"The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray His charity." —Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC) 1717
The Beatitudes "are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulation." —CCC, 1717
"The Beatitudes reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts." —CCC, 1719
Matthew began the New Testament by repeatedly proclaiming Jesus as God. He called Jesus "Emmanuel," meaning "God is with us" (Mt 1:23). The wise men prostrated themselves before Jesus and gave Him homage, which is properly given only to God (Mt 2:11). John the Baptizer maintained he was preparing the way for Jesus, which was the way of the Lord (God) (Mt 3:3). Finally, when Satan was tempting the Lord, Jesus claimed to be Lord and God by saying: "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Mt 4:7).
After this crescendo acclaiming Jesus' divinity, Jesus manifested His power with an awesome display of healings and deliverances (Mt 4:23-24). He then took His disciples up the mountain, as the Lord took Moses up the mountain, to give them the new covenant, as capsulized in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus began this sermon with the Beatitudes — eight ways to be blessed. They seem absurd (see 1 Cor 1:18) because they clash with our lifestyle and many of our values. Yet how can we refuse to hear, obey, submit to, and rejoice in the revelations of Jesus, Emmanuel, King, Messiah, Healer, Deliverer, Lord, and God!
"Blest are the poor in spirit: the reign of God is theirs." —Matthew 5:3
The first way to be blessed is to choose material poverty — to downsize our lifestyles materially and to live below our means. The word for "poor" in the Greek refers to material poverty and not merely to an attitude toward riches. The phrase "in spirit" means that we have chosen this poverty and are not just victims of circumstances. This has been traditionally called "voluntary poverty." This is the Lord's calling for all His disciples, although He calls His disciples to different degrees of Gospel poverty. Pope John Paul II taught that: "the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style" (Gospel of Life, 98).
When we choose poverty, although we could have had riches, we have the kingdom of God right now. This is also true of the last Beatitude, which calls us to freely choose persecution. We choose poverty to be like Jesus (2 Cor 8:9), rich in faith (Jas 2:5), and free in the Spirit (Gal 5:17). This is the first beatitude because if we are faithful in small things like material possessions, the Lord will entrust us with greater things (Lk 16:10-11).
"Blest too are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled." —Matthew 5:4
In this beatitude, Jesus is probably referring to sorrow for sins. Paul said: "I am happy once again; not because you were saddened, but because your sadness led to repentance. You were filled with a sorrow that came from God...Indeed, sorrow for God's sake produces a repentance without regrets, leading to salvation, whereas worldly sorrow brings death" (2 Cor 7:8-10).
By the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin (Jn 16:8), we receive this sorrow which leads to repentance. The Spirit takes us to the cross and shows us the direct connection between our personal sins and Jesus' sufferings on the cross. Through the cross, we become crucified to the world and the world to us (Gal 6:14). Then we want nothing to do with the world and its rebellion against the lordship of Jesus. We realize that, when we sinned, we were not just breaking the rules but breaking the heart of Jesus. Then, like Peter, we break down and weep bitterly (Lk 22:62).
"Blest are the lowly; they shall inherit the land." —Matthew 5:5
Lowliness is the third way to be blessed. This is often translated "meekness," "humility," "gentleness," or "mildness." Lowliness is a quality of the heart of Christ (Mt 11:29). To be lowly requires tremendous supernatural strength. It is the strength Jesus showed on Calvary, the strength to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:39).
Lowliness is also the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23). Fruit is the final product of a tree, and the fruit of the Spirit is the result of the Spirit's work and our exercise of spiritual gifts. For example, we may experience the spiritual gift of fear of the Lord and become very aware of God's presence. The Spirit then motivates us to evangelize, and then we are persecuted. This series of experiences deeply affects us. We are stronger and lowlier than we have ever been. We will inherit the earth and win the world for Christ.
"Blest are they who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill." —Matthew 5:6
The Lord promised that if we seek first His kingdom and His way of righteousness and holiness, everything else will be given to us (Mt 6:33). We do not need to seek anything but holiness. However, we hunger and thirst for many worldly things and are thereby tempted to seek them. We must not be like the pagans who worry about what they are to eat, drink, or wear (Mt 6:31-32). Our carnal desires and pleasure-seeking lifestyle lusts against the Spirit (Gal 5:17). If we make provisions for the desires of the flesh (Rm 13:14), we lose our desires for the things of the Spirit. We become spiritually anorexic and starve our souls. "Lust indulged starves the soul" (Prv 13:19). We are either filled by hungering and thirsting for holiness or lose our spiritual appetite and starve ourselves.
"Blest are they who show mercy; mercy shall be theirs." —Matthew 5:7
We are blessed in showing mercy, not giving others what they deserve but better than they deserve. To do this, someone must pay the price. For example, if a person owes you $1,000 and you have mercy on him, you have to take a $1,000 loss. Mercy is not overlooking justice. The demands of justice must always be met, but mercy means paying someone else's debts, offering our lives in ransom for others (Mt 20:28), dying on someone else's cross. Jesus already has done this for us. However, He lets us fill up in our own bodies what is lacking in His sufferings (Col 1:24) by suffering in the pattern of His death (Phil 3:10).
We all are in desperate need of receiving mercy, but mercy is very expensive to give. Therefore, we need an all-merciful Savior and merciful followers of such a Savior.
"Blest are the single-hearted for they shall see God." —Matthew 5:8
The kingdom of God is like a precious pearl which cost everything we have to purchase it (Mt 13:46). Everyone can afford it but no one can afford anything else. Therefore, our hearts must be single. Any other attachments will cause us to fall short of paying the price for the kingdom of God. If we are not single-hearted, we are not obeying the first and most basic commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts (Mt 22:37). However, if we are single-hearted, we are on the way to heaven; we shall see God. Our commitment to the Lord must be all or nothing. If we are only 99% committed to the Lord, we are lukewarm and the Lord will vomit us out of His mouth (Rv 3:16). The Lord, the Bridegroom, wants us to more than marry Him (Mk 2:19). He wants to be the one, only, and single desire of our hearts. To have any other "lovers" (idols) would be adultery. The Lord is God; there must be no other gods besides Him (Ex 20:2-3).
"Blest too the peacemakers; they shall be called sons of God." —Matthew 5:9
There are many more warmakers than peacemakers because the cost of making peace is much greater than that of making war. War costs billions of dollars and millions of lives. Peace costs much more. Peace cost the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Calvary.
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained the price of peace: "What I say to you is: offer no resistance to injury. When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other" (Mt 5:39). The price of peace is the cross. It pleased the Father to reconcile everything in Jesus, "making peace through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:20). Peace is Jesus' farewell gift to us (Jn 14:27). It was given not only at the end of His life but through the end of His life on Calvary.
When Jesus looked over Jerusalem, "He wept over it and said: 'If only you had known the path to peace this day; but you have completely lost it from view!' " (Lk 19:41-42) We completely lose sight of the path to peace when we take our eyes off Jesus crucified. Therefore "let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, Who inspires and perfects our faith. For the sake of the joy which lay before Him He endured the cross" (Heb 12:2).
"Blest are those persecuted for holiness' sake; the reign of God is theirs." —Matthew 5:10
When we choose to expose ourselves to persecution, we choose to be blessed, and the kingdom of God is ours right away. This is the last and most important beatitude. It is the only beatitude Jesus expounds upon. He mentions insult and slander as ways in which we are persecuted (Mt 5:11). Then He points out that suffering persecution not only gives us happiness but also gladness, joy, and a great reward in heaven (Mt 5:12). It is our "special privilege to take Christ's part — not only to believe in Him but also to suffer for Him" (Phil 1:29). God's word proclaims: "Rejoice instead, in the measure that you share Christ's sufferings. When His glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted for the sake of Christ, for then God's Spirit in Its glory has come to rest on you" (1 Pt 4:13-14).
If we would live the eight verses of the Bible called "the Beatitudes," just imagine what love, freedom, boldness, and power we would see in the Christian community. We would drastically simplify our lifestyle and see Christian community as a necessity. We would truly be salt with flavor (Mt 5:13) and light with power (Mt 5:14). We would be a repentant, holy, and merciful people, a fearless and exciting Church attacking the gates of hell that cannot prevail against us (Mt 16:18). We would be very blessed, fully in His kingdom, and willing to live and die for Jesus. Ask the Lord for His grace to live the Beatitudes. He will never tell us to do anything without giving us the power. Live the Beatitudes and be truly blessed in Christ.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert J. Hagedorn on February 22, 2001
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, on February 26, 2001