1.How does the Catholic Church teach that Jesus is completely unique in His person and work?(CCC 454, 464, 614, 617)
The uniqueness of Jesus is rooted in who He is and what He has done. Both of these are rooted in the fact that He is completely divine—He is truly God—and completely human. He is the Incarnate Word of God who became man for the salvation of all men. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14)
“The title ‘Son of God’ signifies the unique and eternal relationship of Jesus Christ to God His Father: He is the only Son of the Father (Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18) He is God Himself (Jn 1:1) To be a Christian one must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Acts 8:37; 1 Jn 2:23)
“The unique and altogether singular event of the Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that He is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. During the first centuries, the Church had to defend and clarify this truth of faith against the heresies that falsified it.”
Jesus is not just another ethical guide, spiritual teacher or personal guru. Jesus cannot be known by picking and choosing whatever facts, actions, or words might be appealing while ignoring everything else. And precisely as the Word made flesh (Jn 1:1-3) He came, “full of grace and truth” to speak to man with words of grace and truth. (Jn 1:14). He came to share the greatest spiritual teaching and most transforming moral wisdom. This teaching and wisdom was a central part of Jesus’ mission, perfectly aligned and connected to His miracles, His Paschal Mystery. Jesus often referred to Himself and accepted the titles: prophet, teacher, and Rabbi. There are numerous episodes in the Gospels describing Jesus teaching the crowds and preaching to His disciples. In fact, that teaching and preaching seems to be what Jesus did with most of His time during the three years of public ministry. His wisdom and insight, as well as the often provocative nature of His teachings, were appreciated from the start. Many of the earliest writings about Jesus focus on His sayings, and many Scripture scholars think these sayings were already being recounted and remembered even before Jesus’ crucifixion.
The wisdom of His words seems to have been appreciated right from the beginning. Many of the earliest writings we have about Jesus concern His sayings and aphorism. Some scholars suggest that these were remembered and passed around even during Jesus’ lifetime. Many of those who followed Jesus in the crowds were curious about His miracles. But many were also attracted to His words: He amazed the people as much with His words as with His healings. After Jesus’ first public statement in the synagogue St Luke recounts, “And all spoke well of Him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth…” (Lk 4:22) After the Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus insisted His disciples must eat His flesh and drink His blood, many of those following Jesus drew back and left Him. Jesus asked those remaining, “Will you also go away?” Peter, the head apostle replied in words that resonate down through time, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the worlds of eternal life…” (Jn 6:60-69) The words of Jesus are always challenging; they are always life giving.
Because Jesus Christ alone is truly God and man—two natures, one Person—He alone is able to bridge the chasm between God and man brought about by the sin of the first Adam. The new Adam came in order to offer Himself as a sacrifice that brings reconciliation between God and man, a sacrifice made freely and out of love.
This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.441 Cf. Heb 10:10 First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.442Cf. Jn 10:17-18; 15:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 4:10
“The Council of Trent emphasizes the unique character of Christ’s sacrifice as justification for us’. And the Church venerates His cross as she sings: ‘Hail O Cross, our only hope.’”
Dominus Iesus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document “On the Unicity and Salvific “Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church” (August 2000) comments at length about the uniqueness of Christ and His saving work. It emphasizes that Christ is the unique mediator between God and man:
The Church’s Magisterium, faithful to divine revelation, reasserts that Jesus Christ is the mediator and the universal redeemer: “The Word of God, through whom all things were made, was made flesh, so that as perfect man He could save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord… is He whom the Father raised from the dead, exalted and placed at His right hand, constituting Him judge of the living and the dead.” This salvific mediation implies also the unicity of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, eternal high priest (Heb 6:20; 9:11; 10:12-14) (par 11 see especially, pars 5-15)
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, goes on to state in Dominus Iesus
The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and He alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father. The Word, which “was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:2) is the same as He who “became flesh” (Jn 1:14) In Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16) “the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9)He is the “only begotten Son of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1:18) His “Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption…In Him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him, God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself, on earth and in the heavens, making peace by the Blood of His Cross” (Col 1:13-14; 19-20) (par 10)
2. Read Luke 6 and Matthew 5-7. In what ways are the two versions of the Sermon on the Mount similar and different?
There are two versions of the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospels. The shorter and lesser known is found in Luke 6; the much longer and better known version is in the 5,6 and 7 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Those chapters contain what is most likely a compilation or summary of Jesus’ teaching.
Most commentators now believe that Jesus very likely gave several sermons touching on the same themes and using the same basic concepts, examples, and language. It is also widely recognized that the Evangelists chose statements and discourses to be worked into a larger framework, with particular theological emphases in mind and oriented toward specific audiences. Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience while Luke, who was not Jewish, was writing for mostly Gentile audiences. This can be seen in how Matthew almost always uses the term “kingdom of heaven” since it was more acceptable to Jewish readers than “kingdom of God” used by Luke.
This also explains why Matthew has so many overt references to the Old Testament, especially to the Law (notably Matt 5:17-18) and to interpretations of the Law, as when Jesus states, several times, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you…” In this way Jesus is clearly presented as the new Moses giving the new Law, a matter of great significance to Jewish readers but of less importance to Gentiles.
Luke addresses the real economic and social conditions of humanity
The Sermon is addressed to the disciples of Jesus
Luke has predominantly Gentile Christian audience
Has 4 Blessed and 4 Woes
Blessed are the poor, hungry, weeping and those who hate and exclude and insult you on account of Me
Woe to the rich, filled, laughing, speak well of you.
He then speaks of Love of Enemies, Judging Others ; the Fruit of the good and the evil and Building on a firm foundation
Matthew 5, 6, 7
Matthew emphasizes the religious and spiritual values of disciples in the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus
Matthew includes sayings that were related to specifically Jewish Christian problems
Poor in spirit; those who mourn; meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; merciful; clean of heart; peacemakers; those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
He then goes on to speak of the similes of Salt and Light; teaching about the Law; teaching about anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, Love of enemies, almsgiving, prayer (gives the Lord’s Prayer), fasting, treasure in heaven, the light of the body, God and money, dependence on God; judging others, pearls before swine, answer to prayers, the Golden Rule, false prophets, the true disciple and the two foundations.
3.How does the Sermon on the Mount express and fulfill the commandments of the Law? What are some of the key connections between the Sermon on the Mount and the Law?(CCC 1965, 1968)
The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”19Heb 8:8, 10; cf. Jer 31:31-34
The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the Divine Generosity
This intimate connection between the Old and the New can be seen, first in the location chosen by Jesus to give the Sermon: a mountaintop. “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down His disciples came to Him” (Matt 5:1) Throughout the Old Testament, mountains are shown to be places where God is encountered, where God reveals something about Himself, His Law, His plan for man. The most prominent of these mountains was Mt Sinai, where Moses ascended to receive the Law from God and descended to bring it to the people. Jesus, in going up on the mountain, presents Himself as the New Moses, the giver of a new and perfect law. “Jesus sits on the cathedra (official chair of an office or position used by an authority figure) of Moses” explains Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth, “But He does so not after the manner of teacher who are trained for the job in a school; He sits there as the greater Moses, who broadens the Covenant to include all nations” The mountain then is “the new and definitive Sinai” (p 66)
God, our Creator and Redeemer, chose Israel for himself to be his people and revealed his Law to them, thus preparing for the coming of Christ. The Law of Moses expresses many truths naturally accessible to reason. These are stated and authenticated within the covenant of salvation.
The Old Law is the first stage of revealed Law. Its moral prescriptions are summed up in the Ten Commandments. The precepts of the Decalogue lay the foundations for the vocation of man fashioned in the image of God; they prohibit what is contrary to the love of God and neighbor and prescribe what is essential to it. The Decalogue is a light offered to the conscience of every man to make God’s call and ways known to him and to protect him against evil:
God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.13St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 57, 1: PL 36, 673.
According to Christian tradition, the Law is holy, spiritual, and good,14 Cf. Rom 7:12, 14, 16. yet still imperfect. Like a tutor15Cf. Gal 3:24 it shows what must be done, but does not of itself give the strength, the grace of the Spirit, to fulfill it. Because of sin, which it cannot remove, it remains a law of bondage. According to St. Paul, its special function is to denounce and disclose sin, which constitutes a “law of concupiscence” in the human heart.16Cf. Rom 7 However, the Law remains the first stage on the way to the kingdom. It prepares and disposes the chosen people and each Christian for conversion and faith in the Savior God. It provides a teaching which endures forever, like the Word of God.
The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel. “The Law is a pedagogy and a prophecy of things to come.”17 St. Irenæus, Adv. haeres. 4, 15, 1: PG 7/1, 1012It prophesies and presages the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, “types,” and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit. Finally, the Law is completed by the teaching of the sapiential books and the prophets which set its course toward the New Covenant and the Kingdom of heaven.
There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law. Conversely, there exist carnal men under the New Covenant, still distanced from the perfection of the New Law: the fear of punishment and certain temporal promises have been necessary, even under the New Covenant, to incite them to virtuous works. In any case, even though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.”18St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 107, 1 ad 2; cf. Rom 5:5
The New Law or the Law of the Gospel is the perfection here on earth of the divine law, natural and revealed. It is the work of Christ and is expressed particularly in the Sermon on the Mount. It is also the work of the Holy Spirit and through Him it becomes the interior law of charity: “I will establish a New Covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”19 (Heb 8:8, 10; cf. Jer 31:31-34.)
The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It works through charity; it uses the Sermon on the Mount to teach us what must be done and makes use of the sacraments to give us the grace to do it:
If anyone should meditate with devotion and perspicacity on the sermon our Lord gave on the mount, as we read in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, he will doubtless find there . . . the perfect way of the Christian life. . . . This sermon contains . . . all the precepts needed to shape one’s life.20 St. Augustine, De serm. Dom. 1, 1: PL 34, 1229-1230.
The Law of the Gospel “fulfills,” refines, surpasses, and leads the Old Law to its perfection.21Cf. Mt 5:17-19 In the Beatitudes, the New Law fulfills the divine promises by elevating and orienting them toward the “kingdom of heaven.” It is addressed to those open to accepting this new hope with faith—the poor, the humble, the afflicted, the pure of heart, those persecuted on account of Christ—and so marks out the surprising ways of the Kingdom.
The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure,22Cf. Mt 15:18-19 where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity.23Cf. Mt 5:44, 48
The New Law practices the acts of religion: almsgiving, prayer and fasting, directing them to the “Father who sees in secret,” in contrast with the desire to “be seen by men.”24 Cf. Mt 6:1-6; 16-18 Its prayer is the Our Father.25Cf. Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4.
The Law of the Gospel requires us to make the decisive choice between “the two ways” and to put into practice the words of the Lord.26Cf. Mt 7:13-14, 21-27 It is summed up in the Golden Rule, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; this is the law and the prophets.”27Mt 7:12; cf. Lk 6:31
The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the “new commandment” of Jesus, to love one another as he has loved us.28 Cf. Jn 15:12; 13:34.
To the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount it is fitting to add the moral catechesis of the apostolic teachings, such as Romans 12-15, 1 Corinthians 12-13, Colossians 3-4, Ephesians 4-5, etc. This doctrine hands on the Lord’s teaching with the authority of the apostles, particularly in the presentation of the virtues that flow from faith in Christ and are animated by charity, the principal gift of the Holy Spirit. “Let charity be genuine. . . . Love one another with brotherly affection. . . . Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.”29Rom 12:9-13This catechesis also teaches us to deal with cases of conscience in the light of our relationship to Christ and to the Church.30Cf. Rom 14; 1 Cor 5-10
The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom, because it sets us free from the ritual and juridical observances of the Old Law, inclines us to act spontaneously by the prompting of charity and, finally, lets us pass from the condition of a servant who “does not know what his master is doing” to that of a friend of Christ—”For all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”—or even to the status of son and heir.31Jn 15:15; cf. Jas 1:25; 2:12; Gal 4:1-7. 21-31; Rom 8:15.
Besides its precepts, the New Law also includes the evangelical counsels. The traditional distinction between God’s commandments and the evangelical counsels is drawn in relation to charity, the perfection of Christian life. The precepts are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it.32Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 184, 3.
The evangelical counsels manifest the living fullness of charity, which is never satisfied with not giving more. They attest its vitality and call forth our spiritual readiness. The perfection of the New Law consists essentially in the precepts of love of God and neighbor. The counsels point out the more direct ways, the readier means, and are to be practiced in keeping with the vocation of each:
[God] does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, all commandments, all counsels, and, in short, of all laws and all Christian actions, that gives to all of them their rank, order, time, and value.33 St. Francis de Sales, Love of God 8, 6.
According to Scripture the Law is a fatherly instruction by God which prescribes for man the ways that lead to the promised beatitude, and proscribes the ways of evil.
“Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 90, 4).
Christ is the end of the law (cf. Rom 10:4); only he teaches and bestows the justice of God.
The natural law is a participation in God’s wisdom and goodness by man formed in the image of his Creator. It expresses the dignity of the human person and forms the basis of his fundamental rights and duties.
The natural law is immutable, permanent throughout history. The rules that express it remain substantially valid. It is a necessary foundation for the erection of moral rules and civil law.
The Old Law is the first stage of revealed law. Its moral prescriptions are summed up in the Ten Commandments.
The Law of Moses contains many truths naturally accessible to reason. God has revealed them because men did not read them in their hearts.
The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel.
The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit received by faith in Christ, operating through charity. It finds expression above all in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and uses the sacraments to communicate grace to us.
The Law of the Gospel fulfills and surpasses the Old Law and brings it to perfection: its promises, through the Beatitudes of the Kingdom of heaven; its commandments, by reforming the heart, the root of human acts.
The New Law is a law of love, a law of grace, a law of freedom.
Besides its precepts the New Law includes the evangelical counsels. “The Church’s holiness is fostered in a special way by the manifold counsels which the Lord proposes to his disciples in the Gospel” (LG 42 §2).
4.What is the meaning of “happy” or “blessed” as used in the Sermon on the Mount? How is the biblical concept of happiness different from happiness as most people understand it today? (CCC 1716-1729)
Sitting on that new Sinai, Jesus gathered His disciples around Him, evocative of the Church that would take His teachings to the ends of the earth, as well as a larger crowd, evocative of those who would and will hear Him down through history. The first word He utters is “happy” or “blessed” (makarios in Greek; beatitude in Latin) The word “happy” can be a difficult or misleading one for modern readers. It is often misunderstood, especially since “happy” connotes a temporary, emotional state. But true happiness is spiritual and moral; it is not based on external events but on the certainty of God’s gift of grace and our participation in the divine life. In addition, it refers to a path or promise that leads to rest and consolation, especially for those who are distressed and afflicted This happiness then is joyful, flowing from the life of God. The one thing every person desires is joy—and Jesus, the Incarnate Word, tells us how to find true joy and happiness. Yet His first words are perplexing; they sound negative: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:2) We are made by God for the communion with God. “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you because you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (St Augustine Confessions) Nothing short of God will fill up the infinite longing within us.
God, who is love and the source of all love wills the good of the other. Love is living for the other. To have God, then is to have one’s life completely shaped by love and suffused with love—to become love. “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) Having received the gift of divine life, we must give it to others as a gift: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11) This is the glorious paradox of grace: in sharing God’s life and love with others, we grow in that very life and love.
The beatitudes draw deeply from the Old Testament—especially from the Psalms and Wisdom literature—which contains forty –five beatitudes usually introduced with the preface, “Blessed is the one…” The first Psalm, for example, opens with a statement, “Happy those who do not follow the counsel of the wicked…Rather, the law of the Lord is their joy” (Ps 1:1a, 2a) These Old Testament passages usually depict blessings in primarily temporal, material terms: land, health, and so forth. But the eight beatitudes uttered by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount refer to blessings that begin in this life but will be fully realized in the kingdom of heaven.
The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”74Mt 11:29; Jn 14:6. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the Father commands: “Listen to him!”75Mk 9:7; cf. Deut 6:4-5 Jesus is the model for the Beatitudes and the norm of the new law: “Love one another as I have loved you.”76Jn 15:12 This love implies an effective offering of oneself, after his example.77Cf. Mk 8:34
The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi.340 Cf. Jn 11:28; 3:2; Mt 22:23-24, 34-36. He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law.341 Cf. Mt 12:5; 9:12; Mk 2:23-27; Lk 6:6-9; Jn 7:22-23 Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”342Mt 7:28-29 In Jesus, the same Word of God, that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes.343 Cf. Mt 5:1. Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . . But I say to you. . . .”344Mt 5:33-34 With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were “making void the word of God.”345Mk 7:13; cf. 3:8.
The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven.12 (Mt 5:3-12.)
The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of His Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it: We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.13(St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1, 3, 4: PL 32, 1312.)
How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.14 (St. Augustine, Conf. 10, 20: PL 32, 791.)
God alone satisfies.15 (St. Thomas Aquinas, Expos. in symb. apost. I.)
The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God calls us to His own beatitude. This vocation is addressed to each individual personally, but also to the Church as a whole, the new people made up of those who have accepted the promise and live from it in faith.
There we shall rest and see, we shall see and love, we shall love and praise. Behold what will be at the end without end. For what other end do we have, if not to reach the kingdom which has no end?20(St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 22, 30, 5: PL 41, 804.)
God put us in the world to know, to love, and to serve Him, and so to come to paradise. Beatitude makes us “partakers of the divine nature” and of eternal life.21 (2 Pet 1:4; cf. Jn 17:3.) With beatitude, man enters into the glory of Christ22 (Cf. Rom 8:18) and into the joy of the Trinitarian life.
Such beatitude surpasses the understanding and powers of man. It comes from an entirely free gift of God: whence it is called supernatural, as is the grace that disposes man to enter into the divine joy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” It is true, because of the greatness and inexpressible glory of God, that “man shall not see me and live,” for the Father cannot be grasped. But because of God’s love and goodness toward us, and because He can do all things, He goes so far as to grant those who love Him the privilege of seeing Him. . . . For “what is impossible for men is possible for God.”23 (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4, 20, 5: PG 7/1, 1034-1035)
1723 The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement—however beneficial it may be—such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:
All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world—it may be called “newspaper fame”—has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.24 (John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Saintliness the Standard of Christian Principle,” in Discourses to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906) V, 89-90.)
The Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount, and the apostolic catechesis describe for us the paths that lead to the Kingdom of heaven. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.25 (Cf. the parable of the sower: Mt 13:3-23.)
The Beatitudes take up and fulfill God’s promises from Abraham by ordering them to the Kingdom of heaven. They respond to the desire for happiness that God has placed in the human heart.
The Beatitudes teach us the final end to which God calls us: the Kingdom, the vision of God, participation in the divine nature, eternal life, filiation, rest in God.
The beatitude of eternal life is a gratuitous gift of God. It is supernatural, as is the grace that leads us there.
The Beatitudes confront us with decisive choices concerning earthly goods; they purify our hearts in order to teach us to love God above all things.
The beatitude of heaven sets the standards for discernment in the use of earthly goods in keeping with the law of God.
5.What are some of the paradoxical qualities of the beatitudes? How do they contrast with a worldly desire for power, honor, pleasure and wealth? (CCC 1719, 1722)
The beatitudes go very much contrary to our natural understandings of happiness, peace and perfection; they are especially contrary to the priorities and desires of the world, which focuses on transitory passions and passing pleasures. It is paradoxical to hear that those who mourn, hunger, thirst and are persecuted will be comforted, satisfied, and enter the kingdom of heaven. It is paradoxical to hear that abandoning oneself to God’s will and dying to our own desires will lead to eternal joy and perfect fulfillment. This paradox rests on the simple fact that if we allow good things—money, food, entertainment—to be the goal of our lives, then we will ultimately lose the gift of the greatest good: God’s own divine life.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7)
The words “mercy” and “merciful” are used about 150 times in the Bible. Hesed, or tender mercy, is God’s greatest characteristic in the Old Testament. The Lord, Moses was told, is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Deut 34:6)
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8)
This is sometimes translated as “singleness of heart” or “blessed are the single-hearted” The single hearted is the one who loves God first and everything else for the sake of God. Such a person’s heart or center is uncomplicated, unsullied, pure.
The person who is pure in heart knows what his life is about; he is free of distractions. He is entirely given to pursuing holiness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt 5:6)
The theme of righteousness and being righteous is a rich and essential one in Scripture. God’s ways are righteous—that is they are just, holy and rightly ordered—and those who walk in His love will hunger and thirst for righteousness.
But man, fallen and sinful, turns away from righteousness; he grasps at fleeting things he thinks will fill up the God-sized hole in his heart: wealth, pleasure, power and honor.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt 5:9)
Since the Fall, there has been little peace in the world; peace between tribes and peoples and nations has usually been, at best, fleeting and fragile.
St Augustine in his book The City of God explained that true peace is founded and rooted in God’s law and is ordered toward the common good. Peace with God and with ourselves is established when we are reconciled to God through the new covenant established by Christ’s salvific work on the Cross.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:3)
In order for the divine life to flow and to grow, there must be humility. Humility is necessary for a proper detachment from the things of this world, so that the divine life can flow into you and through you to the world.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4)
Good feelings and pleasure can be addictive, just like wealth and power. They distort our view of life and this world, keeping us from seeing the truly sorrowful and fallen nature of man without God.
Those who mourn—especially for their sins—know that suffering, can destroy the divine life. No pain, however deeply felt and experienced, can detach us from the divine love.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5)
Meekness is often thought of as weakness and lacking courage. Jesus described Himself as meek, or lowly of heart (Matt 11:29)
To be meek is to be humble, gentle, and patient, especially in the face of distress, provocation, and injustice. It is a renunciation of power, earthly glory and control; by being willing to let go of it, the doors are opened to the divine life.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account (Matt 5:10-11)
Persecution, in all of its forms, is more often than not the normal state of affairs for the disciple of Christ.
6.What is the relationship between the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s death on the Mount of Calvary?
The Sermon on the Mount presents an understanding of God, blessings, holiness, and law that reveals the perfection of Jesus Christ and the failings of those to whom He is preaching. This in turn creates tension and conflict, finally resulting in the arrest, torture, and execution of Jesus, which in turn reveals exactly how perfectly He lived the very things He taught. He is the perfect model of meekness, humility, purity, and holiness; He is the one who is persecuted for righteousness’ sake. This, in turn, reveals a third fact, man’s desperate need to enter the kingdom of heaven, which can only be done through embracing the cross of the Crucified One.
One of the most fundamental problems in the spiritual order is that we sense within ourselves the hunger for God, but we attempt to satisfy it with some created good that is less than God. Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power and honor. Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things, but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us. When we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated, and then in our frustration, we will convince ourselves that we need more of that finite good, so we will struggle to achieve it, only to find ourselves again, necessarily dissatisfied. At this point, a sort of spiritual panic sets in, and we can find ourselves turning obsessively around this creaturely good that can never in principle make us happy. The Sermon on the Mount can only be fully understood in light of the Mount of Calvary, “He who climbed the first to preach the Beatitudes, must necessarily climb the second to practice what He preached…The Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from His Crucifixion, an more than day can be separated from night.” (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his Life of Christ). Thomas Aquinas said the beatitudes are best exemplified in Christ crucified, so that you will be happy only if you despise what Jesus despised on the cross and if you love what He loved. What did He despise? Wealth (He was stripped of every belonging), pleasure (He endured intense physical and psychological suffering) power (He was nailed to the cross, immobilized) and honor (He was publicly mocked and taunted). The message of the Sermon is the reformation of man’s heart through forgiveness, faith and Jesus’ gift of eternal life. The Son of God not only preached the beatitudes, He lived them out in His Passion. Fully human and fully divine, He showed how the New Law is given and how the divine life is lived.
Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil. But in the most mysterious way God the Father has revealed his almighty power in the voluntary humiliation and Resurrection of his Son, by which he conquered evil. Christ crucified is thus “the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”1111 Cor 1:24-25. It is in Christ’s Resurrection and exaltation that the Father has shown forth “the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.”112Eph 1:19-22.
Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. This faith glories in its weaknesses in order to draw to itself Christ’s power.113Cf. 2 Cor 12:9; Phil 4:13. The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that “nothing will be impossible with God,” and was able to magnify the Lord: “For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”114Lk 1:37, 49
The Paschal mystery of Christ’s cross and Resurrection stands at the center of the Good News that the apostles, and the Church following them, are to proclaim to the world. God’s saving plan was accomplished “once for all”313Heb 9:26. by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ.
The Church remains faithful to the interpretation of “all the Scriptures” that Jesus gave both before and after his Passover: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”314Lk 24:26-27, 44-45 Jesus’ sufferings took their historical, concrete form from the fact that he was “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” who handed “him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified.”315Mk 8:31; Mt 20:19.
Faith can therefore try to examine the circumstances of Jesus’ death, faithfully handed on by the Gospels316 Cf. DV 19 and illuminated by other historical sources, the better to understand the meaning of the Redemption.
From the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, certain Pharisees and partisans of Herod together with priests and scribes agreed together to destroy him.317 Cf. Mk 3:6; 14:1. Because of certain of his acts—expelling demons, forgiving sins, healing on the sabbath day, his novel interpretation of the precepts of the Law regarding purity, and his familiarity with tax collectors and public sinners318Cf. Mt 12:24: Mk 2:7, 14-17; 3:1-6; 7:14-23—some ill-intentioned persons suspected Jesus of demonic possession.319 Cf. Mk 3:22; Jn 8:48; 10:20 He is accused of blasphemy and false prophecy, religious crimes which the Law punished with death by stoning.320 Cf. Mk 2:7; Jn 5:18; Jn 7:12; 7:52; 8:59; 10:31, 33
Many of Jesus’ deeds and words constituted a “sign of contradiction,”321Lk 2:34 but more so for the religious authorities in Jerusalem, whom the Gospel according to John often calls simply “the Jews,”322 Cf. Jn 1:19; 2:18; 5:10; 7:13; 9:22; 18:12; 19:38; 20:19 than for the ordinary People of God.323Jn 7:48-49 To be sure, Christ’s relations with the Pharisees were not exclusively polemical. Some Pharisees warned him of the danger he was courting;324 Cf. Lk 13:31 Jesus praises some of them, like the scribe of Mark 12:34, and dines several times at their homes.325Cf. Lk 7:36; 14:1 Jesus endorses some of the teachings imparted by this religious elite of God’s people: the resurrection of the dead,326 Cf. Mt 22:23-34; Lk 20:39 certain forms of piety (almsgiving, fasting, and prayer),327 Cf. Mt 6:18 the custom of addressing God as Father, and the centrality of the commandment to love God and neighbor.328Mk 12:28-34
In the eyes of many in Israel, Jesus seems to be acting against essential institutions of the Chosen People: submission to the whole of the Law in its written commandments and, for the Pharisees, in the interpretation of oral tradition; the centrality of the Temple at Jerusalem as the holy place where God’s presence dwells in a special way;faith in the one God whose glory no man can share.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued a solemn warning in which he presented God’s law, given on Sinai during the first covenant, in light of the grace of the New Covenant:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.329Mt 5:17-19.
Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail—according to his own words, down to “the least of these commandments.”330Mt 5:19 He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.331Cf. Jn 8:46 On their own admission the Jews were never able to observe the Law in its entirety without violating the least of its precepts.332 Cf. Jn 7:19; Acts 13:38-41; 15:10This is why every year on the Day of Atonement the children of Israel ask God’s forgiveness for their transgressions of the Law. The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”333Jas 2:10; cf. Gal 3:10; 5:3
This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus’ time to an extreme religious zeal.334 Cf. Rom 10:2. This zeal, were it not to lapse into “hypocritical” casuistry,335 Cf. Mt 15:3-7, Lk 11:39-54 could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.336Cf. Isa 53:11; Heb 9:15
The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son.337 Cf. Gal 4:4. In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone but “upon the heart” of the Servant who becomes “a covenant to the people,” because he will “faithfully bring forth justice.”338Jer 31:33; Isa 42:3, 6 Jesus fulfills the Law to the point of taking upon himself “the curse of the Law” incurred by those who do not “abide by the things written in the book of the Law, and do them,” for his death took place to redeem them “from the transgressions under the first covenant.”339Gal 3:13; 3:10; Heb 9:15
The Jewish people and their spiritual leaders viewed Jesus as a rabbi.340 Cf. Jn 11:28; 3:2; Mt 22:23-24, 34-36 He often argued within the framework of rabbinical interpretation of the Law.341Cf. Mt 12:5; 9:12; Mk 2:23-27; Lk 6:6-9; Jn 7:22-23 Yet Jesus could not help but offend the teachers of the Law, for he was not content to propose his interpretation alongside theirs but taught the people “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”342Mt 7:28-29 In Jesus, the same Word of God, that had resounded on Mount Sinai to give the written Law to Moses, made itself heard anew on the Mount of the Beatitudes.343 Cf. Mt 5:1 Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old. . . . But I say to you. . . .”344Mt 5:33-34With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were “making void the word of God.”345Mk 7:13; cf. 3:8
Going even further, Jesus perfects the dietary law, so important in Jewish daily life, by revealing its pedagogical meaning through a divine interpretation: “Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him . . . (Thus he declared all foods clean.). What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts. . . .”346Mk 7:18- 21; cf. Gal 3:24 In presenting with divine authority the definitive interpretation of the Law, Jesus found himself confronted by certain teachers of the Law who did not accept his interpretation of the Law, guaranteed though it was by the divine signs that accompanied it.347 Cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25, 37-38; 12:37 This was the case especially with the sabbath laws, for he recalls often with rabbinical arguments, that the sabbath rest is not violated by serving God and neighbor,348Cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25, 37-38; 12:37 which his own healings did.
The Son of God, who came down “from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him who sent [him],”413Jn 6:38. said on coming into the world, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.” “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”414Heb 10:5-10 From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.”415Jn 4:34 The sacrifice of Jesus “for the sins of the whole world”4161 Jn 2:2expresses his loving communion with the Father. “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life,” said the Lord, “[for] I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”417Jn 10:17; 14:31
The desire to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life,418 Cf. Lk 12:50; 22:15; Mt 16:21-23 for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation. And so he asked, “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.”419Jn 12:27 And again, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”420Jn 18:11. From the cross, just before “It is finished,” he said, “I thirst.”421Jn 19:30; 19:28.
After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”422Jn 1:29; cf. Lk 3:21; Mt 3:14-15; Jn 1:36 By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover.423Isa 53:7, 12; cf. Jer 11:19; Ex 12:3-14; Jn 19:36; 1 Cor 5:7.Christ’s whole life expresses his mission: “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”424Mk 10:45
By embracing in his human heart the Father’s love for men, Jesus “loved them to the end,” for “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”425Jn 13:1;15:13In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.426Cf. Heb 2:10, 17-18; 4:15; 5:7-9. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”427Jn 10:18. Hence the sovereign freedom of God’s Son as he went out to his death.428Cf. Jn 18:4-6; Mt 26:53
Jesus gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles “on the night he was betrayed.”429Roman Missal, EP 111; cf. Mt 26:20; 1 Cor 11:23. On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: “This is my body which is given for you.” “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”430Lk 22:19; Mt 26:28; cf. 1 Cor 5:7.
The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice.4311 Cor 11:25 Jesus includes the apostles in his own offering and bids them perpetuate it.432 Cf. Lk 22:19By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”433Jn 17:19; cf. Council of Trent: DS 1752; 1764
The cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father’s hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani,434Cf. Mt 26:42; Lk 22:20 making himself “obedient unto death.” Jesus prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. . . .”435Phil 2:8; Mt 26:39; cf. Heb 5:7-8Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature. Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death.436Cf. Rom 5:12; Heb 4:15. Above all, his human nature has been assumed by the divine person of the “Author of life,” the “Living One.”437 Cf. Acts 3:15; Rev 1:17; Jn 1:4; 5:26 By accepting in his human will that the Father’s will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”4381 Pet 2:24; cf. Mt 26:42
Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,”439Jn 1:29; cf. 8:34-36; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19. and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”440Mt 26:28; cf. Ex 24:8; Lev 16:15-16; 1 Cor 11:25.
This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.441 Cf. Heb 10:10 First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience.442 Cf. Jn 10:17-18; 15:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 4:10.
7.What does it mean to “love your enemy?” How was and is this a radical teaching(Matt 5:38-39; Matt 26:52)
Loving our enemy, especially those who seek to destroy you, is the greatest test of love. It is not a matter of emotion or feelings. It requires willing of the good for the one who will not respond in kind. The Old Law had set limits on retribution; it had presented a form of justice that was quite radical for its time. The New Law goes much further. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. (Matt 5:38-39)
This is not an encouragement to passivity in the face of violence, but is a new and provocative form of resistance. It rejects the two normal responses to unjust aggression, which are to either fight or flee, neither of which is ultimately effective. Slapping someone on the right cheek was a blatant gesture of contempt, requiring the back of one’s hand. To fight back would make the situation worse; to run away would encourage and confirm the attacker in his violence. A perfect example of rejecting either response is seen in how Jesus reacted in the garden when He was being arrested. He did not attempt to escape, nor did He allow Peter to defend Him with the sword; Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt 26:52)
Standing one’s ground does something quite different; it forces the persecutor to consider another way of being, of acting, of seeing others. This is not a passive response. Instead, it suggests to him that he is connected to you more deeply than he realized, and that what separates you and he is far more superficial that he might think. “Passivity in the face of hatred amounts, once again to the acceptance of an illusion, rather, in calling for us to turn the other cheek and hand over our shirts and go the extra mile, Jesus, is in fact, advocating a provocative, ‘in-your-face’ challenge to evil” (Father Barron And Now I See p 190) If someone is actually audacious enough to sue for the clothing you are wearing –an act of legal violence—offer him your coat as well. Again, in not fleeing or fighting, you signal to him the injustice and violence of his action.
Those who are slandered, demeaned, and mocked for their public witness to truth and goodness have an opportunity to turn the other cheek, to bless the persecutor with their witness to Christ. This is the climax of the Sermon on the Mount because it concretely puts into action what is indicated in a more theological way by Jesus’ astounding statement, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48) God is love; He is perfect love. He loves all of mankind, despite their many sins and evil actions. So those who wish to be sons and daughters of God, who seek the kingdom, must also love all men. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45)
Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:
What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.35John Paul II, SRS 47
Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy.36Cf. John XXIII, PT 65 If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.
Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.”37GS 27 § 1 No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.
The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”38Mt 25:40.
This same duty extends to those who think or act differently from us. The teaching of Christ goes so far as to require the forgiveness of offenses. He extends the commandment of love, which is that of the New Law, to all enemies.39 Cf. Mt 5:43-44. Liberation in the spirit of the Gospel is incompatible with hatred of one’s enemy as a person, but not with hatred of the evil that he does as an enemy.
“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”65LG 40 § 2. All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”66Mt 5:48.
In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.67LG 40 § 2.
Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”97Mt 5:44-45.
8.What does the Parable of the Prodigal Son teach about the mercy of God the Father and the divine communion in which each of us is called to share? (1 Tim 2:4; 1 Peter 2:4)
The parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11:32) is best known of Jesus’ parables, a powerful and rich story of God’s love and mercy. In Dives in Misericordia , Pope John Paul II encyclical on the mercy of God he noted that although the word “mercy” does not appear in the parable, “it nevertheless expresses the essence of the divine mercy in a particularly clear way”(par 5) This is especially evident in how the father receives back his son with open arms and a loving heart, even though the son had spurned him and wasted his inheritance. This mercy is not rooted in emotions or subjectivity, but in the unrelenting, self-sacrificial love of God for man. “The father of the prodigal son is faithful to his fatherhood, faithful to the love that he had always lavished on his son. This fidelity is expressed in the parable not only by his immediate readiness to welcome him home when he returns after having squandered his inheritance… just as the father in the parable desires full and true communion with his wayward son, God the Father “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) that they “may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. ( 1 Pet 2:4)
The first sentence reveals that we are children of God. As children of God, filled with divine life, we have everything we need or could ever desire. All that we are has meaning and purpose because of the Father’s life and love. And yet sin, the desire to be autonomous from God can rupture this relationship and destroy the life of grace. Demands can be made that sever us from communion with God. The choice is between gratitude and greed, between humility and pride. Those who live properly in God do so with a receptive and grateful heart, receiving God’s gifts and then willingly giving those gifts to others. The younger son however is not grateful toward his father, nor giving towards others, he seeks only his own satisfaction.
Amazingly, God respects our freedom which is His gift to us, even when we use it to rebel against Him. In the parable grace has been divided, cut off, dried up. The familial bond is broken, and the son takes his money into the “far country” The Greek word, the chora makra, refers to a place of great emptiness. The physical distance is not as painful as the loss of familial love and communion; the son’s inner life vanished as quickly as did his inheritance.
Having selfishly sought to satisfy only himself, he learns what it is like to be on the other side of the economic and emotional equation. Broken the son decides to return to his father’s house and ask to be a hired hand, knowing that even his father’s slaves have it better than he does. The longsuffering father, seeing him from a distance, a sign he had been looking for him to return, runs to meet him. The parable is not about the son as much as it is about the father and his passionate, relentless quest. It is about the unrelenting, self-sacrificial love of God for man.
The ring given by the father to the son is marital; it symbolizes the re-establishment of right relationship, the restoration of honor undeserved but freely given. Having walked away in petulant selfishness, the son had embraced death. Having been embraced by his waiting father he is restored to life and grace. The older brother is not so different from his younger brother, especially since he understands his relationship with their father in practical, economic terms. He obeys, but as a slave, not as a son. He thinks he must somehow earn his father’s love; he has failed to comprehend his father’s real nature and the relationship he should have had with him. His small and skewed perspective is revealed in his angry, resentful protest. When we fall out of love with God, we fall into hatred of one another. God’s entire being is forgiving. Yet we are tempted, in our fear and selfishness to take, grab, cling and possess. Yet all is gift. God is not just Creator, but He is also Father.
God, who “dwells in unapproachable light,” wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son.31 Tim 6:16; cf. Eph 1:4-5 By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of knowing him, and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity.
After Israel’s sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses’ prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love.18Cf. Ex 32; 33:12-17 When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘the LORD’ [YHWH].”19Ex 33:18-19. Then the Lord passes before Moses and proclaims, “YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness”; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.20Ex 34:5-6; cf. 34:9
The divine name, “I Am” or “He Is,” expresses God’s faithfulness: despite the faithlessness of men’s sin and the punishment it deserves, he keeps “steadfast love for thousands.”21Ex 34:7By going so far as to give up his own Son for us, God reveals that he is “rich in mercy.”22Eph 2:4 By giving his life to free us from sin, Jesus reveals that he himself bears the divine name: “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will realize that ‘I Am.’”23Jn 8:28 (Gk.).
“O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!”93LH, Hymn for Evening Prayer God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of his blessed life. Such is the “plan of his loving kindness,” conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in his beloved Son: “He destined us in love to be his sons” and “to be conformed to the image of his Son,” through “the spirit of sonship.”94Eph 1:4-5, 9; Rom 8:15, 29This plan is a “grace [which] was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,” stemming immediately from Trinitarian love.952 Tim 1:9-10 It unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church.96 Cf. AG 2-9.
The whole divine economy is the common work of the three divine persons. For as the Trinity has only one and the same nature, so too does it have only one and the same operation: “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of creation but one principle.”97 Council of Florence (1442): DS 1331; cf. Council of Constantinople II (553): DS 421.However each divine person performs the common work according to his unique personal property. Thus the Church confesses, following the New Testament, “one God and Father from whom all things are, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and one Holy Spirit in whom all things are.”98 Council of Constantinople II: DS 421 It is above all the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit that show forth the properties of the divine persons.
Being a work at once common and personal, the whole divine economy makes known both what is proper to the divine persons and their one divine nature. Hence the whole Christian life is a communion with each of the divine persons, without in any way separating them. Everyone who glorifies the Father does so through the Son in the Holy Spirit; everyone who follows Christ does so because the Father draws him and the Spirit moves him.99 Cf. Jn 6:44; Rom 8:14
The ultimate end of the whole divine economy is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the Blessed Trinity.100Cf. Jn 17:21-23 But even now we are called to be a dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity: “If a man loves me,” says the Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him”:101Jn 14:23
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action.102 Prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity.
The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”:782 Pet 1:4. ”For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.”79 St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 19, 1: PG 7/1, 939 “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”80 St. Athanasius, De inc., 54, 3: PG 25, 192B”The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”81 St. Thomas Aquinas, Opusc. 57: 1-4
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).24Cf. Council of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; cf. Roman Catechism, II, V, 4
Questions for Application
1.What are some of the different opinions about Jesus that you have heard or read about? Why are they attractive to many people?
2. In light of the Sermon on the Mount, how should I understand the Law and view the Old Testament?
3.What does it mean to say that the one thing every person desires is joy? What are some of my experiences of joy? Did they in some way point toward an eternal, supernatural joy?
4.How do the Beatitudes challenge my priorities? Which of the Beatitudes is most difficult for me to understand or accept? Why?
5.How difficult is it for me to love my enemies? What can I do to grow in my love for my “enemies” or for those I dislike?
6.Have I ever acted in ways similar to the prodigal son? Or like his older brother? How do I sometimes fail to appreciate the mercy, love and grace of the Father?