All of us have climbed ladders and we know by personal experience that it is easier to go up a ladder than come down one.
Going up you can see where you're going and the main challenge is to get from the ladder onto the roof without losing the ladder. Going down is much harder. It's harder to get back on the ladder than it was to get off it and then you have to go down it without being able to see where you're going. You could fall if you miss a rung or think you've reached the bottom before you actually have. It's much harder to go down a ladder than to go up one.
We Americans value success, and parents do all they can to motivate their children to do well, which in itself is a very good thing. Unfortunately, this often translates into a lot of pressure to succeed, as if the top of the ladder were where the greatest happiness is to be found: upward mobility.
We admire worldly success as if this were some great feat. But actually, going up the ladder isn't all that hard — people do it all the time. Indeed, most who try are able to climb up at least a few rungs of the corporate ladder in the course of their career.
Freely choosing to go down the ladder is much harder. But in the Beatitudes, Jesus defies conventional wisdom by declaring that downward mobility is the path to happiness, not upward mobility. That true happiness is found not at the lonely top of the ladder but rather at the well-populated bottom of the ladder. Happiness comes not from worldly success but rather from humble service. Yet we resist going down this ladder because we're insecure and can't see where we're going or what will be waiting for us when we get there.
Down the ladder of becoming poorer as the world judges wealth, less important by the standards of this world, hungry for God, tenderhearted, one who persuades people to get along, one who is misunderstood for speaking the truth. In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us that downward mobility will lead us to joy in the Reign of God. And what are the sins, the bad-attitudes that are the opposite of the Beatitudes? Well...
N The opposite of poor is the disordered desire for wealth. The sin of filling our lives with things as if things could make us happy.
N The opposite of sorrowing is apathy, lack of concern about what is happening in our world. The sin of seeking a false tranquility, blind to the evils around us, emotionally unengaged.
N The opposite of lowly is the sin of pride, the pursuit of self-importance, self-promotion. Trying to seem big at other people's expense.
N The opposite of hunger for holiness is the pursuit of passing pleasure. The sin of seeking instant gratification rather than self-sacrifice.
N The opposite of mercy is hard-heartedness, demanding results, treating people like objects valuable only for what they can do for us, dispensable commodities.
N The opposite of single-hearted is to have a personal agenda. The sin of insisting on getting our own way rather than focusing on what God would want.
N The opposite of peacemaking is to use coercion rather than persuasion. The sinful pursuit of power over others, be it in the family, at work or in other areas of life.
N The opposite of persecuted is to fail to take risks for the truth. The sin of cowardice.
We sin by choosing attitudes that lead us up the ladder, away from joy, away from God, away from the holiness that we celebrate on this All Saints Day.
In the Beatitudes Jesus points us down the ladder that leads to God and thus to genuine happiness: to that state whereby we become detached from material things, emotionally engaged, humble, self-sacrificing, merciful, focused on what God would want, patiently persuasive, taking courageous risks for the truth. This is the true path to happiness that Jesus and all the saints mark out for us, and it can be reached only through downward mobility, by becoming the servant of all.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily for All Saints Day Nov. 1.
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