Scripture for the Sick or Dying: Matthew 5:1-12

Name a Bible passage recommended for Catholic weddings, funerals, and penance/confession. Stumped? Likely not, my friend, if you are following this post and have read the title. You now know it’s also recommended for people who are sick or dying.

Guess what? It’s also coming up next weekend for the observance of All Saints.

It’s been mentioned many times on this site. In those series on Bible readings, certainly. I recall my wife’s and my wedding day fell on a Sunday in which this Gospel was preached. These virtues are applied to and urged for those who seek a Christian life, not just a fruitful marriage.

Some years ago my friend Fran suggested a lens of hope, especially for those facing loss at a time of a funeral. That makes much sense to me.

In the larger context of the Gospel of Matthew, the evangelist presents these principles as the opening statement of the Sermon on the Mount. That three-chapter speech covers a lot of ground:  relationships with others, prayer, charity, persistence, among other topics. The Beatitudes are a perfect set-up for all this. They are also a primer not just for the disciple’s life, but also for the time when believers face personal upheaval from serious illness or when close to death.

Looking over these virtues, and it seems any one of them might apply. At least one.

When he saw the crowds,
(Jesus) went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down,
his disciples came to him.

He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted
for the sake of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
Thus they persecuted the prophets
who were before you.

My wife tells me she is drawn to the first of these, the one regarding the poor in spirit. Such a person has an aspiration: the end of suffering in the Reign of God to come. I get that. In my pastoral life, I’ve known many people who have suffered chronic illness. They tell me it becomes a steady unpleasant drumbeat, reminding them of their inflamed nerve endings, their loss of mobility, the difficulty in speaking or taking breath. Some day mortal life will end. What is to come is unknown, but the promise of the Lord is that restoration will be ours.

Scripture scholars bat around exactly what Jesus meant by “poor in spirit.” It doesn’t seem he implies a lack of piety or religious belief. It might seem he is describing the full effects the anawim feel, those who are bowed down. Perhaps the main meaning is poverty and the crushing life that goes with it. It might also mean those who have been browbeaten by modern life, perhaps even in the Church itself.

No doubt, we mistreat the sick, the elderly, and the dying too often. Perhaps it is no wonder people choose euthanasia. For those who minister to the sick, it might be even more important to keep the Beatitudes in mind than the Ten Commandments o0r even the Great Two. I tend to go with my wife’s counsel. I find it fruitful. And if the Lord endorses it as well, I’d say this reading is well worth prayerful reflection whether the sacrament is marriage or penance, or even anointing or viaticum.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Pastoral Care of the Sick, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

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