In this Sunday’s gospel reading, we hear St. Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. The verses are very uplifting; they all begin with “Blessed are you …” (Lk 6:20-22). It is as if Jesus is speaking to us tenderly, delivering timely advice, consolation and encouragement when times are rough.
“Blessed” is a Greek word meaning fortunate or blessed. The word is not used to invoke God’s blessing, but to declare that a person has either received a blessing from God or can expect to receive divine rewards and graces in future. “Blessed” in the context of the Gospel reading refers to God’s children who receive his blessing for their faith and adherence to his law (Ref. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament P14, 118). Jesus envisions that the Blessed can expect their present suffering -- those who are poor, hungry, sorrowful and being hated and marginalized -- to give way to future peace. Jesus teaches us to look beyond the hardships and struggles of this life to the eternal blessedness of the life to come; “for surely your reward is great in heaven”, he said (Lk 6:23, Ref ICSB NT P118).
The first Beatitude Jesus teaches is about the poor, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Lk 6:20). Poor may denote material poverty defined by social economic conditions and spiritual poverty defined by inward detachment. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, “for the kingdom of God is [theirs]” (Lk 6:20). “The Word speaks of voluntary humility as ‘poverty in spirit’’’ (CCC 2546).
Those who trust in God’s providence and mercy, free themselves from anxiety about tomorrow. Those who shun the excessive vain and pleasures of the world have the virtue of temperance, which is one of the four cardinal or pivotal virtues of the Church. Temperance ensures the mastery of the will over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honourable (Ref. CCC 2547, 1805, 1809).
“Blessed are you who are hungry now” (Lk 6:21) refers to the virtue of justice. Those who share the predicament of the lowly, respect their rights and give to those who have little, exercise the virtue of justice, another cardinal virtue of the church (Ref. ICSB P118, CCC1807).
“Blessed are you who weep now” (Lk 6:21) refers to the virtue of prudence. Those who lament the vanity of temporal things and look to what is eternal, exercise the virtue of prudence. Prudence uses practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it (Ref. ICSB NT P118, CCC 1806).
Blessed are those who are hated by men (Ref. Lk 6:22) , reflects the virtue of fortitude that strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and overcome obstacles in moral life. It is this moral virtue that enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials, tribulations and persecutions (Ref. CCC 1808).
On the other hand, for those who are successful, if wealth and the praise of the world should smother their love for God, they can expect divine curses. “Woe” is a cry of impending distress used by the prophets of Israel. Jesus voices the same cry “Woe to you” to warn that disaster awaits those who are comfortable in this world. Worldly wealth is dangerous; it can lead to selfishness and a false sense of security (Ref. Lk 6:24-26, ICSB P118).
The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace (Ref CCC 2546). How successful are we in detaching ourselves from the values of this world? How close are we in becoming the “Blessed”?