The audio for this homily can be found here January 29, 2017 homily audio
For the last week or so, I think the most popularly used word was, “crowd.” The crowd at the Inauguration. The crowds at the Women’s Marches. The crowd at the March for Life. We looked at the sizes of the crowds to tell a story. How many supported the president. How many opposed him. What issues have the greatest support? These are fair topics for discussion. Those of us who have gone to the March for Life in Washington have long lamented the lack of attention given to the size of the crowd.
Jesus had crowds following him too and by all accounts they were massive given the population and the limited means of communication in 1st century Palestine. But what was our Lord’s relationship to the crowds? They were fickle, praising him as he rode into Jerusalem only to call for his crucifixion a few days later. Sometimes their size drove him to escape in a boat or to a secluded place. While he did he miraculously feed the multitude because he took pity on them, one such occasion he had to flee because after they ate and were satisfied the crowd tried to carry him off and making him king. The enthusiasm of crowds can be exhilarating and validating but they can lack substance and sometimes be dangerous.
Today’s Gospel passage begins
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them
As much as the crowds could be understood as a sign of affirmation for Jesus’ mission, it was not within that throng that the real work took place. Jesus goes “above the crowd” and his disciples come to him to be taught. A disciple a follower and student of a teacher. The 12 apostles were among the larger group of learners but not the only ones. This is a substantive group who are not simply caught up in the fervor, but seek a deeper understanding. And so they too rise above the crowd and follow Jesus to a place where they can learn with depth and greater understanding. And Jesus doesn’t simply run up the mountain and hide, but he finds a place and sits down, the position of a teacher in his time. We think of a teacher who stands in front of a classroom, perhaps behind a podium and lectures, but in Jesus we see a more natural and organic approach.
Think of young children returning to a classroom after running around outside. What might be the best way for the teacher to calm this crowd down? Instead of speaking loudly and ordering them to their seats, she might invite them to come join her in sitting on the classroom carpet, speaking softly as she reads to them from a book. This is Jesus and his disciples sitting at the feet of the master, rising above the crowd and hungering for knowledge.
This is the context of the Beatitudes, which is the bulk of today’s Gospel. The definition of beatitude is a state of supreme happiness.
The lesson Jesus teaches is simply but profoundly what it takes to be happy. The crowd left below might be joyful and exuberant but they are not engaging in what will ultimately make them happy. I remember reading the story of a musician who was touring the country giving concerts. He said there was nothing greater than the cheers of the crowd. But those cheers don’t last and there is nothing lonelier or joyless then riding back to the hotel alone in a limousine. That is not happiness. In the beatitudes Jesus teaches his disciples how to be joyful.
The happiness and joyfulness of the beatitudes is counter intuitive to our worldly wisdom. Happiness is not found in money, pleasure, power or glory but a single hearted focus on doing the will of God by ministering mercy and peace. Look at what makes us truly happy in our lives, fulfilling the will of another who loves us; making our parents proud, providing our children with a tender and caring home. Happiness comes to us when we do the will of God who loves us. And what is God’s will to be merciful and to foster peace. This is the lesson of the Beatitudes, this is the lesson we learn when we sit at the feet of the master and rise above the crowd which often is about seeking pleasure not happiness, power not peace, glory through submission and not mercy.
So here is the question. Are you a part of a crowd or are you a disciple? Are you here at this celebration of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist because you hunger and thirst for supreme happiness? If so, then you are a disciple. And you are learning through every celebration of word and sacrament that happiness is found perfectly in the heavenly kingdom that awaits us but is obtainable within the human experience as well. We ultimately seek and find happiness not just when we are seeking it for ourselves but for others as well.
We live among the crowd, we hear those voices, we join in their passions and engage in their fights – but we know that none of that makes us happy, so we come up the mountain each and every Sunday to learn who we really are called to be.
Several months ago as we prepared for the presidential election I was asked to read Bishop Murphy’s letter on the preeminence of the right to life. That letter was an attempt to form us as disciples and help us to rise above the crowd. I think today it is important for us learn and be formed by other words as well. Bishop Joe Vásquez chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration
"The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. We believe in assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion… including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity…
We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans
This is what happiness means. This is what it means to rise above the crowd. But that’s the U.S. Bishops, they should stay out of politics. Right?
Then there is Pope Francis
“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.” - Oct. 13, 2016
But Pope Frances is too liberal. Right?
Pope Benedict then
Anyone who can kneel before the Eucharist, who receives the Body of the Lord, cannot but be attentive in the ordinary daily routine to situations unworthy of the human being (the hungry, thirsty, naked sick and imprisoned.) – September 11, 2011
But he was old and out of touch. Correct?
Then there is Saint John Paul II
Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble. For Christians, the migrant is not merely an individual to be respected in accordance with the norms established by law, but a person whose presence challenges them and whose needs become an obligation for their responsibility. – July 25, 1995
Are we going to argue with a saint?
We come up the mountain, we rise above the crowd because the crowds that tell us our happiness will come from isolation and the establishment of enemies. The crowd on the Washington mall, in the presence of the Vice President of the United States, fervently celebrated a new found administrative support for the Right to Life movement, but we who are disciples must find happiness not in slogans or others joining our crowd but in a single hearted desire to do the will of God who is merciful to the vulnerable. Our joy is found not simply in assuring a right to be born but a right to live with human dignity.
We celebrate Catholic Schools this week not just for those who attend it. The presence of a school within the mission of the parish serves as a reminder that we are all students, we are all disciples, seeking happiness. Our parish finds happiness in knowing that we provide an opportunity for learning in the context of faith. And our school finds happiness in awakening in each of us the necessity of learning; doing what it takes to rise above the crowd and sit at the feet of the master. You and I are challenged today to remain with the crowd or to be disciples. To go up the mountain so we may know that mercy and peacemaking are essential to doing God’s will and that mercy and peacemaking are essential to our own pursuit of true supreme, earthly and eternal happiness. And so share in the building of God’s kingdom.