The Beatitudes. Doesn’t it just make you smile to say that out loud, to think of Jesus going up that mountain, sitting down, and then speaking those beautiful words?
The challenge is that to Jesus and therefore to us, the Beatitudes are more than words. They are a way to follow him. They lay out an exceedingly difficult road map to live. Be meek? Me? Be a peacemaker? Me? Find something positive in mourning? Me? Yes, you. And all of us.
I often speak about the female saints to Catholic women’s groups, and two things tug at my heart. The first is the little boxes we try to put these holy women in. They weren’t perfect, folks, and they would have been the first to tell you about their struggles with the loss of loved ones, their health, their dignity. The faith and confidence they had in the Lord make them bigger than those little boxes.
That brings us to the second thing: Like them, you are blessed. Not tomorrow, not when the kids go off to college, not when you get that next promotion. Now. Today. How do I know that? Because Jesus told us. Note the Beatitudes are not in the future tense, or the past, for that matter.
You are blessed now, today and always, just like the women on these pages. Always count your blessings, which abound whenever two or more are gathered in his name. And as women, we are great at gathering, aren’t we?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus does not comfort the proud, but those broken in spirit. He assures them that they are the true recipients of God’s saving love. In the Old Testament, God’s poor are called the anawim, the Hebrew word for the poor, humble and afflicted. Only those who are “poor in spirit” understand that salvation is a free gift from God.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Those who are now mourning recognize their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. In Matthew’s Gospel, a tax collector named Matthew is among those eating with Jesus. When Jesus is asked why he eats with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus answers, “Those who are well do not need the physician, but the sick do” (Matthew 9:12). Only those who admit their sickness or sin are open to God’s saving love.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
For some, the word meek may suggest weakness or spinelessness. The biblical meaning of meek, however, indicates respect and forbearance. Jesus describes himself as “meek and humble of heart,” and yet he is anything but spineless. Indeed, the Jesus we know has immense inner strength.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
According to Jesus, they are already blessed who dedicate themselves to building a world of justice and righteousness, a world where everyone’s rights are respected and all people will find a place at the table—and enjoy a fair share of the gifts of God’s creation.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
The Peace Prayer of St. Francis repeats the same dynamic in these familiar words: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” And this triumph of mercy happens not only in the next life. It happens now. No sooner do our hearts imitate the mercy of God than God showers on us the gift of his own overflowing love and mercy!
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.”
Sometimes, after a spring rain, we come across a clear puddle of water. If we stir the puddle with a stick, it clouds up and turns muddy. When our motives and intentions are clouded, we lose our purity of heart and our ability to see God—and our neighbor as an image of God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
The Hebrew word shalom means peace—a state of wholeness and total health. When we wish someone peace in the biblical sense, we are wishing them this same kind of wholeness. If we go about spreading God’s love as instruments of peace, we bring wholeness and reconciliation to our world—and become “children of God.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
As we look at this eighth beatitude—and look back at each of the preceding beatitudes—we see that Jesus is a great model for all of them. We would each do well, I believe, to take a few moments to reread slowly this series of eight beatitudes and to contemplate Jesus, who followed them so lovingly during his life here on earth.