One of my great loves both in the form of a hobby and also in our Catholic culture is natural photography and art, particularly sacred art. The reason I am drawn to it is simple: beauty.
I enjoy taking pictures of beautiful things -- a sunrise, a newborn child of a friend, a fresh snowfall untouched by footprints or car tracks, or a unique flower, plant, bird or my hyper-spastic black-furred Pomeranian puppy, Otto! I also always try to get a picture of a newly married couple after I’ve finished their wedding. Sometime I might just take a “family photo” as a form of a memory just like you often do at Christmas or other special times.
All of these are “beautiful.” As once said by a great author, “the world will be saved by beauty.”
The “Beatitudes” [Matt 5:1-12] begin with the words “Blessed are.” They are like Christian art. They are, lived out, most beautiful. Something that is beautiful attracts our attention. It stands out; it is different from normal. We are transfixed by it. When the Beatitudes, the first of Christ’s teachings in the “Sermon on the Mount,” were given, they “stood out” – they were different, and we find them beautiful, though we may not understand them fully at first glance.
The great theologian and author Hans Urs Von Balthasar says that, like beautiful art, the Beatitudes are like a self-portrait of Christ:
“He begins his ministry of proclamation with a self-portrait that invites his listeners to follow him” [from his book, “Light of the Word.”] When we see the Beatitudes in action – which when we really contemplate it, are at striking odds with what the world would consider “happiness” – we mysteriously and beautifully see God. We see Jesus! The Beatitudes are an image of Christ himself. Put another way, in very modern, current language: the Beatitudes are like “God’s selfie.” When you take a “selfie,” smiling, with your I-phone camera, you send it to a friend or someone, or you post it on your Facebook, it shows everyone your beautiful face!
So, if Jesus is the “face of God the Father,” then the Beatitudes are – today, right now, in 2017 - like the selfie of Jesus! They show us the face of Christ present to the poor in spirit, who must rely on God and his grace in every matter of life; through meekness and mercy, shown through being humble, and giving forgiveness to those who have wronged us; through purity of heart, a right, pure intention, and a courageous chastity within a culture that constantly provides challenge and temptations; through making peace in the midst of a division and conflict; through a mourning, a grief over the death of someone you loved; through a hunger and thirst for that which is right, that is particularly seen in active social justice and standing up for what is right (I particularly think of the March for Life just a few days ago, which had a much more “satisfied, victorious” tone this year); and last but not least, in the willingness to be persecuted and suffer at times for identifying oneself as a Christian, as a Catholic.
These qualities, characteristics are not the first things that come to mind when the average person thinks of happiness or beauty – but seen through the lens of faith in Christ, that looks toward a life beyond this one, it is precisely so. It is indeed beautiful. Like any piece of art, it takes time to complete, and the painting, the sculpture, becomes more beautiful as it is completed. This is what God does with us if we choose to live the Beatitudes - and the beauty is shared to those around us.
As you know, the common translation of “blessed” is “happy.” What is important to know is that the Greek word for “blessedness” and “happiness” is not so much an emotion or feeling the way we often use it: it is rather to describe someone in a fortunate, even advantageous situation. For as one recent biblical commentary notes “in Jewish tradition beatitudes either commended those who take a certain path of life, or promised future consolation to those in affliction and suffering.”
What if, when we find ourselves in material or spiritual poverty or perhaps weak in spirit, in a time of great grief and mourning, or risking the loss of a friendship, professional or family honor through the attempt of being a peacemaker or because of a burning thirst for righteousness: what if we then remembered: fortunate are you? Advantageous are you: indeed, blessed are you?
With a little grace, God can help us to see that our challenges, struggles and obstacles are actually real fortunes, true blessings. What an advantage we truly have.
January 31, 2017 01:00
By Father Collin Poston
As we begin the new year of 2017 and continue to celebrate Christmas, hopefully yours is a truly joyful and peaceful one, whether local or traveling, whatever your circumstances in life may be at the moment, good or bad, “suffering or glorious.”
One of the many blessings in our faith is that we can truly be joyful and at peace even in our struggles and greatest trials if our joy is in Jesus, the “Emmanuel” – which delightfully means “God-is-with-us.”
I often think of the great saints in our history who were joyful in their moments of greatest need. St. Lawrence, as he was being grilled to death over flames, joked with his executioners: “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.” St. Francis of Assisi, known by some as the “joyful beggar,” happily sang praises to God after being beaten up for preaching the Gospel and also in times where he was cold and traveling in the snowy winter of Italy.
Our own saint of the homeland, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, was known to be joyful and at peace even as she suffered through the death of a husband (and children) and faced rejection as she converted to the Catholic faith.
And I also think of a modern saint, St. Teresa of Kolkata, “Mother Teresa” as most of us have known her, who would most always have a bright smile on her face, even though we know now after an illuminating biography published a few years ago showed that she often went through a true “dark night of the soul,” many times of interior darkness, desolation and even depression: not feeling the presence of the God she knew was right near her.
Young women from Missionaries of Charity homes in Kolkata, India, dance near an image of St. Teresa of Kolkata during an Oct. 2 celebration in her honor at the Netaji Indoor Stadium. Pope Francis canonized her Sept. 4, 2016, at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)
These saints knew this well: that as convicted as they were of Jesus the Christ being the savior of our world, the savior from our sins, they also knew very well that Jesus could be – and is – the savior of the other areas of their lives where they needed him. Their fears and doubts, their desires, hearts, life and work, their joys and their sufferings; illnesses, depression, challenges in relationships, struggles with family, their community, their nation or others. If the saints, holy and human as they were, knew they needed a savior for these things: do not we also? We invite Christ, rightly, into our Christmas and this New Year: let us invite him with trust to be the savior of those areas in our life that we might not “want him to see” – but where we most sincerely need a savior. In this, we always find joy and His peace. In him, we find his joy – and ours.
January 05, 2017 12:47
By Father Collin Poston