Sunday Scriptures

‘Beautiful Attitudes’ Offer Concrete Steps Toward Goodness

By Father James Rodriguez

TODAY MARKS the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, and once more our Lord speaks words of consolation and encouragement to a weary people.

As New Year’s resolutions fade and we realize that maybe we should not have had so much cake at all those Christmas parties, we can easily fall into feelings of guilt and shame. While there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of each, we sometimes exaggerate our feelings of unworthiness, and so it is good to hear the healing voice of the Good Shepherd.

In these columns, I normally look at each reading and the connections between them, but today’s Gospel is so rich that I chose to focus on it alone. For a beautiful meditation on the readings of the day, I recommend Dr. John Bergsma’s work, updated weekly at

Best of Both Worlds

In the Gospel reading, we are greeted with the familiar words of the Beatitudes, which are nothing short of a job description for saints-in-training. Before we delve into this rich spiritual treasury, it is important to note that, before He utters a word, our Lord goes “up the mountain.” Mountaintops have long been special places for humanity, transcending race, culture and even religion. At the top, heaven and earth literally meet, and the climber has his feet on the ground and his head in the clouds, enjoying the best of both worlds.

The saints likewise were realistic people, with feet firmly planted in their day-to-day realities, yet their minds and hearts were in heaven, contemplating the ideals inspired by God’s love and bringing them to fruition in a broken world. The saints live atop the mountain of life, and from there proclaim through their holiness what it means to be blessed.

Jesus, having said much through this ascent, speaks in words encouraging His listeners – then and now – to aspire to spiritual heights by taking concrete steps toward goodness. These are manifested in today’s eight lessons that my second-grade teacher, Sister Alma Regina, used to call “beautiful attitudes.”

Spiritual Poverty

Jesus builds this exhortation on the foundation of spiritual poverty, an ideal I recently saw illustrated in two separate interviews. The actor Andrew Garfield, describing his preparation for playing Father Rodrigues in the Martin Scorsese epic “Silence,” spoke about the self-emptying nature of fasting. He learned firsthand what Catholic spiritual masters have taught for centuries, that we must make room for God.

This is precisely the poverty our Lord advocates, in which we train even our bodies to go without and thus identify with those who hunger through no choice of their own.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, in his recent book-length interview “God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith,” distinguishes between poverty and destitution, which are sometimes used interchangeably. The prior is good, reminding us that we are not independent, but rather people in need of our Eucharistic Lord, from whom all blessings flow.

Destitution, on the other hand, is the deplorable condition of so many of the world’s poor, whom we have a responsibility to help. When we empty ourselves, we can be filled with the love that we need, and indeed it overflows to the needy world around us and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus proceeds to speak of the value of mourning, promising comfort to those who place themselves in His hands while experiencing the utter helplessness that can come with grief. He calls us to be meek, while at the same time, desperate for righteousness, so that we humbly advocate for justice without resorting to the pride and arrogance so typical of some of today’s trendier causes.

Merciful Outlook

We are to remember who we are – no better or worse than our enemies – for our challenge to be effective. When we look down on others, it is our credibility that suffers, for we refuse to truly know the other. By espousing this merciful outlook, we become mercy’s recipients, and the world is made that much purer. To be clean of heart in a society as polluted as ours is no easy task, yet challenging ourselves to live out this spiritual ideal is itself a worthy exercise. Indeed, it involves the next beatitude, for we must make peace with the warring passions within to see God in ourselves and others, and properly be called His children.

Finally, the Lord enlightens persecution for His sake as a guarantor of blessedness. Pope Benedict XVI assures us: “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”

This goodness comes from friendship with Jesus, which is tested in times of persecution. May we be found worthy of this friendship when the persecution comes, and even lay down our lives in imitation of Him who died and rose again.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time   

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13

Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10

1 Corinthians 1: 26-31

Matthew 5: 1-12A

Father Rodriguez is a theology teacher at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary, Elmhurst, and ministers with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens.