All of us seek to be happy. Even if we do things that are not exactly the healthiest or best choice for our lives, they are still committed as apparent goods with the intent that the action will make us happy, although the after effects or results may not be so. Eating salty or sweet foods have this element of seeking pleasure attached. A consistent diet on these foods alone will keep the manufacturers of these products in business and our doctors well paid, but we will not find ultimate fulfillment and happiness in our consumption of potato chips and ice cream. This is true for the many decisions and actions we make about our life as well. If we want to be really happy, find meaning and fulfillment in our lives, Jesus shows us the way.
In the Gospel Reading today from Matthew, Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, the beginning of which is his sharing of the Beatitudes. Beatitude can mean blessing. For the people of Jesus’ time, an example of a solemn blessing that was invoked was when the father bestowed a blessing on the first born son. This meant that he inherited all that the Father had. The gift of these beatitudes is that all of us who follow them will receive the blessing from our Father in heaven. This blessing goes beyond just the first born, to all those who follow the teachings of Jesus.
Beatitude also means happy. As we read through the beatitudes we can look at them as an outline of how we can be truly happy. The Beatitudes build on the foundational stones of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God. Our freedom, which we so hunger for and aspire to actualize, is not summed up by being able to do anything we want, whenever and however we want to, this is a freedom from indifference, that will lead us to a series of apparent goods that will leave us still wanting.
The Beatitudes, like the Ten Commandments, are boundaries that define us as children, inheritors of God’s will and blessing. We have been created to be disciplined, so to strive for a freedom of excellence. Those who are disciplined to practice and train for hours have the freedom, are blessed, to play a violin, a guitar, a French horn. I still possess the same guitar my father gave me when I was seven. I can pick it up and play some notes, but because of my lack of discipline in practicing daily, I do not have the freedom nor am I able to experience the joy my father does when he plays his guitar.
This holds true for any endeavor in the arts, sports, business, family, or our spiritual life. We become truly happy when we are blessed by God, when we actualize our gifts, discipline ourselves so have the freedom to put them into action, and seek these pursuits and desires when a relationship with God as the foundation of our life.
The Beatitudes that Jesus presents to us today as recorded by Matthew in his Gospel offer us then opportunities to experience meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Each of them are worthy of a reflection in their own right, but for today, let us look at the first Beatitude which will help us to understand that joy is not merely the seeking of pleasure, because when the external stimulus that creates the pleasure stops, so does the feeling involved.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” helps us to find happiness in the fact that we have been created to be members of God’s kingdom. What keeps us outside of this wonderful relationship of participating in God’s reign is our attachment to possessions, to the material and finite things of the world. Just remember the exchange between Jesus and the rich man. The man had followed all the commandments, was blessed with wealth, but when Jesus showed him that the one thing he lacked to enter the kingdom was to sell all his possessions and follow him, the man could or would not do so, and so he walked away sad (cf. Mk 10:17-25). Jesus is inviting us to recognize that all that we have is a gift from God, and we are to be good stewards of them.
A greater temptation we can fall for when are attached to our possessions, is that we begin to treat each other as possessions. We begin to dehumanize one another. Jesus is inviting us to realize that, what is finite and material will not fill us, satisfy us, because we have been created for more. We have been created as a living, craving, hunger and desire to be one with God and each other. What will fulfill us, make us truly happy and experience the joy such that no external experience can touch, or tamp down, is saying yes to God’s love and experiencing a relationship with him and sharing it with others. We are created to be loved and to love.
Looks like I will need to do some purging of books this summer to embrace this beatitude 😉 Pray for me.
Photo: Just one of the many piles of books to sort through!
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, June 11, 2018: