Sunday, Jan. 29, is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13, Psalm 146:6-10, 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, Matthew 5:1-12

“It was pride that changed angels into devils,” St. Augustine is quoted as saying. “It is humility that makes men as angels.”

The same pride that captured the devils can capture us, too, but in the beatitudes Jesus Christ has given us a lesson in applied humility to put a stop to it.

Only rich relationships with other people and with God will make us happy. But we often crowd real happiness out with its false substitutes. To break the cycle, Jesus says to be “poor in spirit” and gain far more than trifling pleasures: the kingdom of heaven.

The more we look to things for fulfillment, the more we warp our relationships with people. St. Jerome says we forget how to mourn, not just for the dead — but for those who are spiritually dead through sin and superficiality. We may never get “real” with our friends (or with Facebook “friends” we don’t even know), and we often make a bargain: “I won’t challenge you if you won’t challenge me.” Jesus tells us how to stop this: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

The cycle of constant grabbing for more, longing for bigger and better things to own and show off, brings its own state of dissatisfaction, of course. We may feel like we’re in the wrong lane on the interstate, the wrong line in the supermarket, in the wrong career or in the wrong house. But Jesus knows that accepting our lot in life and patiently trusting in God is the only way: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

The cycle of pride insists that we stay aloof from the needs of others. We can shrink our souls to fit our compromised lives. But Jesus knows that it is only by focusing on others that we can find happiness: “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

We tend to keep mental track of what everyone owes us and those who hurt us. The fact is, none of us is innocent. Jesus knows the real secret to peace and harmony: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

But as we continue on the cycle of pride, we get everything backwards: We can make things into idols that we love and persons into things that we use. We may start to see people as bodies only, not souls. But Jesus says purity of heart helps us to “see God” in others.

The more impure our hearts are, the more we descend to the level of animals. We see people and we either want to use them, avoid them — or fight them.

But we are called to much higher things. Says Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

As children of God, we are called to break out of the whole cycle that reinforces the devil’s lies and rejects Jesus’ teaching. The problem: Much of the world is trapped. We have to choose God’s ways over the world’s. It is only by making a decision to follow God, no matter the consequences, that we can make a clean break. “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the Sundays to come, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues with more incisive, practical advice.

Tom Hoopes

is writer in residence at

Benedictine College in

 Atchison, Kansas.

He is the author of

What Pope Francis Really Said.