I had a music teacher in high school named Mr. Guzzi who had regular gigs playing piano in a jazz band. During one class one day, he told the story about the trumpeter in his band, who was obsessed with Louis Armstrong. More than anything, he wanted to play the trumpet like Armstrong. So, Mr. Guzzi said, the guy listened to nothing but Louis Armstrong recordings. During set breaks, when the other musicians were hanging around, having a drink or a smoke, the trumpeter would sit by himself with his headphones and listen to Louis Armstrong. Over time, it had an effect. And Mr. Guzzi said that there came a point that, if you were to close your eyes and listen to this man play the trumpet, you would swear that you were listening to Louis Armstrong.
“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.” In this final Beatitude, the Lord Jesus shifts away from speaking in general terms. Rather than speak of the “Blessed” as “they,” Our Lord now turns to His listeners and says with a startling directness, “Blessed are you…” Thus, we see that the Beatitudes are not mere poetry – they are meant to be lived. He then lists the struggles that make one blessed, with the condition that they be suffered “because of me.” Fr. Simeon Leiva-Merikakis says that in doing so, Our Lord “transforms the whole rationale for such sanctity from categorial moral injunction to commitment through personal relationship with Himself.” Moral precepts have their role to play, but Christianity in the end is not about rules, but relationship. Fr. Simeon: “The Christian is not presented an exalted spiritual program that will make him a virtuous man, one who attains happiness through virtue. When He preaches the Beatitudes, Christ is providing an intimate commentary of who He himself is, and the disciples are to be fortunate and blessed in this precise way in which the Son of God is fortunate and blessed.”
My teacher’s story about the trumpeter who wanted to sound like Louis Armstrong helps us to understanding what our lives are supposed to be like. We are called to be holy, because holiness is the blessed and happy life that God wants for us. But we cannot enjoy that life without Christ. We cannot be holy without Him. Apart from Christ Jesus, the Beatitudes are just platitudes, easily dismissed as lovely sentiments. But as we have learned through our reflections this past week, Our Lord embodies the Beatitudes. They speak of Him and who He is, and what we are invited to through our lives lived with Him. How can we be Catholics without getting to know Christ? How can we be Christian if we have no relationship with the Lord? He gives us everything we need to know Him, and He invites us to enter into that relationship. By spending time with Him in prayer, reading the Sacred Scriptures, serving Him in others, receiving Him in the Sacraments, and doing the hard work of loving our neighbor as members of His Bride the Church, we take on the savor of Christ. This is what the Beatitudes reveal to us. Like the musician who, through practice and imitation, takes on the characteristics of his favorite musician, the one who loves Our Lord wants to know Him and imitate Him and become Him – so much so, that those who encounter the disciple would swear they were encountering the Lord Himself.