Christ presents the truly blessed as signs of contradiction to the life of the world. He reminds us in the gospel today that there are two ways before us: blessedness and woe. These contrasts are radically opposed to each other. Either we chose to be blessed or to be cursed. The fact is that the conditions for blessedness are higher and different since we live in a world that abhors poverty, hunger, and grief. No one wants to be poor. No one wants to be hungry. No one wants to grieve. Yet, Jesus tells us that the conditions that lead to blessedness are poverty, hunger, mourning, and being persecuted and that these have great rewards. Jesus is asking us to simply detach from the things that push us away from achieving holiness.
Why would Jesus teach that blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and the persecuted? What is the Lord really saying here? Human nature is pre-programmed for happiness. That is why we all have an innate desire for seeking to be happy in whatever we do or seek after. Isn’t the soul necessarily searching for a way to satisfy the need for God? Isn’t knowing and loving God the reason why we are created? The issue is that people tend to look to other things to fill up what only God can satisfy.
Bishop Barron’s explanation of this is excellent, as he references what St. Thomas Aquinas called the four substitutes for happiness: wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. These are the four things that Christ reprimands believers against in Luke's beatitudes.
As Bishop Barron said, the disordered desire for happiness called concupiscence has today become what is popularly known as addiction. For instance, the bank robber is searching for happiness but thinks money will make him happy. He finds out that the money he robs is never enough, so he robs again and again until he gets caught and perhaps ends up in prison. A person with an eating disorder is looking for happiness, so she eats and eats until it becomes a problem injuring her physical and mental health. The power-hungry executive thinks that once she gets to the top and controls everyone else, she’ll be happy. So, she engages in ruthless business practices only to find that the top can be lonely and unfulfilling. The alcohol addict is looking for the next high to be the one that brings happiness, so he drinks and drinks. The brain drives us to do things that tend to satisfy our cravings but really do not satisfy our ultimate desire for happiness. When we substitute anything for God, we become unhappy. These are all choices before us. Money, food, alcohol, none of these things are bad. They are meant to be used for our good. When we make them idols in our lives, they stand in the way of our devotion to God. Therein lies the problem.
In the beatitudes, the Lord is giving us a roadmap to happiness in this life and in the next.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: It isn’t an attack on wealth but an invitation to detachment. How blessed are you if you don’t place money or materialism at the center of your life, if you place money in its proper order which is at the service of others? Then, you will see Christ in the plight of your brothers and sisters and do great things for the kingdom of heaven while on earth. You’ll be able to love as Christ wants you to, all for the sake of God.
Blessed are those who mourn: Everyone in this life suffers and we can’t be attached to feeling good all the time. If we become attached to good feelings, we can turn our lives into lasting sensations and emotions. For instance, I love soccer, and would always enjoy watching soccer matches. Some of us are super fans of the Ravens or the Orioles. But to substitute watching soccer or American football with going to Church can become harmful. How many people run after good feelings at the expense of what’s important? The ‘fun’ of tailgating for a football game that leads you to miss a Sunday Mass is a sin. Our true comfort comes from the love of God.
Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth: Today’s world is filled with addiction to power. This can destroy the lives of innocent people. But being detached from worldly power makes the individual become a bridge to the power of God. In marriage and family life, the meek person is loving and fruitful. The meek wife is happy, so also the meek husband. The meek spouse enjoys the favor of the partner. The meek child enjoys the favor of the parents. The meek staff enjoys the favor of the boss. The meek student enjoys the favor of the teacher. The meek believer enjoys the fullness of favors that come from God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness: This last beatitude in Luke's gospel warns against the addiction of honor; the need for everyone to think well of you even at the expense of doing what is right and holy. It reminds us that worldly honor and adulation do not lead to God. Christ says, “So seeing your good works they may glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Therefore, Jesus highlights the destiny of the poor, the hungry, those now weeping, those now hated by the world as possessing something significantly huge hereafter, “For your reward is the kingdom of heaven.” The categories of people here, by the world’s standard, are considered inferior. So, why call the poor, the hungry, those now weeping blessed? The answer is that blessedness derives from a life modeled after Christ and which does not imitate the world. Blessedness focuses on interior life that contemplates the beauty of eternity. Pope Benedict XVI provides a perfect explanation on this when he writes:
“Consequently, the more we imitate Jesus and remain united with him the more we enter into the mystery of his divine holiness. In truth, the truly blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.” Jesus gives us the remedy of detachment and shows how true joy is found in poverty, mourning, meekness, and persecution for according to St. Thomas Aquinas if we want to be happy in this life and the next, we love what Jesus loves and hate what Jesus hates.
Here is the reason why blessedness seems contradictory; it conforms the person with Christ. Recall that the angel Gabriel announced Mary’s blessedness at the annunciation with the words, “Hail Mary.” Elizabeth echoed these words as Mary visits her with the greeting, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk. 1:42). And the gospel remarks that a certain woman raised her voice in response to Christ’s wise teachings at the temple and exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breast that you sucked” (Lk. 11:27). Jesus’ response to that woman is, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Lk. 11:28). The Blessed Virgin Mary acknowledged God’s grace and gave assent to the blessings of the Almighty when she sang in the Magnificat, “Behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk.1:48). The Blessed Virgin Mary discovered the inner joy of God’s presence and fully responded by loving God and doing his will. She found happiness here in union with Christ and is crowned Queen of angels in heaven.
My dear friends, the truly blessed are God’s children who desire to do his will. The truly blessed will receive their fulfillment in heaven, not in this world. St. John says, “We are God’s children now.” That can be accomplished by seeking his will and doing what he commands. Saint John continues, “but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2). This is true happiness that our souls ultimately desire. We can be truly blessed if we live authentic Christian life, letting Jesus lead and direct our words, thoughts, and actions. When we give sacrificially to the poor, we share in their sufferings. When we defend justice, we advocate for the weak. When we forgive, we become agents of divine mercy. When we suffer, we unite with the sufferings of Christ. We must allow the love of God to permeate us and to drive our desires. Let us journey towards blessedness, a radical choice to live like Christ.
Readings: 1st- Jer. 17:5-8; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:12, 16-20; Gospel- Lk. 6:17, 20-26