The Beatitudes are the solemn blessings of God upon those who in spirit and deed respond to God’s loving call as He desires. Jesus pronounces them to open the greatest sermon ever given – the Sermon on the Mount. They can be read in their fullest extent in the opening verses of Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Today, we generally recognize nine beatitudes, although in older commentaries, the eighth and the ninth beatitudes are combined as one giving the more ancient numbering of eight beatitudes.
Paragraph 1716 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven.”
Thus, these solemn blessings are given not just to the chosen people of the Old Covenant, but also to those who live under the New Covenant. These blessings are objective Divine realities, not subjective human feelings. Note what the Catechism has to say: the beatitudes “fulfill the promises” made by God. We all want to be blessed by God! And Jesus has told us His standards for giving them.
The World’s Standards of Success
I believe you will agree that we have to take a hard look at how we measure our success in this life and what we teach our children about our standard of success. Our society defines “success” in various ways – some good, some not so good, and some are just not good at all.
The “world” often measures the success of a person in terms of their education attained, wealth accumulated, the job they perform and their self-reliance or lack of dependence on others. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with “success” in any of these, but how we acquire them and what we do with them do matter. Unfortunately, the “world” also looks more favorably on those of a certain skin color, nationality and even those with “good looks”. Such prejudices have led to tragic results for individuals and even entire races and classifications of human beings. These externals are not the source of our human dignity which comes from God alone. God’s measurement is based on a much different ruler.
God’s Standards of Success
God has chosen to create each of us because of His infinite Goodness and has made us for a supernatural end: we are to spend all eternity with Him in happiness in the life to come. That is the source of the dignity of the human person and absolutely no one can take that dignity away from you – no matter how weak and poor you are, no matter how little education you have, no matter how sick and infirm you are, no matter how alone and defenseless you are and no matter the color of your skin or your national origin.
But Jesus reminds us that God does reward us with His blessing according to how we live; how we treat others, particularly those whom the world rejects, and how we personally respond to His call to blessedness.
The Greatest Sermon
Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom and to redeem fallen man. He came to fulfill the Law. At the end of the age, that is, the passing of the old to the new that occurs at the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Law would take on a higher ethic and code of conduct for the redeemed Christian. The promise of God to send His Messiah that would be accompanied by the joy and grace of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The blessedness of this promise upon the human person is what Jesus described as he began this sermon.
They saw a great light – all who in the world’s view were losers were in God’s eyes the true victors if they humbly sought God. What Jesus described is not accepted by the “world”. They rejected Him and they reject what He said. We must not do the same, even though the world will reject us. We who accept Jesus must also accept His teaching. It is the path to heaven. That is why the Sermon on the Mount is the Greatest Sermon. The words of this sermon are not words about God; they are the very words of God directed to our supernatural end. They bring hope and joy to the people of God who the world will always hate. No matter our condition and no matter what the world thinks of us, God’s Justice and Mercy prevail.
Dr, Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue, “Just as the Beatitudes summarize the blessedness of supernatural virtue, the seven deadly sins summarize the misery of supernatural vice.” Recognizing the Capital Sin opposed by the Beatitude helps one to gain even deeper insight to the Sermon. I want to focus on just four of the beatitudes and look at the thread common to them.
Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit – One need not be materially poor to be poor in spirit, but think of those who in spite of their material poverty, maybe even because of it, remain faithful to and hopeful in God. Those who follow the example of Christ and practice humility are the ones who have overcome the deadliest of the seven deadly sins – pride. We have become so prideful that we refuse to depend on God.
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – These are the people who mourn, not for their own material suffering (humble endurance of such suffering is a beatitude, after all), but for sin in the world, including their own sin and its disastrous impact, especially on others. In particular, blessed mourning for the needs and sufferings of others helps us overcome the sin of envy.
Blessed Are the Meek – These are the people who surrender their wills to the will of God. There is nothing weak or timid about the meek. Jesus described himself as meek: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart…” (Matthew 5:5) There is nothing at all weak about Jesus. He preached with conviction and force, He traveled without a place to lay His head, He laid down his life for you and me. When we surrender to God, our weakness becomes our strength and our passions and emotions become moderated. Meekness especially controls anger, not allowing it to grow into sin.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – This hunger and thirst is not directed for what one can obtain for self but for what one can give to others others. It is a hunger intent on the good that is sacrificial.
In Humility and Surrender there is Peace
All of these, and the other beatitudes as well, have humility and surrender as their foundation. We may think we are humble, but all too often a lack of peace betrays the judgment. Have you ever felt that you knew what God’s will was for you in a particular circumstance or at a particular time? I am thinking of a circumstance or time that is particularly difficult and trying. You believe that you know and are following God’s will for you. But the obstacles that are blocking your efforts are frustrating you and causing you to question – maybe even question your faith. A common refrain that repeatedly comes to mind is, “If only…?” “If only God would do such and such. If only so and so would help. If only things were different, what wonderful things I could do. Fr. Ciszek, in his incredible book, He Leadeth Me, wrote of his time as a captive in Russia during and following World War II, that it was not until he stopped thinking of himself and his loss of freedom and purpose that he became truly free and discovered God’s will for him. It was the realization that the very place and condition of his life was God’s will for him and that brought spiritual peace and allowed him to serve in the way that God desired. The God of the universe who loves you more than you can know holds you in His palm wherever you are and brings good out of even great suffering and evil.
This is the peace that is the sure sign that you have begun to enter the Kingdom. The new ethic, described in the Sermon on the Mount, by which we Christians are to live has as its foundation the very beatitudes by which Jesus laid out its beginning. If we are to be the Blessed of God, this is one of the first truths we must embrace. Hunger and thirst for God… for Him and for His hunger and thirst of others and you – whenever and wherever. Turn all your cares over to Him, trust in Him, hope in Him, and have faith in Him. Be as He is. Repay slights and injury with love, not vengeance. Love your enemies, even as God loves you. Then you will truly be Blessed by God.
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