Aristotle versus Galileo: “Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men. Although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths” (Bertrand Russell, British mathematician, & philosopher). About 400 hundred years ago, Galileo argued that Aristotle’s theory on gravity was incorrect. According to Aristotle, if you dropped one object weighing ten pounds and another weighing one pound from the same height, the ten-pound object would fall ten times faster than the other. Questioning the greatest ancient authority in science and philosophy, Galileo claimed that both objects would fall at the same speed. But people thought that Galileo was a little crazy. So Galileo climbed up the leaning tower of Pisa and dropped two objects, one heavier than the other, over the edge. To the amazement of the crowd, the heavier object did not fall faster than the lighter one. You, too, may have dismissed as wrong – maybe naive, misguided, or possibly even stupid – something you were told, and then come to find out that it is actually true. Well, the beatitudes announced by Jesus in today’s gospel might not seem right to us because we equate happiness with power, influence, wealth, health and beauty. In fact, if anybody other than Jesus had proposed them, we might just have considered them as too extreme. But Jesus meant what he said and practiced what he taught.
2) Happiness & unhappiness: The “Dear Abby” Column once received a letter from a 15-year-old girl which read as follows: “Dear Abby: Happiness is not having your parents scold you if you come home late, having your own bedroom, and getting the telephone call you’ve been hoping for. Happiness is belonging to a popular group, being dressed as well as anybody, and having a lot of spending money. Happiness is something I don’t have. 15 and Unhappy.” Shortly after the letter was published, “Dear Abby” received a reply from 13-year-old girl who wrote: “Dear Abby: Happiness is being able to walk and talk, to see and hear. Unhappiness is reading a letter from a 15-year-old girl who can do all four things and still says she isn’t happy, I can talk, I can see, I can hear. But I can’t walk. 13, crippled and Happy.” These letters reflect two different points of view on happiness. Today’s gospel on the beatitudes does the same.
3) Living the beatitudes: In the 19th century, a Belgian priest named Father Damien went to live on a remote island colony among people with leprosy. Father Damien tried to live the values of the beatitudes. He was pure in heart, merciful, hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He was publicly persecuted for doing what he believed was right. His biographers also say he was often lonely, depressed, and stubborn. His immediate superiors branded him a troublemaker. (Gavan Daws, Holy Man [Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984], p. 249) The Catholic Church only declared him a saint in 2010. But people who knew Father Damien called him “happy” or “blessed.”
4) Final happiness: I like the story of the preacher who met two little boys. After greeting them, he said, “Boys, would you like to go to heaven?” “Yes, sir!” one responded immediately. “No, sir,” the other boy said honestly. Surprised by such honesty, the preacher asked, “Son, do you mean that eventually you don’t want to go to heaven?” “I’d like to go eventually, “replied the boy, “but I thought you were getting up a load to go today.” For many people, happiness–like heaven– is something that is going to come eventually, but it never quite arrives.