A man of the beatitudes

Gospel Commentary MT 5:1-12

In Chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus goes up the mountain and delivers the Sermon on the Mount. For the evangelist Matthew, this is a direct reference to Moses who received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. On this mountain, Jesus, the Word made flesh, proclaims a new way of life that fulfills the old law and puts flesh on His new law of love. This way of life is summed up in the beatitudes, given in our Gospel reading for this Sunday, and flies in the face of much of the wisdom and values that define our western culture, especially today.

The beatitudes lay out for us a series of attitudes and approaches to life that rock our world like an earthquake. The beatitudes invite us to live lives marked by generosity versus selfishness, humility versus self-entitlement, putting God first versus putting wealth first, seeking to serve versus being served and responding to offenses with mercy versus revenge.

Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at the great virtue of meekness. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” The meek are not weak; on the contrary, they are remarkably strong. Meekness can be defined as strength under control.  The meek do not make a show of their strength; rather they do the right thing humbly and quietly. The meek stand firm in the face of opposition and quietly fulfill their duty with zeal and joy, desiring to stay out of the limelight.

The meek remain a sign of contradiction in our world. When enduring trials, they refuse to play the victim. They remain firm in their values without being aggressive or overassertive. They are freely submissive to proper authority without being a doormat. When called upon to exercise authority, they do so without lording it over others because leadership is an opportunity to humbly serve those entrusted to their care. When hurt by others, the meek refuse to respond with hatred and vengeance. They toil consistently at their duties with the love of Christ flowing through their veins.

Jan. 6, the church celebrates the feast day of a religious brother whose middle name may well have been “The Meek One.” St. Andre Bessette had a difficult childhood. He was born Alfred Bessette, the eighth of 12 children, and was sick from his earliest years. His father and mother both died by the time he was 12. He was passed around for a number of years from one relative to another and bounced from job to job. He came to the United States for four years, working in various factories and mills in New England.

Upon his return to Canada, he started helping with chores around his local parish. His prayer grew stronger and stronger. Finally, the pastor, Father Andre Provencal, encouraged Alfred to apply to the Congregation of the Holy Cross at the age of 25. Alfred’s frail health led the community to make plans to let him go after the novitiate; however, the bishop of Montreal made an appeal to the community for him and they reluctantly allowed him to stay. He took the religious name of Andre in honor of his former pastor.

He was assigned the job of doorkeeper at the College of Notre-Dame-du-Sacre Coeur in Montreal. He later quipped, “When I joined the community, the superiors showed me the door and I stayed there for 40 years.” He also washed floors and windows, cleaned lamps, fetched firewood and served as the school barber.

Andre’s love for God and zeal for prayer continued to grow. He also developed a profound devotion to St. Joseph. This love spilled over into an endearing love for his neighbor. He extended such genuine care for all who came to the door of the college that people eventually came in droves just to meet and have a conversation with Brother Andre. He very patiently listened to their difficulties and prayed for them. He encouraged them to turn to the Lord in prayer, to participate regularly in the sacraments and to unite their suffering to Jesus’ cross. Word spread far and near when many of these people with whom he prayed were healed.

People began to come in such numbers that he was asked to move this apostolate to the tramway station. Soon after he was given permission to construct a shrine to St. Joseph. During those years, he would receive countless sick pilgrims during the day and visit others at night. By the 1920s, the Oratory of St. Joseph hosted more than a million pilgrims a year. During the week of his death Jan. 6, 1937, more than a million people visited his body.

St. Andre was a man of the beatitudes. He is a towering example of the strength that comes from our faith in Christ. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017