The Beatitudes are like a self-portrait of Christ. They look beyond the struggles of this life to eternal life to come. They proclaim that the blessings of the New Covenant will be fully realized in the kingdom of heaven.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
29 January 2023
In our gospel today on this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, we receive the beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes have been long viewed by theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas as a kind of roadmap to heaven. They instruct us on what it means to live as Christ’s disciples. They tell us how to live as children of God the Father. And Christ promises that if we orient our lives according to their principles, we will receive everlasting blessedness in the kingdom of God.
The beatitudes lead to the Beatific Vision, the face-to-face vision of God in heaven.
The Beatitudes: Higher Precepts
Notice the setting for receiving the beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount. Christ goes up the mountain and his disciples travel up with him. Then he sits down and teaches them, which is the posture of a rabbi instructing his students. The disciples receive his divine teaching from this high point, from atop the mountain.
Contrast that setting with the way Moses received the 10 Commandments, which are part of the Old Law. Moses went up the mountain alone and brought the moral law back down to the people Israel on tablets of stone.
In case of the beatitudes, Christ delivers them directly to his followers on the mountain. This reminds us that the beatitudes are a higher kind of law or teaching than the 10 commandments. The reception of the beatitudes up on the mountain signify the elevated precepts of the righteousness of Christ’s followers.
Going even beyond that, Pope St. John Paul II noted that the beatitudes are like a self-portrait of Christ. They reflect the face of our Lord—not only his life and teaching but who he is as the incarnate Son of God. This means that living according to the beatitudes is in fact living in imitation of the Lord Jesus. To live the beatitudes is to live like God in the flesh.
The Beatitudes look beyond the struggles of this life to eternal life to come. They proclaim that the blessings of the New Covenant will be fully realized in heaven.
Obviously, the beatitudes are extremely significant. Every Christian should devote some time to studying them. With that in mind, let’s look at two of the beatitudes.
Poor In Spirit
The first beatitude Jesus gives is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). What does it mean to be poor in spirit?
Those who are poor in spirit recognize their radical need for God and his grace. The poor in spirit understand they are subject to God, the Creator, as his children. They are unattached to the world and find their security, freedom, and peace in the Lord. They rely on God’s mercy, not their own merits.
Nor do they rely on material wealth as their source of happiness. The poor in spirit understand that material wealth does not equate to eternal wealth in heaven. In fact, it can easily become an obstacle to it.
As I said earlier, the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Christ. Jesus demonstrated poverty of spirit during his earthly life. For instance, in his agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he submitted to the will of the Father by praying, “Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup [of suffering] from me; yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mk 14:36).
Speaking to his disciples in John’s gospel, Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again…. this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).
Jesus begins with the first beatitude for a reason. Poverty of spirit—humility before God—is like the spiritual starting line. It’s the foundation for a relationship with God. It’s even the foundation of prayer. For instance, consider the opposite of humility, which is pride. When we pray from a position of pride, our words of prayer become empty, meaningless. Humble submission to God and reliance on his mercy and grace must be our attitude as Christians. If we don’t begin there, we’ve not begun at all.
Thirst for Righteousness
Let’s look at another beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6).
This beatitude refers to those who long to live rightly, in a morally praiseworthy way according to the will of God. Their first priority is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
What is righteousness about? Righteousness denotes God’s uprightness, justice, and faithfulness toward his people. It is fulfilled in Christ who is the fullness of God’s righteousness. Christ is the Savior-God who is faithful to his people to the point of offering his life on the cross to destroy sin, evil, and the eternal death of the soul.
Through Baptism, we receive the grace of justification. By virtue of being integrated into Christ’s life, we are made righteous before God. If we are living righteously, we therefore hunger and thirst to do the will of God, as did Jesus—even to the point of death.
Living by the Beatitudes
Living according to these two beatitudes—poverty of spirit and the thirst for righteousness—makes particular demands on our life, our attitudes, and our behavior.
Submitting to God, living as detached from the world, relying on God’s grace, and longing for God’s kingdom and his righteousness means we are not going to go along with the evils so prevalent in our society today. For example, we will take no part in the woke ideologies of secular humanists who invert evil for good, and who insist on promoting evils like the LGBT activist agenda and others.
Living for God and his kingdom in a morally praiseworthy way and submitting to the will of God means we stand against these things which are opposed to the beatitudes. My brothers and sisters, these evils do not lead to beatitude but rather end in death.
For instance, transgender ideologies are ultimately a war against God’s design and his created order. People who adhere to them install themselves as the gods of their own bodies and the human person who is created as male and female. And they insist that everyone must go along with their idolatrous practices that irreparably harm children, families, and society itself. As another example, activists who promote homosexual behavior and seek to normalize same-sex unions undermine marriage and pollute the minds of children with a distorted view of human sexuality.
Persecution Endured for Christ
There are many other examples, far too many to talk about here. But I want to leave you with this: living according to the beatitudes requires the grace of Christ. It requires persistence, determination, and the courage that is found in drawing our strength from the Lord Jesus.
Living the beatitudes means living in a way that is opposed to the voice of the world with its call to listen to the voice of Satan, the deceiver, and to turn away from the kingdom of God and embrace a life of sin and spiritual death.
When we live according to the beatitudes, we live in Christ and imitate him. That will inevitably bring not merely challenges but will bring with it a cost. That cost is persecution.
The final beatitude Christ gives us today deals with precisely that issue. What promise does the Lord give us in that regard?
“Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt 5:11-12).
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.
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