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Martyrdom & Suffering

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Happiness of Sacrifice

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

It is our joy to present to you conferences from the third series of retreats conferences given by Father John A. Hardon S.J. Father Hardon is a professor of theology and is well known as an author, lecturer and retreat master. In these conferences Father treats as many topics as present day interest to any Catholic and anyone. They will prove to be of assistance to everyone sincerely trying to live a Christian life in today’s world whether he be a layman, religious or priest. In the following conference Father Hardon speaks on the subject: The Beatitudes and the Happiness of Sacrifice. Father Hardon:

Now, there are, as you know, two versions of the beatitudes. Who knows who are the two evangelists that give us the beatitudes? Matthew and Luke. Right? I thought to myself, I am sure they have heard and read the eight beatitudes so often that it might be a good idea to talk about the four beatitudes of Saint Luke. How is that?

Let me first read then, because they are not as commonly known, although they are certainly in the bible. The text, you may be a little surprised as I read them, because in Luke they come in two stages. Stage one: “ Fixing His eyes on His disciples, Jesus said, ‘ How happy are you who are poor, yours is the kingdom of God. Happy you who hunger now, you shall be satisfied. Happy you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal on the account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance with joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This is how their ancestors treated the prophets.’” Part One.

Part two: “But alas for you who are rich, you are having your consolation now. Alas for you have your fill now, you shall go hungry, alas for you who laugh now, you shall mourn and weep, alas for you when the world speaks well of you, for this is the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

I can tell you how much Saint Luke’s version called, “the beatitudes” have meant to me. Great! Give me more Lord! More!

So now our prayerful reflection: Matthew as we know gives us eight beatitudes. I am not quite sure what Luke would think when we so casually talk about the eight beatitudes. He might well say to himself, “Well don’t I count? What about my four?” Well, the fathers of the Church and the theologians have struggled with the two numbers and they assure us if you really know the four in Luke you have got the eight in Matthew.

Luke however, which we have read, records (and this is well to hear) four beatitudes and four curses, because the word alas is a poetic term that the translators of Luke put in front of those curses. The translation strictly speaking should read, “Cursed are you who are rich.” But, we would be a little uncomfortable with the vocabulary.

Luke then records four beatitudes and for curses. Well to know the two sets should be seen side by side. What I will do is for a few minutes talk about both sets of beatitudes, and with Luke also with an eye to the curses. Then we will look at the four beatitudes of Luke in sequence. And if you wish we will analyze all of them in detail.

Both Luke and Matthew quote Christ as saying that there is a promise of happiness, namely the promise of true joy an *on exterious counterfeit. So that if we want to know how to be truly happy, this is the formula for true happiness. Now the beatitudes besides the formula for happiness are also (whether eight in Matthew or four in Luke) are to say the least, paradoxes. A paradox as you know is an apparent contradiction. The gospels by the way are full of paradoxes. Can you think of some besides the beatitudes?

“We will not grow, we will not bear fruit unless the grain of wheat be buried (die first), we won’t bear fruit.”
“If you wish to save your life, you must loose it.”

Throughout the gospels the apparent contradiction between the denial of self, right? The giving up, and then, well, you get *forgiving. In fact, one of the finest expressions of the paradox is Christ’s own statement, “That it is more blessed to give than to receive.” You can’t run a single business enterprise on that principle. If Proctor and Gamble decided it was better to “give rather than receive” it would be just a matter of hours and days at most, before they would cease to be Proctor and Gamble.

Practices as the Condition for Happiness

Now these beatitudes are paradoxes and we are going to concentrate on Luke’s because they refer to four kinds of things (this is Luke now) which Christ tells His followers they are to practice or sustain as the condition for happiness to ** poverty, want, sorrow and persecution or opposition.

The last thing we do (rationally speaking) is associate joy with poverty, want, sorrow and persecution. Yet (and what a “yet” this is!) this is the heart of Christianity. And one of the privileges we have in religious life, rare privileges, is that we have been given enough insights (and I hope to help the cause) to see that this paradox is not a contradiction to of actually taken Christ at His word. And as I trust you agree with me, a religious life whether we are recent recruits, or long standing veterans, is a struggle with these beatitudes. And we are sort of bargaining with God, “Now Lord you said I would be happy. I have given up this and I have given up that.” And of course the Lord keeps commanding. And then sometimes we are not quite sure what this happiness means, so He has to remind us.

But, absolutely speaking we believe that the mystery of our faith is in giving ourselves to God, God gives Himself to us. The “our giving ourselves to God” is this “poverty, want, sorrow and persecution” business. The God giving Himself to us is what He calls joy. It takes us a lifetime to learn God’s vocabulary, and by that time we are ready for heaven to speak the language.

So now we pick up each one of the four:

Poverty. We want to be very practical. We need to reexamine our spirit and practice of poverty. The two are not the same, although they are closely related. Essentially poverty of spirit is detachment from earthly goods. Actual poverty is not having material goods. Now you explain human nature, it always baffles me. You know that there are people who do not have material goods and are not detached. Do you know that? And there are people who have material goods and are detached. Believe it? Just for the record. But, the love is not strictly speaking of guarantee of the other, though clearly actual poverty helps the poverty of spirit.

We then profess both poverties, and I don’t hesitate using the plural. Because we can be so spiritually schizophrenic sisters, it is remarkable! We can go hungry. You can hear the stomach, it is so hungry. Pardon me. And yet, we can be attached.

External mortification therefore, is per se, no guarantee that I am fully detached in my heart. On the other hand if I am truly detached in spirit, well, I am going to show it. It is like wives telling me, “He keeps telling me he loves me, but frankly I am not so sure.” I spend three hours over a meal and if only he, says nothing but glosses over the soup, he doesn’t like the salad. The meat is too well done. Doesn’t he know, doesn’t he appreciate.” So if we are truly detached interiorly we are going to show it. Like what? By giving up the things that we claim to be detached from. That is easy. But we have got to look at both. The question then for us religious is, we profess poverty, and do we live it?

Now I think in societies like ours, in a country like ours, which is the most affluent society in all-human history, you know that? We are the best fed, the best medicated, the most cared for in our bodily needs, we work the least, we sleep the most, and you will pardon my saying this, we are the most deodorized nation in the annals of humanity. So that for us in this society we have got to watch ourselves, that the poor Christ whom we are following, we are following in spite of all the affluence around us. So that consequently, let me just put four words, thought, display as some signs of true poverty.

A person who practices true poverty lacks, if you got everything you cannot hide behind pious aphorisms and say that you are poor. You have got to lack something. You name it, but you have got to lack it.
Secondly- there must be some inconvenience, which is so contrary to our culture. You know they have electric toothbrushes. You know that of course? Oh yes! Electric toothbrushes and well, you don’t have to cook at all anymore, you just open cans as I have discovered. So inconvenience.
Thirdly- dependence, and for us religious this is of its essence. It’s not all there is to poverty, but belongs to religious poverty.
Fourthly- labor. Poor people over the centuries have worked. Rich people, pardon me, the non-detached rich people, they loaf. So a person who is poor works. We are supposed to labor. In religious life we are should not have a forty hour week, and then double or time and a half, or overtime. We are supposed to go to bed tired. All right? This is our witness to the world. Where most of the world is a “poor world” that labors with the sweat of its brow to earn a mere pittance from a reluctant soil.

Want - hunger symbolizes unsatisfied desire. You name the desire and we have got it. Good, bad and indifferent. Fortunately, people don’t know what desires we have got. We would loose our friends. The hunger we are talking about is the kind of desire that Christ promises us will be satisfying. What then do we need? We need for this beatitude to distinguish our desires. The beatitude reads, “Happy you who hunger now, you shall be satisfied.” Matthew helps to understand Luke. Remember what Matthew says? “Thirst for justice, for what is right, for the correct things, you will be satisfied.” I hope I will be clear in analyzing the notion of desire.

We all have desires; it is almost the definition of man. However, we have desires and we have desires. We know from infancy on that we have got to check and qualify our desires. Mothers, you know how sensitive they are when the baby is going out after- you name it. It wants it, clearly the desire is there. There are some desires that must simply be strained. That cannot be given expression to. And you no matter how advanced we may be in the spiritual life, you know sometimes we can have mad desires? Don’t shake your heads sisters, I know! Absolutely crazy. Where the desire must be recognized as crazy, even though it is my desire and I am kind of embarrassed. And don’t ask how the thing comes to rise in our consciousness- face up to it. There are some desires that we simply must say no to.

Secondly, there are desires that must be restrained in the sense of modified, disciplined. Where the desire is, or whatever it is, in general for the creatures in our life that by themselves are indifferent but which we must use only insofar as they help us and stop whatever it is: sleeping, eating, talking or keeping silent. You know there are times when we are to stop keeping silent. And people here differ. Some on the level of talking like to talk some on the other hand like to listen, and when the two get together, a) - who likes to talk and b) - who likes to listen they make the perfect pair. But, neither will have learned to restrain his/her desires. The one should learn to once in a while keep silent. The other should, at least once in awhile, to speak. And so all kinds of other desires which need balance, the word is control.

There again desires for very good things which are legitimate and which having chose another state of life or have been in another community or been other persons than we are, we might have legitimately have satisfied, but for us we are to sacrifice. I like to distinguish among those three types of desires. A desire that must be denied – simple, a desire that must be controlled, and a desire which though I recognize, and from God, which I am willing to sacrifice.

However, that is only the (you might say) the negative side of desiring. The beatitude promises joy that we shall be satisfied, and sisters, not only in the life to come but already in this life. And it is at this point that the whole panorama of our spiritual life opens up to find out what are the things that we should desire. Comprehensively sanctity, or justice, or holiness. Or as I prefer, and I think the Greek warrants it, in Matthew’s gospel the “right things”. But we cannot only desire, but seek to satisfy the desire. Am I clear?

See the first three types of desire somehow require a holding back, right? Either a positive denial, or a least a control or a sacrifice because we know we may be enjoying the thing now, but sure as God is God He is going to take it away. In fact, I can see Him taking it away already. But, there are desires born of the spirit in general for God and the things of God.

Now clearly prudence is a virtue, even in the spiritual life. But can we believe too much? Can we trust too much? Can we love God too much? No! Meaning, that these desires born of grace can be nourished and we shall experience that joy which only those are promised who have learned that there are desires which are not born of flesh, but of spirit. Not of man, but of God. Not of earth, but of heaven. Not of time, but of eternity. And they carry with them their own profound satisfaction compared with which, earthly satisfaction of the desires that are not of grace, can never give.

Sorrow - surely if there is anything that we would not expect to bring joy it is sorrow. It is as though Christ said, “Happy are the unhappy.” We are tempted to say, “Lord, what do you mean?” But we know this is one place where experience is not only the best, but it is about the only teacher. Truly this symbolizes the cross. It is the trials that God sends us. But I wish to distinguish because, remember we are talking about joy, and we are stuck with our vocabulary. What else can we do? We can wave our arms or shake our heads in communicating ideas. We found a convenient method on making strange sounds through the orifice called the mouth. And people hear it, and they get ideas. So making strange sounds.

The sorrow which Christ gives us, accept and patiently endured is not sadness. What is the difference? In both cases of course there is pain, but though I am sorrowful the reason (it is always objective) that in effect it means psychologically or subjectively between a sad person and a person weighed down with sorrow, well I might not be able to tell the difference. They both seem to be, well, under a heavy burden. But there is a big difference. It all depends on what we are morning about. Which is legitimate sorrow and it is not (to coin a word) illegitimate sadness.

Our best paradigm for this is Christ Himself. What are the two occasions, which our Savior wept? He wept over Jerusalem; he wept at the grave of Lazareth. Was that it? As far as I can tell that was it. Now as we know the gospels are revelatory not only in what Christ taught, but also in what He did. In this case, His tears are a revelation. Not that He wept, which showed that He was human, but the reasons why He wept.

Authentic sorrow therefore, which is one of the conditions for happiness, is sorrow over sin and sorrow over loss of those we love, which is a sign of love. Let’s take the second first. It is not wrong, and you should not consider it weakness, either in ourselves or in others, and to develop a sensitivity (I don’t want you to anticipate what I am going to talk about yet) but to recognize there is a genuine beauty about weeping over the loss of a loved one. I don’t mean unrestrained sorrow. But the sorrow, which means bereavement, may indeed be tinged with some self-interest because the loved one I will no longer have. But it can also be deeply self-less.

In other words I have come to love someone very dearly and that person is gone. A sensitivity to other people’s sorrow over their loss of loved ones is of God. But secondly, the sorrow that is born of sorrow for sins, this is Christ. Christ wept over Jerusalem because Jerusalem had as we know rejected Him and with Him its promise of salvation. He also sorrowed as we know, over both the sin of Jerusalem and the sufferings. The fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of sin.

So you might say there are three kinds of authentic sorrow blessed by God. The sorrow of bereavement, the sorrow over sin, the sorrow over the sufferings of others knowing that not all people profit from their sufferings, and my compassion goes out to those who are in pain. What a sentence! Sadness is every other kind of mourning. It is essentially selfish, sadness. Sadness is the sorrow (to use that word) over things that don’t deserve to be mourned over. And while we may and should indeed sorrow, we are forbidden to be sad. Sadness when yielded to is a sin. Sorrow within the limits we have described is a virtue.

Finally - Opposition. Now I am using this word opposition, both in Luke and in Mathew, Christ went out of His way to expand on the beatitude. He saved it for last. In speaking to various people I have found if you want to have them to remember something, save it for the end. The longer you talk, the less they remember. Present company excepted, I hope. So Christ saved the most important, because it is the most difficult beatitude for last.

What does it mean? It means that the true follower of Christ will experience opposition. That we are not to be surprised if we are opposed. The nature of the opposition can take all kinds of subtle forms. And we in the religious life, sisters, I think you know something of the opposition. I don’t hesitate saying it is armed opposition from people who call themselves religious.

I got a long distance call yesterday informing me that I have been publicly in print, not really opposed but criticized (and in high places). I have not yet seen what has been published. So we are to expect it. How the opposition may be to us as persons, it may be to us as institutions; it may be to us as communities. But it is going to be there. Over what will we be opposed? Over what are we opposed? Do you know that you have sworn enemies among people who call themselves really religious? Do you know that? Do you know that there are sisters in the United States who would want nothing better than to see cloisters like your closed? Do you know that? That is right, and they are scheming to do it. Honest.

Last year I received while I was teaching in Canada, a letter from a sister from a community who’s superior general is one of the highlights in the Renewal of Secularization of Religious Life. This sister wrote to me and she said, “I am a registered nurse, I have just finished my college training. I am now in nursing. I am ready for my last vows. Twenty-nine years old, I am due this coming August to pronounce my final vows. I was just called in by my mother general whom, I know well. She told me, ‘ Sister, you are up for your final vows. I will permit you to take your final vows if you promise me, in writing that you will remove the religious habit that you have and never wear it after your final profession.

Well I probably went to the nearest Xerox machine and made a copy of the two-page letter, with a little note to Archbishop Myer, the Secretary for Religious Propagation in Rome. Xeroxed Bishop Myer, “This is for your edification. Sincerely yours in Christ.” So the opposition is not make-believe it is here.

Over what are we opposed? Over our loyalty to the Church. Some time ago I gave some lectures at a Catholic university. I came back to Chicago. I got a call from a newspaper reporter. He said, “I heard you were defending the pope.”

“Well, I try to whenever I can.” I said, “What do you mean?”

“Well you gave some lectures at the university and you said some nice things about the pope. Could you tell me what you said, because now for a public theologian to be defending the pope is news.”

For our practice of poverty, our way of life, the habit we wear, signifies many things. It witnesses to our life of poverty. There are those who don’t believe in poverty in the religious life. That is one reason for wearing secular clothes. I was in Rome as I mentioned last month and among the many people that I spoke with was with a priest from Orlando, Florida who told me that (and he works with the sisters in the diocese there) “We budget our sisters. At ten thousand dollars a year, that is what they cost the diocese.” That is not poverty!

Our moral code, what we teach, what we write, what we say. Consequently, this beatitude - the last one in Luke the last one in Matthew - ought to make us (Do you know what Luke said?) “We should dance for Joy.” Of course he is speaking symbolically. Great joy that we are privileged to profess our faith as Catholics and as religious as we know the Church wants us to, not in spite of, as though somehow we are going to survive. Forget it! Survive? It is we who are going to survive, and they are not! The numbers are in God’s hands.

Sisters, what great joy we ought to have (and I am speaking to the right people) that whether you realize it or not what you stand for, your way of life is not accepted by many. And as a matter of fact so far from being sad, over not being accepted, you should be glad and indeed ought to begin to worry if your way of life was accepted by “the world” which by prior definition we’re suppose to have left. With this I close.

Let’s ask our Savior to teach us, teach us the meaning of true joy. Not in some theoretical way, but how that is to be acquired. We have to work at it, and we work at it by living out the beatitudes. Among the definitions of the religious life, which I like, is that “A religious life is a life time commitment to living out the beatitudes.”

Great! So we are to be just (I was going to say “excruciatingly happy”) you know what I want to say. Just terrifically happy! It will mean poverty, but that is the price. It will mean sorrow. It will mean want, in the sense that we will not satisfy the desires that we are told not to satisfy. It will mean opposition. But, not in spite of it, but because of these conditions. Already in this life we should be very happy because this is what gives us the assurance of the happiness that will never end.

But, it’s not my last chance, but it is in context now. Sisters before I leave I want to sell you something. I want to sell you a sense of mission. You are not religious for yourselves. You are to be apostolic. That does not mean gallivanting all over the country. But in ways that somehow the Holy Spirit will enlighten you (and I hope somebody has talked to you this way before) that you will share with as many people as possible your experiences. How? That is up to the Lord. How many of you is also up to the Him. And I don’t mean, I repeat traveling across the country giving speeches. But ask the Lord how you can convince the people in the world, people in the Church- religious, priests and laity. Something of the secret that I am confident you are learning. Does this make sense? So that you will be truly witnesses, not only by what you are, which is a witness already, but also I would like to think somehow, somewhere in God’s providence by what you say. Let’s ask our Lord to help us live out the beatitudes, and help other to do the same.

Copyright © 1999 Inter Mirifica

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