Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12
The final beatitude is for those who are persecuted for the sake of Christ, which is the summit of all blessings in this life. At the canonization of the Martyrs of Uganda, Pope St. Paul VI said, “Who could have predicted to the famous African confessors and martyrs such as Cyprian, Felicity, Perpetua and — the greatest of all — Augustine, that we would one day add names so dear to us as Charles Lwanga and Matthias Mulumba Kalemba and their 20 companions? Nor must we forget those members of the Anglican Church who also died for the name of Christ. These African martyrs herald the dawn of a new age. If only the mind of man might be directed toward persecutions and religious conflicts but toward a rebirth of Christianity and civilization! Africa has been washed by the blood of these latest martyrs, the first of this new age (and, God willing, let them be the last, although such a holocaust is precious indeed).” The Holy Father sets the Catholic attitude towards persecution and martyrdom by praying that persecutions might end while, at the same time, seeing them as a gift from God for the life of the Church.
We are blessed when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, but only when we are reviled falsely. It may be that the accusations against us are true, or that we’re persecuted for some other reason and not for the sake of Christ. This blessing is reserved for those who are accused, reviled, and persecuted falsely for faith in Christ. Members of the Church are falsely accused of many horrible things, including being spies or traitors because of our allegiance to the pope. The term papist (from papacy) was originally an anti-Catholic slur (one that we can proudly make our own).
To those who are being persecuted St. Gregory the Great says, “What hurt can you receive when men detract from you, though you have no defense but only your own conscience? But as we ought not to stir up willfully the tongues of slanderers, left they perish for their slander, yet when their own malice has instigated them, we should endure it with equanimity, that our merit may be added to.” First, remember that insults, persecution, and even physical violence cannot hurt your soul, nor rob you of the grace God, nor deprive you of salvation. Only you can do those things to yourself. Second, be concerned for you persecutor and pray for them, because their sins do hurt their own souls and their hope of salvation. Finally, endure it with patience. Try not to complain or to give in to it. When St. Therese of Lisieux gave in under extreme torture, she retracted it as soon as she returned to her right mind. St. Gregory adds, “Yet ought we sometimes to check our defamers, lest by spreading evil reports of us, they corrupt the innocent hearts of those who might hear good from us.”
About the blessing awaiting those who are persecuted, St. Augustine said, “Do not suppose that by heaven here is meant the upper regions of the sky of this visible world, for your reward is not to be placed in things that are seen, but by ‘in heaven’ understand the spiritual firmament, where everlasting righteousness dwells. Those then whose joy is in things spiritual will even here have some foretaste of that reward; but it will be made perfect in every part when this mortal shall have put on immortality.”
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:10
Now, we’re getting to the end of the Beatitudes, and the last two beatitudes are on persecution. First, those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, or righteousness, and then those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Persecution can take many forms, from being socially excluded to being tortured or killed. However, we shouldn’t take pride in our persecution or brag about being persecuted more than someone else, as if that makes us better than them. Rather, we should persevere in doing the good and speaking the truth regardless of any persecution that comes. The blessings of God are greater than any persecution.
St. Jerome wrote, “For righteousness’ sake He adds expressly, for many suffer persecution for their sins, and are not therefore righteous.” We are not blessed simply because we are persecuted. We may deserve what happens to us, in which case it is just punishment, or we may have brought it upon ourselves by our own actions. A Catholic apologist, Trent Horn, often says that people shouldn’t get upset because of the way that we present the faith, but because of the content of the faith. In other words, if I present the faith in a rude or insulting way, then I shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t want to listen to me. However, if I’ve presented the faith charitably and clearly, and people still get upset, then I have at least done the best that I can. The way in which we speak the truth and pursue the good matters. Doing in good thing in the wrong way or for the wrong reason can still be a sin.
St. John Chrysostom said, “Blessed are they who suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake, that is for virtue, for defending others, for piety, for all these things spoken of under the title of righteousness. This follows the beatitude upon the peacemakers, that we may not be led to suppose that it is good to seek peace at all times.” The Lord blesses those who are persecuted for seeking any good thing, not just for the faith, because all good things come from God. This beatitude includes anyone who is persecuted for trying to live a virtuous life, for defending the innocent, for promoting the truth, for doing good. Remember that the Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “God alone is good.” Everyone who seeks goodness and truth is, in some way, seeking God, because all truth and goodness come from God and lead back to Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1260, says, “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” Those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel can still be saved by genuinely seeking the truth and living it through the grace of God.
How should we react to persecution? St. Paul said, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rm 12:14), and the Lord said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). It is very difficult to pray for our persecutors and those who have harmed us. First, pray for yourself, that you will be able to forgive them and that you won’t wish harm to come to anyone. Then, pray for them, that they will repent and come to conversion. Praying for someone doesn’t mean we have to accept their actions; it means we love them anyway, just as the Lord loves us even though we continue to sin against Him. Remember that forgiveness is not feeling good about someone or forgetting what they did. Forgiveness means loving them anyway and acting for their good.
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. – Matthew 5:9
Once again, this beatitude is related to the ones that come before it, because purity, mercy, and justice all promote peace. Peace is what you experience when everything is in proper order. You have peace within yourself when your mind and soul in properly ordered. There is peace between people when their relationship is properly ordered. Peacemakers, therefore, are people who work to bring about his order. We know that we will not achieve that perfect peace in this life, either within ourselves or in the world, because sin damages or destroys peace, but we can, and should, work towards it. So, how can we be peacemakers?
As St. Jerome said, “The peacemakers are pronounced blessed, they namely who make peace first within their own hearts, then between brethren at variance. For what avails it to make peace between others, while in your own heart are wars of rebellious vices.” Entire libraries worth of books have been written about the interior life and how we can have peace in our hearts, but there is one thing that is absolutely necessary. In the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42), the Lord goes to visit Martha and Mary, and Mary sits at the Lord’s feet listening to Him, while Martha “was continually busying herself with serving,” so Martha asks the Lord to tell Mary to help her. What Martha is doing, serving her guests and being hospitable, is good, but Mary has “chosen the better part.” The Lord says that “only one thing is necessary,” and that is prayer, or listening to the Lord. We must practice silence. Find a quiet place with few, or no, distractions, silence your phone, turn off the tv, get away from people, and clear your mind of every concern. Focus your attention on the Lord by reading the Bible, thinking about the mysteries of God, such as the birth of Jesus, His teachings, or His Passion and Resurrection, or looking at a sacred image. This will allow you to take a step back from your life and see things from God’s perspective. This is the unum necessarium, the one thing necessary, to take some time each day to silence yourself and listen to the Lord.
A quote from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea says, “The peacemakers with others are not only those who reconcile enemies, but those who unmindful of wrongs cultivate peace.” We can promote peace with others by reconciling enemies and by forgiving others. How many friends and family members are separated from one another by petty grievances and long-forgotten arguments. We often demand that the other person be the one to come to us, to ask us for forgiveness, but are we willing to humble ourselves, admit to the part of the blame that we share, and take the first step towards reconciliation? We can’t force someone to reconcile with us, but we can at least do our part.
How can we bring peace to those who are at war, by which I mean those who are actively trying to hurt one another? Think of the example of St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen of Portugal. She prepared unceasingly for the king and her family. When her son, Prince Affonso, rebelled against King Diniz, St. Elizabeth rode out onto the battlefield between the two armies and reconciled father and son, ending the war. After the King died, she gave her property to the poor, became a Franciscan, and moved to the monastery of Poor Clares at Coimbra. When her son, King Affonso IV, went to war with the King of Castile to punish him for being a negligent and abusive husband to King Affonso’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth once again rode onto the battlefield to reconcile her family and prevent bloodshed. That is why St. Elizabeth of Portugal is the patron saint of peace to be invoked particularly in time of war.
Blessed are the Clean of Heart
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. – Matthew 5:8
What does it mean to be clean of heart, or pure of heart in other translations, and why do they get to see God? I think some passages from the Old Testament can help us to see how people at the time would have understood the Lord’s words, then we’ll see how Christians have understood them.
God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). Therefore, Moses has to hide his face while the Lord passes by. Similarly, no one is allowed to touch the Ark of the Covenant. While the Ark was being moved to Jerusalem, the Oxen stumbled and the Ark was in danger of tipping, so Uzzah steadied the Ark with his hand, and he was struck dead on the spot. The Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s presence with His people, was kept in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The only person who was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies was the High Priest, and he only entered it once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Before entering the Holy of Holies he has to offer atonement for his own sins. The Lord told Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is upon the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat…And Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house” (Lev 16:2 & 6).
Seeing the Lord face to face, touching the Ark of the Covenant, or entering the Holy Place meant death. The only way for the High Priest to enter the Holy Place safely was to make atonement for his own sins first. It is only through the forgiveness of sins that someone can safely approach the Lord. So, cleanness of heart has to do with forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has entered the true Holy Place, heaven, and offered His own blood for the forgiveness of our sins. St. Jerome says, “The pure is known by purity of heart, for the temple of God cannot be impure.” Nothing that is impure can approach God, and Jesus Christ is the only one who is pure. He is the only one who is fully committed to God, because He is the Son of God. We can only be pure by uniting ourselves to Him. Therefore, we must be “cleansed” by the waters of baptism.
The grace of Christ allows us to have a clean heart and to seek God in purity of heart, without any ulterior motives. St. Ambrose said, “The merciful loses the benefit of his mercy, unless he shows it from a pure heart; for if he seeks to have whereof he boast, he loses the fruit of his deeds.” When we do something good, like be merciful, for an impure motive, we don’t benefit from it. If I’m merciful in order to boast of my mercy, or humble to brag of my humility, or generous to benefit from my generosity, then the words of Christ apply to me, “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do… that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Mt 6:2).
Of course, that is the goal of the spiritual life, but we don’t start there. We start off by avoiding sin because we fear punishment, as a child dreads to hear, “Wait ‘till you father gets home.” Soon, however, children do what is right not out of fear of punishment, but out of love and respect for their parents. So, through prayer, the sacraments, and discipline we also grow in faith and love for God. Those who are clean of heart shall see God and seeing is possessing. The clean of heart shall see God because He is already present in the hearts. As St. Paul writes, “ When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:11-13).
Blessed are the Merciful
Blessed are the Merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. – Matthew 5:7
Although we often think of justice and mercy as being incompatible with each other, the Bible teaches us to see them as being inseparable. Therefore, after telling us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or justice, or blessed, the Lord tells us that the merciful are also blessed. Righteousness really means to follow the law of God, but the law of God requires us to be merciful to one another. We must be both just and merciful because our Lord is both just and merciful. In the Catena Aurea, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Justice and mercy are so united, that the one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion—hence he goes on to the one from the other.”
Mercy is not the same thing as excusing other people’s actions or ignoring their wrongdoing. If that were the case, then mercy shown to the evildoer would be unmerciful to their victims, and so mercy wouldn’t really mean anything at all. Instead, mercy means loving one another as Christ has loved us, working for the true good of one another, and having compassion on the suffering. It’s not actually merciful to leave someone in a state of sin, because sin leads to death, and mortal sin leads to final death. The Lord gives us an example of true mercy when he speaks to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The Mosaic Law says that she ought to be stoned for her sin, so they bring her to Jesus to see what he will say. First, he says, “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Before accusing someone else, we should be aware of our own sins. We wouldn’t want to be judged solely on our worst moments, so we shouldn’t judge others on their worst moments, and we would want others to bring us to conversion, so we should work to convert others. After the men have gone away, Jesus says to the woman, “Has no one condemned you?... Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now do not choose to sin anymore” (Jn 8:10-11). The Lord is the one without sin, so He could, by His own words, cast the first stone, but He doesn’t, and neither does He excuse her actions. In the very next verse, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me does not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). When we encounter Jesus, the light of the world, His light overcomes our darkness. The most merciful thing we can do for one another is to bring them to Jesus, so that He might shine His light in their lives. As St. Jerome said, “Mercy here is not said only of alms, but is in every sin of a brother, if we bear one another’s burdens.”
St. John Chrysostom says, “The reward here seems at first to be only an equal return; but indeed it is much more; for human mercy and divine mercy are not to be put on an equality.” We show mercy by doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, give alms to the poor, counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead. That is, we try to relieve the suffering others, because we are motivated by the love of Christ, who came to be among us in order to save us by His Cross and Resurrection. Jesus Christ saved us by entering into our suffering, so we are moved to enter into the suffering of others. As St. Augustine said, “He pronounces those blessed who succour the wretched, because they are rewarded in themselves being delivered from all misery; as it follows, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. – Matthew 5:6
If the “mourning” in the previous beatitude refers spiritually to mourning over sin and the harm that sin causes to our relationship with God and to our neighbors, then it naturally follows that we should desire the opposite of sin. Sin means choosing to do something that is against the will of God, so righteousness means doing the will of God. Mourning for our sins causes us to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
St. Ambrose said, “As soon as I have wept for my sins, I begin to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He who is afflicted with any sore disease, hath no hunger.” St. Ambrose is using the analogy of catching a cold or getting sick to explain the affect of sin. Some diseases cause us to lose our appetite, and sin causes us to lose our appetite, our desire, for righteousness. Every time we sin we increase our hunger for that sin. Many people think that temptation to sin builds up within us until it overflows, so we have to indulge our desires a little bit every once in a while or we’ll end up binging when we can’t stand it any more. This idea is explored in the movie, The Purge, where there’s one day a year where nothing is illegal, which is supposed to make things safer the rest of the year by allowing people to indulge themselves. However, indulging our desires doesn’t lesson them, it strengthens them. When we indulge ourselves we get an immediate reward, pleasure, which incentivizes that behavior and makes us more likely to do it again. The best way to fight sin is not to indulge it at all, but instead to build up virtues that will leads us to what is truly good. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let us walk honestly, as in the daylight, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and sexual immorality, not in contention and envy. Instead, be clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in its desires” (emphasis mine, Rm 13:13-14).
St. Jerome said, “It is not enough that we desire righteousness, unless we also suffer hunger for it, by which expression we may understand that we are never righteousness enough, but always hunger after works of righteousness.” When we sin we increase our desire for sin and risk falling more and more into sin. However, the opposite can also be true. We should never be satisfied with the level of righteousness or holiness that we have, but we should always hunger and thirst for more. When I get hungry, I can satisfy that desire by eating, but I don’t stay satisfied; I will get hungry again. We should not become satisfied with where we are, so that we are constantly hungering and thirsting for righteousness. In other words, it’s not an on/off switch where we choose sin or righteousness. It’s more like a dimmer switch, where the light continues to increase, as St. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. He was with God in the beginning... Life was in Him, and Life was the light of men...The true Light, which illuminates every man, was coming into this world” (Jn 1:1-2, 4, & 9).
St. Augustine said, “He speaks of food with which they shall be filled at this present; to wit, that food of which the Lord spake, ‘My food is to do the will of my Father, that is, righteousness, and that water of which whoever drinks it shall be in him a well of water springing up to life eternal.” We hunger and thirst for it because we know that we don’t have it, but we need it. What we truly hunger and thirst for is communion with God Himself, because that is what we’re made for. So let us turn to the One who can satisfy that longing.
Blessed are They that Mourn
Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:5
Having seen how the poor in spirit and the meek are blessed, the third beatitude is for those who mourn. Why do we mourn? We mourn an illness or injury, for something something deer to us, for the loss of a loved one, and out of compassion for someone else’s suffering. Therefore, we always mourn the loss of something good, and no one mourns the loss of something bad. We can mourn in a way that causes us to turn in on ourselves in self-pity and self-righteousness, or we can try to do something about it (but that’s the next beatitude, “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness).
St. Augustine said, “Mourning is sorrow for the loss of what is dear; but those that are turned to God lose the things that they held dear in this world; and as they have now no longer any joy in such things as before they had joy in, their sorrow may not be healed till there is formed within them a love of eternal things. They then shall be comforted by the Holy Spirit, who is therefore chiefly called, The Paraclete, that is, ‘Comforter;’ so that for the loss of their temperal joys, they shall gain eternal joys.” Through poverty and meekness, we have learned to give up the good things of this life, and this leads to the mourning of the third beatitude. When we give up the love of worldly things, God will comfort us by giving us heavenly joys. The season of Lent is a perfect example of this. During Lent we fast from good things, things that bring us joy, like meat on Fridays, sweets, television, or whatever you’ve sacrificed. We still have longings for those things, but each time we should remind oursleves that we gave them up because we love God more than them, and this will increase our hunger for God, whom we will receive at Easter.
St. Ambrose said, “When you have done this much, attained both poverty and meekness, remember that you are a sinner, mourn your sins,” and St. Hilary, “Those that mourn, that is, not loss of kindred, affronts, or losses, but who weep for past sins.” We mourn for losses, and our sins cost us the grace of God and the joys of heaven. We should mourn when we realize what our sins cost us. That mourning can help motivate us to flee from sin and everything that leads us to sin, to have a conversion of life, and to turn to the Lord. When we learn to mourn our sins God will comfort us with growth in holiness and, eventually, eternal life in heaven.
St. Jerome said, “For the mourning here meant is not for th dead by common course of nature, but the dead in sins, and vices. Thus Samuel mourned for Saul, thus the Apostle Paul mourned for those who had not performed penance after uncleanness.” It is greater to mourn for another’s loss than for one’s own, so the mourning for our own sins turns into mourning for the sins of others. We mourn for what they have lost by their sins. When we love one another as Christ has loved us, then we want what is best for one another, and what is best is heaven and the love of God. We are not like those who say that God hates sinners. On the contrary, God loves each one of us and has offered us eternal life through the forgiveness of sins which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, won for us by His Cross and Resurrection.
As St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm 8:12-17).
Blessed are the Meek
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5
St. Ambrose said, “When I have learned contentment in poverty, the next lesson is to govern my heart and temper. For what good is it to me to be without worldly things, unless I have besides a meek spirit? It suitable follows therefore, Blessed are the meek.” The Beatitudes have a certain order. From the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” we learn humility and to treasure heavenly riches, rather than earthly. Then, we must learn to be meek, which is to govern our tempers, to be gentle, or compassionate, with our neighbor, and to suffer wrongs patiently.
St. Ambrose also said, “Soften therefore your temper that you be not angry, at least that you be angry and sin not. It is a noble thing to govern passion by reason.” Once we’ve learned to value grace over worldly goods, then we must learn to govern our emotions through reason. Pride causes us to insist on our own way, and to become angry when things don’t go our way, but that isn’t reasonable. Instead of insisting on our own way, we should learn to insist on God’s way.
The Gospel of Matthew applies a passage from the Prophet Isaiah to Jesus, “He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory” (Mt 12:19-20). A bruised reed, a reed that’s already been bent, is easy to break and a candle that’s just smoldering, not on fire, is easy to put it if you’re not being careful. This is a description of someone who is careful, or gentle, with the people he interacts with. He is capable of being forceful, such as when He cleanses the Temple, but he is often gentle with wounded souls. Think of how He speaks with the woman at the well, drawing her to faith in Him, or how He speaks to the woman caught in adultery, “Has no one condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:10-11). Think about how Jesus saw that Zacchaeus wanted to see Him so much that He climbed a tree to get a better view, and invited Him to conversion, saying, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Lk 19:5). Meekness helps us to show gentleness and compassion to one another.
St. Augustine said, “The meek are they who resist not wrongs, and give way to evil; but overcome evil of good.” We normally want to respond to insults with insults, and to violence with violence. Sometimes, we need to use force to defend ourselves or others from harm, but we should only use the amount of force required to end the threat. However, we should never wish harm upon another person or desire to get revenge. Meekness allows us to respond to insults and injuries with charity and patience.
The Lord promises that the meek “shall inherit the earth.” St. John Chrysostom says, “Because it is commonly supposed that he who is meek loses all that he possesses, Christ here gives a contrary promise, that he who is not forward shall possess his own in security, but that he of a contrary disposition many times loses his soul and his paternal inheritance.” For those whose bottom line is the bottom line, they will ultimately lose everything that they seem to have, because you can’t take anything with you when you go. As Job says, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again” (Job 1:21). On the other hand, the meek will inherit heaven, and, in the resurrection of the dead, they will receive the world as well, for the Lord said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19-20).
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3
In the Bible God is shown to be the One who keeps His promises, such as the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the promises made to King David. However, He keeps His promises in unexpected ways and the final fulfillment of those promises is greater than we could have hoped for, because they are fulfilled in Christ. In this verse, Jesus Christ promises that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Is spiritual poverty related to economic poverty? How can we become poor in spirit?
St. Ambrose says, “In the eye of Heaven blessedness begins there where misery begins in human estimation.” Remember that Jesus said, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10:24) and “You cannot serve both God and mammon” Mt 6:24). We’re often tempted to put our trust in wealth. Money solves a lot of problems and opens a lot of doors, so we’re tempted to trust in wealth to provide safety, security, and happiness. However, wealth also creates problems, and it can’t solve the basic problem of life. As the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love.” The most important things in life can’t be bought; they can only be freely given and freely received. They come from our relationships with other people and from our relationship with God.
St. Jerome says, “The poor in spirit are those who embrace a voluntary poverty for the sake of the Holy Spirit.” Throughout the history of the Church there have been people who embrace poverty for the sake of the kingdom of God, such as hermits, monks and nuns, and members of religious orders, who take a vow of poverty. They rely on God for all things, completely placing their trust in Him, so that they might be a sign of the power of faith. They have given up an inheritance in the world, so that they might store up treasures in heaven. They rely on the promise that God made to the High Priest Aaron and the tribe of Levi, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel” (Nm 18:20).
St. John Chrysostom says, “He here calls all loftiness of soul and temper spirit; for as there are many humble against their will, constrained by their outward condition, they have no praise; the blessing is on those who humble themselves by their own choice. Thus, He begins at once at the root, pulling up pride which is the root and source of all evil, setting up its opposite, humility, as a firm foundation.” The only way to be truly poor in spirit is through humility. Priests and religious who live a simple life may still nourish pride and arrogance in their hearts, while a rich person, like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, may be truly humble. Humility is the foundation of all the virtues. It helps us to be honest with ourselves about our failings and recognize our need for grace.
Cultivate humility by listening more than speaking, seeing the good in others, and using good manners (which are a sign of respect for other people, thus showing that we don’t consider ourselves more important than them). The best way to cultivate humility is by praying for it and regularly going to confession. Going to confession is a great act of humility because we have to examine our consciences, admit to the wrongs we’ve done, and ask God for forgiveness through the ministry of the Church. Aim for at least once a month.
The Beatitudes of Jesus
In the Gospel of Matthew the Sermon on the Mount, in chapters 5-7, introduces Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, and the Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount. The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin translation of the passage. The Latin word for “blessed” is beati, from which we get the word Beatitudes. It’s also related to the term “Beatific Vision,” or blessed vision, which is the vision of God in heaven. So, in a way, we might say that the Beatitudes are the instructions for achieving the Beatific Vision in heaven.
Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible God makes certain promises to the chosen people; descendants as numerous as the stars, the land, a kingdom, the blessing to the nations, etc. The Catechism, paragraph 1716, says that the Beatitudes “take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven.” The beatitudes help to reorient us to heaven, the ultimate goal of our life. They’re an invitation and call to the entire Church and to each individual, showing us that our ultimate vocation, or calling, is the vocation to holiness, which each person lives out in the particular vocation that they are called to, either religious life or Holy Matrimony, and in day-to-day life.
Every human being naturally seeks happiness, and happiness is the only thing that we seek for its own sake. Why do I go to work? To make money. Why do I need money? To buy a new fishing reel. Why do I want a new fishing reel? Because fishing makes me happy. Ultimately, every decision comes back to something that we think will make us happy. Therefore, the key is to know what will truly make us happy and what will only bring about more misery. Ironically, when we do things out of a completely selfish desire for happiness, we find that they make us unhappy in the end. The things that we do for others are what make us happiest in the long run.
The beatitudes may seem to be contradictory, by saying that the poor, hungry, and persecuted are blessed, or happy, but the beatitudes all change our focus from ourselves to God and to our neighbor. The beatitudes are part of God’s law, the moral law, like the Ten Commandments. Whereas the Ten Commandments are more direct commands, the Beatitudes invite us to do those things that will make us blessed, but both the Commandments and the Beatitudes are about our relationship with God and with our neighbors.
The Catechism, paragraph 1717, says, “The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope int he midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.” The beatitudes are a description of Jesus Christ, who is the Most Blessed One. He is the One who is truly poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and pure in heart. He is the peacemaker who hungers and thirst for righteousness and who mourns for the sins of the world. He is the One who was persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Therefore, we can only be blessed by becoming conformed to Christ.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.