Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
"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 sons 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 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." ~ Matthew 5:1-12
"The Beatitudes," as they've come to be known, are the words of Jesus, captured by Matthew, opening thenow-famous "Sermon on the Mount." As a teen growing up, I never cared for the challenge of the eight Beatitudes. Their paradoxes made me feel inadequate, for it seemed that on a daily basis I could name at least one instance where I was doing and being exactly the opposite.
But the truth was, back then, I was not totally sold on the idea of following everything Jesus taught. I wanted to pick and choose what parts of the gospel fit for me, politely ignoring the rest. For instance, all those words about meekness, mourning, and getting persecuted just didn't fit in with my perceived road to happiness. The Beatitudes were like some corny formula for success that was totally outdated.
I was young and arrogant and I had not tasted the bitter sides of life. Yet.
I finally began to understand the Beatitudes when I was on the receiving end of them by way of the love and generosity and sacrifice of others.
When I really messed up and was on the receiving end of someone's mercy instead of scorn, I discovered the blessedness of mercy.
When amidst my deepest sorrows, I was supernaturally comforted with a peace I still can never quite describe, I wondered at the mystery of healing consolation.
With my reputation besmirched and my actions publicly misunderstood, a friend taught me how to forgive, and I found that could move on. There have been other instances, but you get the point.
Beatitude drew me in, and transformed my heart and my situations. Indeed, over time, I was learning that the Christian way is no easy way, but it is a blessed way. For me, beauty, graces, and freedom were yet to be found within those paradoxical Beatitudes, after all.
Maybe that's why Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with their counsels. Central to his gospel, they teach the presence of eternal value inherent in the experiences of our daily lives, even the difficult ones.
The Beatitudes are meant to shape and form us—like "be attitudes," the way that Jesus wants us to be. The Beatitudes give us choices to deliberately "be more" than minimalists or skimmers of the surface of life. They dare us to believe in the necessity of being a blessing now in exchange for a blessing yet unseen.
This is no immediate transaction. The return on one's investment is in the hands of Someone else.
When we listen to this Gospel at Mass this weekend, we will be challenged to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to reflect his countenance, and to be his charity in the world. Just think about the face of Jesus and picture his example in each of the Beatitudes. Jesus is a living portrait of how "to be " human. He models the attitudes and dispositions that make up a life of love and service.
Finally, the words of the Beatitudes are more than just a listing of good advice or proverbial wisdom. They point out the path to happiness both in this life and the next.
God's creation of us destined us for beatitude. We were made for more: We were made for happiness. In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church says our vocation is beatitude—happiness.
The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1718)
The Beatitudes respond to the desire for happiness that God has placed within our hearts. In a surprising paradox, we find that the things we fear might make us unhappy really do just the opposite!
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that "God alone satisfies." That's why Heaven is the goal of life. The Beatitudes point to the beatitude of Heaven. But until we can achieve such a magnificent destiny, following God's way now will bring us a glimpse of heaven's happiness on earth. It is the unfolding of blessedness in our midst.
To be like Jesus: "To be" or "not to be" in our attitudes and actions? That is the question.