Praying with the Beatitudes
The beatitudes are foundationally important to the Catholic faith. We see them appear in the Gospel of Matthew at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which was the first of His sermons to be recounted in this gospel. For many of us, our familiarity with the beatitudes is somewhat cursory; we likely are familiar with the general concept and phrasing, but may not have sought to delve deeper into the meaning. Let’s consider the text from the Gospel of Matthew:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks beautifully with regard to these beatitudes. It notes that they are at the heart of Jesus’ mission and preaching, and evoke the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New. Regarding the importance of the beatitudes, the Catechism states: “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 in the 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.” (CCC 1717)
In this way, it seems that the beatitudes deserve far more attention than we may have previously thought. They show us how Jesus lived on earth and how He fulfills His promises in heaven, and provide us with directives we ought to use to live our own lives with Christian charity. They are a response to man’s desire for happiness, and are responsible for reframing what happiness means. They speak against the idea of true happiness being attainable while on earth, and place utmost importance on our final goal of life in heaven.
Given the enormous importance of these beatitudes, then, we are faced with another question. How can we implement Jesus’ teachings in this gospel in our lives? One way is to meditate on each particular beatitude and contemplate its meaning both objectively and with reference to our own person. The Catechism again directs us in this regard as it says, “Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we tread them, step by step, by everyday acts. By the working of the Word of Christ, we slowly bear fruit in the Church to the glory of God.” Beginning with the first beatitude, we can seek to bear this fruit and live according to the teachings of Jesus.
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
It’s fitting that the list of beatitudes begins with one emphasizing the virtue of humility. Jesus’ own life on earth began with an event that also showed the importance of humility: the fact that He chose to be born among the animals in Bethlehem shows us how Jesus was truly willing to become human like us. He became lowly so that we might be raised up with Him to eternal life. Reflecting on this beatitude helps us reflect on the importance of the Incarnation, and how we can always seek to follow Jesus to eternal life.
Blessed are Those Who Mourn, for They Shall be Comforted
This beatitude shows us the meaning of suffering in the Christian life. Though it is directed to those who mourn, it is a verse of hope. In a life without Jesus, suffering is meaningless and does not lead to fruition. The Church’s view of suffering, however, joins us to Jesus on the Cross, and so suffering is ultimately a path to perfect happiness with God in heaven.
Blessed are the Meek, for They Shall Inherit the Earth
Thinking about this beatitude can prompt us to consider the meaning of Mary’s fiat. By submitting herself to the will of God in perfect humility, she became the Theotokos, or God-bearer, and contained Him Who contains the whole world. This shows us the special way in which Jesus can enter our hearts when we are humble and surrender ourselves to God’s will.
Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for They Shall be Satisfied
This beatitude helps us to consider Jesus’ ministry on earth. He ministered to the poor, the shunned, the outcasts, the sick; although they all were treated poorly by society at the time, He cared for them lovingly regardless. Taking this into account and thinking about what righteousness means shows us that we should always seek to pursue justice on earth, though perfect justice can only be found in God.
Blessed are the Merciful, for They Shall Obtain Mercy
In a similar way, this beatitude shows that we should follow Jesus’ command to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Just as Jesus treated the less fortunate with mercy, so must we. Exhibiting mercy towards others in our lives will bring holiness and more peace into our own.
Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for They Shall See God
The theologian Hugh of St. Victor once wrote, “I know, my soul, that while you are loving anything you are transformed into its likeness.” When we consider what truly holds our attention and what we love, is it of the world or is it of God? It can be so easy to become consumed with material goods or other earthly things, but if we fill ourselves with those, there is no room left for the presence of God. Keeping ourselves free of earthly attachments makes space in our hearts for God to enter.
Blessed are the Peacemakers, for They Shall be Called Children of God
This beatitude refers not only to making peace between others, but also making peace in our interior lives. By pursuing true peace, or “the tranquillity of order” as St. Augustine writes, we order the things in our life so that each fits into its proper place. In this way, we seek to place God at the forefront of our lives as He should be, and so we are better able to fulfill our vocations as children of God.
Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake, for Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
Contemplating this beatitude and the following shows us the importance of modeling our lives after the life of Jesus. Throughout His ministry, He was disliked and ridiculed, and ultimately was crucified for the sake of righteousness. If we imitate Jesus by not being afraid of persecution, we can join Him in His suffering and in doing so forge our path to heaven.
Blessed are You When Men Revile You and Persecute You and Utter All Kinds of Evil Against You Because of Me
Here we see the sentiment of the previous beatitude echoed. This one, however, has more subtle implications, as the persecution mentioned is not only direct but can be indirect as well. In the current world, upholding our morals can be contrary to society at large. Although others might disagree with us and speak poorly of us because of that, reflecting on this beatitude can encourage us to remain steadfast in our beliefs and always seek to do what is right regardless.