1 Corinthians 2:1-5
I wonder if there is a mathematical formula that adds together the amount of ‘wintery mix’, very cold weather, and resulting inconveniences, and then projects how out of sorts one can feel? I participated in the application process for the Passionist Volunteers International this week. The Volunteers give a year after college to work in Jamaica, West Indies, assisting in various ways to further the Passionist mission with the poor. Before being invited to a discernment weekend, their applications are read and reflected upon. It wasn’t thoughts of warm, sunny Jamaica that I found up lifting and renewing, but the energy and desire of these young people to use their gifts to help others in need. They shared similar goals: to know other cultures and better society, to share in Christian community, nourish a spiritual life, and to learn.
Today’s gospel is part of the Beatitudes. It follows the nine familiar blessings and calls disciples of Jesus to be the salt, the light and the city on top of the mountain. The Beatitudes are rooted in the Old Testament as we hear from the first reading of Isaiah. Then building on Jewish tradition Matthew tells those following Jesus how to live in the present moment, and to look to the future when the Kingdom of God will come in fullness. There is energy, hope and also suffering.
The followers of Jesus are called Blessed or Happy. They bring to the world the Light who is Christ, they show the One who is Himself the Temple, a New Jerusalem, and they are salt. In living the Beatitudes their actions show Christ to the world. Because Christ is seen in them they show the Father’s love and give Glory to the Father as Jesus does.
Suffering is not pushed under the rug in the Beatitudes. Paul also tells us that when he preaches he speaks only of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. After his eloquent but unsuccessful preaching in Athens he came to Corinth a discouraged man. What could he say to these people? Human wisdom was not enough. No, it was the power of God at work in the mystery of Christ’s apparent failure that was important. There was the mystery that reveals the greatest love and must be preached.
As the cross is present also in the Beatitudes, I think of the young people who shared their life stories and described their personalities and gifts. Sometimes weaknesses were acknowledged, some fears hinted at, and despite such giftedness or because of it, there will be new challenges to growth and conflicts. The mystery of the Cross will be present. It can be no other way if they go as the followers of Christ. More important than their best gifts and eloquence will be how they will let God work through them, and that may not be their first choice. We should pray for them because what they do is very courageous.
The Volunteers will be commissioned publicly one day in the future and go forth to work among the poor. ‘You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world; you are a city set atop a mountain’. I am so happy to have met those young people and to know what they want to do. The gospel invites each of us to be like them, to live the Beatitudes and bring their transforming life and hope into our world.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.