become a concrete image of the Bride Church. These consecrated women are called to live like the Virgin Mary: tender and humble, poor in things and rich in love. “The nature of the Church is reflected in the life of consecrated virgins. It is animated as much by charity as by contemplation and action; it is disciple and missionary; it yearns for eschatological fulfillment and at the same time shares the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are the most fragile or poor; it is immersed in the mystery of divine transcendence and incarnate in the history of humanity”.( Instruction “Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago” on the “Ordo virginum” , n. 20).
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
Lk 6 : 20 – 23
CYRIL; After the ordination of the Apostles, the Savior directed His disciples to the newness of the evangelical life.
AMBROSE; But being about to utter His divine oracles, He begins to rise higher; although He stood in a low place, yet as it is said, He lifted up his eyes. What is lifting up the eyes, but to disclose a more hidden light?
THEOPHYL; And although He speaks in a general way to all, yet more especially He lifts up His eyes on His disciples; for it follows, on his disciples, that to those who receive the word listening attentively with the heart, He might reveal more fully the light of its deep meaning.
AMBROSE; Now Luke mentions only four blessings, but Matthew eight; but in those eight are contained these four and in these four those eight. For the one has embraced as it were the four cardinal virtues, the other has revealed in those eight the mystical number. For as the eighth is the accomplishment of our hope, so is the eighth also the completion of the virtues. But each Evangelist has placed the blessings of poverty first, for it is the first in order, and the purest, as it were, of the virtues; for he who has despised the world shall reap an eternal reward. Now can anyone obtain the reward of the heavenly kingdom who, overcome by the desires of the world, has no power of escape from them? Hence it follows, He said, Blessed are the poor.
CYRIL; In the Gospel according to St. Matthew it is said, Blessed are the poor in spirit, that we should understand the poor in spirit to be one of a modest and somewhat depressed mind. Hence our Savior says, Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart. But Luke says Blessed are the poor, without the addition of spirit, calling those poor who despise riches. For it became those who were to preach the doctrines of the saving Gospel to have no covetousness, but their affections set upon higher things.
BASIL; But not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ, Who endured poverty for us. For the Lord Himself has fulfilled every work which leads to happiness, leaving Himself an example for us to follow.
EUSEB. But when the celestial kingdom is considered in the many gradations of its blessings, the first step in the scale belongs to those who by divine instinct embrace poverty. Such did He make those who first became His disciples; therefore He says in their person, For yours is the kingdom of heaven, as pointedly addressing Himself to those present, upon whom also He lifted up His eyes.
CYRIL; After having commanded them to embrace poverty, He then crowns with honor those things which follow from poverty. It is the lot of those who embrace poverty to be in want of the necessaries of life, and scarcely to be able to get food. He does not then permit His disciples to be fainthearted on this account, but says, Blessed are you who hunger now.
THEOPHYL; That is, blessed are you who chasten your body and subject it to bondage, who in hunger and thirst give heed to the word, for then shall you receive the fullness of heavenly joys.
GREG. NAZ. But in a deeper sense, as they who partake of bodily food vary their appetites according to the nature of the things to be eaten; so also in the food of the soul, by some indeed that is desired which depends upon the opinion of men, by others, that which is essentially and of its own nature good. Hence, according to Matthew, men are blessed who account righteousness in the place of food and drink; by righteousness I mean not a particular but a universal virtue, which he who hungers after is said to be blessed.
THEOPHYL; Plainly instructing us, that we ought never to account ourselves sufficiently righteous, but always desire a daily increase in righteousness, to the perfect fullness of which the Psalmist shows us that we can not arrive in this world, but in the world to come. I shall be satisfied when your glory shall be made manifest. Hence it follows, For you shall be filled.
GREG. NYSS. For to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness He promises abundance of the things they desire. For none of the pleasures which are sought in this life can satisfy those who pursue them. But the pursuit of virtue alone is followed by that reward, which implants a joy in the soul that never fails.
CYRIL; But poverty is followed not only by a want of those things which bring delight but also by a dejected look, because of sorrow. Hence it follows, Blessed are you that weep. He blesses those who weep, not those who merely drop tears from their eyes, (for this is common to the believing and unbelieving, when sorrow befalls them,) but rather He calls those blessed, who shun a careless life, mixed up with sin, and devoted to carnal pleasures, and refuse enjoyments almost weeping from their hatred of all worldly things.
CHRYS. But godly sorrow is a great thing, and it works repentance to salvation. Hence St. Paul when he had no failings of his own to weep for, mourned for those of others. Such grief is the source of gladness, as it follows, For you shall laugh. For if we do no good to those for whom we weep, we do good to ourselves. For he who thus weeps for the sins of others, will not let his own go unwept for; but the rather he will not easily fall into sin. Let us not be ever relaxing ourselves in this short life, lest we sigh in that which is eternal. Let us not seek delights from which flow lamentation, and much sorrow, but let us be saddened with sorrow which brings forth pardon. We often find the Lord sorrowing, never laughing.
BASIL; But He promises laughing to those who weep; not indeed the noise of laughter from the mouth, but a gladness pure and unmixed with aught of sorrow.
THEOPHYL; He then who on account of the riches of the inheritance of Christ, for the bread of eternal life, for the hope of heavenly joys, desires to suffer weeping, hunger, and poverty, is blessed. But much more blessed is he who does not shrink to maintain these virtues in adversity. Hence it follows, Blessed are you when men shall hate you. For although men hate, with their wicked hearts they can not injure the heart that is beloved by Christ, It follows, And when they shall separate you. Let them separate and expel you from the synagogue. Christ finds you out and strengthens you. It follows; And shall reproach you. Let them reproach the name of the Crucified, He Himself raises together with Him those that have died with Him, and makes them sit in heavenly places. It follows and cast out your name as evil. Here he means the name of Christian, which by Jews and Gentiles as far as they were able was frequently erased from the memory, and cast out by men, when there was as no cause for hatred, but the Son of man; for in truth they who believed on the name of Christ, wished to be called after His name. Therefore He teaches that they are to be persecuted by men, but are to be blessed beyond men.
As it follows, Rejoice you in that day, and weep for joy, for behold your reward is great in heaven.
CHRYS. Great and little are measured by the dignity of the speaker. Let us inquire then who promised the great reward. If indeed a prophet or an apostle, little had been in his estimation great; but now it is the Lord in whose hands are eternal treasures and riches surpassing man’s conception, who has promised great reward.
BASIL; Again, great has sometimes a positive signification, as the heaven is great, and the earth is great; but sometimes it has relation to something else, as a great ox or great horse, on comparing two things of like nature. I think then that great reward will be laid up for those who suffer reproach for Christ’s sake, not as in comparison with those things in our power, but as being in itself great because given by God.
DAMASC. Those things which may be measured or numbered are used definitely, but that which from certain excellence surpasses all measure and number we call great and much indefinitely; as when we say that great is the long-suffering of God.
EUSEB. He then fortifies His disciples against the attacks of their adversaries, which they were about to suffer as they preached through the whole world; adding, For in like manner did their fathers to the prophets.
AMBROSE; For the Jews persecuted the prophets even to death.
THEOPHYL; They who speak the truth commonly suffer persecution, yet the ancient prophets did not therefore from fear of persecution turn away from preaching the truth.
AMBROSE; In that He says, Blessed are the poor, you have temperance; which abstains from sin, tramples upon the world, seeks not vain delights. In Blessed are they that hunger you have righteousness; for he who hungers suffers together with the hungry, and by suffering together with him gives to him, by giving becomes righteous, and his righteousness abides forever. In Blessed are they that weep now, you have prudence; which is to weep for the things of time, and to seek those which are eternal. In Blessed are you when men hate you, you have fortitude; not that which deserves hatred for crime, but which suffers persecution for faith. For so you wilt attain to the crown of suffering if you slightest the favor of men and seek that which is from God.
Temperance, therefore, brings with it a pure heart; righteousness, mercy; prudence, peace; fortitude, meekness. The virtues are so joined and linked to one another, that he who has one seems to have many; and the Saints have each one special virtue, but the more abundant virtue has the richer reward. What hospitality in Abraham, what hat humility, but because he excelled in faith, he gained the preeminence above all others. To everyone there are many rewards because many incentives to virtue, but that which is most abundant in a good action, has the most exceeding reward.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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