A proposal: Bring the Beatitudes into the centre of the liturgy

Gospel for Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Glen Argan

One anchor of the Catholic Mass is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, recited on Sundays and solemnities. In it, we profess our core Christian beliefs about the life of Jesus and the nature of God.

The development of the Creed at the church councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 was a major accomplishment for a Church trying to understand how Jesus is God in terms of Greek philosophy.

Having and maintaining core shared beliefs will always be a challenge for the Christian Church. However, it is fair to say the beliefs expressed in Creed are shared by the vast majority of Christians, except for the vexing issue of the filioque clause.

(Churches of the Orthodox East see the filioque – the belief that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – as a false belief imposed arbitrarily by the Western Church. The Roman Catholic Church, at least, sees it as essential to understanding the Trinity.)

As important as the Creed is to the Christian belief system, I would suggest that the Church needs to focus more on ortho-praxis (right action) rather than on ortho-doxy (right praise and belief). The world needs us to act in Christ-like ways more than to believe the right things about Jesus and the Trinity.

So we come to Sunday’s Gospel – St. Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes (5.1-12). The Beatitudes do not set down negative proscriptions – “thou shalt nots” – but set positive, open-ended directions for us to take: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; . . . blessed are the meek; . . . blessed are the merciful.”

Just think of the impact if the whole Christian Church could live by that first beatitude alone. If all Christians were poor in spirit with relative consistency, it would turn upside down our power-seeking, me-first, chest-beating society. Our boasting would be turned into humility and service.

Living just one beatitude with utter seriousness would turn our political and economic systems inside out.

Boasting, it so happens, is exactly what St. Paul critiques in Sunday’s Second Reading (1 Corinthians 1.26-31). He calls the Corinthians to recall their humble origins. He asks them to remember that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” so that “no one might boast in the presence of God.”

Paul’s repeated emphasis on strength in weakness and the Gospel’s stress on giving those who are poor, sinners and outside the establishment the best seats at the banquet is the paradox of the Gospel. The ignominy of the cross is what saves; each of us must pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Too much prosperity kills the spirit; purity of heart enables one to see God.

My proposal is that the liturgy reflect the need for ortho-praxis, that instead of or in addition to the Creed, we also profess the Beatitudes. Changing action is much more difficult than changing beliefs.

Adding the profession of the Beatitudes is no magic solution. It would, however, bring us to reflect more on our call to shame power with weakness, to shame “wisdom” with foolishness and to reduce material things to nothing in order to elevate the low and despised.

[Other readings: Zephaniah 2.3; 3.12-13; Psalm 146]

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