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- THE BEATITUDES
Christ’s recipe for lasting happiness
One day Jesus sat down at the top of a hill and gathered his followers around him. It was not long before a large crowd also began to arrive. They had heard much about the teacher from Gallilee and were curious to hear what he would say.
From his higher vantage point Jesus looked down at the thousands of faces gazing at him. Some were young and eager; others were careworn, worried, exhausted by the rough and tumble of life.
He looked not only at their faces but into their hearts and lives. As he did so, he felt enormous compassion not only for those on the hillside, but for the millions who would be seeking answers to life’s problems from that moment until the end of time.
It was at this point of instruction that the Divine Teacher gave us a rule of life which if properly followed, would give each of us happiness and true peace of mind.
This rule of life we refer to today as the Beatitudes, for those who follow them are assured of happiness.
While each of these teachings is important, the first, blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, provides us with the correct disposition for taking to heart the instructions which follow it.
As we have already stated, while the Commandments deal with basic rules which govern our actions, the Beatitudes actually give us the correct attitude to be able to perform those actions with the best possible results.
On the other hand, a person may perform correct actions, such as giving money or other assistance to worthy causes. However, it does not always follow that in performing those actions he has the right attitude – he may be doing so to seek the praise of others, or perhaps to further his political aspirations.
Self-righteousness, which comes from self-satisfaction from our good behaviour is a fatal trap into which Christians may slip if they are not on their guard or if they will not accept firm guidance.
This guidance was what Jesus had in mind when he gave us the Beatitudes.
Just a brief glance at the Gospels will show us how Christ himself lived out the Beatitudes and showed us how to follow him. He chose to eat with tax collectors and sinners, he spent time with the woman at the well at Sichar, he saved from execution the woman caught in adultery, because he realised that every one of these people was in fact living in ‘poverty’ and needed his help and guidance.
There is a story told of a man whose most prized possession was a gold pen. It was very valuable and he was deeply attached to it. He was in fact so attached that he would not allow anyone else even to touch it, let alone use it.
One day someone attempted to take the pen from him. His reaction was swift and decisive. He grabbed the pen and held it tightly in his fist.
As soon as he did this he became handicapped. With the pen grasped tightly in his hand, not only was he unable to use that hand for anything at all, but the pen itself was also rendered useless.
He was so intent on keeping that pen that he did not realise the high price he paid for his decision.
Here in Australia, and in many other materially affluent countries, we have everything we could possibly need. When people feel in this position they say they are secure without God in their lives.
Like that man clinging to the gold pen, they become more crippled and handicapped than they realise.
In the first Beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Jesus teaches us that if we realise that we really are destitute and depend on God for everything, we will achieve the happiness that everyone longs for, not only in eternity but also in the present.
As he gazed down at that large crowd soaking up his guidance in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus knew that it would only be when we – and every human being – realise how destitute each of us is, despite having certain earthly riches, would we turn to him for true happiness.
This is not an easy lesson to take in, as it goes against our God-given instinct of self-preservation.
In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul urges us to ‘pray constantly’ (1 Thessalonians 5: 18). By this he means that we should have this attitude of full dependence on God in our day-to-day lives. We can achieve this if we come to the realisation that the world, and everything in it, has been entrusted to us to build up into an acceptable offering to God.
A Christian social worker had for many years been associating with young people with a wide variety of problems. By gaining their trust he was able to work with them to solve many difficulties. He told those who came to him that he would be available as a friend for as long as they needed his help. His goal, however, was to allow them to feel confident enough to stand on their own feet, not to need his assistance and eventually to pass on to others what they had learned from him.
He always avoided any young man or woman feeling dependent on him or ‘owing’ him for what he had done. He never wanted to ‘own’ or possess them. In this way he showed his own ‘poverty of spirit’ and attributed any good achieved to God. This attitude is one way of living the first Beatitude.
This attitude in Our Lord’s teaching we can begin to transfer to our own lives. Let us first start with Our Lord’s words: ‘With me you can do all things…without me you can do nothing’. If we want to transfer this first Beatitude into practical action we should turn to God in prayer, which is defined as lifting our hearts and minds to him, and expressing our complete dependence on him and acknowledging our real and actual poverty.
We can reach out through private prayer, in our worship of God in our heart and our home, and most importantly in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is Christ’s prayer and the most powerful prayer of all.
It is in the Mass that we approach God in our poverty, and from that poverty which we acknowledge and express, we receive every possible richness and great gift.
If we pause frequently as we scuttle through life and acknowledge the real place of God in our lives, we will realise just how small we are, how poor we are.
However, if we are able to grasp this real ‘poverty of spirit’, we will become the richest and happiest people on the face of the earth.