July 6, 2007


Warning signs along the disciple’s way

Pope Benedict XVI’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth, contains an extended reflection on the essential teaching of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount.

As the pope makes clear, Jesus teaches by both word and example. He is what he teaches. He is the way, the truth and the life.

What you see in Jesus’ way of living is what you hear in his teaching and, conversely, what he teaches, he lives.

In him, there is no disconnect between saying and doing. No hypocrisy. He himself is the poor in spirit, the peacemaker, the meek and humble of heart, the mourner, and the one who hungers and thirsts for justice. We are truly blessed when we follow his path, when we strive to imitate him, and when we enter into communion with him and, therefore, with his Father and the Holy Spirit.

But as the pope points out to us, there are many false paths, or roads to ruin, that tempt us on a daily basis. That’s why Jesus does not only tell us the Good News. He also provides us with important warning signs to caution us against taking a fatal wrong turn in our journey to life.

According to the Holy Father: In Luke’s Gospel, the four Beatitudes are followed by four proclamations of woe: “Woe to you who are rich … Woe to you who are full now … Woe to you when all men praise you” (Lk 6:24-26). These words terrify us. What are we to think of them?

These words terrify us because we all seek to be rich (or at least comfortable). We all want to be “full”—to have our basic needs and wants satisfied. And we all crave affirmation, success and approval in the eyes of others.

In short, we want the very things that can lead us astray—away from the path of life and down the road to ruin.

As Pope Benedict tells us, these cravings or temptations are the opposite of what the Lord says will make us happy. They send us down the path of mere outward appearance (the latest fashion), provisionality (living for the moment with no permanent commitments) and self-centeredness (living without God and our neighbor). These are paths to ruin, fatal wrong turns in the disciple’s way.

How can we heed these warning signs? What can we do to make sure we stay on the right path?

“Behind the Sermon on the Mount stands the figure of Christ,” the pope tells us, “the man who is God, but who, precisely because he is God, descends, empties himself, all the way to death on the Cross.”

To stay on the right path, we must imitate him: Seek the kingdom of God, not wealth and power. Strive to empty ourselves, not acquire more and more stuff. Expect to be mocked, even persecuted, for the way we live and for what we know to be right and true. This is not the world’s way. It is Jesus’ way. It is the way to peace, happiness and lasting joy.

According to Pope Benedict, “The saints from Paul through Francis of Assisi down to Mother Teresa have lived [this way] and have thereby shown us the correct image of man and his happiness.” We have only to follow their example to find true happiness and peace.

We want to be rich, satisfied and socially accepted. This is not Jesus’ way. It is not the way of Mary and the saints. It is not the way to happiness in this life or to beatitude in the life to come. It is not the way of stewardship—of gratitude, accountability, generosity and giving back to the Lord with increase.

To avoid taking serious wrong turns on the road to life, to be happy, joyous and free in our pursuit of life’s true riches, to be good stewards of all God’s gifts, we must heed the warning signs along the way.

We must keep our eyes on Jesus, and listen to his words: Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers and those who are pure of heart.

Their way is the right way—“an exodus out of oneself,” the pope tells us, that demands conversion and self-emptying, but that leads to the fullness of life in Christ.

May we follow the Lord’s example, and make his words our own, today and every day of our life’s journey. “That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”

(1 Pt 4:11).

— Daniel Conway

Local site Links: