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Understanding and Praying with the Beatitudes

Updated: Jan 28, 2023

The Gospel reading this Sunday (January 29, 2023) is the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 5:3-10). St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a long commentary on this passage, explaining them (See Thomas Aquinas, On Matthew 5.2, 403-443, as reproduced in Selected Commentaries on the New Testament, Jason Paone, ed., Word of Fire Academic, 2022).

I'll attempt to briefly summarize his commentary, while offering my own thoughts on how they relate to serving our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable in our communities.

Each of the beatitudes is structured in two parts: the left side describes an attitude or a disposition that we can desire, aspire to, or strive towards; the right side describes an attribute of God's blessed life that we will share in if we have this attitude or disposition. We can ask God in prayer for the desire for these attributes and for the grace to obtain them.

The ordering of the beatitudes also is significant. The first three relate to removing evil from our lives. The next two relate to doing good through our lives. The next two relate to our relationship with God, and then with others. The final one sums up the other seven.

To be poor in spirit we need to detach ourselves from worldly things, such as wealth, power, pleasure, and the desire for fame. You cannot be attached to worldly things and be in the kingdom of heaven.

To be meek means to detach ourselves from the negative internal attitudes and dispositions of anger. Meekness is not mere gentleness, but an ability to control our desire for worldly things and our response when we do not have what we desire. We cannot be angry when we lose worldly things, as we all ultimately will lose all worldly things. We won't be able to do this without detaching ourselves from worldly things first. Then, only without anger can we possess the land of the future, the land of the living, in which we possess our own glorified body in heaven.

To mourn means not mere sadness, but a deep lamentation for loss. We may mourn because we abandon the joys of this world, including family and friends, to follow Jesus. We mourn because we lose a loved one who dies. Do we mourn for those who are dead spiritually? Our comfort, from sharing in God's blessed life in heaven, comes from realizing that the joys of life with Him are greater than the joys of this world, that our loved ones are given the same joy, and others are given the same Merciful Jesus to heal them.

These three things, being poor in spirit, being meek, and mourning, all come about from removing evil from our lives, and redirect us towards God.

To hunger and thirst for justice means desiring God's justice, which can only be understood from the perspective of God. This desire is not presumptuous, imposing our own ideas of justice, but is humble, recognizing that we cannot know all that God knows. In heaven, that desire for God's justice is ultimately fulfilled.

To be merciful means to be eager to drive away the misery of others for their good. Being merciful is not merely "giving back" to our community. It involves entering into their suffering to drive away misery.

Our hunger and thirst for justice must be joined with being merciful. St. Thomas put it this way, "Justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice is the mother of laxity". But it is hard to desire God's justice and to be eager to drive away the misery of others if we have not first detached ourselves from the worldly things, and truly let go of them, and mourn for our neighbors.

To be clean of heart will allow us to see God imperfectly now and perfectly in heaven. The cleanliness of the heart comes in part from removing evil from our lives and doing good. And seeing God more clearly helps us to love Him more deeply.

To be a peacemaker means to seek God's peace, which happens when everything it rightly ordered to Him. It is the resistance to God's order that leads to a loss of peace. Being a peacemaker is not being nice, but recognizing that every other person is God's creation, God loves them and wills their good, and that we must do the same. We can only do this if we first remove evil from our lives, seek justice and be merciful, and seek and love God.

Jesus tells us that doing all of these things will lead to persecution. Are we willing to go all the way, even if it means death, to remove evil from our lives, do good, seek and love God, and love our neighbors? If we persevere under all persecution we encounter and never give up, we will be in the kingdom of heaven. We won't be able to do this if we have not removed evil from our lives, desired God's justice and were merciful, and loved God and neighbor.

This leads me to the following prayer.

God, give me the desire and grace to remove evil from my life, so that I may be poor in spirit, meek, and mourning. Give me the desire for your justice, and the grace to be merciful and enter into my neighbors' suffering like you do. Help me to see you clearly with a clean heart and to love my neighbor as you love them. Give me the strength and courage to do this unceasingly, and never give up, no matter the cost.

A chart summarizing the beatitudes with this prayer is in this downloadable PDF. Also available in Spanish.

Download PDF • 67KB

3.2 Entender y Orar con las Bienaventuranzas
Download PDF • 78KB

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