The poor, the meek and the hungry

Today, Catholics celebrated the Fourth Sunday of the Year and the Gospel reading was taken from Matthew 5:1 – 12. This is the passage which includes Matthew’s reports on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Luke also made similar reports in his book. Almost each sentence and phrase in the passage has been widely quoted everywhere. At school, the Jesuit Fathers made us learn the passage by heart; and the words in the teachings have over the years taken increasingly more relevance and meaning, as one grows older.

Of the Beatitudes, some are more obvious than others. For example, even as secondary school students, we could appreciate why those who mourn would be comforted, why the merciful shall obtain mercy and why the pure in heart shall see God. However, it was not entirely obvious or clear why would the kingdom of heaven belong to the poor in spirit, why should the meek inherit the earth, how would the hungry and the thirsty be filled, and so on.

The poor, in today’s parlance, are those that are economically deprived and therefore have a low standard of living. I had often wondered that being poor was bad enough, but being poor in spirit would likely be worse, for it implies a fading of the spirit and hence of hope. The meek are often spoken together with the humble or the gentle, which is not too bad, except that it is often associated with negative connotations, such as yielding to others’ actions and opinions, uncomplaining, or worse, lacking the courage and will to complain. As regards the hungry and the thirsty, I had always assumed that the good Samaritans would fill them. I hasten to point out that I could be making out-of-context references in the discussions, certainly in relation to the hungry and thirsty, for the text was “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill.”

Discussions on religions are often problematic, and discussions on the Bible or biblical quotations, fraud with difficulties. At the end of the day, it is for the individual to interpret and internalize any teachings and hopefully to live up to some of them.

The week that had just passed was not only marked by Bush making his first state of the union speech, by the World Economic Forum moving from Davos to New York for the first time in 31 years, amidst peaceful demonstration against globalization, RI President Elect Bhichai Rattakul announcing the RI theme for his year in Anaheim, or locally, by a jury returning verdicts on the accused of the deaths and fire at the Immigration Tower in August 2000, it also marked a meeting of over 200 spiritual leaders with Pope John Paul II in Assisi, Italy. The spiritual summit had brought together Christians from 16 churches and communities, 30 Muslims clerics from 18 nations, 10 rabbis, and representatives from 11 other religions including Buddhism, Tenrikyo, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism and traditional African religions.

The religious leaders travelled with the pope by train to Assisi, reflected on peace together, and prayed for peace separately in their own rites before coming together again to make a joint commitment to promote peace and teaching their faithful that true religion cannot be used to promote violence or terrorism.

The Pope said in his midday address on 27 January that the day of prayer for peace marked another milestone on the path of building a civilization of peace and love. At the end of the meeting, the world spiritual leaders prayed that there would be violence never again, war never again, terrorism never again. Instead, they prayed with the papal leader that every religion might bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love.

Now, Bush has stressed that his country is at war, while the world leaders and businessmen at the WEF in New York have pledged to bring wealth and prosperity to the world and narrow the gap between the rich and the poor thereby making the digital divide irrelevant. Both initiatives are a far cry for world understanding and peace.

The spiritual leaders at the Assisi Summit have prayed for peace, forgiveness and love; and we would leave the matter in God’s hand.

Bhichai Rattakul has appealed to Rotary leaders to sow the seeds of love, “Let us continue to advocate Rotary’s fundamental principles, the principles that have stood the test of time for almost a century. Let us face the future with renewed strength, with the proud realization that the ultimate aim of our efforts is not for our own betterment, but for the peace and security of all humanity. Let us together sow the seeds of love.” Coming in the month of February, Rotary’s World Understanding Month, the Rotary leader’s call has indeed taken on renewed meaning and relevance. It also gives renewed hope to the quote from the same gospel passage for today’s holy mass, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

Talk to you later.

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