"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
"Poor in spirit" means to be humble. Humility is the realization that all your gifts and blessings come from the grace of God. To have poverty of spirit means to be completely empty and open to the Word of God. When we are an empty cup and devoid of pride, we are humble. Humility brings an openness and an inner peace, allowing one to do the will of God.
It is pride, the opposite of humility, that brings misery. For pride brings anger and the seeking of revenge, especially when one is offended. If every man were humble and poor in spirit, there would be no war!
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
If we are humble and appreciate that all of our gifts and blessings come from God, we grow in love and gratitude for Jesus Christ our Savior. But this can only produce mourning and regret over our own sins and the sins of this world, for we have hurt the one who has been so good to us.
St. Gregory describes another reason to mourn: the more one ascends in meditation of Divine Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and then realize the poverty of human nature, man can only be left in sorrow. When one contemplates that we were made in the image and likeness of God and lived in Paradise, the Garden of Eden, and compare that to our present state after the Fall, one can only mourn our present condition. But the sentence continues that they shall be comforted, by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, and hopefully one day in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Mourning in this context is called a blessing, because mourning our fallen nature creates in us a desire to improve ourselves and to do what is right!
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
St. Gregory of Nyssa taught that the Beatitudes build one upon another. A humble person becomes meek, or becomes gentle and kind, and exhibits a docility of spirit, even in the face of adversity and hardship. St. Augustine advises us to be meek in the face of the Lord, and not resist but be obedient to him. Obedience and submission to the will of God are certainly not in vogue these days, but they will bring one peace in this world and in the next.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
A continuous desire for justice and moral perfection will lead one to a fulfillment of that desire - a transition and conversion to holiness. This is true for all the virtues - if you hunger and thirst for temperance, you will head towards the goal you have in mind. St. Augustine, in his discourse on the Lord's Sermon on the Mount, notes the correspondence of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and their necessity in fulfilling the Beatitudes. For example, one must have the gift of fortitude so one may be courageous in seeking justice.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Mercy is the loving disposition towards those who suffer distress. Love, compassion, and forgiveness towards one's neighbor will bring peace in your relationships. We say in the Lord's Prayer Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. As we are merciful to others, so our Heavenly Father will be merciful with us! Jesus reminds us that whatever "you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me [Matthew 25:31-46]." St. Paul calls for the obedience of faith in the beginning and end of his Letter to the Romans (1:5, 16:25-27). The following are ways to be merciful to your neighbor, as well as obedient in faith to Christ our Savior.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feed the Hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Comfort the imprisoned
- Visit the sick
- Bury the dead
The Spiritual Works of Spirit
- Admonish sinners
- Instruct the uninformed
- Counsel the doubtful
- Comfort the sorrowful
- Be patient with those in error
- Forgive offenses
- Pray for the living and the dead
"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."
Moses (Exodus 33:20), John (1:18), and Paul (1Timothy 6:16) all say that no one can see God here on earth! But Jesus says the pure of heart shall see God! To be pure of heart means to be free of all selfish intentions and self-seeking desires. What a beautiful goal! How many times have any of us performed an act perfectly free of any personal gain? Such an act is pure love. An act of pure and selfless giving brings happiness to all.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God."
Peacemakers not only live peaceful lives but also try to bring peace and friendship to others, and to preserve peace between God and man. St. Gregory of Nyssa calls a peacemaker a man who brings peace to another; but one cannot give another what one does not possess oneself. Hence the Lord wants you first to be yourself filled with the blessings of peace and then to communicate it to those who have need of it. By imitating God's love of man, the peacemakers become children of God.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Jesus said many times that those who follow Him will be persecuted. "If they persecute me, they will persecute you" (John 15:20-21). Stephen, Peter and Paul, nearly all of the Apostles, and many Christians in the Roman era suffered martyrdom. The twentieth century with its two World Wars has seen its share of martyrs such as Maria Goretti, Maximilian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Central American martyrs. But the Lord promised those that suffer for his sake will be rewarded with the Kingdom of Heaven!
The Eight Beatitudes of Jesus
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