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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

One of my favorite works of literature, if not my favorite, is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose faith strongly influenced and shaped his work. One of the prevalent themes you see in The Lord of the Rings is sin and its power to enslave. This theme is most clearly seen in Gollum, a miserable and wretched character whose life has been ruined by the ring of Sauron the dark lord. The ring is powerful and enticing, threatening to hold people captive through a strong love and desire to possess the ring. Gollum was once a healthy and normal character who was drawn by the power of the ring. It ruined his life so that it became his only love, his precious. Nothing else mattered. The ring defined him. And it caused him to hate anything else that threatened separation from the ring. Such a disordered love, an attachment of the heart, would ultimately be the cause of his demise. So it is with us when we allow interior attachments and disordered loves to rule our lives.

In the Gospel passage for today you will notice that most of the beatitudes offer rewards in the future tense. Rewards will be given. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. These rewards are delayed and to be hoped for. However, you may notice that twice our Lord does not offer a delayed reward but rather an immediate one. He promises that those who are poor in spirit and those who suffer for the sake of righteousness are promised the kingdom of God right now. The kingdom of God is theirs. Not the kingdom of God will be theirs.

Is there any significance to this? Was St. Matthew just sloppy when recording the Sermon on the Mount? It is certainly not my place to judge one of the Gospel writers. Furthermore, this is Sacred Scripture. While St. Matthew was merely a human instrument in putting pen to parchment, God is the author of these words. And so there must be some significance in the difference of verb tense. The kingdom of God is promised now and not later. I would like to focus on that first beatitude “blessed are the poor in spirit” which lays the foundation for the rest of the beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Notice the difference between St. Matthew’s account of the beatitudes and St. Luke’s account. Luke notes that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor. Matthew qualifies this beatitude and notes that the kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit. The concern is not with income but with interior dispositions. We should not be on guard against possessions themselves but rather possessiveness. One may own possessions and still have poverty of spirit. But we must not let our possessions possess us and become attachments of the heart. We can grow to love things more than God and our loves become disordered (much like Gollum had a possessive and disordered love for the ring).

And these interior attachments to things rest on the presumption that we have an absolute right to them. We say to ourselves “I’ve worked hard. I’ve earned this toy of mine” or “I deserve this.” We are afraid that if we are separated from our possessions we will be left empty and miserable. The antidote to this possessiveness, the cutting away of our interior attachments lies in recognizing our lowly state before God. Everything we have is a gift. We did not create ourselves. We received life from our parents. Had they or someone not raised us, we would not be here today. No one creates himself. One only receives. Therefore, do we really have any absolute right of possession and ownership?

This is the foundation of being poor in spirit: A recognition that we are all beggars before God, a recognition of God’s generosity which eclipses and breaks any disordered loves we might have for lesser things. To be poor in spirit is to embrace our state as beggars. Another way this beatitude may be translated is “blessed are those who beg for their life’s breath.” Do we beg daily for our life’s breath? To do so is a recognition of our dependency upon God, that even our breath is a gift from Him. To live as one who is poor in spirit is to daily recognize and exercise one’s role as a beggar before God. Once we let this interior poverty govern our lives, our actions, and our decisions, then we are living in the kingdom of God immediately and right now.

This poverty of spirit breaks any interior chains that shackle and prevent us from living as citizens of God’s kingdom. You have to wonder: would Gollum have met his demise if he had been poor in spirit, if he had destroyed that interior attachment to the ring? When we are poor beggars in spirit we are not governed by earthly whims and desires, attachments of the heart, but by love for God. But this is not always easy.

Living in the kingdom of God is a hidden reality in this life. But it is the foundation for all the other beatitudes. And this divine citizenship is predicated on faith. We cannot see streets of gold, villages of the saints, or the palaces of God. It remains hidden and requires faith to see. One day, at the end of time, when the veil is removed, all will be fully revealed to us and our eyes will be opened. But right now we need faith to believe. And this takes courage doesn’t it? It takes courage look at our lives and put to death anything that prevents our hearts from being fully given over to the Lord. It takes courage to store up treasure in Heaven rather than on earth, to live as a beggar before God, to beg for that life’s breath. Too many of us spend much of our lives investing in earthly goods and comforts. We make it our goal to get through life with as much comfort and as little suffering as possible. But the Lord today and every day invites us to live by the logic of the kingdom of God, to recognize our dependency on Him and break our hearts away from anything that is less than Him. Pray for the faith and courage to have that poverty of spirit in order that you might live in the kingdom of God not in the future, but right now. In doing so, we lay the foundation of hope so that one day we will be comforted, we will inherit the land, we will be satisfied, we will be shown mercy, we will see God, and we will obtain that great reward.

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