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The Blessing and Woe of This Present Moment

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

“Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.”

— Luke 6:17, 20-26

How comes it that Our Lord can speak in such contraries as hunger and fullness, weeping and laughing, and identify them both with satisfaction and laughter, in different persons and states? This is the paradox of the “Beatitudes,” of which a longer account is given in St. Matthew’s Gospel and today in the shorter but very revealing version in St. Luke’s.

There is a word repeated symmetrically in this account four times that can give us a key to how this paradox can be. This is the word now. Blessed are you who are now hungry; Blessed are you who are now weeping.”  “Woe to you who are filled now; woe to you who laugh now.”

The answer to this, hinted at by the now, is that either side of the paradoxical picture depends on the immediate state of the heart of the one who is hungry or weeping or filled or laughing. Clearly the Savior does not teach us to put our final hopes on present earthly joys, but he does teach us, whether we are in a state of weal or woe, to take up our cross daily and follow him, aware that true and lasting joy awaits us as a reward in the kingdom of heaven.

The key to laying hold of the reward is our acceptance at the present moment of God’s will or of his permission. God can will for us to enjoy consolations, and these are easy for us to second. God can will for us to endure trials, and these we can accept as our cross after the example of the Lord himself. God can permit us to fall into sin, even grave sin, and then . . . well, we can accept the present moment and do the only thing that God has given us to offer: our repentance and desire to do his will and not only share in his permission! And we will be saved and forgiven.

The “now” is all we have. It is the nunc temporis, the now of time that is also the simple momentary flash of eternity. Were death to find us in this present instant we would, as far as we can know from revelation, be fixed in our choice, for good or ill. Thus, the present moment is everything for us.

Far from being frightening, this means that all we need is to hunger now for God’s mercy, to sorry now for our sins, and we will immediately be among those who receive the blessings of those who weep for their sins and hunger for God’s justice. The saint and the sinner are, in the Christian dispensation, not so far apart. Only one thing separates them: their use of the present moment, of the now. Even if I am a lecher, a drunk, a thief, or a liar, if in the present moment I hunger for wholeness and am sorry for my misdeeds, I will be saved.  This is truly good news, the gospel!

Poor sinners that we are, we’re often negligent in recognizing the Savior’s approach to us. Let us conclude by hearing the words of the great doctor of submission to the providence and will of God, Fr. Caussade of the Society of Jesus:

The present moment is always full of infinite treasure. It contains far more than you can possibly grasp. Faith is the measure of its riches: what you find in the present moment is according to the measure of your faith. Love also is the measure: the more the heart loves, the more it rejoices in what God provides. The will of God presents itself at each moment like an immense ocean that the desire of your heart cannot empty; yet you will drink from that ocean according to your faith and love.

And another saying of his that should touch us to the heart:

The present moment offers us riches beyond our wildest dreams.

Yes, even of salvation and happiness in the midst of our ordinary struggles and sins!

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