It will be the second anniversary of my grandmother’s death in a couple of weeks’ time. I remember vividly that shortly before her Requiem Mass was due to commence, I was instructed to preach at it. I hate being put under pressure to have to craft a homily at the very last-minute, because it indicates either laziness on the part of the proponent, or a total disregard for the crucial importance of preaching. Anyway, there was no time for argument at my granny’s funeral so, when the time came, I duly read out a passage from the Gospel – the same one as we heard today: The Beatitudes. Then the congregation settled back comfortably in the pews to listen to me singing the praises of my granny. They assumed I was going to do that after I’d said that The Beatitudes painted the picture of the perfect follower of Jesus. But then I added: ‘My granny wasn’t like that.’ You could hear a pin drop, as the people in the packed chapel collectively held their breath.
The Beatitudes open a large section of St Matthew’s gospel called the Sermon on the Mount; we will listen to parts of it in the coming weeks. The Beatitudes play the role of the great manifesto, followed by detailed explanations and interpretations. For years, I was happily giving the Beatitudes a miss, as I considered them too vague and too poetic. But with the passage of time and with the experience I’ve gained over the years, I’ve gradually discovered not only the beauty but also the momentous significance of The Beatitudes. Now I see them as the great blueprint for a spiritual, wholesome and balanced life; the ultimate goal to be achieved by the Christian as well as by anyone else who strives for peace.
I’ve used those two terms intentionally: the blueprint and the ultimate goal. The Beatitudes describe the state of peace that we aspire to achieve, the ideal to aspire to and attain. We are on the way to it, we vie for it – but we are not there yet, either as a community or as individuals. What I’ve just said is not a condemnation of you or of me for not mirroring those ideals exactly in our lives just yet. I’ve said that specifically to set you free from a very common, deeply rooted, suppressed but nonetheless crippling belief that we must be perfect because we are believers. The Church’s approach has unintentionally reinforced such a belief, with some very strict rules excluding entire classes or groups of people from the community of believers. Pope Francis wanted to remind us all that mercy is the Church’s modus operandi and the main reason for her existence. That’s why he announced the Year of Mercy, which concluded a couple of months ago. During its official closing liturgy Pope Francis told us that although the Jubilee itself had ended, God’s mercy will never end.
Every time we are tempted to judge or condemn someone, we should remember that each and every one of us is both imperfect and flawed, just like those we are so quick to criticise. I’m not saying that we should be naïve or blind when dealing with other people; some of them might be really unpleasant, or nasty, or even dangerous. What I’m saying is that usually there are reasons why people behave as they do. We easily absolve ourselves of our own shortcomings and flaws; if you walk in someone else’s shoes for a while, you may find it easier to absolve theirs. We are all on the way to the fulfilled life of happiness; some of us are forging ahead, some of us are lagging behind, and some of us have gone a bit off course. Supporting, encouraging and helping each other can lead all of us to that fulfilment. That’s why we are a community. And I can tell you – this community is pretty good at it!