THE EIGHT BEATITUDES
Those who scrupulously keep God’s commandments are happy even on earth. Hence Our Lord (Matt. v. 3-10), pronounces the following beatitudes:
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This is the meaning of these words: Blessed are they who, however great their wealth, their dignity, their health, their learning, acknowledge that before God they are poor, for in this life they enjoy celestial peace and after death are partakers of eternal felicity.
The poor in spirit are not the fools, but the humble. They are those who have the spirit of a little child. The rich in spirit are the proud, who think much of themselves because of all they possess. Yet the rich man may be poor in spirit, if he acknowledges that all his riches are valueless in God’s sight. And a poor man is not poor in spirit if he pride himself on some quality or other that he possesses. But as a rule, the rich are not, and the poor are, poor in spirit. The poor in spirit enjoy celestial peace, for Our Lord declares that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are like rocks, externally barren and unproductive, but containing within rich veins of pure gold; for while they appear to the eye of man bereft of all joys they possess consolations of which the world knows nothing. The poor in spirit are admitted to eternal felicity. Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, as the pearl belongs to the man who has purchased it at a goodly price; for the poor in spirit, by their renunciation of all earthly things; have bought heaven at the cost of all they possessed.
2. Blessed are the meek; for they shall possess the land.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who preserve their composure (are not provoked to anger by the wrong done to them); for they will rule their fellow-men (they will conquer the hearts of men) and after death they will enter into heaven.
(See the instruction on meekness.)
3. Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who lament but little over the loss of transitory things, for God will impart to them such consolation that they will forget their sorrow; and after death He will bestow upon them celestial and eternal joys.
They that mourn are therefore not those who mourn over the loss of earthly things, e.g., the enjoyment of some pleasure. Sorrow such as that is a sign that the heart is not detached from the things of earth; it profits us no more than a plaster would heal a wound if it were laid beside, instead of on it. Sorrow is only a cure for sin. unless our sorrow is on account of sin, it will only be harmful; as a moth doth by a garment and a worm by the wood, so the sadness of a man consumeth the heart (Prov. xxv. 20). Sadness incapacitates the soul for action; it has the same benumbing effect upon it as excessive cold has upon the body. A season of gloom and depression is an opportune moment for the devil; he avails himself of it to tempt us and make us fall, as birds of prey go out by night in quest of spoil. Hence Holy Scripture exhorts us to be cheerful. The joyfulness of the heart is the life of a man, and a never-failing treasure of holiness (Ecclus. xxx. 23). But sorrow for sin, whether our own or that of others, is pleasing to God, and is succeeded by joy and gladness. What happiness awaited the prodigal son when he returned home, after deeply deploring his sin! What joy the penitent thief experienced when Our Lord promised him paradise! What joy Magdalen felt when Christ pardoned her and commended her love! and David when, after he had bewailed his transgression (Ps. 1.), the prophet announced to him that he was forgiven! Mourning for sin can hardly be called sadness, because it is not incompatible with interior gladness. St. Jerome says: “In spite of penitential tears and heart-rending sighs I am sometimes so joyous that I fancy myself already with the angels.” Nor is sorrow on account of the trials providence sends us reprehensible; it too leads to joy and consolation. This was the sorrow Our Lord felt on the Mount of Olives, at the approach of His Passion; and an angel appeared to Him, strengthen ing Him. This was the sorrow the widow of Nairn felt when her son was carried out for burial; and Our Lord consoled her grief by restoring him to life. The apostles mourned when Christ left them and ascended into heaven, find immediately two angels came to comfort them. When God has happiness in store for us, He invariably sends some trial first to make us more humble, more grateful for His gifts; thus light is more welcome after darkness, health is better appreciated after sickness. They that mourn will also be comforted hereafter. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and death shall not be any more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow” (Apoc. xxi. 4). “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Ps. cxxv. 5).
4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice; for they shall be filled.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who strenuously strive after truth and moral perfection, for they shall attain it, and shall be satisfied by the beatific vision of God in heaven.
The centurion Cornelius sought after truth with prayer, fasting, and alms; God instructed him first by an angel, and subsequently by the mouth of St. Peter. The pagan philosopher Justinus made r careful study of all the systems of philosophy in order to discover the truth, and God employed an old man on the banks of the Tiber to teach him the doctrines of Christianity. He who strives earnestly after sanctity will surely attain it. Clement Hofbauer, a baker’s apprentice, set his heart upon becoming a priest; he attained his end in spite of all hindrances, and has been beatified. A man who is tormented by hunger or thirst will do anything to obtain relief, as Esau relinquished his birthright; the saints acted in like manner, counting no exertion too great, no sacrifice too costly, in order to satisfy the hunger of their soul. This spiritual hunger and thirst, the craving for increase of knowledge and growth in holiness is attended by Joy and causes no uneasiness to the soul. The aspiration after justice renders us fit to receive the communication of divine grace, for by fervent desires our heart is enlarged. Eternal felicity also awaits those who strive after justice; here below they never think they have reached their goal, they never say they have done enough. They hunger continually; and a never-ending hunger merits never-ending satisfaction.
5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who help their neighbor who is in need, for they will obtain from God pardon of their sins, and will be leniently judged at their death.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they whose heart does not cling to the things of earth, for they will have a clearer perception of God in their lifetime, and after death will behold Him face to face (1 Cor. xiii. 12).
The proud, the covetous, the intemperate, are not clean of heart, for the things of time and sense, honors, riches, the pleasures of the table, hold a place in their heart. Only those who are conscious of no habitual sin can be said to be clean of heart. What enabled St. John the Evangelist to penetrate to deeply into the mysteries of religion, to gaze upon the sublimity of the Godhead? “The sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the spirit of God” (1 Cor. ii. 14). “Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins” (Wisd. i. 4). Truth does not reveal itself to the unclean, but from a pure heart it cannot be hid (St. Bernard). As a sheet of paper must be clean, upon which one is about to write, so that heart must be pure from carnal desires upon which God will set His seal by the action of the Holy Ghost.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who make sacrifices for the sake of peace, and who promote peace among others; for here below they enjoy the special protection of God, and hereafter they will receive the reward of their self-conquest.
8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The meaning of these words is this: Blessed are they who have to suffer at the hands of their fellow-men for the sake of their faith, or of some Christian virtue; for even in this life they will be filled with interior joy, and after death a high degree of felicity will be theirs.
What indescribable happiness St. Stephen felt while he was being stoned; he saw the heavens opened and Christ standing in the glory of God (Acts vii. 55). St. Lawrence, who was broiled upon a red-hot gridiron in Rome, must have experienced similar consolations, for while he was enduring the torture he joked, saying to the pagan governor: “I am roasted enough on this side; now turn me over to the other.” St. Paul declares: “I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. vii. 4). How could the martyrs have suffered torments so terrible with such equanimity, unless they had been mingled with celestial consolations? Our Lord says of those who suffer for His sake: “Your reward is very great in heaven” (Matt. v. 12). Persecutions are the precious stones wherewith the crowns of the saints are adorned in heaven. You must suffer with Christ here, if you would reign with Him thereafter. There is no greater honor upon earth than to suffer for God. The order in which the beatitudes are enumerated indicates the existence of three degrees, or stages, in the spiritual life. (1), All sinful inclinations must be combated, by means of humility, meekness, sorrow for sin; (2), Our sanctification must be effected by means of striving after perfection and the practice of works of mercy; (3), We must be united to God, by cleanness of heart, by peaceableness, and patient en durance of suffering. The beatitudes begin with the promise of the kingdom of heaven, and with it they end. This is to signify that eternal felicity is the reward of all the intervening beatitudes, What is promised to the poor in spirit as their reward under the name of the kingdom of heaven, is the same as the land which the meek are to possess, the comfort promised to those who mourn, the satisfaction which is to be the portion of those who hunger and thirst after justice, the mercy to be obtained by the merciful, the contemplation of God which the clean of heart are to enjoy, the adoption of the peacemakers as the children of God, and the kingdom of heaven which belongs to the persecuted. The Church has appointed the eight beatitudes to be read as the Gospel on the feast of All Saints, because it was the prospect of this eternal reward which urged the saints on ward on the path of virtue.
The worldling counts those as fools whom Christ declares to be blessed.
The world has its own maxims, which are utterly opposed to those of the Gospel. (1), Riches constitute the greatest happiness, poverty is the greatest misery. If a man has anything at all, he must make a show with it, or the world will not think much of him; (2), One ought not to put up with anything; (3), Happy is the man who is free from care and sorrow; (4), One must look to it that one makes a lot of money; (5), Let every one study his own advantage; (6), Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die; (7), One must take up arms in one’s own defence, whenever one is wronged; (8), Blessed are they who have nothing to suffer. Well indeed might St. Paul say: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor. iii. 19).