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Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
The Beatitudes

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 God’s 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 Spirit. Amen.

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 Spirit. Amen.

Our conference this evening is on the beatitudes. As you know the beatitudes are the beginning of Christ’s 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 Lord’s prayer. Between the beatitudes and the Lord’s 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 Christ’s 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 Christ’s 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. Luke’s 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 Luke’s Gospel, quoting our Lord, woe to us, woe to us, if we do not live the beatitudes.

First Beatitude

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 Christ’s 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

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. What’s 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 Church’s 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 didn’t 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 we’re 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, one’s 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.

Third Beatitude

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 Christ’s weeping, call it Christ’s 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 of tears.

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 Church’s 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 cross.

Fourth Beatitude

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 I’ve just read. What then are we being told? Christ is telling us to desire what is just. Hear it and don’t 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 don’t 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 I’ve been telling both my students and people I speak to, there’s 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 what’s 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. We’ll have no problems in life. Father, are you serious? No, I’m not just serious, I am brutally honest. Of course, you might say, but I’m 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 you’ve got a problem. You’re scared, pray again. This time, Lord give me strength, know what You want all right, but, oh dear Jesus, I’m afraid. I know you are, that’s why I’m sending you what you call a problem. Ask Me for the strength and you’ll have a foretaste of heaven on earth. Of course, of course, that will mean, of course, it will mean carrying the cross.

Fifth Beatitude

The Fifth Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” This Beatitude, Christ made sure was enshrined in the Lord’s 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, don’t 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 God’s mercy. Very well, what is the divinely infallible way of obtaining God’s 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 don’t run away from those people, we need them, they are a great gift. They are God’s provided means for His giving us mercy. What’s 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. There’s 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 Church’s 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 I’ve 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, don’t 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 on.

Sixth Beatitude

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 there’s the purity of chastity. Both forms of purity are understood in the sixth Beatitude. And what is Christ’s 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 person’s 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 I’ve 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, don’t 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 can’t believe all this the Catholic Church is teaching.” So I tell them, “sit down” and my first question is, “How’s your sex life?” “My sex life, what’s that got to do with what I’m telling you?” He tells them, “Everything”. A pure heart is joined to a perceptive mind.

Seventh Beatitude

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. That’s why America, my figures are seventy million Americans, are using some kind of medically prescribed tranquilizers. They’re not at peace. They are starving for the truth. What’s 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 God’s will and that’s 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 God’s 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 ourselves.

Eighth Beatitude

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 it’s 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. Amen.

Thank you for listening.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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