My Dear Sisters and Brothers! A few days ago I was having a constructive dialogue with some theologians on the size of Christian population in the fourth century when Emperor Constantine changed the policy which shifted Christianity from being illegal and persecuted to welcome, and soon dominant, religion in the Roman Empire. The figure is between 5 and 10 %. To put it in a more familiar perspective, Australia has got now around 60% Christians including 25% Catholics. If we compared it to the number of Christians in the early centuries of the Church we could say that we’ve got numbers now, that we’ve got crowds now. The early Christians didn’t have this advantage. They didn’t have the numbers to impress the wider society. However they did impress the society, particularly the leaders, who eventually lent them their public acknowledgment and support. To find out the secret for those early Christians to stand out in their society I would like to recall some words from the Book of Prophet Zephaniah we had in our first reading. The prophet spoke the words: “In your midst I will leave a humble and lowly people who will seek refuge in the name of the Lord. They will do no wrong, will tell no lies.” St Paul in our second reading taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians contextualized it when he wrote: “Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the world, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning.”
My Dear Fellow believers! Our strength is in the Lord. Our contribution to the wider society is our commitment and faithfulness to the Lord, the source of our strength. That’s why after proclaiming the Beatitudes Jesus revealed to his disciples their role in his mission: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world” as we will hear next Sunday. To preserve our unique saltiness, which is down-to-earth, and our unique brightness which is the reflection of divinity, our Blessed Lord has given us those Eight Beatitudes, the supreme blessedness, the supreme happiness.
I would like to conclude this homily with the very first blessing or happiness, Jesus spoke of. It was also the refrain of our responsorial Psalm: “Happy the poor in spirit; the kingdom of heaven is theirs!” In the Scriptures the poor are those who need help, who are dependent on God. The world tells us that we will be happy when we provide ourselves with everything and don’t need anything from anyone. Jesus however proposes us to find our happiness in poverty, in being totally dependent on the fatherly love of our God.
If you want to spend some time today to contemplate the gospel passage I would like to encourage you to follow the method of St Ignatius and imagine yourself among the closest disciples of Jesus. We know that at the time of proclaiming the Beatitudes Jesus had only four disciples: Andrew and Peter, James and John. Four people don’t make an impressive crowd but four people can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Do you desire that?