The Bishops of Regions IV and XIV, which include all of the bishops on the eastern seaboard from Florida up to Washington DC, recently completed their annual retreat at the Bethany Retreat Center in Tampa, Florida. As in past years, I was privileged to be part of this retreat with my brother bishops. This special time gives us the ability to reflect together upon our ministry and to engage in prayer essential to that ministry. The retreat is always an enriching experience and a graced opportunity for the bishops to support each other.
The retreat this year was conducted by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, the retired Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, New York. Bishop Hubbard, who is seventy-nine years of age and gave outstanding presentations to us on the nature of our episcopal ministry and of its essential foundation which is our relationship to the Lord. His own depth of spirituality, humility, intelligence and his wisdom of experience were great blessings. His words were most effective because they were backed by his living of them.
Bishop Hubbard revolved the theme of his retreat around the centrality of the Beatitudes which Pope Francis has so consistently set forth in his Papal ministry. Bishop Hubbard referred to the homily which Pope Francis gave in 2016 at the Mass on all Saints Day in Malmo, Sweden, where he emphasized the Beatitudes. In this homily, the Pope reflected on the Beatitudes in terms of the many challenges that face us in today's world and society. These challenges prompted the Pope to summarize the Beatitudes in his own suggestion of six Beatitudes which are very fitting for today.
All of the bishops were inspired by the high quality of presentations which Bishop Hubbard presented during the retreat. His presentation of the teaching of Pope Francis was an excellent synthesis of all that the Pope has presented to us in a manner which captures his energy and deep spirituality. I was not familiar with the suggested Beatitudes which Pope Francis presented in his all Saints Day homily and so I was very interested in hearing about them and learning more about them.
It is essential for us, as followers of Jesus Christ, to know the Beatitudes as presented by Christ as the charter for living a Christian life. The Beatitudes are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1 – 10). There are eight Beatitudes which are the formula for living a happy Christian life. In his homily for the Feast of All Saints in 2016, Pope Francis expressed that the identity card of the Saints is found in the Beatitudes. The Saints are blessed because they were faithful, meek and cared for others. They had a joy which derives from the Beatitudes and which can be found only in living the Christian life as taught to us by Christ.
The season of Lent will quickly be upon us. Ash Wednesday will begin the season on February 14 and it will be here before you know it. The season of Lent offers us all an opportunity for a retreat during the forty days which comprise it. While we are not able to get away during this time, Lent offers us a different retreat atmosphere for prayer and reflection. Reflection upon the Beatitudes and some concrete resolution to live one of them, or part of one of them in our lives, would certainly be a good undertaking for our Lenten retreat. It must be remembered that “beatitude” is a translation of the Latin word for “blessed” which is the same as “happy.” As Francis expressed, those who live the Beatitudes are those who find true happiness.
The Beatitudes, as found in Scripture, are:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Beatitudes remind us that the Kingdom of God begins in the here and now as we live in the manner of Christ. Despite the paradox of the Lord's words in the Beatitudes, we find joy, not only in the Kingdom of God in heaven, but here and now each and every day. The Beatitudes remind us that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves. As we give ourselves more and more to the Lord, it is He who takes over our lives and fills us with the joy that is unsurpassable. The more we give ourselves over to Him, the more we look out for the needs and concerns of others.
In this context, Pope Francis recognizes the new situations and challenges of today which require a new commitment. The Beatitudes have not changed, but the circumstances in which we live our daily lives are different from those of the time of Jesus. The Pope suggested that the following are a good formulation of the Beatitudes in this context for us to reflect upon:
Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart.
Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.
Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover Him.
Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home.
Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.
Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.
As we look at and reflect upon the Beatitudes, it is also well for us to reflect upon the one who, following the teaching of Christ, lived the Beatitudes to the fullest. That is Mary. She is truly the "Blessed One" as we greet her in the Hail Mary which is the title so often used of her in the Scriptures. Mary is the "Blessed One" and the "Happy One" because she lived the message of Christ to its fullest, especially as it is expressed in the Beatitudes. To reflect upon the Beatitudes as given to us by the Lord is to reflect upon the life and attitude of Mary and her living of them. She is "Blessed" and reminds us of what blessedness is all about.
The Bishops’ Retreat this year was a wonderful reminder of the joy found in the Beatitudes which must be lived each and every day in our own circumstances. As we approach the retreat which the season of Lent offers to us, it is good to reflect upon these Beatitudes and live them in a way that will make the season more meaningful.are already almost two weeks into the new year and just about halfway through the month of January. The holidays are quickly receding into the past and new year’s resolutions we made may also be quickly receding there as well. They say that time goes more quickly as one gets older and certainly many of us can testify that this phenomenon is real. What used to seem so long to occur when we were younger seems to occur more quickly as age moves on.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 26, 2018