The Sermon on the Plain: A Call to Conversion

The message Jesus delivers in the Gospel reading on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (February 17) is a difficult one for many to swallow. It is one of those Bible teachings meant to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” The Gospel reading is Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” and in it we can see how skillfully the writer, Saint Luke, brings us to a place where we must take the words of Jesus with the utmost seriousness (Luke 6:17, 20-26).

While Saint Matthew, in his Gospel, begins the “Sermon on the Mount” with eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), Luke’s Jesus begins the Sermon on the Plain with just four beatitudes, “blessings,” and four woes. Jesus suggests that there exists a divide between the “blessed” and the “woeful.” It is, however, not the divide that our world would create between winners and losers or the successful and unsuccessful. The blessed may be poor or hungry or weeping or hated. But they are blessed by their faith and trust in God’s mercy and justice and future for them in the kingdom of heaven. To be “blessed” does not mean an absence of struggle. Indeed, to be in a Eucharistic community that lives the Gospel invites exclusion, defamation and even hatred. To be blessed is to live through such opposition aware that the struggle is temporary and that “your reward is great in heaven.”

 

The woeful, on the other hand, are those who have grown comfortable and smug. They may not experience discomfort during this life. But their relative abundance, plentiful tables and good times now will place their future in jeopardy. To live under the verdict of “woe” means condemnation. Notably, Jesus does not ask his listeners to become destitute in order to join the “blessed,” but given the options he presents, it is undeniable that he expects a response that reaches out to others and involves sacrifice. Later in Luke’s Gospel we will meet characters such as Zacchaeus and the Good Samaritan, individuals who were depicted by Luke as willing to put ample material resources at the service of others. The Sermon on the Plain is challenging. It means to take us out of our “comfort zone” and into a conversion of heart, a change of attitude, a change of vision, and a change in behavior. It is a call for courageous acts of discipleship, a call to use the gifts we have been given to serve others, even strangers. It is a call urging us to take action now so the world will feel the presence of Christ. The Sermon on the Plain is the Lord Jesus calling us: “Come. Follow me.”

World Marriage Day – A Day to Celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage

A sage once wrote that a good marriage is like a fire around which others come to warm themselves. So, as we celebrate World Marriage Day on February 10, we realize that no matter our station in life – married, single or religious – we have benefited from this sacred covenant relationship whether through the example of our parents, grandparents, and other role models, or through our own stewardship of the marriage covenant. For the Catholic steward, marriage goes far beyond the legal or societal agreement that our culture might define. For the Catholic steward, marriage is a sacrament that fosters a sacred covenant; establishing family and nurturing the domestic church which we understand is fundamental to our spiritual development. Marriage brings us countless blessings, but is met with many obstacles. Busy schedules, the challenges of parenthood, the strains of finances, mortgages, issues of health and aging – all of these test the bonds of even the finest unions.

World Marriage Day, observed on the second Sunday of each February, is sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, associated with Catholic Marriage Encounter. Many Catholics have participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend, but no matter how we have endeavored to grow in and to support our marriages, or the marriages of those close to us, we know that marriage does take effort, continuing commitment, deep prayer, great communication, a good sense of humor and faithful love.

This year, the observances of National Marriage Week, February 7 to 14, and World Marriage Day, are an opportunity to focus on building a culture of life and love that begins with supporting and promoting marriage and the family. Take time this February to celebrate marriage, whether by setting aside a special time to devote to your own spouse, or by honoring the marriages that have warmed you and nurtured you throughout your life.