Three Lessons of the Beatitudes

To live in the present, access peace and the many blessings available through faith—are just a few of the lessons of His teachings.

Posted in , Dec 16, 2019

Three Lessons of Beatitudes

Within the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew are found eight revolutionary teachings of Jesus, revelations of God’s mercy and unconditional love, and instructions on how to invite the Spirit into your life and fulfill your vocation as a disciple.They are simple guidelines on how to open to grace and bear fruit that lasts, how to access the peace that is available to us through faith.

Ever since I was a young girl, I looked to the Beatitudes as a source of comfort and consolation, a primer of hope.

For me all eight categories of people listed in the Beatitudes (the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for justice) are variations of the first group: the poor in spirit. Why are the poor in spirit so blessed?

Although there are many lessons of the Beatitudes, here are three that mean the most to me.

Lesson One: Everything is Passing

One reason the eight beatitudes offer so much consolation is that they suggest nothing is forever: those who mourn will be comforted, the merciful will obtain mercy, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied, the pure in heart will see God.

While it is natural to see the state of our affairs as permanent, these eight promises remind us on the transience of all things. They speak of Teresa of Avila’s “Bookmark” prayer:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

To live the Beatitudes, then, means to live in the present moment to the best of our ability, to consent to life in all of its messiness. As Therese of Lisieux said, it means to “choose everything,” even our trials and dark nights, trusting that God uses all things towards good and there is meaning in all of it.

Lesson Two: Powerlessness Breeds Peace

In a recent meditation shared from his Center for Action and Contemplation, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr compares the language of Jesus, and I would add especially in the Beatitudes, to the spirituality of twelve-step groups: it’s about the gift of powerlessness. “We suffer to get well,” he writes. “We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be resisted, denied, and avoided until it is forced upon us—by some reality over which we are powerless—and if we are honest, we are all powerless in the presence of full Reality.”

The Beatitudes call us back to powerlessness: to be among the lowly, the poor, the ones who don’t hold the reins and sometimes bear the brunt of injustice. We abandon the pursuit of power, prestige, wealth, and all empty values, to be a testament of God’s living word in our world, and to face the pain, rejection, and humiliation that accompanies our choice, only to find a peace in the surrender. There is an interior freedom in detaching from what we thought would provide us with security, and depending solely on God.

In his book The Eight Door of the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Fr. Jacque Philippe writes, “It is essential that one recognize⁠—and always accept⁠—one’s poorness and limitations, accepting myself as I am in my radical weakness, my fragility, an being reconciled to it, since I place my trust not in myself and my personal perfection but only in God.”

Lesson Three: There Is Grace in Paradox

The Beatitudes contain paradox after paradox: it’s an upside-down kind of theology: “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.”

The hard part is trusting God with all of this upheaval, knowing that even though we can’t see the bigger picture, it all makes sense. Fr. Philippe writes, “When we cease playing at being life’s masters and consent to embrace what comes to us day by day, life becomes full of meaning.” He goes on to say that this means coming to terms with not understanding everything, not having answers to all the questions.

I find one of the most inspiring, universal messages of the Beatitudes is this: “God isn’t through with me yet.” I may feel rejected, sad, poor, persecuted, but the Kingdom of God is not yet realized – it is still going on, and therefore, I can’t know what this experience of suffering means, but it will all make sense in the end.

In her book No Crystal Stair, Diana Hayes, author and professor emerita of systematic theology at Georgetown University, wrote, “My life, a seeming paradox of contradictions and odd twists and turns, has truly been one where troubles of many different forms have always been in my way. Yet I know now, deep within me, that ‘trouble don’t always last.’ God is not through with me yet.”

Impermanence, powerless, and paradox are just three lessons of the Beatitudes. They say the same thing in different ways: to live the Christian life, we must believe and hope and keep walking in the darkness even when we can’t see. God is with the humble, with those who trust in Him.

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