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The beatitudes – more than ever!

Eight years ago Donal Godfrey SJ, an Irish Jesuit living in the US, wrote a reflection of hope for this website on the occasion of the election of Barack Obama. He now sends us a homily he delivered last Sunday, in the aftermath of the inaugural presidential address and executive order on immigration.

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We had our first week of class at the University of San Francisco where I work. I replaced a fellow Jesuit who was away at his first class, Positive Psychology. Discussing the Jesuit mission of our university, one student said, that, although she is not religious, she could not but experience cognitive dissonance watching the presidential  inauguration of Donald Trump. At the inauguration Rev. Rodriguez read the Beatitudes from Matthew, which I just read in today’s Gospel.

What jarred for her was the contrast between the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes and the whole tenor of the inaugural address: “From this day on it’s going to be America first.”

What a shame more Christians in this country don’t feel cognitive dissonance right now!

It was possibly because I grew up in England and Ireland where understatement is a way of life, that I was particularly taken by the placard at the Women’s March reading; “I HAVE CONCERNS!” Well I do have concerns.

Commenting on the president’s address the most prominent Protestant theologian in the country, Stanley Hauerwas, wrote: “The inauguration address counts as a stunning example of idolatry. ‘The bedrock of our policy will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and though our loyalty to our country we will recover our loyalty to each other’ is clearly a theological claim that offers a kind of salvation.”

As a recent immigrant I will say I do desire to be a good citizen, and I am very grateful for the welcome and hospitality of this country. I am also clear I already have a savior, and that God will continue to have my highest loyalty, and these Beatitudes show me how I am meant to live my life.

“Blessed are those who are humble, poor in spirit, who mourn, are peacemakers, suffer for the sake of righteousness, and are merciful.”

Pope Francis has even suggested some new ones such as: “Blessed are those who protect and take care of our common home.”

Yesterday, speaking to a group of Lutheran and Catholic Germans, Francis rebuked the contradiction inherent in the stance of those who want to defend the West, and on the other hand are against refugees and other religions.

“You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian, without practicing the Beatitudes. It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help,” he said.

Let it be said out loud, all refugees – Christian, Muslim, Atheist – must be treated with the same dignity and human respect!

One of our recently-appointed Cardinals, Joseph Tobin of Newark, tweeted this week: “A fearful nation talks about building walls and is vulnerable to con men. We must challenge the fear before we are led into darkness”.

I find the hope we need in order to confront this fear, in the word of God today. Zephaniah tells us, “Seek justice. Seek humility.”

The Psalm says God raises up those who are bowed down and secures justice for the oppressed. The letter to the Corinthians proclaims that God chooses the lowly and despised of the world. And then the Beatitudes. Evil men, as Richard Rohr points out, did not kill Jesus. No, he was killed for daring to challenge the conventional wisdom of his day. And in these Beatitudes he continues to challenge the conventional wisdom of our day.

Over the week I realized that in a way, as a follower of Jesus, the world is already turned upside down – by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In these Beatitudes Jesus turns around everything that the world thinks of as important. All that has happened this week only makes the contrast greater. But it has always, and in all times, been true. The Beatitudes are the new map Jesus presents to us. We need to show up, live these values, as best we can, and point the way to others.

This parish became a Sanctuary parish a week ago, and this is our attempt collectively to live out the values of the Beatitudes. We need to encourage and support one another especially at this time, but especially the most vulnerable. Great numbers have signed up for the workshop after Mass, which will train people for a rapid response network of solidarity with immigrants and refugees, with the new round of raids by immigration officials. Thanks also to the Archdiocese for taking the lead.

I felt heart-broken during the week at the executive orders and in particular those affecting refugees. I thought of how the SS St Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees, was turned away in 1939 from Miami. 254 of the passengers went back to Germany to perish in the Concentration camps. I asked how many of those turned away since Friday will suffer a similar fate? I thank Mr. Trudeau and Canada for agreeing to accept the refugees who have already undergone an extreme vetting process.

At one such moment I found consolation from the text of a dear friend Rico Galera, very much in the spirit of the Beatitudes: “It is really about an activism from a place of love and God. Some have lost their way. Some have their vision clouded by fear, greed. Activism for social justice means clarifying what is real and what connects rather than what separates us…at the end of the day this parasite of division and fear serves as an opportunity for us to heal from our sickness and to make us more compassionate and stronger.”

We are not alone. We know what is right.

Together may we let Jesus show us how to live his Beatitudes, becoming ever more compassionate and stronger. People who mourn, are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and perhaps even people who will be persecuted for the sake of righteousness and justice.

“Come, Holy Spirit! Fill our hearts with the fire of your love!”