Blessed?

Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are the peacemakers…

I have been known to occasionally get fussy about the unthinking appropriation of religious language into common parlance.  For example, the Florida Georgia Line song entitled H.O.L.Y. uses the word that God uses to set apart his saints as an acronym for “high on loving you.”  Because of this, I’ve determined that all comparisons between FGL and Nickelback are moot because FGL is so awful they make Nickelback look like a decent band.  Another word that I’ve tended to want to protect is the oft repeated one in Sunday’s Gospel lesson “blessed.”

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To me, to be blessed is to find favor with God.  So the various #Blessed memes that are out there, usually associating God’s blessing with some sort of material possession or physical ability really make my blood boil.  But then again, so does the choice by most translators to make a similar mistake with the beatitudes: conflating the meaning of blessed and happy.

Despite our years of comfort with “Blessed are the meek,” the Greek word that Matthew chose doesn’t actually mean “blessed.”  Instead, Matthew chose the common word for happy.  “Happy are the meek” seems to make even less sense than blessed are the meek, am I right?  But the more I dug into that word, the more I realized that Matthew might have been onto something.

Having dedicated my life to the service of God in the Episcopal Church, you can imagine I’m a fan of our Book of Common Prayer.  In my now nine years as a priest, I’ve been through the Book from cover to cover more than once, and by far the best thing in there is Burial Office.  It is crawling with great biblical imagery, especially the opening anthem (which could use some gender neutral tweaks, but I digress) that ends with these words from the Revelation of John, “Happy from now on are those who die int he Lord!  So it is, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.”

As God is wont to do, this ordinary word “makarioi“in Greek, “happy” in English is transformed.  It is imbued with grace.  It is made holy, and not in the FGL sense, such that those who are called to live in meekness, as peacemakers, with purity of heart will find not just blessings, but happiness in their circumstances.  God turns this world on its ear, helping those who the world would say are outside of God’s grace and helps them to find joy in even the most difficult of circumstances.   Do you find yourself blessed by God?  If so, you better also find happiness.

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Happy Saints

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Faustina Kowalska was a nun in Poland during the first third of the 20th century.  She is remembered for her visions of Jesus as the King of Divine Mercy, and I knew nothing about her until I did a google search this morning for “happy saints.”  As you can see from the photograph, St. Faustina carried a countenance of joy.  This might be surprising to many who grew up with stern nuns in parochial school; even more so when one comes to learn that she suffered from Tuberculosis for the final eight years of her short life (she died at 33).

St. Faustina is remembered as the Patron Saint of Mercy, which is the basis of the little cartoon from happysaints.com.  As you can see, the button made in remembrance of her includes one of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel, which is the version appointed in the old Book of Common Prayer lectionary for All Saints’ Day.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed” sounds nice and religious, but it really isn’t what Matthew tells us that Jesus said during his Sermon on the Mount.  The Greek word “makarios” is better translated as “happy.”  Being a saint of God means something more than dour blessedness, it means a life of joy, living fully into the calling of God that is unique to each and every one of us. This is what makes the Beatitudes so powerful. Jesus takes circumstances which we would not normally associate with joy, and turns them upside down.  When God is there, being poor in spirit is a reason to rejoice.  With God’s comfort, even mourning is an opportunity for joy.  When we reach out in mercy, we find the joy of reciprocity.

Being a saint means following God’s will for your life, which should, by its very nature, be an opportunity for joy.  Alternatively, if you aren’t finding joy in the work you are doing to build of the Church and God’s Kingdom, then you haven’t found God’s will for you yet.  Spend some time searching out your spiritual gifts.  Listen for God’s small, still voice to guide you.  Be attuned to your emotions.  It really is God’s will that you should find happiness, even in hardship: happiness in service to God and neighbor.  That, it seems to me, is what sainthood is all about.

 

complete joy

What’s the difference between happiness and joy?

My rector, who is preparing a sermon concurrently with me for this Sunday since SBC is set to arrive any day now, asked me this question yesterday.  Not that he didn’t know the answer, or at least have an answer (I’m not sure there is a right or wrong on this one), but his morning devotions had taken him to that place where joy and happiness meet.

For me, the difference between happiness and joy is a matter of duration and circumstances.  Happiness can be fleeting, it can last only for a moment, or it can last for a while.  Joy is meant to last, if not forever, then for a really long time.  Happiness is conditional.  Joy exists in good times and bad.

Joy is the foundation that allows us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:18).  Happiness is the feeling we have at the high points, but it is easily replaced by sadness in the low spots.  Joy abides in good times and bad.  Happiness is a universal human emotion, joy is a gift of grace; a fruit of the Spirit.

Jesus, in his Farewell Discourse, tells his disciples that he has commanded them to abide in his love and keep his commandments (of love toward God, neighbor, and self) so that their joy might be complete.  That their joy might abide and they might abide in it.