Sister Regina was the Director of Religious Education at the local parish. Jean was the Principal of the local parish school. Sister Regina developed breast cancer a few years after Jean had this cancer. Sister Regina and Jean worked together in their research about this disease; wholistic treatments; healthy eating habits and even appeared on a few local radio shows telling their story. Sister Regina's cancer was stubborn and did not easily go into remission. A few years before her death she lived in an apartment on the near west side of Chicago. She became angry at many things she saw around her and the way her life was going. Every Sunday she took a bus to the "L" stations and then took the "L" downtown to Michigan Avenue. She took her protest signs with her and joined the weekly protest marching up and down in front of the Art Museum. Every week the topic for the protest would change. Some weeks she protested against the Iraq war; other weeks against poverty in 3rd World Countries; while other weeks against some political issue going on either locally or nationally. Her cancer got worse and had metastasized-she became weak and unable to continue. Sister Regina moved back to the local Motherhouse where Jean visited her every day for 2 months until she died. Sister Regina had become bitter at many things she saw as wrong and wanted to at least register her feelings. A friend of hers went to the protest the next Sunday after her death and told those protesting that Sister Regina had died. The protestors were shocked as they never knew she had cancer let alone that she was a Catholic Nun! Many came to her wake and funeral. Sister Regina tried to live in her life what the Prophet Jeremiah is urging all of us to do---to place our life in the hands of God. It is in doing this that we will receive the strength we need in our times of adversity. She did not trust many people or institutions as being able to give life to society or to her individually. Sr. Regina's roots went deep and reached out to the eternal well-springs of the water of life---her total trust in God.
The Gospel of Luke lays out for us today 4 blessings and 4 woes. The Gospel seems to be telling us not to worry when you are poor; hungry; weeping; and people insult you and denounce you because of your beliefs in God. Poverty, hunger, weeping and insults are manifestations of "this world" and all that living the human life entails. All these things are temporary and will eventually pass but they are very real at the time you experience them.
Jesus is challenging us today to place our trust in the ways of God and not to be too concerned with the condition we may find ourselves in now. At the same time when you are laid off from your work and are feeling the reality of being poor and not being able to pay your bills it is hard to be happy. When you are devastated with some loss and filled with weeping it is hard to laugh. Today we are challenged to put our house in order; reset our priorities; reassess what we really value and see what will provide lasting meaning in our life.
Being comfortable with your living conditions and the rewards of hard work for years is not bad. Jesus challenges us by saying, "Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." Riches here and now are their own reward, but when here and now evolves into eternity, riches, which are not portable, will be no more. However it will not be so for the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, and the hated. These experiences of want and suffering create a void in which we can learn reliance on God.
The beatitudes speak to the heart of society's values and institutions. They offer here and now an alternative to materialism, capitalism, and the lust for power. According to the alternative politics of the beatitudes, poverty offers a warmer welcome to God than riches; hunger can find God faster than a full stomach; weeping opens the way to the experience of divine comfort; earning hatred and rejection of others because of one's beliefs in Gospel values gives a person a better understanding of the mind, heart, and motivation of Jesus himself.
It seems to me once again Jesus is asking us to balance our lives and to truly enter into the flow of life; to speak truth to power; to identify with the poor and try to provide what we have to assist the poor. There will always be examples for us---and we need not look too hard. I am sure each one of us could take a piece of paper and write down what is wrong in our life; in our family; in our society; in our church.
As author and theologian Jack Shea puts it, "A true prophet pits God's word against the present state of injustice. A false prophet adapts God's word to justify unjust social arrangements. As always, paths can be chosen. Some paths lead to blessing and some paths lead to woe."
So when we hear these beatitudes what will we do? Will we embrace the values of the world or accept the values of God? Will we settle for fleeting pleasure and profit or look to Jesus and embrace a set of values that will put us at odds with the world? Will we take seriously the challenge of the Beatitudes or will Jesus' words continue to describe a way of life that has yet to be taken seriously?