Yesterday’s Catholic Gospel reading was the Beatitudes, or True Happiness, from the first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I think that these beatitudes are a source of great confusion to many. The overall misunderstanding is that they are directed at the poor, downtrodden and underprivileged (i.e. the “have nots”) and they give them the impression that says, ‘don’t worry about your pathetic lot in life, you’ll get yours in heaven after you die. Also, the people who are rich, comfortable and priviledged (i.e. the “haves”) will not get theirs in heaven’. Of course this impression is entirely wrong. The beatitudes are a guide to true happiness for everyone.
Two items to understand about the beatitudes are; what a beatitude is and what the rewards for following them are. Beatitude is Latin for happiness or blessedness and it indicates a certain inner contentedness or joy no matter what your life circumstances are. The beatitudes then are a list of the qualities and conditions needed to be truly happy and aligned with the divine plan. Your reward for striving to express each divine quality is, therefore, true happiness and a deep sense of joy. The second half of each beatitude, which state that you’ll get the kingdom of heaven or land, that you’ll be comforted or satisfied, or that you’ll see God, are all different ways of saying this.
The following are each of the beatitudes followed by the keynote struck by each and a brief commentary. Each commentary will attempt to address some of the confusion and then illustrate how the beatitude should be used as a guide to true happiness.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Authority. This shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that we’re supposed stay ignorant and confused about spirit. It indicates that while we are building our relationship with God, we’re to always remember His authority. This means that we don’t become attached to our desires for the things of this world, money, power, fame, etc. (although it’s OK to have these things) but that we always strive for what He thinks is important.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. – Wisdom. How could this be about wisdom when it seems clear that this is about those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one? Well mourning is to remember and this beatitude tells us to develop the wisdom to remember that God is all. We need to always look for the deeper spiritual meaning and broader divine perspective of everything that occurs in this world. For example, when someone dies it’s just their physical body that’s gone…their true self lives on.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. – Humility. This is easily misinterpreted to mean that we’re supposed to be wimpy and weak in the face of bullies and problems. This is entirely wrong. This beatitude is a continuation of the first two in that we are always to remain humble in terms of the personality’s (the human self) relationship to the soul (i.e. the spiritual self). Our spiritual growth begins with an understanding of who we are and once you know, you have to keep the human self humble so that it doesn’t take over the daily self-expression with greed, anger, bitterness and materialism.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. – Obedience. Righteousness is often misunderstood to mean a moral superiority associated with people who think that they’re “better than us”. However it simply means a dedication to following God’s will or plan. When understood this way, this beatitude reminds us to obey God’s will and plan. What is God’s will?
It’s for us to express His love, compassion, peace, beauty, wisdom, joy, nobility, and productivity as much as possible everyday.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. – Compassion. This major confusion with this beatitude is to what degree we’re suppose to show compassion and forgive, particularly as related to the death penalty. Is it compassionate and merciful to execute a convicted murderer? Yes, it’s merciful to protect our society and allow that lifetime to move on rather than wallow unproductively in a prison for the remainder of his life. For all everyday life situations we are suppose to look to infuse our major and minor dealings with compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. – Integrity. To be clean of heart is to be free of the things that pollute our heart – pettiness, jealousy, bitterness, depression and dishonesty. When we act with integrity in all we de we are whole (i.e. holy)…(remember your third-grade math class where you learned that an integer was a whole number?).
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. – Peace. This is also a big area of confusion. What is peace? Can we be peaceful and still go to war? Yes, being peaceful does not preclude going to war to protect yourself. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t be forceful or assertive in everyday life if the situation required it. However we are meant to express a certain peace and patience in our life which naturally follows as a result of the inner contentedness that comes from knowing our true nature.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. – Courage. This is a combined beatitude that echoes the earlier one about righteousness. However these beatitudes remind us, when following the divine plan, to sustain our strength and courage lest our petty selves and others drag us down into the morass of materialism.
Together the beatitudes are a guide to filling our lives with authority, wisdom, humility, obedience, compassion, integrity, peace and courage. Following them will make us truly happy and joyful!