Early this past week, tragedy visited one of the families of our parish. Their nephew and cousin―a 21-year-old Marine corporal, Kyle Grimes, of Bethlehem, PA―died along with 29 of his comrades when the helicopter transporting them to their duty post in western Iraq crashed in a sandstorm. You may have learned something about Corporal Grimes and his life’s dream when Channel 10 featured his family and friends in a tribute on the 11:00 news on Wednesday evening.
The day I was informed of Kyle’s death, I received an email from my uncle in Milwaukee, WI, containing a moral lesson has been making the rounds of the Internet. I thought it would be good to share this moral lesson with you this morning, especially in light of the tragedy that visited one of our parish’s families and today’s gospel in which Jesus teaches his disciples about the pathway of blessedness, the life of the “Beatitudes.”
The moral lesson reads as follows:
Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no days, no hours, or minutes. It won’t matter where you came from or on what side of the tracks you lived. It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant. Your gender, skin color, ethnicity will be of no consequence whatsoever.
Your wealth, fame, and temporal power will be rendered irrelevant, as if you never existed. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will disappear; but so will your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists. The wins and losses that once seemed so vitally important will instantaneously be rendered meaningless. It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed. Everything you have collected, whether treasured or stored away in the attic or basement, will pass along to someone or else be transported by a garbage truck to its final resting place in a land fill.
So, what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you purchased, but the life you lived; not everything you acquired for yourself, but what you gave others. What will matter is not what you learned, but what your life taught; in short, how you gave life to others as well as how you enriched and encouraged others.
What will matter is not your breadth of competence and skill, but the content and quality of your character. What will be significant is not your success, but the significant way you touched others’ lives, not the number of people you knew, but who will remember you and for what. What will matter are not your memories, but the memories of those whose lives you changed for the better.
“Remember, you are
dust and to dust you shall return.” Living a life that matters doesn’t
happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance or Fate but of
choice. Choose to live a life that matters.
When we contemplate the tragedy of a 21-year-old Marine’s death, that moral lesson sounds a sobering wake up call, doesn’t it? There’s a lot of wisdom that moral lesson contains that directly addresses the deep desire we all have to be happy. Because we know that without happiness life is a harsh and cruel existence, we desire and seek happiness to avoid having to confront and deal with that harsh and cruel reality.
What this moral lesson asserts is that many of us seek happiness the wrong way―by following the pathway of materialism―which equates happiness with acquiring things like money, fame, and power or acquiring a quality of life that is characterized by ease, pleasure, and being served by others. This pathway is steeped in the “beatitudes of this world” and the set of values by which human beings judge their worth and success in terms of a materialistic “quality of life.” This set of values is the one that the media, and especially television, trumpets to our culture.
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples that they shouldn’t seek happiness. Instead, the pathway Jesus teaches―the pathway of blessedness―involves embracing the set of spiritual values Jesus embodied and living those spiritual values out in our lives just as Jesus lived those spiritual values out in his life.
Jesus teaches that blessedness evidences itself when his disciples are poor in spirit, meek, and as they hunger and thirst for holiness. Blessedness evidences itself when Jesus’ disciples are merciful, pure of heart, and make peace with others. Blessedness evidences itself when Jesus’ disciples accept persecution, insults, and slander for upholding Gospel values. The blessedness this set of values brings is the power of inner freedom that enables Jesus’ disciples―people like you and me―to love the most important things, God and neighbor, just as Jesus’ disciples love themselves.
The beatitudes are not lofty spiritual ideals describing how to achieve blessedness. No, the beatitudes set forth a roadmap that will lead Jesus’ disciples away from the prison of sin―where people find it easier to complain about everything they don’t have and to find blame with everyone else―and toward the freedom God gives His sons and daughters―that place where a disciple’s blessedness changes other peoples’ lives through the power of poverty, humility, holiness, mercy, purity, and forgiveness. Blessedness, however, requires making the conscious choice to follow that roadmap Jesus entrusted to his disciples, to commit themselves to it, and to follow its directions each and every day.
In contrast, the happiness that most human beings seek has more to do with one’s lot in life, with chance, or pure luck. Looking around and seeing everything they don’t have, it is so easy to believe that happiness is found by possessing material things and, if only they could have all of those things, they’d be very happy and content. So, they dedicate themselves to working very hard to acquire all of these things with the goal of being happy; but, more oftentimes than not, they discover that even if they are lucky enough to win the Super Lotto and possess everything they want, the goal they seek―happiness―eludes them. Lost of stories have been written about how “hitting the jackpot” didn’t bring happiness but has actually brought misery.
Jesus doesn’t teach his disciples to be seek happiness nor does the pathway he teaches them promise happiness. Instead, Jesus calls his disciples to become holy by following the pathway of blessedness. This isn’t a lifestyle reserved for “saints.” No, this lifestyle involves making a personal commitment to live out the spiritual values of God’s kingdom rather than allowing the materialistic values to define what we will chase after in an ultimately futile effort to find abiding happiness.
Much like our culture, the Corinthians lived in a very materialistic culture. Looking to find happiness in things rather than in God, St. Paul describes for the Corinthians the choice they have before them. If they respond to God’s grace―and if we respond to God’s grace―St. Paul tells the Corinthians that the freedom God bestows upon His sons and daughters will evidence itself in not in being happy but in being blessed, not in lives where they possess everything they want but in lives where their love of God and neighbor shame the influential and those who the world considers wise.
As Jesus’ disciples, we have the same choice that St. Paul put before the Corinthians. As that short moral story making the rounds of the Internet reminds us:
“Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not a matter of circumstance or Fate but of choice. Choose to live a life that matters.
Does today’s homily raise any
question(s) that you would like