The Beatitudes: Encounter
While visiting an austere Cistercian monastery when I was about 18 I asked another visitor if the
monks were happy. He was a philosophy teacher and said that a person is happy if he or she
is a round peg in a round hole, or a square peg in a square hole. Happiness is….well what?
The monks looked happy and the guest-master with whom I spoke sounded contented in his
black and white robes. Later I would learn that “All persons want to be happy, and no one is
happy who doesn’t have what they want” – St. Augustine. Now, in my elder years, I have
learned that the hunger in the heart is recognised slowly, and often only after a few trips
along the way into cul-de-sacs.
“Doing ‘Lectio Divina’ on the Beatitudes is a different exercise from reading a book on them,
and I have read a few. No matter how helpful such books are, reading them is not the same
as doing lectio. With a book our aim is to grasp the message of the Beatitudes. With lectio
we focus on the text, allowing it to engage us and lead us to experience the person of Jesus.
Our response is not merely ‘What a beautiful message!’ but ‘What a beautiful text!’ ‘It has
touched me deeply!’ The New Jerusalem Bible uses ‘happy’ (rather than ‘blessed’) and adds
the notion of ‘specially chosen by God.’ Books on the Beatitudes tend to see them as
moralising: do this and happiness will be your reward” – Michel De Verteuil.
Jesus – himself the Beatitude of God – offered his disciples a taste of the joy and happiness of
his kingdom. Having personally experienced and encountered him, they would invest their
futures not in material gain and glory but in the kingdom of heaven. Instead of collaborating
with the strong arm of coercion in the world they would offer an alternative: gentleness,
justice and peace. Jesus’ irrevocable promise of divine life would be their hope and
consolation as they mourned a world ravaged by selfishness and greed. Their experience of
Christ would have revealed him as a way worth following and a truth worth believing.
Pope Francis is someone who seems to have encountered the Lord, and one of his tips for
happiness is “Be giving of yourself to others.” Most people find a joy, contentment and a
sense of fulfilment in reaching out to help another – be it to find accommodation, pay a bill,
the offer of a warm heart and listening ear in time of trouble or worry. Whether we realise it
or not, such generosity and charitableness comes from God. “St. Therese of Lisieux invites
us to practise the gentle way of love and not miss out on the opportunity to offer a kind
word, a smile or small gesture that nurtures peace and friendship” – Francis.
Fr. QQ – 01/25/2023
God is not so much a law to be obeyed as a presence to be experienced – Ron Rolheiser