We talked about our Identity in Christ. He rescued us and restored us to the Father’s love. He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit and of eternal life with Him in Heaven. We are all sons and daughters in the Son of God, we are a new creation, children of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Introduction to the Beatitudes
The rest of this week is going to be focusing on the face of Christ revealed in the Eight Beatitudes, taking a few at a time in order to really understand them.
Christian morality is about following Jesus Christ. Too often, however, when we hear about “Christian” morality, all we hear is the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament. The Commandments tell us what to do/not do. The Beatitudes tell us who we should be, what type of disciple Christ wants of us. We ought to start morality with the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount and not just on the Commandments. They come second, because Identity and Destiny come first, which is what the Beatitudes unfold for us.
The Beatitudes are the first part of the most important sermon Christ gave about the Christian life, which is the Sermon on the Mount:
- They are Christ’s own self-portrait, portraying his charity, showing us his true face, and so by studying them we will discover our most authentic selves
- They are our vocation/mission as Christians. We are called to live every one of them.
- They are the “paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations”
- They proclaim the blessings and rewards for Christ’s disciples
- They shed light on the actions and attitudes of the Christian way of life
Finally, the Beatitudes as a whole form of coherent vision of the Christian life. This is how we advance in holiness, this is how we become like Christ. He gave us the self-portrait, it is up to us to live in his grace and follow after him. So each Beatitude supports and leads to the next, based upon the divine logic of self-giving love. This is God the Son teaching His brothers and sisters how to live and act as the Father’s children, a way worthy of the Gospel. This is why the Beatitudes begin and end with the promise of “the Kingdom of Heaven”.
The Joy of Humility: the First Three Beatitudes
The first three Beatitudes show us the starting point for holiness, which is the rejection of sin and evil from the human heart and of realizing where we are before God.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit and why is this the first Beatitude?
The Christian life has a starting point, which begins with acknowledging that God is God and we are not. We become more and more aware that we are just creatures, that we did not create ourselves. Everything we have we owe to God. Everything.
We try to approach God like two independent business men working out a contract. I give You some prayer, You give me some success. I give You attendance at Church, You give me a new girlfriend. We think that we can haggle with God. We cannot. Thus, the first Beatitude makes us realize that, in front of God, we are bankrupt. “Apart from me” Jesus says, “you can do nothing.” Nothing, because apart from God, that is what we are. We are bankrupt. We are poor in spirit. We are the beggars.
Why are the poor in spirit happy/blessed? Because only those who acknowledge their own nothingness can have their souls filled by He Who is Everything! Refusing to acknowledge the truth prevents us from surrendering to Christ in faith and love. Only the humbled can be exalted by God. If you do not make room for Him in your heart, then He, and His Kingdom, will pass you by forever. This experience of humility becomes the source of lasting joy.
Why the Mourners are Happy, and why it flows from humility?
The first Beatitude lays the correct foundation of the virtue of humility. “God is God and I am not.” The second Beatitude goes further. I am not just a creature bankrupt before God, I’m worse. I’m a sinner. I’m in the debt of sin and death before God. I’ve turned away from Him time and again and squandered whatever gifts He gave to me. And so we mourn our sins. We mourn those times we failed to do the right thing. We mourn those times when we were just too weak or too fearful to stop evil from growing. We mourn the way we hurt our friends, our family members, even our enemies. We mourn our pride. We mourn sharing in others’ sins. In short, mourning is true repentance.
Only those who enter into mourning shall be comforted! A priest once said, “Jesus Christ paid a debt that He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.” That is Good News! When we repent of our sins, mourning all that wasted time and energy, then Christ can really begin to work in us. Repentance breaks us of our attachment to sin so that grace can start the transformation of this “old man” into the “new creation” in Christ. Comfort is a Latin compound word cum, meaning with, and forte meaning strength (where we get the words Fort, Fortress, Fortitude, Fortify). The humble get the Kingdom, and the mourners get the strength and joy of the Holy Spirit!
The Meek are not Weak, but they are not Violent Either
The meek will inherit the earth? No, it is really the strong, the powerful, the violent, the aggressive that inherit the earth. The violent take what they want, when they want it. The power get their way. The aggressive snatch the prize. The meek, who have had everything taken from them by the strong and powerful, will inherit the earth because meekness is not weakness. It is strength that is placed second to love.
Jesus Christ was meek as He hung on the cross. He was also the Almighty God of creation. As they mocked Him He could have zapped them all with his power by a blink of His eye. But He didn’t. He had a mission to accomplish. He had no pride to be wounded, so with all of His divine power He just hung there, and in that meekness, He saved the world. Jesus loved us more than Himself. The meek will inherit the earth precisely because they do not want the earth. They want Jesus! They glory in the Kingdom of Heaven. They have the power and stength and comfort of the Holy Spirit, what else could possibly compare? And yet, it is to the meek that Our Lord will give the earth to.
Application and Conclusion
The Beatitudes show us the face of Christ and express to us our identity and mission as children of the Father in the Son. We all need the Beatitudes. We start with the true beginning, rooted in humility before God.
We embrace with joy the poverty of spirit that comes with life. We need to acknowledge with our whole being that God is God and I am not, which usually means things don’t always go our way. I cannot control everything. If life becomes difficult, we are experiencing our poverty of spirit, and have an opportunity to grow in humility like Christ by embracing it.
From this first humility, we progress deeper into self-giving love when we repent of our sins. The best form of repentance is never returning to that sin again. Sometimes, though, certain sins may take years of Reconciliation, of prayer, of growing in virtue before we can master it. Those times can be difficult, painful even. We can mourn such vices and humbly beg the Spirit for His comfort!
Finally, we need to stop relying on our own strength, on intimidation and violence, to get our way, and say to God, “Your will be done.” Meekness breaks us of the self-serving desire for power. To the meek person, power becomes a tool instead of an end in itself, to be used to serve others. Meekness, then, is essential to living our mission and vocation.