An Exposition of the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are eight roads to perfect happiness. They are the standards or rules Christ sets up for His followers. They are just the opposite of the standards of this world.
Those who live by the standards of this world are really living pagan lives, even though they may be Catholics in name. Only those who try to live their lives according to the beatitudes are really Catholics in practice.
We have in the Catholic Church what is called Sacred Tradition. These are teachings that have been handed down through the ages by word of mouth. In other words, teachings or beliefs that were not written down in the Canon of Sacred Scripture.
For example, let's assume for a moment you are looking at a picture. You can clearly see the fine details in the art; there is no question that you can plainly see all there to that picture. This picture would represent the sum total of God's revelation to man. The sum total of God's revelation is the Catholic Church. Now, in this example, a non-Catholic Christian would look at the same picture, but see 40% less. They can see it is a picture, but it is by nowhere as clean as the one you looked at. This distortion would occur because there is no Sacred Tradition involved, they see what is in the Bible and take it for face value only. This is exactly why we have 28,000 different churches in the world today.
The meaning of the beatitudes would qualify as Sacred Tradition. The Bible should never be read at face value. There is a lot of symbolism in Sacred Scripture. A 21st century American will undoubtedly have trouble comprehending fist century Jewish writing. The only way to solve this dilemma would be to read what the early Fathers of the Church taught. We can trust the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of truth and what was taught in the early Church would certainly have been true; and what was true then, would certainly be true today.
Let's take a look at the words of our Blessed Lord in the Gospel. Let's find out if the the words in the Bible are taken at face value, or if there is more to their meaning.
Matthew 5:2 "And opening His mouth He taught them, saying:"
Opening His mouth...It is a Hebraism, to signify he began to speak. This is a common expression in Scripture something important is about to be spoken. Thus it is used in various places throughout the Bible, for example in Job, opening his mouth cursed the day.
Another example is Daniel 10:16, "And behold as it were the likeness of a son of man touched my lips: then I opened my mouth and spoke, and said to him that stood before me: O my lord, at the sight of you my joints are loosed, and no strength has remained in me."
And why it is added says St. John Chrysostom, "and opening His mouth," without a doubt that we might know, that not only when He spoke, but even when silent, He gave instruction: sometimes, therefore, He opened His mouth; at other times He spoke by His very actions."
Matthew 5:3 "Blessed are the poor in Spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
The poor in spirit...which according to the common exposition, signifies the humble mind and heart. Yet, some understood it of such as are truly in poverty and want, and who bear their indigent condition with patience and resignation.
Dr. Witham says, "That is, the humble; and they whose spirit is not set upon riches."
Calmet says, "It is not without reason that the Beatitudes are disposed of in this order. Each proceeding one prepares the way for what immediately follows, furnishing us in particular with spiritual arms of such graces as are necessary for obtaining the virtue of this subsequent Beatitude. Thus, the poor in spirit, that is, the truly humble, will mourn for their transgressions, and whoever is filled with sorrow and confusion for his own sins, cannot but be just, and behave to others with meekness and clemency; when possessed of these virtues , he then becomes pure and clean of heart. Peace of conscience reigns in this assemblage of virtue, and cannot be expelled the soul by any tribulations, persecutions, or injustices of men."
St. John Chrysostom also says, "What is this poverty of spirit, but humility and contrition? This virtue of humility is placed in the first place, because it is the parent of every other virtue, as pride is the mother of every vice. Pride deprived our first parents of their original innocence, and nothing but humility can restore us to our former purity. We may pray and fast, we may be possessed of mercy, chastity, or any virtue of the Pharisee, without foundation, without fruit."
Matthew 5:4 "Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land."
The land of the living, or the Kingdom of Heaven. The Evangelist prefers calling it the land of the living in this place, to show that the meek, the humble, and the oppressed, who are spoiled of the possession of this earth by the powerful and the proud shall obtain the inheritance of a better land.
The 16th Century theologian Cardinal Juan Maldondo, taught, ""They shall possess the land," is the reward annexed by our Savior to meekness, that he might not differ in any point from the old law, so well known to the persons he was addressing. King David in Psalm 36 had made the same promise to the meek. If temporal blessings are promised to some of the virtues in the beatitudes, it is that temporal blessings might always accompany the more solid rewards grace. But spiritual rewards are always the principal, always ranked in the first place, all who practice these virtues are pronounced blessed."
Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted."
Our Blessed Lord is not talking about those who mourn for worldly motives, but such as mourn for their sins, are blessed. The remorse that is according to God, says St. Paul in 2 Cor 7:10, "works penance steadfast unto salvation, but the sorrow of the world works death."
The same is promised is John 16:20, "You shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy." -- Cardinal Juan Maldondo
Matthew 5:6 :Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice: for they shall be filled."
Hunger and thirst...that is, spiritually, with an earnest desire of being just and holy. But others again understand such as endure with patience the hardships of hunger and thirst.
Many theologians have commented on this verse, here are some that I have found:
St. Rupert, the Bishop of Salzberg, who died on Easter Sunday, March 27, 718, was also a contemporary of Childebert III, King of the Franks, understands this passage to mean those to whom justice is denied, such as the poor widows and orphans.
Cardinal Juan Maldondo, the 16th century theologian and exegate, says, "those who from poverty really suffer hunger and thirst, because justice is not done them. They shall be filled with every kind of good in their heavenly country." "I shall be filled when Your glory shall appear." -- Psalm 16
Matthew 5:7 "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."
This is not only the giving of alms, but the practice of all works of mercy, both Corporal and Spiritual, are recommended here, and the reward will be given on that day when God will repay every one according to his works, and will do by us, as we have done by our brethren. This is the Divine Mercy of God that was revealed to St. Faustina.
Matthew 5:8 "Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God."
The clean of heart are either those who give themselves to the practice of every virtue, and are conscious to themselves of no evil, or those who are adorned with the virtue of chastity. For nothing is so necessary as this purity in such as desire to see God. Many are merciful to the poor and just in their dealings, but don't abstain from the luxury and lust. Therefore our Blessed Lord, wishing to show that mercy was not sufficient, adds, that if we would see God, we must also be possessed of the virtue of purity.
St. John Chrysostom says, "By this, we shall have our heart exempt from all disordinate love of creatures, and shall be exclusively attached to God."
The great Greek Doctor of the Church also goes on to say, "The clean of heart, that is, they who are clean from sin: who are pure in body and mind."
Dr. Witham comments, "It seems to be a particular admonition to the Jews, who were mostly solicitous about an outward and legal cleanness."
Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called children of God."
"To be peaceful ourselves and with others, and to bring such as are at variance together, will entitle us to be children of God. Thus we shall be raised to a participation in the honor of the only begotten Son of God, who descended from Heaven to bring Peace to man, and to reconcile him with his offended Creator." -- St. John Chrysostom
Matthew 5:10 "Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Heretics and malefactors suffer occasionally, but they are not on this account blessed, because they do not suffer for justice. For, says, St. Augustine, "they cannot suffer for justice, who have divided the Church; and where sound faith or charity is wanting, there cannot be justice."
The Assisi born, Father Francesco Bartholi, the Franciscan theologian of the 13th-14th centuries says, "By justice here we understand virtue, piety, and the defense of our neighbor. To all who suffer on this account, He promises a seat in His Heavenly Kingdom."
"We must not think that suffering persecution only, will suffice to entitle us to the great promises. The persecutions we suffer must be inflicted on us on His account, and the evils spoken of us must be false and contradicted by our lives. If these be not the causes of our sufferings, so far from being happy, we shall be truly miserable, because then our irregular lives would be the occasion of the persecutions we suffer." -- St. John Chrysostom.Tim Rash
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