If we could sum up the Beatitudes in one word, it might be humility. Every word of it speaks to being the opposite of power and grandiosity. It is the opposite of all forms of domination and oppression. It reminds me of the beautiful Song of Mary known as the Magnificat which we recite nearly every day in the monastery. The Magnificat is what Mary sings while she is pregnant with Jesus. In it she says the proud will be cast down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up. Gee, I wonder where Jesus learned the importance of elevating the least? His mother maybe?
Our holy scriptures offer us an upside-down vision of the world. Jesus does not celebrate the powerful and but rather offers blessings for the meek. He is putting those who are not seen or heard at the top of the heap as the ones who will inherit the earth. He celebrates those who are hungry for justice and peace. He offers blessings upon the persecuted and the merciful.
Is this what the world sees in our great Christian nation – people dedicated to celebrating the least among us? Are the Beatitudes our most cherished scripture and model for following Jesus? Do people see us as peacemakers? Hungry for righteousness? Is this what we are known for?
Humility is not the most celebrated virtue in our society. But women, our indigenous siblings, and people of color know a lot about humility. This is of course a great generalization, but what I mean is we know about being meek. We know about mourning, about seeking justice and peace. It is in the DNA of the lowly. And maybe it is time for us to inherit the earth. Maybe we need a more compassionate vision that can lead us out of the wars and earth devastation that we are so mired in.
And this invitation to a new way of being that our hearts know is possible is for everyone. Men have only to allow their inner gentle compassionate self to be in charge and let the domineering part take a rest. For us to live in a sane world we need everyone to embrace kindness and seek a pure heart.
Clearly St Benedict was deeply influenced by the Beatitudes. He centered humility in his Rule of life and wrote more about it than anything else. In fact, taking vows of poverty and celibacy, living as a renunciate, and in obedience to the abbot and God is in itself, pretty much the opposite of what normal society looks like.
In my work in the prisons, I facilitate weekly classes at California Men’s Colony or CMC a program based on healing from past trauma and taking accountability for harm caused. Most of the men have served long sentences and some are going to be getting out sometime soon.
As part of this program, called Healing Dialogue and Action, we bring in someone who has lost a loved one to violence. Soon a woman named Nora will be driving here from Los Angeles to sit in circle with me and the men as she tells the story of losing her 17-year-old son, Nico, who was shot by gang members. He was innocently standing in front of a store texting with his girlfriend when a truck rolled by and men stood up shooting into the store, and in the process killing Nico.
Nora is one who mourns. She will tell her story with emotion and tears. As she has done countless times in prisons across California. The men in the circle will be moved to tears. Their empathy will be stirred and some of them will be forever changed from Nora and her story. At the end of her time with them she will tell the men how proud she is of them. She will look into their eyes and tell them that she sees them and that the fact that they are sitting in this circle shows that they are doing the real work of transformation and healing. She will look them in their eyes and tell them that she forgives them.
Nora is the embodiment of the Beatitudes. She mourns, she is meek, she hungers for righteousness, she is merciful, she is pure of heart, and she is a peacemaker.
Nora has a full-time job caring for an elderly woman and then gets in her car on the weekends to drive to prisons and tell her story of loss. She does this to honor the memory of her son, Nico.
She has chosen to share her pain over and over in obedience to God. She has changed countless lives in this service and therefore she fits the very definition of sainthood. On this day – when we honor saints, we should include Nora.
It is an honor to walk with this holy woman and the men who sit in circle with us. These men long to be better to do better. They sit humbly and sincerely in holy listening and sharing seeking a new heart. I know that they are on their way to a pure heart. And as Jesus tells us – the pure of heart will see God.
The Rev. Sister Greta