Happy! Blessed! Fortunate! These are words used in various translations of Matthews Gospel and attributed to Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, also know as the Beatitudes. The translation used in the Gospel, ‘happy’, hardly covers the true meaning of what Jesus was saying. The original Greek text used the word ‘makarios,’ which describes a believer in an enviable [fortunate] position from receiving God’s provisions [favour]. When this is taken account of, by us as believers, we can see it means far more than happy or fortunate because the recipient has received God’s generous favours.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus is giving us all something to aim for. We are called to receive God’s blessings, and by modelling our behaviours on the Beatitudes we can be filled with God’s blessings.
There are times in everyone’s life when we can feel unlucky or put upon, Jesus highlights some of these; those who mourn, those who are persecuted; and urges us to see past the current moment, see past the time of grief, see past the persecution. Jesus is urging us to hope in Him Whilst promising us a better life beyond this one. However, Jesus is not saying that this should just be accepted and allowed. No! He is also calling on those who encounter people mourning or people being persecuted to stand up and support them. Using the true meaning of ‘makarios’ those who are moved to comfort mourners are literally God sent and those who stand up for the persecuted will share in the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus has promised them.
Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, said “The Beatitudes are not an outdated legal code… but a source of perennial inspiration because the one who proclaimed them is risen and alive”.1 Cardinal Cantalamessa is telling us those words, spoken by Jesus two thousand years ago, are still valid today. As we have seen previously Jesus turns the world’s view of things upside down. The world would never think that a gentle person would inherit the earth, but that is what Jesus is telling us. Jesus is asking us to look beyond ourselves, turn away from selfishness and love our neighbour. I have spoken previously about how there are times when I would be happy just sitting in front of the TV watching the football, it is amazing how often ‘Church things’ clash with football. I find this a real struggle sometimes, but the call of the Beatitudes is to put others first, deny my own preferences and to serve God and my neighbour.
If we examine the words, Jesus is not saying that those who hunger and thirst will be satisfied, He is saying that those who hunger and thirst for what is right shall be satisfied. We are called to search for the truth, we are called to seek justice, but not just for ourselves. A Christian should never be in a position to say, ‘That is it, I have done my bit, I am all right now.’ We are called to go further than self-satisfaction and gratification, we are called to seek justice for our neighbour, we are called to be merciful to our neighbour, we are called to seek peace and to stand up against oppression. We are fully expected to use the gifts God has given us to the fullest extent.
The world today is a complicated place, it is crying out for compassion, justice, mercy and most of all love. Today, quite simply, Jesus is asking each of us to share His love with His people. He is calling us to comfort mourners, seek what is right, protect the gentle, show mercy to others, to highlight injustices and to work towards peace. In many ways this is challenging, and will involve stepping out of our comfort zone, but it is about being human, caring for one another, caring for our planet and caring for our future.
I think that for me this is a call not to judge others, but to go out of my way to help, even when it might be inconvenient for me. I need to reflect on the Beatitudes and ask myself what does poor in spirit mean in my life? Is it my attachment to what I own? Does my attachment to what I have allow me to empathise properly with those who do not have?
When I consider mourning, like anyone who has lost loved ones, I have mourned for them, but do I mourn the sins I have committed, which can put distance between me and God as well as between those I have offended?
How can I express gentleness in my life? Would I be prepared to turn the other cheek if someone struck me or hurt my family? Or would I strike back?
Does my hunger and thirst what is right extend beyond my own horizon? Do I speak up when someone else is affected or am I happy to sit back and watch while others suffer as long as it doesn’t affect me?
How merciful am I? Do I hold a grudge? How do I express mercy? How do I show others the mercy I know God has granted me?
How can I even get close to being pure in heart? Purity of heart is a God-like heart, loving God with a single-minded passion and loving others as God loves them, for me I think this is the most difficult, this is abandoning all selfish thoughts and putting God at the centre of my life.
Being a peacemaker is more than just keeping things quiet or adopting behaviours to keep the peace, this is about building genuine relationships centred on trust. Where people feel equal to one another, are prepared to share and care for one another and forgiveness thrives. This allows healthy challenges to be made which are aimed at helping us all to reach our spiritual home, and where those challenges are accepted knowing there is no point scoring involved but the challenge is for the benefit of the one being challenged.
When I look at the persecuted Beatitude, I ask myself would I still be prepared to stand up and speak about Jesus if I lived in a more volatile country? I am comfortable speaking here, but would I have the courage to speak at a Church in Nigeria or Egypt or the Congo? I am not called to do that, at this time, but I need to remember those who are and remember to pray that their faith is always courageous.
The Beatitudes are filled with challenges for us all. They are both a call and a promise from Jesus. They also give us certainty that the rewards of following Jesus are amazing and will fill our every desire.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
CCC 459, 520-521: Jesus a model of the beatitudes for followers
CCC 1716-1724: call to beatitude
CCC 64, 716: the poor and humble remnant bear hope of Messiah
Please keep in your prayers this week
- The success of the forthcoming pastoral formation programme ‘The Wild Goose’ which we are using as part of the Year of the Holy Spirit.
- Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
- All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
- Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
- All of our young people preparing for the Sacraments.
- Those attending our RCIA programme.
Deacon Tony Darroch 28th January 2023.
1 Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap, Beatitudes, Eight Steps to Happiness, [Servant Books, Cincinnati, OH, 2009]19.