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Beatitudes vs. Narcissism: Dos and Don'ts

User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes

Sunday, Jan. 30, is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle I).

Readings
Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146:6-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Our Take
Every age has its unique failing. As Christopher Lasch argued in the 1980s, ours might be that we have become a “culture of narcissism.” The New York Times described the members of this culture as “joyless men and women who cannot love anyone, but spend their lives desperately seeking admiration to counteract their feelings of inner emptiness,” those who “have a grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness and react with rage or deep humiliation when their superiority is not recognized.”

We can all recognize a little bit of that in others. But if we look hard enough and honestly enough, we can recognize these tendencies in ourselves too.

The beatitudes are the Gospels’ incredibly profound answer to the unique problems of many different ages. Here’s an attempt to apply them to the selfishness prevalent in our culture.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.

Don’t think you are something special because your house, car, sweater or laptop is special!

Do thank God daily for what you have. Realizing that as an American you are “rich” by world standards, find ways to share your “wealth.”

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Don’t be too cool to show how you really feel; to not do so is a form of dishonesty, and it leads to a duplicitous life.

Do be authentic, allowing the true you to be the only you.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Don’t insist on your own way all the time, subtly or forcibly turning situations to your advantage.

Do insist on your values, while allowing others leeway in all that you can.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Don’t excuse sin, either out of cowardice or to preserve your own pet indulgence and self-conception.

Do have the integrity to follow your better angels in the world at large.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Don’t take everything personally. Give people a break!

Do love others as you should love yourself — with foibles and all.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.

Don’t use other people for your advantage. They exist for themselves, not as props in your life (that goes for people in movies and on the Internet too).

Do treat people as you would want to be treated (and as you would want your daughter to be treated in movies and on the Internet).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Don’t ever allow violence to be in any way a solution to problems, short of self-defense.

Do show you believe in the sacredness of life whenever you can, when around pregnant moms and the handicapped and the aging, even if it takes extra time.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Don’t feel alarmed and disgusted and angry at God when your Christianity leads to conflict with the world.

Do look at the crucifix and leave it all in Christ’s hands; he knows how to bring good out of everything.

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,

where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.