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The Beatitudes: Generosity and Happiness

We might remind ourselves that there are two sides to the Gospel ethic. On the one hand, there are many obstacles that we have to remove, temptations we must overcome. On the other hand, despite having constantly to war against our native impulses, the evil spirit and the machinations of the world, we are also bidden to give ourselves to God.

Both elements of our spiritual life are essential. We have native tendencies in us—the passions—that tend to tyrannize us. What we talk about as the Seven Capital Sins, I like to call our seven basic tendencies as fallen human beings. We also know that to ignore the fact that we must war against ourselves and against the seductions of evil all around us would be folly. On the other hand, we are also to practice virtue. Our focus here is on that aspect—what we sometimes call the positive side of the Gospel ethic.

This second side of our Christian responsibility is synthesized in the Beatitudes, which our Savior gave us. There are certain classic passages in Christ’s teaching that remain the cornerstones of our lives. Such, for example, is the Lord’s Prayer; such is Christ’s discourse in the sixth chapter of John when He promised the Eucharist; such is His long homily at the Last Supper before He died; such are the Beatitudes.

There are two versions of the Beatitudes in the Gospels; one of four and the other of eight. Over the centuries, Christian wisdom has speculated on how the four are really the eight, and how the eight can be synthesized into four. We shall concentrate on the eight Beatitudes by first looking briefly at their significance in themselves, and how what we call the Beatitudes are in many ways the Magna Carta of Christian perfection. So much so that the Second Vatican Council, which spoke more than all the other councils put together on the religious life, describes religious life as a “lifetime commitment to practicing the Beatitudes.”

Why are they significant? Because they are uniquely Christian principles of human conduct. Winston Churchill, on one occasion (you know he was capable of summarizing a lot in a few words), observed sagely how the British Empire could not survive for one week if it were based on the Beatitudes. Right he was! Secular society is not expected to, nor does it, operate on the Beatitudes.

The norms set down in the Beatitudes go far beyond the dialogue in which Christ confirmed the Decalogue. The Beatitudes are its fulfillment. The Ten Commandments given on Mt. Sinai summarize pre-Christian morality. The Beatitudes assume the Decalogue and they go beyond it. One reason the Beatitudes are able, humanly speaking, to make such heavy demands on human nature is because God, when He became man, gave man the grace to go beyond the Decalogue.

The Beatitudes are a perfect synthesis of Christ’s own life; they are, if you wish, a summary of Christ’s own practice of virtue. When we say that perfection consists in following Christ and ask what that means, we can answer that it means practicing the Beatitudes, which Christ first practiced and then preached.

The Beatitudes exemplify the paradoxical character of Christianity. We speak of Christian mysteries, and so they are. They are not fully comprehensible to the human mind. We are told, “He that loses his life will find it” and “Those who are great, but become small, will inherit the kingdom.” We are told that God has chosen the “little things,” the “foolish things,” to confound the strong and the wise. These are all paradoxes. But what is a paradox? It is an apparent contradiction. I like to identify mystery with paradox, and say that our faith is full of paradoxes.

In the Beatitudes, the paradox is happiness, which Christ promises if a person does certain things that naturally—or humanly speaking—are the very opposite of what we would expect to bring happiness. In short, He tells us to do things that we don’t naturally enjoy and then tells us we are going to have joy. “Come, come,” we say, “Lord, now what do you mean?” “What?” He tells us, “You have heard the word supernatural haven’t you?” “Yes, of course, Lord.” “Well, that is what I mean. The super part of supernatural is that which I give unexpectedly by your giving up certain things. You sacrifice pleasure and I will give you joy.”

There are many translations of the Beatitudes. One begins with, “How happy . . .” Why? Because it implies how unexpectedly happy “are the poor in spirit.” One difficulty in speaking on the foundations of our faith is that, in the nature of things, we have heard such things so often, we have read so much about them, we have prayed about these things so many times, we are tempted to think they are like relearning a multiplication table. No! Every time we direct our faith-inspired minds to these mysteries we learn more about them.

How happy are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

This Beatitude assumes that someone either already has certain possessions or gifts and is nevertheless poor in spirit, or that he does not have certain things but is detached from what he doesn’t have. Do you know we can be attached to things we don’t have? Talk about being strange creatures! Are we ever odd! In either case, poverty of spirit is “detachment of spirit.”

I am not sure which class of people finds it harder to practice this Beatitude. I suppose, though, that it is those who have more, de facto, and are nevertheless bidden by Christ to be poor in spirit; they had better be, otherwise they won’t be happy. They must be detached from what they have.

Like what? Like a good mind. Having taught some very intelligent men over the years, I tell them, especially those who have troubles with their cerebration, “Look, maybe you have never thought of it this way. Do you know the heaviest cross you have?” They are not sure. “It is your very good mind. You have such a sharp intellect, it is causing you all kinds of pain. You see problems where other people don’t even notice any reason for a problem.”

We must be detached even from such things as intelligence—skills of any kind. These include social abilities like affability or ability in speech. Some, as I have discovered, have good minds but they just go into a tangle when they face an audience. They get tongue-tied. In my younger days, before my ordination, I taught speech. What a pathetic sight to see a first-class mind looking at its shoes in addressing an audience. But some can talk, write, pray. We all must pray, but some of us do it easier than others.

We are required, then, to be detached in spirit so that we use the gifts we have as God wants us to use them, and to enjoy them only insofar as the Lord wants us to enjoy them, but never to take complacency in any creature. And, of course, we tend to take complacency in the creature that we most enjoy.

We are, therefore, not to dwell on what we have. Not to think ourselves better than somebody else because we have more than someone else has. Why? Because whatever we have is a gift. We are not to parade our gifts. Oh, is that ever hard! As my fourth grade teacher told me—(God bless her) she is still living and tells me she is praying for me. I tell her, “Sister Georgine, keep praying!” She took me aside one day after class and she said, “John, don’t be a showoff.”

First then, “poor in spirit” means not taking complacency (and this is not easy), so that we don’t dwell on what we’ve got or what we have done; it is often the last citadel that virtue will conquer.

 

Happy are the gentle, they shall have the earth for their heritage.

As you read this, you are probably tempted to say, “Lord, thanks, but I am not particularly interested in the earth for my heritage.” Before we address that, let us consider what “gentleness” means. The word is not easily defined because gentleness is not much respected in today’s world. It is the aggressive personality who gets all he can out of life. He is the hero of our literature.

Gentleness is strength restrained by love. Only strong people can be gentle. Others can seem to be, but they are not. I don’t know much about art criticism, but I have read some volumes in the field. One world-famous art critic said that if you want to depict strength of power or energy, always picture it poised. And he compared two images. In on picture, a huge many-ton boulder lies at the bottom of a canyon. In the other picture, the boulder is just on the edge at the top of the canyon, and you are almost afraid it is going to fall even as you look at the picture. The second image is strength, power held back.

Gentleness, therefore, is not weakness; it is just the opposite. It means that someone has hurt me but I don’t hurt back. How many times in public I have been told things when everything in me cries out to tear a person to shreds. Especially when you recognize a mediocre mind. But you don’t, not because you can’t, but because love keeps you from doing that which nature urges you to do.

Now to the promise of having the earth for our heritage, or whatever expressions other translators use. According to the Fathers of the Church, who comment very much on the Beatitudes, this means the ability, through God’s grace, to prevail over others. Gentleness conquers, gentleness wins, gentleness overcomes, gentleness prevails over the hardest hearts, over the most humanly impossible situations (and, as you know, all the impossible situations are human situations). To prevail over human wills; there is no more difficult conquest on earth. The secret is restraint, gentleness.

 

Happy are those who mourn; they shall be comforted.

Now as you know, there is trouble with our English language. Did you know that English is not a Catholic language? And by now it is getting to be a very secularized language. Because, while the labels remain quite constant, the meaning of what’s behind the label is determined by the persons who use the language. If the culture that uses the language is a believing culture, the words or the labels will have the corresponding meaning. As the culture becomes less and less believing, or believing in things that are not Christian, the labels may remain the same but the meaning changes. As you discover in conversation with intelligent secularists, although we use the same words, we are not saying the same things.

Of all the paradoxes, “Happy those who mourn, they shall be comforted” is, humanly speaking, the nearest to a contradiction that we can conceive. It is like saying, “Happy are those who are unhappy.” Clearly, we have to distinguish, and even in distinguishing, we are stuck with the same lexicon. We have to keep using these same words. We must cut off, trim here and add there, and say we don’t quite mean this but something a little different.

It may help to distinguish between sorrow and sadness. Christ does not mean “happy those who are sad.” Sadness is mourning, but it is either mourning over things that don’t deserve to be mourned over, or it is going beyond the extent to which they were supposed to be mourned. It is either mourning over the wrong object or excessive mourning.

Sorrow, on the other hand, is grief over what deserves to be mourned (and mourned in the right way). The Gospels give us a fine description of what is to be mourned in the two episodes where we are told that Our Lord wept. He wept over Jerusalem and at Lazarus’ tomb. Why did Christ weep over Jerusalem? Because Jerusalem was sinning! What, then, is a correct object for mourning? Sin. Christ Himself, the Son of God, not only mourned over Jerusalem, but what happened in Gethsemane? He was in positive agony. We say, with some justification, this was in anticipating His sufferings, but mainly it was due to sin—our sin.

At Lazarus’ tomb, Christ sorrowed over Lazarus’ death. We, too, sorrow over the loss of people we love. God does some uncanny things. He puts lovable people into our lives. And, leave it up to God, you know what He always does? He takes them away.

What are we promised? Not comfort in some cheap sense. But comfort that brings strength or fortitude to bear patiently with the sorrows God puts into our lives. It is, therefore, not wrong to mourn. Is that news? I hope it isn’t. There are times we should give in to our sorrow. But we should also know when to turn away from it.

 

Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, for they shall be satisfied.

As you know, you can re-read the Gospels by just accenting the different words. You can practically write ten Gospels for each one of the four. I like this accent: they shall be satisfied.

We have all sorts of desires. “Hunger and thirst” is simply symbolic language for desires. You name the desires and we’ve got them. And it is just as well that most people don’t know what we desire—we would lose a lot of friends. Being honest with ourselves, we know that not all of our desires—these hungers and thirsts—are for what is right. Consequently, truth in the following of Christ consists in desiring and then choosing what is right. And what is the beauty of that? Ah, how sweet this is: we will get rid of all our frustrations. Honest! Do you know why? Because all of our desires will be satisfied. Isn’t that wonderful?

Frustration is unfulfilled desires. Frequently, the trouble is not with having desires—that is what life this side of Heaven is—desires, as Heaven is their fulfillment. The trouble is in what we desire. Heaven is the fulfillment of desires, provided we desire what is right. And that is not easy because there a lot of things that clamor for satisfaction, and so seductively present themselves as appealing. “Won’t you choose me?” Then a smile, then a little tinkle of a bell, then a fragrance. We are torn. Whereas the only question that should ever be on our minds is not how appealing a thing is, or how sweet, or fragrant, or melodious, to use symbolic terms, but how right it is. Having right desires, we can relax; they will all be satisfied.

What is the “right” for which we are to hunger and thirst? The word has many possible translations; let me suggest a few. That is “right” which leads me to my destiny. That is “right” which leads me to where I am going directly. “Right,” in the sense of direct, straight. It is “right” because it is correct.

The assurance we have, then, is of satisfaction (a sense of achievement). Oh, how we all need that. Here in this life, what is the secret? To desire what is right. And the promise, remember, this is all in this world yet. Do you hear it? It is not just that eschatological future, but here and now. Provided we choose the right things, then, when we desire we shall be satisfied.

Happy are the merciful; they shall have mercy shown to them.
Some words drop out of common usage when people cease to believe in what they stand for. Mercy is not a popular word outside of Christianity. What is it? Mercy is love that overcomes resistance. I love in spite of the fact that I am not loved. I love those things which cause me difficulty and trouble. I love even those who not only don’t love me, but who may oppose me, who may hate me. This is what God’s mercy is towards us. It is His love overcoming resistance. And you know who offers resistance to God’s love—we do. Yet in spite of us, God loves us. That is mercy.

 

How happy are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

There are many meanings to the expression “pure of heart” or “purity of heart.” But the one that we cannot omit is the internal chastity of mind, symbolized by the biblical word “heart.” Whenever the Scriptures want to interiorize a virtue, they speak of having it in one’s heart.

We usually think of chastity in the external order, because quite obviously it deals with the senses and the control of the venereal pleasures natural to us. “Purity of heart” is internal chastity of mind or what I like to call it, “chastity of the imagination.” This is more than chastity of body, or chastity of the senses. It means that kind of custody over the internal movements of my spirit in which I sacrifice the very laudable, and beautiful and sacred satisfaction which God permits only to those who are married and only within the marital embrace. Furthermore, “purity of heart” is required of all Christ’s followers. It is not only priests or religious, who vow to celibacy, who are called to practice chastity of heart; married people outside of their own marital relations are too. Not easy!

For millions of youth in our society, chastity before marriage is extremely difficult. This is clear from the lives in shambles of the by-now millions of young men and women who have tasted, as they thought, the “pleasures of sex,” and found themselves betrayed by a tyrant.

Those of us who are vowed to chastity must cultivate the virtue of chastity, which is deeply interior, in order to give the kind of witness—oh, how the world needs the witness—of consecrated chastity today.

The promise is they shall see God. Chastity confers clarity of vision. It enables a person to see God in a way that those who do not practice chastity, or even those who have not vowed themselves to a life of chastity, are privileged to enjoy. And no one cheats here! That perspicacious capacity which partakes of mysticism—to be able to see God even in this life, His beauty and His goodness, even in the most impossible situations of life —is reserved for those who have learned the secret of purity of heart.

 

How happy are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.

There is so much disorder in the world that God wants peacemakers. Peacemaking means reconciliation: first with God, the highest kind of peacemaking; with themselves, and within themselves. What is the promise? A special affection from God, even as a mother or father has for a child. In the apostolate, we are to labor to reconcile sinners with God: people we love, people we want only the best for, who are estranged from God, or who are estranged among themselves.

Finally as a kind of capstone, there is the most unexpected kind of happiness.

 

Happy are those who suffer persecution for justice sake, they shall possess the kingdom of God.

Christ knew He couldn’t let this Beatitude stand alone. He had to explain it. “Happy,” He tells us, “are you when men reproach you, persecute you, and speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you for my sake.” “Lord, do you mean it?” Yes, He does.

“Rejoice!” He already said “happy”! Now He says, “rejoice.” And then He adds (He really wanted to get this one across) “and be very glad, your reward in Heaven is very great.” They persecuted the prophets and, as He intimated, that is what they were doing to Him. “If you want to be like Me,” He says, “rejoice!” I cannot tell you how much this Beatitude has meant to me. Sometimes it is the only thing that keeps me sane.

What is persecution all about? It is about the things we used to read about. We used to shake our heads, saying how terrible those times used to be. How hard it was in those early centuries of persecution, as we call them. How difficult it must have been for the people, say, in the sixteenth-century at the time of the so-called Reformation.

Well, we used to read history. We never dreamt this would happen. It did. We in this generation are being called upon to make history. And the only ones who will make history—meaning those whose names will be remembered—not only in the Book of God, but the annals of men in the Church of the future, are those who in these day have learned to stand up for the Truth. But in doing so, you must expect to be opposed. If you are not persecuted, if you are not opposed, if you are not spoken falsely about, if people don’t say all manner of evil against you for Christ’s sake; suspect today your loyalty to the Master.

This is one of those not too frequent ages in history called an “age of persecution.” Did you know that, statistically, there have been more martyrs who have died for the name of Christ since 1900 than in all the centuries of Christianity put together? That is right! My first prayer book was in Russian print. Most of my blood-relatives were behind the Iron Curtain. Some have died for their faith.

Let us pray and sacrifice so that God might strengthen our fellow Christians, fellow members of the same Mystical Body who are suffering for Jesus. Let us pray that God will send them the grace so that they might persevere, as He said, to the end.

And let us pray for ourselves that we too, individually and corporately—the Church, our bishops, our priests, religious, and the laity— might have the strength not only to be called faithful, but to be faithful. Because we are being persecuted, in our country, not with fire and sword, but with what is often even more successful: seduction, blandishment and the sad example of those who still call themselves Christians, but who have betrayed the Name of Christ.

Let’s ask our Savior who gave us the Beatitudes to help us live them. They are the promise of joy on earth, as an anticipation of joy in Heaven, for those who have lived out what they have learned, what Christ told them they must do to be like Him.

Poverty in the Modern World

If there is one theme that permeates the Gospels, it is the practice and praise of poverty.

When the Word became flesh and the infinite God entered our world as Man, He was born in a stable. His Mother wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, literally "rags," and laid Him in a manger, literally in a "trough." He lived in the poor village of Nazareth where His foster father was a carpenter.

When Jesus began His public life, He told the people that He had come "to preach the Gospel to the poor" (Luke 4:18). During His three years of preaching, He admitted that "the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, but the Son of Man does not have whereon to lay His head" (Matthew 8:20). He celebrated the Last Supper at the house of a benefactor. And after His crucifixion and death, He was buried in a stranger's tomb.

Throughout His ministry, He stressed the primacy of poverty, the danger of riches, and the nobility of giving up everything to follow Him.

As we read the lives of the saints, we are struck by what seems like excessive stress on being poor.

"Let us consider ...what the community of believers did in the time of the Apostles ...They sold their houses and farms and gladly and generously gave to the Apostles the proceeds to be dispensed to the poor" (St. Cyprian).

"Destitute yourself to follow a destitute Christ" (St. Jerome).

"Poverty was not to be found in heaven ...Therefore the Son of God, longing after it, came down from heaven to choose it for Himself, and to make it precious to us" (St. Bernard).

"Poverty is good and contains within itself all the good things in the world. It is a great domain. I mean that he who cares for nothing for the good things of this world has dominion over them all" (St. Teresa of Avila).

 

The Modern Dilemma

So the panegyric on poverty goes on, from apostolic times to the present. Then we ask ourselves: How are we in our day, at the close of the twentieth century, to practice poverty?

This is our dilemma. We are living in the most affluent society of human history. We have access to so much of this world's comforts and pleasures and ease and leisure and food and entertainment, that the very word "poverty" has become a label for backwardness. And our way of life is called progress. Yet all the while we are haunted by the example and teachings of Christ who "being rich became poor for our sake" (II Corinthians 8:9). We are warned by the unanswerable question, "Has not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him" (James 2:25).

There is no option. Either we practice poverty or we shall not only not be sanctified; we shall not even be saved. It was not a pious platitude but a sober truth when Jesus said how hard it is for the rich person to enter heaven.

 

How to Practice Poverty Today

Certainly, the Gospels were meant to be lived not only in first century Palestine, but in twentieth century North America. The crucial question is how. The following are some directives. While referring directly to poverty, their underlying principles apply equally to the practice of Christian chastity and charity. Along with poverty, they form the triad of virtues that are mainly on trial in the affluent, sexual and self-preoccupied societies of our times.

We must be convinced on faith that the First Beatitude of Christ's Sermon on the Mount is a divinely revealed truth. Only the poor in spirit will inherit the Kingdom of heaven. We shall be only as zealous about practicing poverty as we are convinced that our salvation depends on our being, and not merely professing to be, poor in spirit.


It is not quite true to say that an abundance of worldly possessions is no hindrance to salvation. It is.


We must pray to understand how we, in our state of life, with our possessions of money, property, living facilities, food, clothing, means of travel and entertainment are nevertheless to remain poor in spirit.


We must be sincere with God in telling Him that we are interiorly detached from the material things we possess or have access to. Self-deception is easy when I have all that I want of earthly satisfactions and then verbally tell God that my heart is not addicted to what I enjoy.


We should examine our conscience daily on this internal detachment from what may externally surround us like the air that we breathe. Poverty of spirit is not a figure of speech. It is a living reality. If I am truly practicing the First Beatitude, I will experience something of what it means to be poor.


If I am practicing poverty of spirit, I will be industrious. Poor people have to work for a living. "To labor is to pray," says St. Benedict. And Thomas à Kempis asks, "Why do you want to rest, since you are born to labor."


If I am practicing poverty of spirit, I will be sensitive to the material needs of others. Poverty of spirit means charity of spirit. I want to share what I have with others; and not only of my superfluities, but even of my necessities.


A good index of how poor we are is how peaceful we are in spirit. Worry and anxiety about the things of this world are, on Christ's own testimony, signs of a lack of trust in God's providence. According to St. Alphonsus Liguori, this means detachment "not only from what is valuable, but also from what is trifling."


Internal detachment from worldly things frees the human heart for attachment to heavenly things. The more time we have in our leisure society, the more time we should give to prayer.


The world in which we live needs our witness of poverty. People who know what we believe should see our faith put into practice. It will take much light from God to live among the affluent and yet remain internally poor. We must call upon all the resources of grace to be patient and prudent and kind in our dealings with others without compromising our fidelity to Christ who became a poor Child to show us the way to heaven.

The Second Beatitude: Blessed are the Meek or Gentle for They Shall Inherit the Earth

Who are meek people? Meek people are those people who control their anger. We all have a temper. I tell people you’ve got a temper, when necessary use it but never loose it. Keep it in control. Meekness is therefore the virtue which controls irascibility. There are so many things that can provoke us to anger and so many people. When it is people as I said before they are just being themselves, that’s the trouble they are just being themselves. Oblivious of how they are provoking those who may have to practice heroic patience to not say something or do something. But it is not just people who can provoke us to anger it is situations

But let me assure, as you work on your temper and you manage to control, better God manages to control. You have no elution of how weak you really are no matter how many homilies you can preach.

I define meekness as strength restrained by love. Weak people are not meek people. And one of the problems you will find in the practice of meekness, people are going to misunderstand you. They are going to put you down to a spineless weak marshmallow. It is not a good figure of speech but you know what I mean. Only strong people can be meek.

I love the person towards whom I practice meekness, so much that I control the strength I have. And I tell you the greatest strength we have is not in the muscles but in the mind. To be insulted by some nincompoop and keep your mouth shut. Ooooh! Oooh! How well I know. How well I know!

Now the reward, a strange reward, accept for the Churches for now centuries of interpretation. Surely, the promise of possessing the earth is not that for every act of meekness you add, let us say, one more acres to your possessions – that would be silly!

What the Church tells us the second Beatitude means, the promise Christ tells us for those who are meek, they will have power over human hearts that no one else will posses.

People watching you, people maybe even try testing you, and they find you meek under provocation. God gives meek people such influence over others as no one else on earth has a right to enjoy. It may be that the one toward whom I am to practice heroic meekness, it may be that the person toward whom I must practice heroic meekness, is the one over whom God wants me to exercise that influence. That it maybe without me and my meekness that person may never be converted to God.

Lord Jesus you told us to be poor in spirit that we may posses the Kingdom of heaven. Detach our hearts dear Jesus, these hearts of ours, from everything in this world and attach them only to you. So that experiencing you already on earth we may have a foretaste of the heaven that awaits us.

You told us to be meek and gentle so that we shall posses the earth by possessing such influence over human hearts as only the meek and gentle can expect.

Jesus, there are many people who enter our lives who need grace from you. Make us, dear Savior, channels of grace to them by keeping us in that meekness of heart which you told us we are to imitate you in practicing. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Heaven is the place and state where the experience of God is enjoyed.

Meekness

It is indispensable to restrain our anger and to practice meekness. So too it is humility of heart that will make us gentle in our dealings with others. Only God can see the human heart. We can only see the exterior of other people. And they can only see us externally. Gentleness is love made manifest. Gentleness is charity shown. Gentleness is sincere love shown by the kindness that we manifest. There is such a thing as practicing charity all right by making the person realize that he or she is making an imposition on our “charity.” We can practice charity and actually make the person wither, over the way we practice what we condescendingly call charity. I believe one of the hardest lessons to learn in life is the fact that whenever we practice charity the person toward whom we show our love, hear it, is our benefactor. Do you hear it? Giving us the opportunity of proving and showing our love for God by practicing charity toward those whom God puts into our lives for this one fundamental purpose that by loving them we might prove to God that we love Him. All of these are powerful motives for not only being charitable internally but showing our love in kindness, gentleness, externally. And let me tell you what people want from us is not only our charity in meeting their needs but the manifestation of our charity in the kindness and gentleness we show them.

Before we go on I am willing to point something out that we are liable to miss because of the words misunderstanding of what gentleness and what meekness mean. I really believe for many people meekness is weakness and gentleness is cowardice. It is not too many people, surely not those who don’t share our faith, who realize that in order to be meek and gentle we must be strong. You won’t expect what I am going to say next. We are indeed to be meek and gentle, restrain our anger, show kindness, but remember it is not charity and it is not following the gentle Christ if we indiscriminately show meekness and kindness. Remember Jesus couldn’t have been more gentle or meek when He spoke to the scribes and Pharisees. Remember what He told them? Remember the way He drove the money changers out of the temple? Remember? In other words there is such a thing as righteous indignation and sinless anger. I mean it. Parents who have authority over their children it would be sheer folly on their parts to not reprove or reprimand and rebuke. Recall the occasion when Christ told Simon you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. Go back to the Gospel of St. Matthew. Read on the next few verses. The Savior foretold His passion the man who was just told he would be the rock on whom Christ would build His church told Jesus, Lord don’t do it. Don’t go to Jerusalem and have those Pharisees get hold of you. Do you know what Jesus told Peter? The man whom He had just called the rock, He called him, Satan. This is the gentle Jesus. There are some devastating crimes being committed in the world today. Crimes against God and against man in the degree to which we are in authority, have a right to do so and a corresponding responsibility we are indeed to be meek and gentle, but we are not to be afraid, to correct, and rebuke and in this too we are following Jesus Christ.

Before we go on to the promise I would like to just for a moment pull out what I consider the key to the mystery of meekness and gentleness. How can we remain unmoved when we see so much that is wrong in the world especially when the wrong touches us? The key is to recognize that sin is also part of the providence of God. So that in practicing meekness and gentleness we imitate God himself in human form, Jesus Christ who couldn’t have been more meek and gentle with sinners always assuming they recognized their misdeed and were willing to repent. If God in human form practiced meekness and gentleness who are we to act otherwise.

Now the marvelous promise of the Savior. No matter what translation we use it comes out the same. Blessed or happy are the meek or the gentle for they shall possess the earth or the earth will be their heritage. Now there was a passage in the Old Testament to be exact, Psalm 36:11 which reads as follows. “The meek shall inherit the land and shall delight in the abundance of peace.” Consequently what Christ told us in the second beatitude is the reaffirmation of the Old Testament. But the Savior went far beyond the Old Covenant. Christ’s promise was far more than say possessing well, a pot of ground, or what nobody really wants the whole earth, this planet, for his possession. What did Jesus promise? He promises the meek and gentle extraordinary power over the hearts of others. In other words the meek and gentle will be able to influence other people for good in a way that no one but the person who is meek and gentle can hope for. I can speak as a priest in dealing now for thirty-eight years in my priesthood with so many souls, on a few occasions when I fail to practice this meekness and gentleness that my master taught me I have always been terribly sorry. In teaching priests I tell them you’ll have power from on high to melt the hardest hearts if you deal with others gently, kindly and meekly. How can we expect to influence others provided we practice meekness and gentleness? We will be able to have Christ’s teaching accepted by those who we are trying to influence. How well I know the teaching of Christ is not easy for the proud human mind to accept. This teaching will be accepted on the condition that the one who teaches himself or herself practices meekness and humility of heart. All of us in greater or less measure want to influence people who are somehow estranged from God. There are sinners, sinners in this world who need to return to the God from whom they have strayed. Very well. How can that be done? It can be done only by other people entering their lives and practicing toward these sinners, if need be heroic meekness and gentleness. I’m saying more than your ears seem to indicate. Who are the ones with whom we are to be especially meek and gentle? Needless to say they are the people who are most difficult or trying in our own lives. Especially when the pain and maybe agony they cause us is sinful on their part yet what an adversative, yet, provided I am gentle, meek, in a word patient in dealing with such people, God will use my meekness, my patience to convert that sinner.

We go on. The world in which we are living is a world of unbelief. How can we convince unbelievers even that there is a God let alone that this God became man and out of love for us suffered and died on the cross. How do you make believers out of unbelievers? Well let me tell you the most important mystery of the faith that we are to teach others to accept is the fact that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, that He lived, died and rose from the dead. Very well. How will we get people to believe what we are telling them. And speaking to you parents, how well I know, having no physical offspring of my own, how well I know, how many parents tell me Father you have no idea how hard it is to raise your children today and keep them in the faith, which I believe when they find so much unbelief around them. I think the most traumatic experience that I have had was when a mother and father told me the seventh child in their family the seventh son and daughter had given up the practice of their faith. How, how to get unbelievers to accept the faith. How to keep believers remaining faithful to the faith? A thousand recommendations. But listen it is by the practice of meekness and gentleness in spite of the worst kind of provocation we may experience even as remember the early church in the first century the followers of Christ were called Christians and the pagan world of Mediterranean Rome was converted to Jesus Christ because the pagans saw Christians, hear it loving one another. In other words if we want to preserve the faith and share the faith we must show the faith by the practice of extraordinary meekness and gentleness in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Prayer
Lord Jesus you gave us only one lesson to learn from you, you told us learn of me for I am meek and gentle of heart. Dear Savior help us to be like you on earth so we might be with you in heaven which is reserved only for those who have been meek, gentle and humble of heart. Amen.


Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Beatitudes

To imitate Christ is to live the Beatitudes. What if we do, poverty, meekness, mourning, hunger, thirst, mercy, purity, peace and persecution are ours. We are to enjoy God’s presence even now in the measure that our wills are conformed to His will. Praise be Jesus Christ, eternally blessed are we if we do. What a joy for Eternal Life to bring you this master teacher of the way to heaven: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 As you know the beatitudes are the beginning of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, which is chapters five, six, and seven of the Gospel of St. Matthew. In our next conference we shall take the Lord’s prayer. Between the beatitudes and the Lord’s prayer, we have a synthesis of all that Jesus wanted to teach us in His Sermon on the Mount. What our Lord did in the beatitudes is give us not just a synthesis but what I might call an ocean of Christian spirituality. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount our Lord keeps contrasting what the people of the Old Law have been told, they were told that, they would quote from a commandment of the Decalogue but He would add, ‘I say to you’. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount is the Decalogue elevated by the Son of God. And the compendium of all of Christ’s teaching and in that sense, a synthesis of everything that He wants His followers to do is contained in the beatitudes. Our plan for each of the beatitudes, which I wish to cover all eight in the time at our disposal, is first to quote from Christ’s statement of each beatitude, briefly explain its meaning as the Church understands the beatitude. But, then especially apply the beatitudes to our own lives, because, the beatitudes were meant to be lived. Indeed, Jesus Christ lived the beatitudes and a perfect restatement of the following of Christ is practicing the beatitudes. We might remind ourselves that the beatitudes opened the Sermon on the Mount. They were given, not surprisingly, to the disciples and selectively to them. And immediately after giving them the beatitudes, Christ told them that they, those whom He had selectively chosen and taught, they were to be the light of the world. They were to be the salt of the earth.

There are two versions in the Gospels of the beatitudes. In St. Luke’s Gospel there are four, coupled with what we call the four woes. In other words, the four beatitudes and the promises that Christ makes to those who live the beatitudes. And then in Luke, the corresponding four threats, woes if you wish, that Christ, shall we say, promises to those who do not live the beatitudes. Before we begin examining each of the beatitudes in detail, let us be clear, for the followers of Christ the beatitudes are not an option, they are a divinely ordained obligation. Having received the grace of the supernatural life in Baptism, we have been given the strength to live the beatitudes and in Luke’s Gospel, quoting our Lord, woe to us, woe to us, if we do not live the beatitudes.

 

First Beatitude

First then, we are told in the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall have the kingdom of heaven.” What is Christ saying? He is telling us that we shall be blessed. Where being blessed means made happy by God. In other words, we shall be supernaturally happy. In particular, living out the first beatitude, we are assured the kingdom of heaven in eternity, but already on earth we are assured happiness. In Christ’s words ‘theirs’ the poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven. What does Jesus mean? He tells us, we shall be, we shall be happy and experience nothing less than a foretaste of heaven here on earth, on one condition, that we are detached from everything in this world. That is the primary meaning of the first beatitude. To be poor in spirit means to not be enslaved by anything in this world. Or from another perspective, to be poor in spirit means, to be internally freed and in that sense, spiritually poor, detached from everything, everything, except the one Being for whom we were made. What are we further saying? Whatever we possess, whether materially speaking or intellectual ability, or education or social prestige, you name it. Whatever it is, before God, the first beatitude tells us, we are to be detached from everything in this world as a condition, watch it, not only for perfect happiness in the world to come, but also for authentic happiness already here in this valley of tears. Our hearts are to be set only, (comma) only, on the living God and in the measure in which our hearts are set on Him, in that measure we shall experience heavenly joy already here and before we reach eternity.

 

Second Beatitude

Second Beatitude. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.” Notice in each of the beatitudes, Christ first sets down the condition and then He follows with a promise. What’s the condition here? It is meekness. Other translations have, “blessed are the gentle,” and the promise, “they shall possess the earth”. What are we being told? Clearly, the promise that Christ makes is not to possess land, so many acres, or least of all, the earth as a planet. Christ does not promise, surely not for His followers, material wealth. Almost two thousand years of the Church’s history tells us, the promise that Jesus makes is influence over the hearts of others, provided we are meek, one translation, or gentle, another version. We shall be able to influence others, we shall possess in the measure of our meekness or gentleness, hear it, we shall possess the wonderful power of leading others to God, but only, and this is Divine mathematics, in the measure of our meekness. What then is the condition for possessing influence over the souls of others? It is meekness as the control of the passion of anger, or from another perspective, and the Greek of St. Matthew allows us to use either English translation, or gentleness, in our loving exercise of strength. I didn’t coin these words last night. In our loving exercise of strength, only strong people can be gentle. Meekness, then, is the virtue of temperance, which masters our spontaneous tendency to anger. When we’re opposed or contradicted, or something or someone, as the expression goes, stands in our way. Meekness masters irascibility. Gentleness, on the other hand, is the virtue of charity, which loves the persons over whom we have power, what a combination, what a combination. To have power over people and to love them and never show, less still parade, one’s dominance over those over whom indeed I have power. Whether the power is political or financial or intellectual, or social or you name it. Instead, gentleness is the exercise of charity. Where we exercise, and in English you hesitate using the word, power. But we use it kindly, patiently, in a word, gently. Power does not show its power. Power respects the person over whom I, indeed, have power, whatever that power may be, because I love the person. And hear it, hear it, the one toward whom I show my love though I have indeed power over that individual, that person, in the language of Jesus Christ, is my benefactor. Because it is by loving others that we prove and show our love for God. We go on.

 

Third Beatitude

The third beatitude has our Lord telling us, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, what are we being told? We are being told there is sorrow, which is pleasing to God. In my own vocabulary I distinguish between sorrow and sadness. And in using these two words, I identify sadness as wrong, as sinful, as sorrow either over the wrong object or sorrow, which has got out of control. But sorrow as such, is, must be pleasing to God. We may say sorrow is part of our life on earth. Christ Himself, we know, mourned, indeed, He wept. And Christ’s weeping, call it Christ’s mourning, is a pattern of what our mourning should be. Christ wept at the grave of Lazarus. We may, indeed, we should mourn over the loss of someone we love. Whether it is a loss by death, as I know I was just ordained when my mother died, one Mass from beginning to end, I wept during the whole Mass. But, as we know, there is losing someone not only by death but by rejection. Losing someone because that someone has become estranged from everything that I hold dear. But there is another and deeper form of mourning that Christ our Lord both manifested and teaches us to follow His example. Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem. We should mourn, mourn over sinners. And we look at our own beloved country, words cannot describe the depths, I mark my words, of depravity to which so many of our fellow countrymen have sunk. Adulterers, fornicators, sodomists, murderers, dear God, are canonized. All of this is, to put it mildly, legitimate mourning. Following, not just the teaching, but the example of the Son of God became man in order to teach us among other lessons, how we are to mourn, living as we are surely in the valley of tears.

But then the promise, Christ tells us, “they shall be comforted”, this poor, non-Catholic, English language, they shall be comforted. In both the original Greek of St. Matthew and the Church’s official Latin, they shall be strengthened, they shall receive fortitude, they shall receive supernatural strength from on high. In other words, Christ our Lord assures us that, like Him, we too are to expect to mourn. But, we are also to expect to be strengthened, strengthened by that Holy Spirit who comes to give us both the light for the mind and especially strength for the will. To bear unflinchingly and courageously under the burden of life and especially under the terrifying burden of living in a sin laden world and sadly receiving often no encouragement from other human beings but depending on Jesus Christ to strengthen us in carrying with Him our cross.

 

Fourth Beatitude

The Fourth Beatitude: Jesus declares, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.” There are at least a half a dozen standard translations of the fourth beatitude. Over the years especially comparing the translation with the original Greek. I prefer the one I’ve just read. What then are we being told? Christ is telling us to desire what is just. Hear it and don’t forget. What is just? That which is pleasing to Him. In other words, we are to hunger and thirst, which in the Bible the two verbs, to hunger and to thirst are the strongest verbs in the biblical vocabulary for desire. We are to hunger and thirst for what is right. And what is right? Hear it, hear it and don’t forget. It is an open, open contradiction to the philosophy of this world. For the world what is right? What I want. For the Christian what is right? What God wants, in other words what I need. Believe me this is not a play on words, this is bedrock Christianity. As over the years I’ve been telling both my students and people I speak to, there’s only one conflict that has ever been, or shall I say, fought in this world, and that is between two wills, the divine will and the human will. What are we then being told? That provide we desire, watch your desires, this is the secret of happiness as locked up deep, deep, down in our hearts. Desire what you need, one statement. Desire what God wants, another statement. Desire what is right, another synonym. Desire heaven and the means of reaching heaven, which is the grace of God. And what’s the promise? What a thrilling promise, your desires will always, always, be satisfied. Over the forty plus years of teaching theology, I never tire of telling people, there is only one definition of happiness, and that is unsatisfied desires. So here it is, it is both that simple and needless to say, that hard. We shall be happy if only, if only we conform our desires to the will of God. And then, oh joy, we will see in everything in our lives the grace of God. We’ll have no problems in life. Father, are you serious? No, I’m not just serious, I am brutally honest. Of course, you might say, but I’m not sure what God wants. My friend, very simple, pray and ask for light. Lord, what do You want? Though He tells you, you may still think you’ve got a problem. You’re scared, pray again. This time, Lord give me strength, know what You want all right, but, oh dear Jesus, I’m afraid. I know you are, that’s why I’m sending you what you call a problem. Ask Me for the strength and you’ll have a foretaste of heaven on earth. Of course, of course, that will mean, of course, it will mean carrying the cross.

 

Fifth Beatitude

The Fifth Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” This Beatitude, Christ made sure was enshrined in the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses, we tell Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. So what is our Lord telling us to do? To forgive others, to not dwell on their, well, what shall I call it, their wickedness, no matter how black you paint their actions towards yourselves, don’t dwell on it. We are to love those who do not love us. In other words, and this is no cliché believe you me, our salvation depends on this, my dear fellow sinners. We all desperately need God’s mercy. Very well, what is the divinely infallible way of obtaining God’s mercy? By practicing mercy towards others. That is why unkind, thoughtless, mean, inattentive, unjust, even cruel people are put into our lives, we need them. I mean it, we need them, and you don’t run away from those people, we need them, they are a great gift. They are God’s provided means for His giving us mercy. What’s the promise? The greatest promise that Christ could make was the reason He became man. And, hear it, on the cross, what did Christ say? Those who had unjustly condemned Him to death, nailed Him to the cross, the murderers, Christ as man begged His heavenly Father to forgive them. And Christ made sure that before He died on Calvary, that He would also pardon, remember, the thief who was crucified along with the Savior. There’s more here than meets the eye. It is not only, though obviously, of great supernatural benefit to us to be merciful to others, that you might say, is the immediate logic of the fifth beatitude. But, as now almost two thousand years of the Church’s commentators have pointed out, the promise, “they shall obtain mercy”, is not only mercy for ourselves. By our being merciful toward others who can be very offensive to us, that too, but also, we obtain mercy for the very ones who are offensive, who hurt us. God has given me the privilege over the years of my priesthood to have experienced enough rejection and of opposition and sadly, from some people that I’ve done some great favors for. In other words, it is not only that mercy is promised to us because we are merciful, but mercy is promised to those toward whom we show mercy. We merit mercy for them and may well be, don’t forget this, it may well be, that our merciful forgiveness of those who have maybe cruelly betrayed us, even hated us, may be the condition that Christ attaches to giving these people His grace of merciful repentance. And that, of course, in one sentence is precisely what Jesus Christ did. Surely, surely, He did not need to have His own sins forgiven. But, His mercy toward those who were so cruel toward Him, His mercy merited the mercy from His heavenly Father, for the very ones, who except for His mercy toward them, would not have obtained mercy from the heavenly Father to be saved themselves. More than any of us realize we hold the salvation of souls in the palms of our hands. We go on.

 

Sixth Beatitude

The Sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” There are two kinds of purity expressed in the sixth Beatitude. There is the purity from sin and there’s the purity of chastity. Both forms of purity are understood in the sixth Beatitude. And what is Christ’s promise? Both purities from sin, and among the sins, purity and being freed from sins against chastity are promised by Christ extraordinary ability to see God. In other words, there is nothing, nothing which so enlightens the human mind in being able to see with the eyes of faith what God has revealed as a clean heart. How this needs to be underlined, indeed I would add, etched in bronze. The more pure a person’s heart is, pure in not being stained with sin, pure in living a chaste life, a sinless heart, a chaste heart, is assured by Christ, a mind that can see and penetrate into mysteries that the most superb intellect cannot penetrate. Forty-seven years in the priesthood have taught me volumes, one thing I’ve learned, there is no mind so black, so dark, so blind, as the mind whose heart is filled with sin. Sinners are blind. They are blind. The first thing I tell people to learn about those who write books in, you name it what, theology, spirituality, biblical studies, you name it, find out what kind of lives those people are living. If they are living humble, obedient, chaste lives, you can trust the writing, otherwise, don’t touch their books. Oh what names I could give, but prudence tells me to withhold. Some years ago I was giving some lectures at the University of Michigan, had dinner with the catholic chaplain at the university. In the course of the conversation, he told me that not a few of the Catholics come to him and they tell him, “I can’t believe all this the Catholic Church is teaching.” So I tell them, “sit down” and my first question is, “How’s your sex life?” “My sex life, what’s that got to do with what I’m telling you?” He tells them, “Everything”. A pure heart is joined to a perceptive mind.

 

Seventh Beatitude

The seventh Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” A word at least should be said about what peace is, to make sense of what a peacemaker is. There are two kinds of peace. I never tire telling people. There is peace of mind and peace of heart. Peace of mind is, the experience of knowing the truth, peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth. For which there is no substitute under heaven. That’s why America, my figures are seventy million Americans, are using some kind of medically prescribed tranquilizers. They’re not at peace. They are starving for the truth. What’s peace of heart? If peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth, peace of heart is the experience of doing the will of God. Oh, how this needs to be, this time, carved in granite. With a graduate degree in psychology, I can tell you it contradicts most of what, at least, psychotherapists will tell you. You have peace of heart, in their vocabulary, when you do your own will. That is not just a lie that is a demonic lie. Peace of heart can be experienced only by those who are doing God’s will and that’s a divinely mathematical proportion. Our hearts will be as much at peace as we are doing the will of God. So then what is peacemaking? Evidently it means, assisting others, first in acquiring peace of mind, teaching them the truth. How many people admire peace of art? Telling them what is God’s will, and of course, reconciling people who are estranged from each other. Hear it. Hear it. Only people who are at peace within themselves can be at peace with others. I repeat, no one else can be at peace with another person, unless he or she is at peace within. And therefore, to be a peacemaker means to help people acquire that inner peace without which there cannot be peace between or among people. And then promise, ah, Christ you might say exalted His vocabulary, the tenderest promise He could make, “they shall be called, children of God”, specially loved by God and whatever you can do to reconcile others will be blessed by the Lord. Others among themselves, but remember, no reconciliation between people is possible unless there is first peace within people and of course needless to say, we will be ourselves only as effective peacemakers as we ourselves are at peace ourselves.

 

Eighth Beatitude

Finally, and I hesitate even speaking of the eighth beatitude because I would like to spend the whole hour just on the eighth beatitude. It is so rich in it’s implications. First it reads, “Blessed are you when men abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account, rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. This is how they persecuted the prophets before you.” Unquote the Savior. What are we being told? Christ saved the eighth beatitude for last. You live faithfully the first seven beatitudes, and my friends, you cannot escape the eighth, am I clear? In other words, even as Christ Himself, and just repeat the verbs, was abused and persecuted and all kinds of calumny spoken against Him, hated, hounded, condemned to death, crucified, and the worst possible, the most horrible kind of execution of which the Roman soldiers were capable, was crucifixion. Christ Himself experienced that suffering and His promises for those who follow in His footsteps, they are to expect to be rejected accordingly. You might ask, well why? Why? Because the world always hates the truth, and when Truth became Incarnate, the Truth was rejected, crucified, died and was buried. You might say somewhat surprisingly, Christ in giving us the eighth beatitude promises, oh, He promises happiness all right, but hear it, the promise of looking forward to a heavenly eternity. In other words, for those who follow Jesus faithfully, they should not expect any other joy here on earth that is more deeply satisfying than the joy of knowing that they are following in the footsteps of the Master and that even as He was rejected, so they are. They are rejected with Him, but, hear it, in the original Greek of St. Matthew, the followers of Christ are told not just to rejoice, but positively, dance with joy. Why? Because love, love enjoys to suffer for the One whom he loves, and there is no greater joy, no greater joy on earth, than that of uniting our being rejected by the world because we are faithful to Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus, we beg You for the grace to not just believe in the beatitudes, not just to understand the beatitudes, not even just to live the beatitudes, but, as the eighth beatitude makes clear, to suffer the beatitudes out of love for You. Because, that dear Jesus, is our greatest happiness. Not only the heaven for which we are made, but already here, in Your arms on earth. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Beatitudes: The New Testament Decalogue

This meditation is on the beatitudes: the New Testament Decalogue. In the history of Christian spirituality the eight beatitudes have been regularly associated with the Ten Commandments. Saints and scholars have analyzed the Decalogue in contrast with the beatitudes. By now there are many learned and useful writings on the subject-- volumes in fact.

Our focus in this meditation is more specific. We ask ourselves: How are the beatitudes given to us by Christ a compendium of what we may call the New Testament Decalogue? Keep in mind that Jesus insisted that He had not come to abolish the law of the prophets, on the contrary He came to fulfill. We ask ourselves how are the beatitudes the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments?

To be noted is that Christ gave the beatitudes to His own disciples selectively. They in turn having received the beatitudes were to teach them to others. This is exactly what The Lord did on Mt. Sinai. He chose Moses the leader of the chosen people who in turn was to give the tablets of the law to the Jews.

 

Similarity Between the Decalogue and the Beatitudes

First I would like to have us reflect on the similarity between the Decalogue and the beatitudes. Both the commandments and the beatitudes were given to us by God therefore they are not constructs of human reason. They are divinely revealed manifestations of the will of God. As we know over the centuries indeed, from the dawn of human history God has given what we call revelation to the human race. Therefore two reasons-- to reveal to us who He is and to reveal to us what He wants. Both the Decalogue and the beatitudes are divine revelations of what God wants.

Secondly both the commandments and the beatitudes are enunciated indeed enumerated God is the great mathematician. God counts things all the number of numbers revealed in the Bible three of this seven of that forty of something else and twelve of something still else. And here ten of one and eight of the other-- in other words both the commandments and the beatitudes have a specific number of directives. That is crucial. Numbering things distinguishes one thing from another and the essence of clarity is distinctiveness. God wanted to be clear, very clear when He gave Moses the Decalogue. Christ wanted to be very clear and in fact so clear that He began each beatitude with well, with only one correct translation (Blessed are they who).

Third both the commandments and the beatitudes are specific. They are not generic directives like do good and avoid evil. Thanks Lord. What good should I do- what evil must I avoid? God is never generic.

Fourth both the commandments and the beatitudes were given to the chosen people. The Jews of the Old Testament and the Christians in the New Testament. Needless to say neither all the Jews of the Old Testament nor all the Christians of the New Testament appreciate God's well, selectively choosing certain people. Thanks Lord, Thanks!

Fifth, both the commandments and the beatitudes synthesize the essential expectations by God of the two chosen people. And finally both the commandments and the beatitudes are imperatives. They are not ten suggestions or even ten options. They are Ten Commandments. No doubt we commonly speak of the Decalogue as the Ten Commandments and call the eight promises of happiness the beatitudes. But the beatitudes no less than the commandments are preceptive. On whom? On the people of God before Christ and on the people of God after Christ. So much for the similarity.

Now the differences.

 

Differences Between the Decalogue and the Beatitudes

In the Ten Commandments it was Moses the prophet who received the Decalogue from Yahweh and remember the thunder the lightening the celestial phenomena put on by God to impress the Jewish people of what was happening on the mountain between Moses and Yahweh. The beatitudes however were given by no prophet. They were given by God Himself who became man. There was no human person as intermediary. It was God Himself who gave us the beatitudes. As Saint Paul says in the opening verses of his letter to the Hebrews. That is how it opens up and listen to the Hebrews. Says Paul, God in certain times and in diverse manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets. Last of all in these days He has spoken to us by His Son. Unquote Saint Paul.

What a difference, Christ Himself, the Incarnation of the beatitudes. He personally gave us the beatitudes and remember through those who in turn believing and living the beatitudes would pass them on to others. Get those two words believing in and living the beatitudes. Nobody else is able to do it. You might believe and you must put your faith into practice and then ten-thousand ears can be opened to listen to what you are saying but not a single heart will be opened to live what you are telling them unless you yourself believe and live what you are preaching to others. And nobody cheats here.

We go on, remember reflecting on the differences. Moreover Christ lived the beatitudes. Unlike the precepts of the Old Testament which were directed to human beings who could sin we can not say, we dare not say that God Himself lived the Ten Commandments. It doesn't make sense. God can not sin. God became man when then He gave us the beatitudes. It was what He Himself was living, He who could not sin. There is a profound sense in which we can say the beatitudes build on the commandments, the beatitudes presume the observance of the commandments.

We go on again contrasting the beatitudes with the Decalogue. The beatitudes were given to the human race which was about to be redeemed by the passion and death of Christ. The Commandments were given centuries before the actual redemption. Thus the beatitudes built and build on the treasury of graces, which Christ had to win for the human family by His own death on Calvary. If I were to distinguish between what we call theologically, evangelical precepts and evangelical councils, I would say evangelical precepts are the Ten Commandments elevated indeed and sublimated by Christ Himself. But they are still the Ten Commandments binding under pain of sin. Where as the beatitudes belong theologically speaking, to the evangelical councils. One of the great statements of the Second Vatican Council was to define religious life as a lifetime commitment to living the beatitudes. We need that. In other words a lifetime self-commitment under the impulse of divine grace to go beyond what we are commanded under pain of sin where the motive is no longer as it should be, the fear of God's punishments, but rather a deep love for the God who became man out of love for me, who lived the beatitudes and dare I say and died because He practiced the beatitudes.

We continue. Remember we are reflecting on the differences. The beatitudes therefore are expectations that Christ could make to those promises if you wish, who believe in Him for which the human race was not prepared when Moses first received the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai.

God is not unjust and neither places demands nor makes expectations of people unless and should I add, until they have the means for living up to God's demands and expectations. In the Old Testament at the time of Moses, the then chosen people did not have the means of living up to but centuries later God had to become man to provide the means of living up to what we now casually call the beatitudes.

We're still on the differences. The beatitudes are specific covenants as you may call them, between Christ and His followers. He promises happiness on eight different conditions provided we fulfill these conditions our happiness is assured. Christianity is all about happiness. That's the New Covenant. Christ promises happiness but not on these worldly terms. Thus we are comparing the Commandments with the beatitudes. The happiness promised in the beatitudes is supernatural in five ways. It's happiness all right but it is supernatural happiness, super earthly happiness, superhuman happiness, superhumanly possible happiness.

 

Supernatural Happiness Promised in the Beatitudes

How first? It is supernatural and underline supernatural happiness because it was revealed as eight mysteries of our faith. Of course the Trinity is a mystery, of course the Incarnation is a strict mystery. Surely the Real Presence is a mystery. They are mysteries for the mind. Oh, but they are also mysteries for the will – the mind believing that provided we fulfill our part of Christ's covenant we will receive a happiness that surpasses all rational comprehension. It just does not make Aristotelian or Platonic sense to say happy are they who mourn. It doesn’t make sense humanly speaking I have to use the language it's nonsense.

We go on. The happiness that Christ promises in the beatitudes is supernatural because the beatitudes require superhuman light and strength to observe. We can read the beatitudes. You can read it all and if you are a learned theologian you can even explain them or write books about the beatitudes.

But you will never experience the happiness unless you have had access to that supernatural light and strength, in other words, divine grace. And therefore the beatitudes are just impossible without getting the grace in the three basic ways that we get grace.

How do we get grace? By praying for grace, by receiving the sacraments and in many ways the hardest by cooperating with graces we've received. I pray for the graces I need tomorrow and I sure need them but God is giving me graces today and I ignore them. Sorry my dear sorry, I was going to give you those graces tomorrow provided you would cooperate with the graces I gave you today.

How then is the happiness supernatural promised in the beatitudes? Because the happiness they promise is not the happiness that comes either from nature or is experienced in our nature. There is an ocean of theology behind that statement. We have desires and desires from the most sublime to the lowest. And all happiness – my prior definition is the satisfaction of one's desire. But the beatitudes do not promise the satisfaction, to say the least, of all our desires indeed they do not even promise the satisfaction of our natural desires as legitimate as they can be.

In other words the joy assured from living the beatitudes comes directly from God and is to be experienced in the soul indeed even to the body but in a person who is animated by the grace of God.

We continue. The happiness promised from the beatitudes is supernatural because it will not be fully satisfied here on earth but only in eternity.

And just for the record, to live out the beatitudes does give us the promise of happiness already on earth, but that happiness here on earth is mainly the happiness of hope. The happiness of the confident desire that everything God promised He will give us. To use a very homely comparison. The joy that students, how well I know, have anticipating a holiday. They are happy long before the holiday, just thinking, dreaming, about what that holiday will give them. But this is no dream.

Finally the happiness assured us by the beatitudes is supernatural because it is conjoined with opposition and persecution from a world that does not accept Christ. Whatever else the beatitudes should teach us, it is that two words, by divine revelation belong together and they are joy and pain. That pain and joy are not incompatible. I can experience the pain especially say of abandonment or rejection or open opposition from those who do not believe in Christ and yet and listen and Christ saved the hardest beatitude for last. Blessed are you when people persecute you, calumniate you, say all manner of evil against you for my sake. And the Greek allows us to say, rejoice and dance for joy because your reward in heaven is great.

 

Law and Love

A law and love. If we were to give a name to the Decalogue in one word it would be law. If we were to give a name in one word to the beatitudes we could say love. However we better be sure that these two, law and love are seen as not only not incompatible, on the contrary, the one is an expression of the other. What the beatitudes do therefore is to bring out what is only implied in the Ten Commandments. What is it? That the laws of God are so many manifestations of His love. We commonly but I would say incorrectly think of a commandment as something we do not like to do but ordered to obey under penalty of suffering if we disobey. I've seen it. A mother tells her boy to do something. He stands up, "do I have to do it?" "Yes, Johnny" as I've heard more than once from my mother, "you have to do it." The beatitudes on the other hand are so many divine assurances of happiness from a loving God. Certainly we have to cooperate with his will. Yes, we must submit our selfish desires for what we want to His all-wise demands corresponding to what we really need. But as beatitudes they are not so much demands or commands as loving invitations from I repeat, a loving God. God gains nothing from our doing His will, nothing. All the gain is ours. To love someone is to share what I have with the one I claim to love. In the beatitudes Christ is giving us a share in His own divine happiness both here and hereafter. All we have to do is follow His example. Everyone wants to be happy – the universal desire of the human heart. Yet so many people are not only unhappy but sad, discouraged, despairing. Shall we call them civilized countries? There are countries that now legalize suicide. And our nation is pushing, shoving, and the one state being mainly used is Michigan to legalize suicide. Why? So many people are unhappy. As the pagan philosopher Seneca wrote, the greatest freedom that man has is the freedom to take his own life. Thanks Seneca, thanks. Back to our subject. Everyone wants to be happy yet so many people are unhappy. It cannot be because they do not want happiness. It can only be either because they do not know how to be truly happy or they may know all right but they are unwilling to pay the price. There is no greater lesson we can learn ourselves or teach others, none than the lesson we have learned ourselves. The happiness promised us by Christ in the beatitudes is the joy of doing the will of God. This is the only true joy here on earth as it is the only true promise of perfect joy in the world to come. If I were to identify false joy, the joy promised us by the world it is the happiness that comes from doing your own will. And conversely true joy taught by Christ and enshrined in the beatitudes comes only and in the measure that we are doing the will of God.

 

Prayer
 Lord Jesus, you want us to have a foretaste of heaven here on earth. Protect us from the folly of thinking we shall be happy in doing our own will. Teach us to believe, really believe what you said, abide in my love. If you keep my commandment you will abide in my love as I also have kept my Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be made full. Amen.




Gentleness

In the spirit of the Gospel we read from St. Matthew and in the context of so much that our Savior has been teaching us we should reflect on the virtue of gentleness. As Isaiah foretold of the Savior, He will not break the bruised reed He will not condemn, He will not cry out. Gentleness is written on almost every page of the Gospels describing the Savior. Yet there are certain virtues that are as we might expect popular in certain times. No doubt because they conform with the spirit of those times. By now thousands of volumes have been written on the spirit of our times. And I suppose in the Western world at least, the features that characterize our age are aggressiveness, boldness, a strong, often, ruthless effort to conquer. Since the turn of our present century we have had two devastating world wars that accumulatively have cost more lives lost than in all the previous wars of human history. Surely then the virtue of gentleness scarcely typifies our age. And yet if we are going to be authentic followers of the Master we must be gentle. So we ask ourselves first what is this virtue of gentleness. Then look briefly at our Lord’s teaching about this virtue and His practice of the same and then to apply all of this to ourselves of why we, if we wish to be truly Christ-like, must be gentle.

Gentleness is the virtue that restrains the passion of anger. Over the centuries it has been variously described. Sometimes poetically, sometimes theologically. Where anger flares up, gentleness calms down. Where anger is a bursting flame gentleness is a gentle rain. Where anger asserts itself and crushes, gentleness embraces and quiets and soothes yet as we hear these and similar descriptions of gentleness we are liable to make the mistake as I dare say so much of the modern world makes the mistake of identifying gentleness with weakness.

A gentle person is a meek person. So most people think that a gentle person is a weak person. It is just the opposite. In order to be truly gentle and that does not mean soft or sentimental, one must be strong. Only strong people can be gentle, because gentleness restrains strength by love. Whether its strength of body that could destroy physically or strength of will that could crush volitionally or strength of mind that could devastate intellectually. It’s only such people that can even begin to be gentle. And the reason of course is because they’ve got something to restrain.

But the motive power behind gentleness is always love. Love of the other for whose sake I restrain myself. There are then two qualities that belong to the meaning of gentleness and they are strength and love. As we turn to the Gospels and ask ourselves where and how has the Savior commended this virtue to our practice? At first sight we may be shocked to learn that there is only one expressed occasion when Christ explicitly told us to learn from Him; now of course He was teaching constantly. But only once did He formally tell us, command us to learn of Him. Learn of me He told us, for I am gentle and humble of heart. So the first and primary lesson that we learn from Christ’s own telling us, bidding us, to imitate him especially in His gentleness is that if we are to be gentle as He was we must be humble like He was. Gentleness or meekness which are synonymous are impossible in the absence of humility. Why? If we’ve ever asked ourselves why do we get irritated with people. Why do they bother us? Why all these inner and sometimes outer flares of passion isn’t because somehow though we may not even articulate the fact to ourselves that we, well, don’t like what the person is doing because we feel the person has no right to be doing this. At least in my presence or I wouldn’t do this. Who does she think she is talking that way to me? If we wish then in imitation of Jesus to be gentle we must become humble. So much so that I do not hesitate to say that the best single barometer of humility which by its nature is quite hidden and not so easy to identify, the best single barometer of how humble we are is how gentle we are. Only humble people will be gentle. Because only they will honestly say to themselves why should I get angry with her, come to think of it I’ve just done the same. Or why should I be irritated? If I’m really honest I know there must be things that are irritating to him or her. So why should one irritant be irritated with another irritant?

If we are humble, if we look into our hearts, and not just at times, but constantly, what do we see there? If we look, you know we don’t see except what we’re looking for. If we look into our hearts we see sin, passion, weakness, ineptitude, crudeness, self-conceit. You name it and we’ve got it. All it takes is a good hard look but that takes humility. We are so prone, as the same Jesus has been telling us, we are so prone to see the faults even the minorest of them, the littlest thing that Christ calls speck in our brother’s eye, and we don’t see the beam in our own. And do you know why because maybe the beam is so big in our own eyes we can’t even recognize the fact that the person does have virtue, does have fine qualities. Remember this: we always see others through our own eyes. And our eyes are sinful eyes. So much and more that could be said about Christ’s teaching about gentleness is practice. Christ practiced his gentleness from the womb of His mother. No objections recorded by Mary or Joseph for having to trek the long miles to Bethlehem.

The Christmas scene is a study in gentleness. Realizing that behind that crib there are so many reasons for being angry with the proud Caesar that forced this and no doubt thousands of others just to sate his pride. But no, then in His public life the Savior was gentle with so many irritating people. That’s almost a description of the twelve apostles. The twelve men who irritated Christ. How many reasons they gave Him from Peter on down and Peter perhaps more than anyone else forbearing kind, understanding, repeating, explaining, gentle with sinners. Magdalene at Christ’s feet. The woman taken in adultery. The mother’s whom the disciples told to get these kids out of the way. And most tellingly, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ was even gentle to the traitor who kissed Him. In His passion until He expired on the cross gentle, forgiving to those who had crucified Him and His last dying act was an act of gentle mercy to the thief at His side.

How much we have to learn but we have to want to learn it from the Master. There is one final question, however. We should ask ourselves, and that is why. Why should we be gentle? Or, more fundamentally, why is gentleness so insisted upon in Christian spirituality? The first and most obvious reason is because God became man to teach us this virtue. There are, as we know, two fundamental attributes in God relative to His creatures. They are the attributes of justice and love. From God’s viewpoint surely God had every reason to be angry with a sinful world but, had He only expressed His anger, He would not have become man. If only divine justice was to be manifest there would have been no Incarnation. God became man precisely, explicitly, uniquely to teach us that though God is just and has had so many reasons, towering reasons, for righteous anger and punishment of a sinful world God did not want to avenge himself on man’s sinfulness. So He became man that He might love restraining His divine strength by the love which He exercises since He became man and because He became man in a word.

In others words, God’s mercy is His gentleness. That’s the fundamental reason why we should be gentle: because God became man to practice this, the most necessary of virtues when justice is to be restrained by love. Secondly and understandably, we are to be gentle because Christ is so insistent on our practicing this virtue. His word for us should be our law. Gentleness is not an option. It is not merely an opportunity. It is a grave obligation. And the more we intend and insist that we are trying to imitate Jesus the more gentle we must become. Otherwise we are only His followers in name.

But there is another reason on the practice of our gentleness towards others depends on in some of the most frightening passages of revelation, depends God’s gentleness towards us. If we are provoked by others, we provoke God. If we tell ourselves that others make us angry and maybe there’s provocation. So what. So what. Unless we are kind and understanding, forgiving and forbearing in a word unless we are gentle with the failings and often the merest foibles in others how can we expect God to be gentle, that is merciful towards us? And, before Him, we have committed more than foibles. The virtue of gentleness is built right in to the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. Forgive us, we plead, with God. But then, what a terrible condition Christ tells us to lay down, that, insofar as I forgive others. Why be gentle, patient, putting up with, bearing with, not complaining , not reacting not avenging myself in a thousand ways that our sin-laden nature has of being angry? Why? Because in the exact degree, this is not poetry. This is revelation. In the exact degree to which I am un-angry, that is gentle with others God will be un-angry, that is gentle, that is merciful to me. On this same level we might also soberly remind ourselves not only is our gentleness towards others a condition for God’s gentleness towards us but, hear it, we having sinned and God wanting to give us the opportunity to expiate our sins, how good of God though, we must admit, dear Lord, how hard of God. See what He does. He puts irritating people into our lives, people that annoy us, that disturb us.

There is such a thing as love at first sight. There is such a thing as what shall I call it, un-love at first sight. There are some people, good people, for some mysterious reason just don’t appeal to us. All the things that people can do wittingly or unwittingly at us, towards us, or in our presence. What they say, often what we think they think about us can make us angry. The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity of expiation. So much so, I hope I won’t be misunderstood, but it’s true. So much so that if we really realize the mystery hidden behind this divine virtue of gentleness I don’t think we would pray for annoying people in our lives, but we would welcome them. Dear Lord, thanks, here’s another one. And I am not being facetious. I am simply sharing with you what is our common faith. I am not quite finished. There is one more great value to the practice of gentleness and that is in the apostolate which, as we know, always begins right at home. The first object of our apostolic zeal should not be the destitute people in Northeastern India. They should be the people right at home. If we want to be influential in effecting others, and who doesn’t, if we want to be effective in bringing Christ into the hearts of others. If we wish to be convincing and persuasive, in a word if we want to be effectively apostolic, we have got to be gentle. The beatitudes, variously translated by different translators, Blessed are the gentle they will possess the land. You might be liable to say to yourself, who wants land anyhow? That’s not the point of the beatitude. Gentleness can achieve, can conquer, not just people but nations, all the great apostles of history, beginning with Jesus, were so effective in winning the hearts of men because they were, as the first apostle told us, gentle and humble of heart. Let us ask Him and His mother to give us what we all need: greater meekness, greater gentleness, being sure that there is no single virtue that will more surely identify us as Christians than if people see us, especially under provocation, calm, peaceful, indeed, mysteriously more at peace because we are more provoked. Nothing under heaven except the grace of God can make us, as we should be, gentle. We need that grace. Jesus will give it to us if only we earnestly ask Him. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine. Amen.

 

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