Blest Are The Lowly
In the early 1970’s, the St. Vincent de Paul Societies of New England had a major meeting at Holy Cross College in Worcester. The bishops of New England were on hand to advise and pay tribute to this wonderful international lay organization dedicated to aiding the poor.
Cardinal Medeiros of Boston was the principal speaker. He began by expressing his personal gratitude to the Society. “It was the St. Vincent de Paul Society,” he explained, “that gave me my first pair of shoes.”
Humberto Medeiros was not a native of America. He was born in the Portuguese Azores in 1915 and lived there until he was 15, when his parents decided to move to Massachusetts. The barefoot son of Antonio and Maria Medeiros was poor but willing. The first job he got, sweeping floors, netted him 62 cents a day. But he learned English well, applied himself diligently to his preparatory education, and then entered the seminary to study for the priesthood of the diocese of Fall River. Ordained a priest in 1946, he did graduate work in Rome and then returned home to serve both in parishes and as Chancellor of his diocese. Pope Paul VI, in 1966, named him the founding bishop of the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. His five years there were notable for his work with Mexican laborers.
In 1971, the same pope brought Bishop Medeiros back north to become archbishop of Boston, and created him a cardinal two years later. Cardinal Medeiros set about manfully to reduce the tremendous archdiocesan debt and to carefully teach his multi-ethnic flock. A quiet, gentle man, deeply spiritual, he was the first non-Irishman to rule the Boston see; and there were certain tensions because he came from a “minority.” Furthermore, he was not in the best of health. Thus, as Archbishop John Whealon later observed, “There was something of a martyrdom to his life and ministry.” But when the Cardinal died aged 68, on September 17, 1983, the public expressions of grief showed that his people had finally learned to appreciate this humble man who became a cardinal, but still remembered what it was like to own no shoes.
-Fr. Robert F. McNamara
Q304: The “Beatitudes” in today’s gospel (Matt. 5:1-12a) always seem so pious, perhaps even a description of saints. How can they speak to me?
Perhaps that happens because you are focusing on the “blessings” rather than the “reason” for those blessings. Consider the following.
The recipients of these “blessings” from Jesus are recognized because of what they “DO.” Each one of their actions reflects the example of Jesus, and shows the effect of God’s grace in their lives. They are trying to reconcile people to God and to each other (the peacemakers). By their lifestyle they are teaching trust in God alone rather than in power and possessions (the poor in spirit). They suffer for their perseverance in being living examples of Christians in right relationship to God (the persecuted). They reflect the caring compassion of God who is present in all suffering, whether physical or spiritual exile (those who mourn). They display holiness in their activities that seek social justice for the marginalized (those who hunger and thirst for righteousness). In all humility they recognize their need for God at every moment, and their equality with all other humans (the meek). They have generous and forgiving hearts like Jesus (the merciful). Finally, they demonstrate a total lack of selfishness by their outreach and compassion (the clean or pure of heart).
It is only where the activity of God is present and manifested that one finds a “blessing,” a beatitude. This is the call of every Christian, and also a baptismal responsibility: to carry on the mission of Jesus in building the kingdom of God.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is compared many times to Moses the lawgiver. However, Jesus helps us grow spiritually by showing that true holiness and blessing flows from a loving heart, not just from rigid ritual observance of laws (i.e., like the Pharisees). All Christians are called to speak out in Jesus’ name, and to influence our world with love and charity (CCC#1717). The goal is always to be in right relationship with God (CCC#1719).
Q. 461: Our first reading (Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13) speaks of both anger and peace as situations that will befall the Israelites. What is going on here?
The prophets had been silent for 70 years before Zephaniah spoke. During that time, immoral leadership on the part of Judah’s kings and temple priesthood led the country back into apostasy, superstition, idolatry, and even child sacrifice. Then good King Josiah began to reign, and the prophets began to speak again. This time they spoke of impending doom. Even Jerusalem was going to be destroyed, because God’s judgment, “the Day of the Lord,” would soon be experienced. It came to happen: in 587 BC, Jerusalem was leveled and burned, and the Israelites were taken into captivity to Babylon.
The prophet Zephaniah held out God’s promise, a ray of hope to cling to. A “remnant” would be left. These would be the people who remained faithful to the covenant, especially the humble and those seeking justice at all levels. Restoration would indeed take place through this remnant; peace would be the ultimate conclusion to the journey of salvation history.
It is very dangerous to your eternal health to pretend that God’s word applied “only to them” several centuries ago. Many self-proclaimed “Christians” contribute to the immoral leadership in our country. They do this by voting for public officials who approve the child sacrifice called “abortion”; who see nothing wrong with same-sex marriage; who see nothing wrong with sexual relations outside of marriage; who do not seek justice for the poor and migratory workers; who perpetuate racial tensions through loose talk; and so on. The danger is in ignoring the “Day of the Lord” – you cannot mock the Lord’s will and escape judgment.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The “remnant” will escape the “Day of the Lord” by acting humbly and seeking justice in all things. In this way we become a people prepared for the Lord by the Holy Spirit (CCC #716), whose transforming grace is manifested through our actions that promote morality.
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit
Who are the poor in spirit? The prophet Zephaniah describes them for us. A proud and arrogant people were about to reap the consequences of their infidelity to God’s covenant. But God would not be unfaithful to his promise. In the midst of this proud and powerful people was a group who would come to be known as the “Poor of Yahweh”, the “anawim” who would be the saving remnant who would continue their adherence to the Covenant. What distinguished them from their fellow Israelites was not so much their wealth or lack of it but their awareness of their utter dependence on God. They were overwhelmed by their powerlessness and trusted totally in God to save them on the day of reckoning. So to be “poor in spirit” is to know one’s need for God. In fact those who feel the pinch of poverty may become more aware of their need for God than the economically secure, who might easily give in to the illusion that they are self-sufficient. Of course, there are many ways that people of adequate means may come face to trace with their limitations and dependence on God. The message of the Beatitudes has more to do with dependence and self surrender to God than it does with economic conditions.
Lord our God, all that we have comes from you and without you we are nothing. Teach us not to trust in our own strength and wisdom. In your loving care give us true wisdom and strength to do your will by following the example of your self-giving Son.