Lourdes is the spiritual capital of the poor, the hungry, and of those who weep. The coincidence of today’s Gospel with the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes invites us, rosary in hand, to make a spiritual pilgrimage to the grotto of Massabielle.
Sixth Sunday of the Year C
Psalm 1:1-4. 6 R. Ps 39:5
1 Corinthians 15:12. 16-20
Luke 6:17. 20-26
Blessedness, beatitude: words that are rarely part of our every day conversations. And yet who among us does not long for blessedness, for the happy life. There is no one who is not inhabited by a thirst for happiness, for beatitude. We come into the world with an immense emptiness inside: a capacity for the divine. What is blessedness? It is the possession of God. Nothing more and nothing less than the possession of God. The psalmist says: “To be near God is my happiness. . . God is my possession forever” (Ps 72: 28,26).
The Certainty of Being Loved
What is beatitude? During this life it is the certainty that we are loved by God, enfolded in God, held in the Heart of Christ: a certainty that comes not from sight but from faith. After this life, faith will dissolve into vision. Then we shall see with our own eyes the Love that enfolds us, the glory of the One who hides us in the secret of His Face. This is the meaning of blessedness.
The Happy Life
Beatitude is not something which God holds in reserve for the future. Beatitude is for today. Blessedness, the happy life intended by God for each of us, is for this very moment. God does not fill us with the longing for blessedness in order to frustrate us. He who gives the thirst, gives the spring. He who gives the hunger, gives the bread. He who gives the desire, gives the possession of that which is desired.
Exiles From Ourselves
Why then are so many dying of spiritual thirst? Why are so many tormented by the pangs of hunger of the soul? Why are so many embittered and unfulfilled? It is because we have lost the way to our own hearts. We are all, in varying degrees, alienated from the deepest part of ourselves. Saint Augustine experienced this. “You were with me,” he says, “and I was not with you” (Confessions X, 38). We are all exiles from the secret place within where a fountain of living water runs silent and deep. God planted each of us like a tree beside the flowing waters (Ps 1:3). Yet strangely, our roots have grown away from the source of life. Foreign, parasitical growths have entwined themselves around our roots, rendering our leaves dull and brittle, our fruit, bitter and sparse.
The real problem is not that we experience inner poverty, not that we are consumed with spiritual thirst, not that we long for something more, weep over the shallowness of our roots, and lament that we are indeed exiles from our inmost selves. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel that it is far worse to delude ourselves into believing that we are rich and satisfied. “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Lk 6:24).
The Way to the Heart
It is far worse to think that professional success, for example, can silence the cravings of the heart. Nor is it enough to be young and rich and beautiful. “Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger” (Lk 6:25). It is far worse to think that all is well and that we are in the best of all possible worlds because when all is said and done, we seek the right things, try to get along, and toe the line. Holiness is something more. Jesus says to us, “Woe to you!” And He asks the question: “Do you know the way to your own heart?”
Where Dragons Lurk
More often than not, the path to the deepest part of ourselves, the way to the hidden valley of the heart where the water of life murmurs its secret song, is overgrown with briars and weeds, strewn with fallen trees and blocked with rocks and rubble. There are dragons waiting to devour us, and monsters lurking in ambush. Now and again we begin the descent into the heart, but quickly become discouraged at the sight of the obstacles which stand in our way, or frightened by the dragons, or terrorized by the monsters. It is more convenient, more comfortable to live at the surface.
Signposts in the Form of the Cross
Woe to us if we live at the surface! Woe to us if we choose the convenient! Woe to us if we prefer the comfortable way! It is a great mercy, a severe tenderness of God, when He obliges us to turn back, when He compels us to seek out the way that leads to blessedness, the path to our own hearts. Poverty will do it. Hunger will do it. Failure will do it. Illness will do it. Rejection and exclusion will do it. Loneliness and loss will do it. Sorrow and tears will do it. Disappointment and pain will do it. Hurt and betrayal will do it. All of these are signposts constructed in the form of the Cross that say: “This way to blessedness.” And if all of these do not convince us to return to ourselves, then death itself will do it, because in the hour of death we will be obliged to descend into the depths of our own hearts and see ourselves as we really are.
The Way of Repentance
Is there a way back to our own hearts today? Saint Augustine says: “How then am I to seek for you, Lord? . . .To reach that destination one does not use ships or chariot or feet” (Confessions X, 29. VIII, 19). Is there a way through the briars and weeds, through the rubble and the rocks? Is there a sword with which to slay the dragons and a word at which the monsters are compelled to flee? There is a way. It is the way of joyful tears and of sober gladness. It is the way of repentance. (Penthos is the Greek word: godly sorrow, the sorrow that heals, the tears that irrigate the dry places within.) Not a terribly popular word today . . . but an absolutely essential one. Fundamental to the Gospel. The Blessed Virgin spoke of it at Lourdes. On Wednesday, February 24, 1858, she said, “Penance, penance, penance!”
Where God Waits
Repentance is the way back to ourselves; and because we are created in the image and likeness of God, repentance is the way back to God. To beatitude. To the life of true happiness and of happy truth. Repentance is a return from exile, a coming home to the deepest part of ourselves. There God himself waits for us. There He has prepared a table for us; there He gives us to drink of the water of life.
Listen to the Word
Repentance begins by listening to the Word of God. This is why we assemble for the corporate lectio divina of the liturgy, and why we return to the Word in solitude. This is why the Gospel is sung. This is the reason for preaching: so that hearts may be wounded by the Word and softened by repentance. In the light of the Word, we are able to read our own lives. Things come together. Disappointment and sorrow, pain and failure, begin to have meaning, because in the light of the Word we see that they point to something else.
Go to Confession
Repentance leads to confession. Confession consumes the briars and weeds in the flames of love; it clears away the fallen trees; it removes the rocks and rubble. Confession slays our dragons and puts the monsters to flight. It reopens the path to the inmost heart, the path to blessedness.
The Word of God leads to repentance, repentance to confession, and confession to the holy and life-giving mystery of the Eucharist. The reception of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ is supremely efficacious in the heart wounded by the Word of God, softened by tears of repentance, and purified by confession and absolution. This is the divine therapy for all of us who are alienated from ourselves, exiled from our own hearts and longing for true blessedness. These four elements — the Word of God, repentance, confession, and participation in the Eucharist — must be used in conjunction with each other if the therapy is to be efficacious. Partial therapy gives only partial results.
Returning to the Spring
Those who have embarked on the journey of return to themselves, have discovered it to be a path of happiness and peace. In His image, God created us, and in our hearts He has chosen to dwell. . . our blessedness, our beatitude, our perfect happiness and unmitigated bliss. God, closer to us than we are to ouselves, awaits our return from exile. How right was Saint Augustine to pray, and how right for us to pray with him:
I slipped down into the dark and was plunged into obscurity.
Yet from there, even from there I loved you.
‘I erred and I remembered you’ (Ps 118:176).
‘I heard your voice behind me’ (Ez 3:12) calling me to return.
And I could hardly hear because of the hubbub of
people who know no peace.
Now, see, I am returning hot and panting to your spring.
Let no one stand in my path.
Let me drink this and live by it.
(Confessions XII, 10)
The Taste of Beatitude
Blessed are you if you come to the altar of Christ’s Body. Blessed are you if you drink deeply of the holy Chalice. The Most Holy Eucharist is the taste of beatitude on the palate of the soul.