As far back as I can remember I have been interested in the Beatitudes. * From childhood, when I thought of the mystery of the Sermon on the Mount, I would feel encouraged that we were given guidelines and told that we would be blessed if we followed them, but at the same time I didn't really understand them.
So, my friends, I am finally sitting down with these 'blessings' to see if I can discover a way to unravel their meaning in simple terms, and hopefully share their essence in a way that is understood in today's world.
I am far from being a theologian but I do want to grapple with this profound teaching and truly know what it takes to live life from a joyful and spiritually healthy place, and share with you what I learn.
The Beatitudes, taught in the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus, can be interpreted on many levels. Servais Pinckaers in his book, The Pursuit of Happiness---God's Way, states, 'We can study it as a historical text... We can consider it as a moral teaching containing rules and counsels. Or we may see it as a beautiful spiritual text describing the ideal life.'
The last one is within the context I wish to explore the Beatitudes. I do believe it is 'a beautiful spiritual text describing the ideal life'. I also believe that this 'ideal life' is meant to be accomplished through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our part is to say yes!
Servais Pinckaers goes on to say, "The purpose of the sermon is to show us what the Holy Spirit wishes to accomplish in our lives here and now through His grace, if we respond to Him with the Yes of faith, with the eagerness of hope, and with the availability of love. He guarantees this". So, ideal -- but not impossible!
Even though the word Beatitudes comes from the Latin word beatus, meaning blessed, I once heard the words beautiful attitudes as describing the Beatitudes. I like this way of looking at it because it is through a beautiful attitude that we fulfill these in our lives.
The Beatitudes have been considered a summary of Christian values given to us by Christ. It has been compared to the Ten Commandments of Moses, Yoga philosophy, the Eight-fold Path of Buddhism, the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, the 7 cardinal virtues and many other spiritual guidelines. So, let's see what unfolds!
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.*
Perhaps Jesus is referring here to those who are poor in the sense of lacking in basic necessities, as they may be less likely to be distracted by material possessions, and more likely to focus on the Divine. But, it seems more likely that the reference to 'poor in spirit' is the ability to let go of possessions that plague the mind, and humbly acknowledge our need for the Divine, and our need for spiritual growth.
I tend to agree with what Emmet Fox says in his book, The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life. He says, "To be poor in spirit means to have emptied yourself of all desire to exercise personal self-will, and, what is just as important, to have renounced all preconceived opinions in the wholehearted search for God. It means to be willing to set aside your present habits of thought, your present views and prejudices, your present way of life if necessary; to jettison, in fact, anything and everything that can stand in the way of your finding God."
It's our attachments and our habits of the mind that get in the way of our relationship with God. It's not our possessions that are the problem, but how we are with them. Possessions include much more than just our material belongings.
When we let go of our attachments, and change the habits of our mind, we are no longer burdened by these distractions. We then become poor in spirit; our focus is more on God and we are allowed to join Him in the kingdom of heaven where He reigns.
2. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.*
I believe God, through his infinite compassion, wants us to be joyful! I also believe that God understands that we humans tend to become attached to people places and things, and that when we are separated from those we love, or places and things that we have become accustomed to, we grieve.
Attachment is a distraction from the realization that everything changes and that the only thing that doesn't change is the eternal presence of God. It is through crisis, death, failure, or any major change that we have the opportunity to humbly open our hearts and realize our need for the Divine.
Often as a result of going through the grieving process we discover a deeper relationship with the Divine. Thus, God uses the grief we are experiencing to transform us.
Last night I had a dream of what is valuable in life. I got the sense that it had to do with my son Ted's death. His death was the hardest thing I ever had to endure. He died 36 years ago and my life has changed tremendously since then. I now find a deeper understanding and value in love, in service and in spiritual transformation.
When I woke from the dream I thought of the Biblical quote 'Don't cast your pearls before swine'* and I understood a whole new level regarding that quote. I believe the quote refers to the futility of trying to convince people about the value of spirituality when they are not ready or willing to hear. But, this morning I realized that Jesus uses the pearl, which is a very unique gem.
The way the pearl is developed is by a grain of sand entering and irritating the oyster. The oyster than develops a pearl around the sand in order to heal and prevent the sand, or irritant, to do further harm. What I take from this is that our difficulties, our hardships, our crisis' can develop into something as beautiful as a pearl if we let God's grace transform them.
This to me is the key! The comfort is in the grace to realize the inevitability of change, turn towards the Divine, and recognize that through trusting the Divine we find the peace and love that we seek.
3. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.*
When I think of 'meek' I think of gentle, thoughtful, kind, humble, simple, quiet, and patient. Someone who listens to that 'still small voice' that comes from deep within, and who trust in the unfolding of God's will.
Throughout the years I have read stories of the saints such as; St. Padre Pio, St. Anthony, St. Francis, and St. Teresa who I consider to be meek! I also have been blessed to know people who have seen angels and other celestial beings who I consider to be meek.
The book, Angels in my Hair, is the autobiography of a common Irish woman who throughout her life has seen and listened to the wisdom of the angels. Her story also exemplifies meekness.
Regarding this beatitude Yogananda in his book, The Yoga of Jesus, writes, "...the meek and humbly receptive attract the unseen assistance of beneficent angels of cosmic forces proffering material, mental, and spiritual well-being. Thus, do the meek of spirit inherit not only all wisdom, but the earth, that is, earthly happiness, along with it."
By the words 'inherit the earth' Yogananda believes that Jesus is making a broader statement when He refers to 'earth' than physical property. Jesus evidently is referring to the ability to intuitively know, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, how to live more fully while on earth.
We all have this inner voice that tells us how to be on this earth. As Jesus has stated, 'ask, and it shall be given to you.'* So, by being meek and humbly asking the Divine, we too can receive the help and wisdom we need to ' inherit the earth'.
4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.*
In Luke's gospel, he states, 'Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied."* Whereas, in Mathew's gospel, he believes Christ took it a step further saying, 'Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied'.
Jesus says, 'Look at the birds: they do not plant seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren't you worth much more than birds?'* So, physical hunger is certainly an area that is meant here, but Jesus often speaks on more than one level.
God provides for us physically, but He also provides for those who hunger and thirst for the spiritual food which is a quest for a deeper relationship with the Divine.
Scripture says, 'Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'* Scripture also says, 'Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day'.*
Righteousness has to do with integrity, morality, and purity, with doing what is spiritually good for the soul. When one loves God one naturally gravitates toward righteousness.
Can we treat others the way we would like to be treated? Can we love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with our whole mind, and love our neighbor as our self, as Jesus indicates?* When we pursue this way of life, I believe, we hunger and thirst for righteousness and will be satisfied!
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.*
To truly be merciful in thought word and deed is to imitate God's mercy for us. As Jesus was dying on the cross He said, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.'* Can we be merciful to the point of forgiving those who are cruel to us?
Yogananda says, ‘If a wee child picks up a knife and strikes you, you do not want to kill the child in retaliation. It does not realize what it has done.’ So too, even if a person purposely does us harm, they are not aware of all the ramifications caused by their action. They are spiritually ignorant, and we need to forgive them!
How many times have we been spiritually ignorant? Often we are the ones who need the forgiveness and mercy. By letting go of our anger and resentment and realizing that all of us are both victims and persecutors we can learn to recognize our part and have mercy toward both others and ourselves.
I once had a teacher who said that any time we feel strongly about another’s action, we just need to look inside ourselves to find the same action disguised within us. So when we are merciful towards another we are also merciful toward ourselves.
6. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.
It's hard to see the Divine Light through emotional turmoil such as anger, jealousy, greed, fear or any other egotistic distraction. But through meditation, prayer and the grace of God we can calm the mind and open the heart to see God more clearly.
Yogananda writes, "...the purity of heart referred to by Jesus depends on the guidance of all action by discriminative wisdom --- the adjusting of human attitudes and behavior by the sacred soul qualities of love, mercy, service, self-control, self-discipline, conscience, and intuition."
This is the purity that, through the evolution of their spiritual journey, saints such as; Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Anthony of Padua were able to obtain. They were all able to see the Divine Light!
I asked Father Brian Crawford about purity of heart, and he believes that purity of heart is equated with purity of intention. He says, 'My heart is pure when I am intent on loving and loving only.' This seems profound to me! To get to the point where all of what we do, think, say, and feel is motivated by love and the grace of God.
The pure of heart are people who are able to see God in all situations and people. Other scriptures also speak of this. India’s scripture of the Bhagavad Gita for instance says, “The yogi who has completely calmed the mind and controlled the passions and freed them from all impurities, and who is one with Spirit --- he has attained supreme blessedness… He who perceives Me everywhere and beholds everything in Me never loses sight of Me, nor do I lose sight of him. *
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Anyone who has a daily practice, whether it be meditation, contemplation, or prayer, knows that as we develop spiritually with our daily contact with the Divine, our habits shift, our attitudes change, and we become more and more loving, joyful and at peace with ourselves and with others!
It is the grace that comes from our connection with the Divine that is essential in changing our inner lives, thus becoming more at peace with ourselves, and gaining the inspiration to help others to be more at peace with themselves.
As Emmitt Fox points out, "Once you understand the power of prayer, you will be able to heal many quarrels in the true way; probably without speaking at all. The silent thought of the All-Power of Love and Wisdom will cause any trouble to melt away almost imperceptibly."
These peacemakers “will be called children of God.”* Jesus says, “…unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” *
Little children tend to be innocent, spontaneous, and are more likely to enjoy God’s creation than us adults who fret over so many things of this world. Children are able to trust that their needs will be met -- they have enormous faith. So too, we become children of God through our lighthearted faith in the Divine.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And, Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.*
These last two Beatitudes are similar. I remember as a child walking to school, and a young man who was walking past me, spit on me. I was confused until I realized that he saw my uniform, and knew I was on my way to a Catholic school.
Many hate what they don’t understand, or don’t agree with. Jesus was killed as a result of this hate and misunderstanding. He showed us how to forgive our enemies when he was dying on the cross and asked God to forgive them ‘for they know not what they do.’
I think most of us have been bullied at one time or other. Jesus asks us to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies. It is interesting to me how He says that our reward is great in heaven. I have found that when we pray for, and love our enemies, we are free and happy. We create a heaven on earth!
We aren’t focused on getting even, being resentful, or being afraid. Instead, we focus on whatever is important and leave the rest to God.
Marianne Williamson says, "Without forgiveness, there is no love; and without love, there are no miracles… Forgiveness, therefore, is the most essential key to happiness. Sometimes the challenge is to forgive others, and sometimes the challenge is to forgive ourselves. But suffering remains until we forgive."
These Beatitudes are the first part of The Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to pray, to give to the poor, to fast, and to trust God for our daily needs. These acts we do because we have a burning love for God, our neighbor and our sacred self.
As a result, we will be truly Blessed! We will inherit the earth, God will have mercy on us, we will become children of God, we will be comforted and satisfied, and we will enjoy the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus ends His sermon with these words: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” *
Though this blog speaks only of the Beatitudes, I encourage all of us to read, and to live this powerful sermon. It encompasses what Jesus believes is the key elements to being ‘the best version of ourselves,’ as Matthew Kelly would say, and living a joyful and spiritually fulfilled life.
Love and Peace,
The blessings listed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–11)
The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life by Emmet Fox
Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way by Servais Pinckaers, OP
The Yoga of Jesus by Paramahansa Yogananda
The Forgiveness Factor Blog, in archives 3-12-17
Perfectly Yourself by Matthew Kelly
Angels in my Hair by Lorna Byrne
Tears to Triumph by Marianne Williamson
Father Brian Crawford OSJ –St. Joseph Morello Catholic Church
Beatitudes Matthew 5:3–12
#2 Matthew 7:6
#3 Matthew 7:7
#4 Luke 6:21, Matthew 5:6, Matthew 6:26, Mathew 4:4, John 6:54, Luke 10:27
#5 Luke 23:24
#6 Bhagavad Gita VI:27, 29-30
#7 Matthew 18:3
End of Sermon on the Mount Matthew. 7:24-27
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,