The Beatitudes are the Blueprints of Success
In our quest for some notion of happiness, we can find ourselves taking some pretty strange paths. Happiness, for the Jews of Christ's time, was the coming of a messiah who would re-establish the kingdom of David, making Israel a sort of world power, to, at least, equal Rome. Thus driving the Romans from their land. Maybe even thinking of taking over the Empire in the name of God. But we know that this wasn't what Christ came to do. His Kingdom was not an earthly one, a political one, but a spiritual one. Don't we await the same sort of thing? Isn't it true that we await the 'wrath of God' to strike down our enemies? After all, doesn't the Scriptures say this will happen?
"He has shown strength with His arm, He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away" (Luke 1:51-53).
Aren't we awaiting the Lord to smite the likes of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Kung, dissidents, agnostics, atheists, abortionists, et al? But what if Mary's Magnificat speaks of something else?
"It has been often said, very truely, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary." -(G.K. Chesterton; Charles Dickens)
God is the great equalizer, so to speak. The poorest of the poor may be ignored and overlooked by the world. His voice may be unheard in the halls of Congress or the halls of power throughout the world, but rest assured that in the Kingdom of Heaven, his pleas are heard. On earth, he is as nothing, but in Heaven he may be an adopted son of God.
Likewise, on earth, we may all fawn over the actions of a top movie star. Our newspapers may be crammed with the eloquent ramblings of some great statesman or world leader. The President of the United States could, at the touch of a button, possibly end all life on earth, but in the Kingdom of Heaven, his may be the least heard voice. For some powerful and influential people, this causes them to stop and ponder whether they really are 'special' or unique. St. Louis IX of France comes to mind. Though he was King, he was noted for his justice, charity and personal piety. He protected vassals from being oppressed by their feudal lords and made the feudal lords live up to their obligations to their vassals. Even among his European neighbors, he was noted for his justice. Under his reign, France enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity, the likes of which I feel no other nation has since. Truly, he didn't see himself as someone special. Rather, it seems that he saw himself as a man with the God-given means to help his fellow man. He was more a servant than a King. Thus, he was 'ordinary', he was taken down from his throne. The Canon of Saints is full of examples of the 'powerful and wealthy' putting their power and wealth in the hands of God rather than in themselves.
Consider the parable of the servants of the King.
"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth" (Matthew 24: 45-51).
Or the parable which follows this one of the servant who was given five thousand silver pieces, to another two thousand, and to a third a thousand. And how two of the three took what they had been given and used it to their master's benefit, except the third, who did nothing with it. (ref. Mathew. 25:14-30)
All that we have, all that we are or can do hasn't been given us just for our personal use. To those who much has been given, much is expected in return.
"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).
But we sometimes forget that. It isn't that we'll see them humbled in this world. After all, we can clearly see that, in this world, those that 'blow their own horn' and 'exalt themselves' often appear to be living well. We see the world chasing after them for interviews, their autographs, whatever.
To them, the humbling of themselves is foolish. To humbly submit to the teachings of the Church is to surrender their minds to silly superstitions and intellectual imprisonment.
"The convert does not in the least abandon investigation or even adventure . . . For the estate is not only a formal garden . . . there is plenty of hunting and fishing on it . . . People have confused the natural remarks of converts, about having found moral peace, with . . . mental inaction . . . To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think . . . The Catholic convert has for the first time a starting-point for straight and strenuous thinking . . . a way of testing the truth . . .
Nothing is more amusing to the convert . . . than to hear the speculations about when or whether he will repent of the conversion . . . The outsiders . . . think they see the convert entering with bowed head a sort of small temple which they are convinced is fitted up inside like a prison, if not a torture-chamber . . . They do not know that he has not gone into the inner darkness, but out into the broad daylight. (G.K. Chesterton; Catholic Church and Conversion)
Or as Bishop Sheen pointed out:
"The words of Our Divine Lord: 'He who humbles himself shall be exalted, and he who exalts himself shall be humbled' (Matthew 23: 12) express sound psychological insights as well as a spiritual factů..Our imperfections in the face of God has its immediate compensation in the fact that God Who made us creatures will, with our cooperation, make us His children. Once humbled we become exalted, living no longer on the human level, but enjoying the glorious liberty of the children of God."
As Lent approaches, it's time to, once again, reflect on what it is to be a Catholic, a Christian. A time to 'practice' daily conversion since, as St. Francis of Assisi pointed out, conversion and penance is not something to be done only during a specific period of time, but always.
"A thinking man can think himself deeper and deeper into Catholicism, and not deeper and deeper into difficulties about Catholicism . . . Conversion is the beginning of an active, fruitful, progressive and even adventurous life of the intellect . . . To exalt the Mass is to enter into a magnificent world of metaphysical ideas, illuminating all the relations of matter and mind, of flesh and spirit, of the most impersonal abstractions as well as the most personal affections . . . It is precisely the dogmas that are living, that are inspiring, that are intellectually interesting. ( G.K. Chesterton; The Thing, NY: Sheed & Ward, 1929, pp.212-213)
The Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, are not simply a type of poetry or unreachable ideals, but rather a blueprint, a map, for living a Christian lifestyle precisely. It isn't that they're easy to do, but necessary if we are to call ourselves Catholics, or Christian. To follow the Beatitudes is to accept struggles.
"If the enemy continues to make war against you, this might mean that he has still not obtained what he set out to achieve, otherwise he would stop tormenting you. If you experience struggle in your flesh, it means you have not surrendered, otherwise you would be immediately at peace. If you have no struggle at all, rather be afraid and question yourself. Recognize that either this has happened by a free gift of God - in which case you should simply thank Him and feel unworthy of it, or else it has happened because you have become accustomed to evil and compromise - in which case it is time for you to wake up." (Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap.; Magnificat; Feb. 2001)
For past columns by Pat Ludwa, see VIEW FROM THE PEW Archives
February 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 57
Pat Ludwa's VIEW FROM THE PEW column