This is the last of the Lenten series on the Beatitudes before Holy Week begins next week. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10) This Beatitude seems to re-bless the first and second Beatitudes, Blessed are the poor in spirit and Blessed are the meek. Like all good Biblical poetry, the last verse usually goes back to reaffirm the first and second. So what are we to make of this? To be just is to be meek and poor in spirit. In other words, to be a truly just person perhaps I need to be humble (poor in spirit) and humble (meek). If I didn’t get it the first time I am reminded of humility a second time. The second part of the Beatitude addresses persecution, physical as well as emotional.
Why do people do service? Why do people dedicate their lives and their immense talents helping people rise and develop into an awareness of the dignity of their humanness? And why are there people who try and tear down this compassionate action?
To address the first two questions I believe that inside all of us is a sense of connection with the other. I think that is the primary reason we all have belly buttons. The navel is right where the gut is, where the “feeling” that something should and needs to be done originates. It is a visual representation of our spiritual connection to others for our very existence, from birth till death. For nine months we are physically attached to our mothers receiving nutrients vital for sustaining life. For the rest of our lives the dependency changes to advocacy towards those who desperately need our nutrients to help sustain their lives. The circle continues for as they become stronger and share their new-found strength with others. I can’t prove this I can only look at people who demonstrate the connection and seek to promote social justice.
When a beauty pageant contestant is asked what they want to work for, some say “World Peace” (such as…). This in itself is a noble cause but to work for world peace one must work for justice. You all probably have your heroes who have worked tirelessly for social justice. One of my favorites is Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. (As a matter of full disclosure, I did teach Greg in high school, but had nothing to do with his direction in life. That was his own doing.) But I am incredibly proud of his work trying to turn former gang members around helping themselves and helping their community. Of course, this thankless job has it’s detractors and Boyle has been attack verbally on-line as well. I’ll let you “Google” that for yourself. Some may look at the entire mountain of changing the gang culture and say, “too much.” Greg looked at the same mountain and said “where is the path to the top?” In so many words, he heeded the gut response to actually do something. As a Jesuit, and a very bright one at that, he chose not the path of the institutionalized educational life, but the messy and sometimes heartbreaking course of trying to change an entire way of thinking in a community. Seeking justice and sometimes being persecuted for it.
I also present to you the story of a young girl Severn Cullis-Suzuki who spoke to the United Nations Assembly when it met in Brazil in 1992. She saved up money to travel from her native Canada to present a number of issues to the Assembly. One of her last points concerned sharing. She addressed the issue in terms of questions, which seem to have no complicated answers that adults crave. As a child she said she was taught to clean up after herself, to be kind to others, to share, and to take care of what she had, yet she felt that adults didn’t do these very things that they were teaching children. Severn wondered why adults didn’t clean up after themselves, why they didn’t take care of what they had, and why they didn’t share and help others.
What is so bizarre about either of these messages? Sometimes kids have the best questions for adults about returning to the innocence of practical answers to simple questions. Maybe that’s why Jesus put so much emphasis on becoming like little children. Thinking as they do. We do not need Glenn Beckian blackboards and Maoist-Socialist conspiracy theories to freeze us in our tracks and to instill in us paralyzing fear. Why must some rant and rave about communist takeovers when it comes to social justice? Why must some attack the people who advocate for the poor and the marginalized or the voiceless? They either don’t think people need to be connected to other people or maybe they have had their belly buttons surgically removed to keep them from think about the “other.” So what we need to do, today is to ask ourselves the following questions about our lives as it relates to social justice,What have I done? What am I doing? What will I do? These questions are at the core of action and if we just begin the process to answer them, then I think, we are truly blessed.