FROM THE PULPIT
Phil Jackson, was coach of the Chicago Bulls basketball team during the days of Michael Jordan. Before turning his hand to coaching, in the 1970's Jackson played for the New York Knicks. During his time at the Knicks the team won the championship. He had reached the ultimate goal, the dream he had been striving for since he was a child. A short time later he was in New York and went out to celebrate with family and friends. The restaurant was crowded with famous people like Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. But instead of joy this is what Jackson wrote about his feelings: "the intense feeling of connection with my team-mates that I had experienced in Los Angeles seemed like a distant memory. Instead of being overwhelmed with joy, I felt empty and confused. Was this it? I kept saying to myself. Is this what was supposed to bring me happiness? Clearly the answer lay somewhere else." He later understood what was missing. He writes, "What I was missing was spiritual direction."
What is happiness? That is the question that we should ask ourselves this morning as we come here to worship our living and loving God. Is happiness the half million dollar home that I love to see as I pass by it each morning? Is happiness that Power ball ticket that we hope will bring us millions and solve all our problems? Is happiness that new electronic toy that is pretty costly and that I know if I can get it, it will make me happy? As Fr. Roger spoke all this past week in his homilies on the goodness of the things around us and these things are goods in themselves but do they really bring the happiness into our lives? If we start making these things idols than it will simply bring us down the road of emptiness and pain but today in the Gospel, Jesus tells us what will bring us happiness. He says things as poverty, hunger, sadness, and persecution.
Now if we stand back and look at this we would say but this is the opposite of what should bring you happiness. Who would be happy if they are poor? Who would be happy if they are hungry? Who would be happy if they are sad? Who would happy if they are persecuted?
If we want to be filled with the joy and happiness of heaven, then we must empty ourselves of all that would shut God out of our hearts. Poverty of spirit finds ample room and joy in possessing God alone as the greatest treasure possible. Hunger of the spirit seeks nourishment and strength in God's word and Spirit. Sorrow and mourning over wasted life and sin leads to joyful freedom from the burden of guilt and oppression. God reveals to the humble of heart the true source of abundant life and happiness. Jesus promises his disciples that the joys of heaven will more than compensate for the troubles and hardships they can expect in this world. Now after this series of four blessings they are followed by four corresponding “woes”: poor-rich, hungry-filled, weeping-laughing, despised-esteemed. This unexpected reversal is a favorite Lukan theme already encountered in Mary’s Magnificat: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty (1:52-53). Luke’s attention to the “poor” and “hungry” rather than Matthew’s “poor in spirit” and “hunger for holiness” cautions against “spiritualizing” the message.
Luke’s Beatitudes evoke Old Testament themes found in two different but related traditions: wisdom’s two paths (the way of the wise which is righteousness, and the way of the foolish which is wickedness) and Deuteronomy’s from both come together in the first reading from Jeremiah. The prophet presents two paths in life: trust in God which leads to blessing, or trust in human which leads to curse. Jeremiah’s image of the barren and fruitful trees appears in this morning’s responsorial psalm: “the wise find fruitfulness and life in God’s law but the foolish perish.”
When I watch entertainment news programs on the celebrities or during these days I watch the awards shows recognizing the talents of the celebrities I think to myself how most of them seem so miserable. They seem to be finding happiness in the wrong places. It seems that happiness to them can be found in only the things they can buy, the awards they can win, the blockbusters they can be part of but have they really found true happiness? have they go into a deeper realm of their being? Have they gone into the deeper recesses of their spirits?
A couple of weeks ago I was watching the Golden Globe awards and they announced that Jennifer Hudson who basically became a star after her debut on American Idol won the Golden Globe award for best supporting actress for the movie, Dream Girls. Well, her reaction was sincere with joy and elation and she recognized the blessings that she had came from God. Jennifer Hudson realized her happiness was not in the material things that came along with her success but that her gifts of acting and singing was a gift from God.
St. Francis was asked once, “what is true joy?” St. Francis replied, “I return from Perugia and arrive here (Assisi) in the dead of night; and it is winter time, muddy and so cold that icicles have formed on the edges of my habit and keep striking my legs, and blood flows from such wounds. And all covered with mud and cold, I come to the gate and after I have knocked and called for some time, a brother comes and asks: “Who are you?” I answer: ‘Brother Francis.” And he says: ‘Go away; this is not a proper hour for going about; you may not come in.’ And when I insist, he answers: ‘Go away, you are a simple and a stupid person; we are so many and we have no need of you. You are certainly not coming to us at this hour!” And I stand at the door and say: ‘For the love of God, take me in tonight” And he answers: ‘I will not. Go to the Croisers’ place and ask there.’ And I tell you this: If I had patience and did not become upset there would be true joy in this and true virtue and salvation of the soul.”
My brothers and sisters this scene that St. Francis portrays for us would make any of us really angry if we were turned away from a house in which we were familiar with but St. Francis reminds us that perfect joy; that perfect happiness is not found in going into a warm place from the cold weather but in true humility, patience and love that is where true happiness is found. That is where we are truly blessed.
So my brothers and sisters let us truly be blessed, let us truly be happy in our lives. Let us examine our situations and instead of mooping about the negative things that we find around us and let turn those frowns around to smiles because we know that we have a living and loving God and remembering the words of Jerimah, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.”
 Daily Reflection, Larry Gillick, S.J.
 Living Liturgy, p. 57