At the conclusion of the Beatitudes, Jesus warns us that fulfilling these will not be easy. That first line reminds me of the battle that high school and college age students have to fight through as they try to practice their faith around peers who have do not understand. True, adults face these struggles too, but young adults are just learning how to say "Yes!" to God, let alone be insulted and persecuted for it. That decision to keep the faith and rise above is made from a place of grace many of us have yet to achieve.
Friends, young or old, our walks of faith are not called to be easy. In our early adult years, we are going to shamed and teased for choosing lives of abstinence from sex, alcohol, and drugs. Our decisions will be questioned by peers. In college, we are confronted by all kinds of ideas that will make us question the faith our parents raised us in. Don't shy from the opportunity to learn and understand; ask questions and seek answers! Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, remember? It is righteous to seek answers to your questions about the faith! You will face deep heartache as friends go separate ways and what seemed like "meant to be" was temporary. You are blessed to have such beautiful things to mourn, and God will be beside you every step of the way.
As we enter our more adult years, we will have to choose moments to make ourselves smaller to build up our friends, family, and spouse, understanding that God has called us to live a meek life that does not seek itself first. We encounter more frustration and fear than we can possibly imagine, unable to plan for the unexpected. But it is the poor in spirit, who acknowledge God's greatness that will find God in these difficult times. We will guide others to God by showing them God's mercy rather reacting with anger. We will be persecuted for daring to say something is not right.
We are called to be salt and light to those in need. Take time to read over Matthew 5:13-16 and ask yourself how you are salt and light in this world. Do you shine light on injustice? Do you influence those around you for the good?
The Beatitudes our battle cry, what we have been brought here to do. And Wednesday marks the beginning of season to truly practice what we have been taught, to embark on mindful Lenten journey that will help us to truly practice what we preach. Please join us for a season of prayer, fasting, and giving, beginning with a celebration of our humanity and humility on Ash Wednesday.
At first glance, the next Beatitude can be misleading. It almost sounds as if we are being told to seek out opportunities to be persecuted! But Jesus is really teaching us that we are blessed when we are persecuted and still seek righteousness in spite of it. An easy example of those who still chose righteousness despite persecution are the martyrs of the early church. St. Stephen, St. Cecelia, and others who would rather have died than betrayed their faith. Dramatic examples of persecution and righteousness, yet nonetheless, they are compelling.
We may scoff at these examples, thinking of ourselves as safe from such persecution, but the reality is, the persecution we face is just as dangerous. A physical death to the righteous is nothing to fear. We have already chosen and lived for God throughout our days, we can trust that God is going to give us what was promised: the Kingdom of Heaven. But a spiritual death, when we lose our connection with God, happens all the time. Each time we sin, whether mortal or venial (large or small), we weaken our relationship with Christ. And we should fear that more than any physical death. Without God, there is no Kingdom of Heaven to look forward to.
Persecution comes in all shapes and sizes, but oftentimes in the form of temptation and peer pressure. Drink this, smoke that, try this... it can be incessant and dangerous. Surrounding ourselves with people who tempt us is really just opening ourselves up for persecution when we do make the right decisions. We choose righteousness when we resist those temptations and don't allow ourselves to stray, damaging our most important relationship: God. What may be the death of a particular social status or perception is actually a small act of martyrdom for righteousness, truly choosing righteousness despite others.
In Matthew 16: 24-28, we are reminded that Jesus never said it was going to be easy to follow Him. Righteousness isn't always easy, but it comes with great reward. Review what Jesus taught there and consider what it means to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and follow Him. How does that fit into you actions today? What can you do tomorrow to resist temptation and bear your cross with a righteousness and dignity?
Don't have your Bible handy or a favorite Bible app downloaded? Just click the verses mentioned- they connected to the online Bible source provided by the USCCB!