March 2012 - Vol. 58
The Beatitudes Are Inseparable from the Cross of Christ
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Mount of Beatitudes – Mount of CalvaryArchbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) was an American theologian and bishop, first in New York City and then in Rochester, New York. He became well-known for his preaching, especially on television and radio. He hosted the night-time radio program The Catholic Hour for twenty years (1930–1950) before moving to television and presenting a weekly program called, Life Is Worth Living. The show ran from 1951 until 1957, drawing as many as 30 million people on a weekly basis. He wrote 73 books and numerous articles and columns. Mother Theresa of Calcutta always kept a copy of Sheen’s book, Life of Christ, with her wherever she travelled for daily reflection and meditation.
Two mounts are related as the first and second acts in a two-act drama: the Mount of the Beatitudes and the Mount of Calvary. He who climbed the first to preach the Beatitudes must necessarily climb the second to practice what he preached. The unthinking often say the Sermon on the Mount constitutes the “essence of Christianity.” But let any man put these Beatitudes into practice in his own life, and he too will draw down upon himself the wrath of the world. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be separated from his crucifixion, any more than day can be separated from night. The day our Lord taught the Beatitudes, He signed his own death warrant. The sound of nails and hammers digging through human flesh were the echoes thrown back from the mountainside where he told men how to be happy or blessed. Everybody wants to be happy; but his ways were the very opposite of the ways of the world.
One way to make enemies and antagonize people is to challenge the spirit of the world. The world has a spirit, as each age has a spirit. There are certain unanalyzed assumptions which govern the conduct of the world. Anyone who challenges these worldly maxims, such as, “you only live once,” “get as much out of life as you can,” “who will ever know about it?” “what is sex for if not for pleasure?” is bound to make himself unpopular.
The cheap clichés around which movies are written and novels composed, he scorns. he proposes to burn what they worship; to conquer errant sex instincts instead of allowing them to make slaves of man; to tame economic conquests instead of making happiness consist in an abundance of things external to the soul. All false beatitudes which make happiness depend on self-expression, license, having a good time, or “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die,” he scorns because they bring mental disorders, unhappiness, false hopes, fears, and anxieties.
The model for
For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. - Matthew 5:18
Sermon on the Mount by James Tissot
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” Moses had said it; pagan tribes suggested it; primitive peoples respected it. Then came the terrible and awful but: “But I tell you…” “But I tell you that he who casts his eye on a woman so as to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his own heart.” Our Lord went into the soul, and laid hold of thought, and branded even the desire for sin as a sin. If it was wrong to do a certain thing, it was wrong to think about that thing. He would say, “Away with your hygiene which tries to keep hands clean after they have stolen, and bodies free from disease after they have ravished another.” He went into the depths of the heart, and branded even the intention to sin a sin. He did not wait for the evil tree to bear evil fruits. He would prevent the very sowing of the evil seed. Wait not until your hidden sins come out as psychoses and neuroses and compulsions. Get rid of them at their sources. Repent! Purge! Evil that can be put into statistics, or that can be locked in jails, is too late to remedy.
Christ affirmed that when a man married a woman, he married both her body and her soul; he married the whole person. If he got tired of the body, he might not thrust her body away for another, since he was still responsible for her soul. So he thundered, “You have heard.” In that expression he summarized the jargon of every decaying civilization. “You have heard, ‘Get a divorce; God does not expect you to live without happiness’” then came the but.
But I tell you that the man who puts away his wife Makes an adulteress of her, And whoever marries her after she has been put away, Commits adultery. - Matthew 5:32What matters if the body is lost? The soul is still there, and that is worth more than the thrill a body can give, more even than the universe itself. He would keep men and women pure, not from contagion, but from desire of another; to imagine a betrayal is in itself a betrayal. So he declared:
What God has joined, Let not man put asunder. - Mark 10:9No man! No judge! No nation!
Cut sin off
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. - Matthew 5:29, 30Men will cut off their legs and arms to save the body from gangrene or poisoning. But here our Lord transferred circumcision of the flesh to circumcision of the heart, and advocated letting out the lifeblood of beloved lusts and hewing passions to tatters, rather than be separated from the love of God which is in him, Christ Jesus.
Next he talked of revenge, hatred, violence, expressed in those sayings of everybody, “Get even,” “Sue him,” “Don’t be a fool.” He knew them all, and of all of them he said:
"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' Then comes the awful but: "But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."- Matthew 5:38–41
for the guilty
Thus he would have us do away with adversaries, because when no resistance is offered, the adversary is conquered by a superior moral power; such love prevents the infection of the wound of hate. To endure for a year the bore who afflicts you for a week; to write a letter of kindness to the man who calls you dirty names; to offer gifts to the man who would steal from you; never to answer back with hatred the man who lies and says you are disloyal to your country or tells the worse lie, that you are against freedom – these are the hard things which Christ came to teach, and they no more suited his time than they do ours. They suit only the heroes, the great men, the saints, the holy men and women who will be the salt of the earth, the leaven in the mass, the elite among the mob, the kind who will transform the world. If certain people are not lovable, one puts love into them and they will become lovable. Why is anyone lovable – if it be not that God put his love into each of us?
Price paid for
the Sermon on the Mount
Let him who says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” come into the world that believes in the primacy of the economic; let him stand in the market place where some men live for collective profit, or where others say men live for individual profit, and see what happens. He will be so poor that during life he will have nowhere to lay his head; a day will come when he will die without anything of economic worth. In his last hour he will be so impoverished that they will strip him of his garments and even give him a stranger’s grave for his burial, as he had a stranger’s stable for his birth.
Let him come into the world which proclaims the gospel of the strong. Let him advocate hating our enemies, and condemn Christian virtues as the “soft” virtues, and say to that world, “Blessed are the patient,” and he will one day feel the scourges of the strong barbarians laid across his back; he will be struck on the cheek by a mocking fist during one of his trials; he will see men take a sickle and cut the grass from a hill on Calvary, and then use a hammer to pinion him to a Cross to test the patience of one who endures the worst that evil has to offer, that having exhausted itself it might eventually turn to Love.
Let him come into our world which ridicules the idea of sin as morbidity, considers reparation for past guilt as a guilt complex and preach to that world, “Blessed are they who mourn” for their sins; and he will be blindfolded and mocked as a fool. They will take his body and scourge it, until his bones can be numbered; they will crown his head with thorns, until he begins to weep not salt tears but crimson beads of blood, as they laugh at the weakness of him who will not come down from the Cross. Let him come into the world which denies Absolute Truth, which says that right and wrong are only questions of point of view, that we must be broadminded about virtue and vice, and let him say to them, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after holiness,” that is, after the Absolute, after the Truth which “I am” and they will in their broadmindedness give the mob the choice of him or Barabbas; they will crucify him with thieves, and try to make the world believe that God is no different from a batch of robbers who are his bedfellows in death.
Let him come into a world which says that “my neighbor is hell,” that all which is opposite me is nothing, that the ego alone matters, that my will is supreme law, that what I decide is good, that I must forget others and think only of myself, and say to them, “Blessed are the merciful.” He will find that he will receive no mercy; they will open five streams of blood out of his body; they will pour vinegar and gall into his thirsting mouth; and, even after his death, be so merciless as to plunge a spear into his sacred heart.
Let him come into a world which tries to interpret man in terms of sex; which regards purity as coldness, chastity as frustrated sex, self-containment as abnormality, and the union of husband and wife until death as boredom; which says that a marriage endures only so long as the glands endure, that one may unbind what God binds and unseal what God seals. Say to them, “Blessed are the pure” and he will find himself hanging naked on a cross, made a spectacle to men and angels in a last wild crazy affirmation that purity is abnormal, that the virgins are neurotics, and that carnality is right.
Let him come into a world which believes that one must resort to every manner of chicanery and duplicity in order to conquer the world, carrying doves of peace with stomachs full of bombs, and say to them, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” or “Blessed are they who eradicate sin that there may be peace” and he will find himself surrounded by men engaged in the silliest of all wars – a war against the Son of God; making violence with steel and wood, pinions and gall and then setting a watch over his grave that he who lost the battle might not win the day.
Let him come into a world that believes that our whole life should be geared to flattering and influencing people for the sake of utility and popularity, and say to them: “Blessed are you when men hate, persecute, and revile you” and he will find himself without a friend in the world, an outcast on a hill, with mobs shouting his death, and his flesh hanging from him like purple rags.
hard facts and realities
Those who heard him preach the Beatitudes were invited to stretch themselves out on a cross, to find happiness on a higher level by death to a lower order, to despise all the world holds sacred, and to venerate as sacred all the world regards as an ideal. Heaven is happiness; but it is too much for man to have two heavens, an ersatz one below, and a real one above. Hence the four “woes” he immediately added to the Beatitudes.
"But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." - Luke 6:24–26
How to be happy
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