Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
To imitate Christ is to live the Beatitudes. What if
we do, poverty, meekness, mourning, hunger, thirst, mercy, purity, peace and
persecution are ours. We are to enjoy Gods presence even now in the measure
that our wills are conformed to His will. Praise be Jesus Christ, eternally
blessed are we if we do. What a joy for Eternal Life to bring you this master
teacher of the way to heaven: Fr. Hardon.
Good evening, shall we begin with a prayer.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art
thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother
of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Our conference this evening is on the beatitudes. As you
know the beatitudes are the beginning of Christs Sermon on the Mount, which
is chapters five, six, and seven of the Gospel of St. Matthew. In our next conference
we shall take the Lords prayer. Between the beatitudes and the Lords prayer,
we have a synthesis of all that Jesus wanted to teach us in His Sermon on the
Mount. What our Lord did in the beatitudes is give us not just a synthesis but
what I might call an ocean of Christian spirituality. Throughout the Sermon
on the Mount our Lord keeps contrasting what the people of the Old Law have
been told, they were told that, they would quote from a commandment of the Decalogue
but He would add, I say to you. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount
is the Decalogue elevated by the Son of God. And the compendium of all of Christs
teaching and in that sense, a synthesis of everything that He wants His followers
to do is contained in the beatitudes. Our plan for each of the beatitudes, which
I wish to cover all eight in the time at our disposal, is first to quote from
Christs statement of each beatitude, briefly explain its meaning as the Church
understands the beatitude. But, then especially apply the beatitudes to our
own lives, because, the beatitudes were meant to be lived. Indeed, Jesus Christ
lived the beatitudes and a perfect restatement of the following of Christ is
practicing the beatitudes. We might remind ourselves that the beatitudes opened
the Sermon on the Mount. They were given, not surprisingly, to the disciples
and selectively to them. And immediately after giving them the beatitudes, Christ
told them that they, those whom He had selectively chosen and taught, they were
to be the light of the world. They were to be the salt of the earth.
There are two versions in the Gospels of the beatitudes.
In St. Lukes Gospel there are four, coupled with what we call the four woes.
In other words, the four beatitudes and the promises that Christ makes to those
who live the beatitudes. And then in Luke, the corresponding four threats, woes
if you wish, that Christ, shall we say, promises to those who do not live the
beatitudes. Before we begin examining each of the beatitudes in detail, let
us be clear, for the followers of Christ the beatitudes are not an option, they
are a divinely ordained obligation. Having received the grace of the supernatural
life in Baptism, we have been given the strength to live the beatitudes and
in Lukes Gospel, quoting our Lord, woe to us, woe to us, if we do not live
First then, we are told in the first beatitude, Blessed
are the poor in spirit, for they shall have the kingdom of heaven. What is
Christ saying? He is telling us that we shall be blessed. Where being blessed
means made happy by God. In other words, we shall be supernaturally happy. In
particular, living out the first beatitude, we are assured the kingdom of heaven
in eternity, but already on earth we are assured happiness. In Christs words
theirs the poor in spirit is the kingdom of heaven. What does Jesus mean?
He tells us, we shall be, we shall be happy and experience nothing less than
a foretaste of heaven here on earth, on one condition, that we are detached
from everything in this world. That is the primary meaning of the first beatitude.
To be poor in spirit means to not be enslaved by anything in this world. Or
from another perspective, to be poor in spirit means, to be internally freed
and in that sense, spiritually poor, detached from everything, everything, except
the one Being for whom we were made. What are we further saying? Whatever we
possess, whether materially speaking or intellectual ability, or education or
social prestige, you name it. Whatever it is, before God, the first beatitude
tells us, we are to be detached from everything in this world as a condition,
watch it, not only for perfect happiness in the world to come, but also for
authentic happiness already here in this valley of tears. Our hearts are to
be set only, (comma) only, on the living God and in the measure in which our
hearts are set on Him, in that measure we shall experience heavenly joy already
here and before we reach eternity.
Second Beatitude. Blessed are the meek, for they shall
possess the earth. Notice in each of the beatitudes, Christ first sets down
the condition and then He follows with a promise. Whats the condition here?
It is meekness. Other translations have, blessed are the gentle, and the promise,
they shall possess the earth. What are we being told? Clearly, the promise
that Christ makes is not to possess land, so many acres, or least of all, the
earth as a planet. Christ does not promise, surely not for His followers, material
wealth. Almost two thousand years of the Churchs history tells us, the promise
that Jesus makes is influence over the hearts of others, provided we are meek,
one translation, or gentle, another version. We shall be able to influence others,
we shall possess in the measure of our meekness or gentleness, hear it, we shall
possess the wonderful power of leading others to God, but only, and this is
Divine mathematics, in the measure of our meekness. What then is the condition
for possessing influence over the souls of others? It is meekness as the control
of the passion of anger, or from another perspective, and the Greek of St. Matthew
allows us to use either English translation, or gentleness, in our loving exercise
of strength. I didnt coin these words last night. In our loving exercise of
strength, only strong people can be gentle. Meekness, then, is the virtue of
temperance, which masters our spontaneous tendency to anger. When were opposed
or contradicted, or something or someone, as the expression goes, stands in
our way. Meekness masters irascibility. Gentleness, on the other hand, is the
virtue of charity, which loves the persons over whom we have power, what a combination,
what a combination. To have power over people and to love them and never show,
less still parade, ones dominance over those over whom indeed I have power.
Whether the power is political or financial or intellectual, or social or you
name it. Instead, gentleness is the exercise of charity. Where we exercise,
and in English you hesitate using the word, power. But we use it kindly, patiently,
in a word, gently. Power does not show its power. Power respects the person
over whom I, indeed, have power, whatever that power may be, because I love
the person. And hear it, hear it, the one toward whom I show my love though
I have indeed power over that individual, that person, in the language of Jesus
Christ, is my benefactor. Because it is by loving others that we prove and show
our love for God. We go on.
The third beatitude has our Lord telling us, Blessed are
they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Again, what are we being told?
We are being told there is sorrow, which is pleasing to God. In my own vocabulary
I distinguish between sorrow and sadness. And in using these two words, I identify
sadness as wrong, as sinful, as sorrow either over the wrong object or sorrow,
which has got out of control. But sorrow as such, is, must be pleasing to God.
We may say sorrow is part of our life on earth. Christ Himself, we know, mourned,
indeed, He wept. And Christs weeping, call it Christs mourning, is a pattern
of what our mourning should be. Christ wept at the grave of Lazarus. We may,
indeed, we should mourn over the loss of someone we love. Whether it is a loss
by death, as I know I was just ordained when my mother died, one Mass from beginning
to end, I wept during the whole Mass. But, as we know, there is losing someone
not only by death but by rejection. Losing someone because that someone has
become estranged from everything that I hold dear. But there is another and
deeper form of mourning that Christ our Lord both manifested and teaches us
to follow His example. Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem. We should mourn, mourn
over sinners. And we look at our own beloved country, words cannot describe
the depths, I mark my words, of depravity to which so many of our fellow countrymen
have sunk. Adulterers, fornicators, sodomists, murderers, dear God, are canonized.
All of this is, to put it mildly, legitimate mourning. Following, not just the
teaching, but the example of the Son of God became man in order to teach us
among other lessons, how we are to mourn, living as we are surely in the valley
But then the promise, Christ tells us, they shall be
comforted, this poor, non-Catholic, English language, they shall be comforted.
In both the original Greek of St. Matthew and the Churchs official Latin, they
shall be strengthened, they shall receive fortitude, they shall receive supernatural
strength from on high. In other words, Christ our Lord assures us that, like
Him, we too are to expect to mourn. But, we are also to expect to be strengthened,
strengthened by that Holy Spirit who comes to give us both the light for the
mind and especially strength for the will. To bear unflinchingly and courageously
under the burden of life and especially under the terrifying burden of living
in a sin laden world and sadly receiving often no encouragement from other human
beings but depending on Jesus Christ to strengthen us in carrying with Him our
The Fourth Beatitude: Jesus declares, Blessed are they
who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. There are at
least a half a dozen standard translations of the fourth beatitude. Over the
years especially comparing the translation with the original Greek. I prefer
the one Ive just read. What then are we being told? Christ is telling us to
desire what is just. Hear it and dont forget. What is just? That which is pleasing
to Him. In other words, we are to hunger and thirst, which in the Bible the
two verbs, to hunger and to thirst are the strongest verbs in the biblical vocabulary
for desire. We are to hunger and thirst for what is right. And what is right?
Hear it, hear it and dont forget. It is an open, open contradiction to the
philosophy of this world. For the world what is right? What I want. For the
Christian what is right? What God wants, in other words what I need. Believe
me this is not a play on words, this is bedrock Christianity. As over the years
Ive been telling both my students and people I speak to, theres only one conflict
that has ever been, or shall I say, fought in this world, and that is between
two wills, the divine will and the human will. What are we then being told?
That provide we desire, watch your desires, this is the secret of happiness
as locked up deep, deep, down in our hearts. Desire what you need, one statement.
Desire what God wants, another statement. Desire what is right, another synonym.
Desire heaven and the means of reaching heaven, which is the grace of God. And
whats the promise? What a thrilling promise, your desires will always, always,
be satisfied. Over the forty plus years of teaching theology, I never tire of
telling people, there is only one definition of happiness, and that is unsatisfied
desires. So here it is, it is both that simple and needless to say, that hard.
We shall be happy if only, if only we conform our desires to the will of God.
And then, oh joy, we will see in everything in our lives the grace of God. Well
have no problems in life. Father, are you serious? No, Im not just serious,
I am brutally honest. Of course, you might say, but Im not sure what God wants.
My friend, very simple, pray and ask for light. Lord, what do You want? Though
He tells you, you may still think youve got a problem. Youre scared, pray
again. This time, Lord give me strength, know what You want all right, but,
oh dear Jesus, Im afraid. I know you are, thats why Im sending you what you
call a problem. Ask Me for the strength and youll have a foretaste of heaven
on earth. Of course, of course, that will mean, of course, it will mean carrying
The Fifth Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they
shall obtain mercy. This Beatitude, Christ made sure was enshrined in the Lords
Prayer. Forgive us our trespasses, we tell Lord, forgive us our trespasses as
we forgive those who trespass against us. So what is our Lord telling us to
do? To forgive others, to not dwell on their, well, what shall I call it, their
wickedness, no matter how black you paint their actions towards yourselves,
dont dwell on it. We are to love those who do not love us. In other words,
and this is no cliché believe you me, our salvation depends on this, my dear
fellow sinners. We all desperately need Gods mercy. Very well, what is the
divinely infallible way of obtaining Gods mercy? By practicing mercy towards
others. That is why unkind, thoughtless, mean, inattentive, unjust, even cruel
people are put into our lives, we need them. I mean it, we need them, and you
dont run away from those people, we need them, they are a great gift. They
are Gods provided means for His giving us mercy. Whats the promise? The greatest
promise that Christ could make was the reason He became man. And, hear it, on
the cross, what did Christ say? Those who had unjustly condemned Him to death,
nailed Him to the cross, the murderers, Christ as man begged His heavenly Father
to forgive them. And Christ made sure that before He died on Calvary, that He
would also pardon, remember, the thief who was crucified along with the Savior.
Theres more here than meets the eye. It is not only, though obviously, of great
supernatural benefit to us to be merciful to others, that you might say, is
the immediate logic of the fifth beatitude. But, as now almost two thousand
years of the Churchs commentators have pointed out, the promise, they shall
obtain mercy, is not only mercy for ourselves. By our being merciful toward
others who can be very offensive to us, that too, but also, we obtain mercy
for the very ones who are offensive, who hurt us. God has given me the privilege
over the years of my priesthood to have experienced enough rejection and of
opposition and sadly, from some people that Ive done some great favors for.
In other words, it is not only that mercy is promised to us because we are merciful,
but mercy is promised to those toward whom we show mercy. We merit mercy for
them and may well be, dont forget this, it may well be, that our merciful forgiveness
of those who have maybe cruelly betrayed us, even hated us, may be the condition
that Christ attaches to giving these people His grace of merciful repentance.
And that, of course, in one sentence is precisely what Jesus Christ did. Surely,
surely, He did not need to have His own sins forgiven. But, His mercy toward
those who were so cruel toward Him, His mercy merited the mercy from His heavenly
Father, for the very ones, who except for His mercy toward them, would not have
obtained mercy from the heavenly Father to be saved themselves. More than any
of us realize we hold the salvation of souls in the palms of our hands. We go
The Sixth Beatitude: Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they shall see God. There are two kinds of purity expressed in the sixth
Beatitude. There is the purity from sin and theres the purity of chastity.
Both forms of purity are understood in the sixth Beatitude. And what is Christs
promise? Both purities from sin, and among the sins, purity and being freed
from sins against chastity are promised by Christ extraordinary ability to see
God. In other words, there is nothing, nothing which so enlightens the human
mind in being able to see with the eyes of faith what God has revealed as a
clean heart. How this needs to be underlined, indeed I would add, etched in
bronze. The more pure a persons heart is, pure in not being stained with sin,
pure in living a chaste life, a sinless heart, a chaste heart, is assured by
Christ, a mind that can see and penetrate into mysteries that the most superb
intellect cannot penetrate. Forty-seven years in the priesthood have taught
me volumes, one thing Ive learned, there is no mind so black, so dark, so blind,
as the mind whose heart is filled with sin. Sinners are blind. They are blind.
The first thing I tell people to learn about those who write books in, you name
it what, theology, spirituality, biblical studies, you name it, find out what
kind of lives those people are living. If they are living humble, obedient,
chaste lives, you can trust the writing, otherwise, dont touch their books.
Oh what names I could give, but prudence tells me to withhold. Some years ago
I was giving some lectures at the University of Michigan, had dinner with the
catholic chaplain at the university. In the course of the conversation, he told
me that not a few of the Catholics come to him and they tell him, I cant believe
all this the Catholic Church is teaching. So I tell them, sit down and my
first question is, Hows your sex life? My sex life, whats that got to do
with what Im telling you? He tells them, Everything. A pure heart is joined
to a perceptive mind.
The seventh Beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers, for
they shall be called the children of God. A word at least should be said about
what peace is, to make sense of what a peacemaker is. There are two kinds of
peace. I never tire telling people. There is peace of mind and peace of heart.
Peace of mind is, the experience of knowing the truth, peace of mind is the
experience of knowing the truth. For which there is no substitute under heaven.
Thats why America, my figures are seventy million Americans, are using some
kind of medically prescribed tranquilizers. Theyre not at peace. They are
starving for the truth. Whats peace of heart? If peace of mind is the experience
of knowing the truth, peace of heart is the experience of doing the will of
God. Oh, how this needs to be, this time, carved in granite. With a graduate
degree in psychology, I can tell you it contradicts most of what, at least,
psychotherapists will tell you. You have peace of heart, in their vocabulary,
when you do your own will. That is not just a lie that is a demonic lie. Peace
of heart can be experienced only by those who are doing Gods will and thats
a divinely mathematical proportion. Our hearts will be as much at peace as we
are doing the will of God. So then what is peacemaking? Evidently it means,
assisting others, first in acquiring peace of mind, teaching them the truth.
How many people admire peace of art? Telling them what is Gods will, and of
course, reconciling people who are estranged from each other. Hear it. Hear
it. Only people who are at peace within themselves can be at peace with others.
I repeat, no one else can be at peace with another person, unless he or she
is at peace within. And therefore, to be a peacemaker means to help people acquire
that inner peace without which there cannot be peace between or among people.
And then promise, ah, Christ you might say exalted His vocabulary, the tenderest
promise He could make, they shall be called, children of God, specially loved
by God and whatever you can do to reconcile others will be blessed by the Lord.
Others among themselves, but remember, no reconciliation between people is possible
unless there is first peace within people and of course needless to say, we
will be ourselves only as effective peacemakers as we ourselves are at peace
Finally, and I hesitate even speaking of the eighth beatitude
because I would like to spend the whole hour just on the eighth beatitude. It
is so rich in its implications. First it reads, Blessed are you when men abuse
you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account,
rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. This is how they
persecuted the prophets before you. Unquote the Savior. What are we being told?
Christ saved the eighth beatitude for last. You live faithfully the first seven
beatitudes, and my friends, you cannot escape the eighth, am I clear? In other
words, even as Christ Himself, and just repeat the verbs, was abused and persecuted
and all kinds of calumny spoken against Him, hated, hounded, condemned to death,
crucified, and the worst possible, the most horrible kind of execution of which
the Roman soldiers were capable, was crucifixion. Christ Himself experienced
that suffering and His promises for those who follow in His footsteps, they
are to expect to be rejected accordingly. You might ask, well why? Why? Because
the world always hates the truth, and when Truth became Incarnate, the Truth
was rejected, crucified, died and was buried. You might say somewhat surprisingly,
Christ in giving us the eighth beatitude promises, oh, He promises happiness
all right, but hear it, the promise of looking forward to a heavenly eternity.
In other words, for those who follow Jesus faithfully, they should not expect
any other joy here on earth that is more deeply satisfying than the joy of knowing
that they are following in the footsteps of the Master and that even as He was
rejected, so they are. They are rejected with Him, but, hear it, in the original
Greek of St. Matthew, the followers of Christ are told not just to rejoice,
but positively, dance with joy. Why? Because love, love enjoys to suffer for
the One whom he loves, and there is no greater joy, no greater joy on earth,
than that of uniting our being rejected by the world because we are faithful
to Jesus Christ. Lord Jesus, we beg You for the grace to not just believe in
the beatitudes, not just to understand the beatitudes, not even just to live
the beatitudes, but, as the eighth beatitude makes clear, to suffer the beatitudes
out of love for You. Because, that dear Jesus, is our greatest happiness. Not
only the heaven for which we are made, but already here, in Your arms on earth.
Thank you for listening.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica