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.