Our Church’s tradition has promoted the practice of lectio divina, i.e., a meditative reading of Scripture. We would do well to follow in these footsteps by examining the Beatitudes, today’s Gospel, which open the Sermon on the Mount, the discourse in which Jesus presents the new covenant replacing that which Moses brought down to the people from Mount Sinai.
The word, “blessed,” first invites our attention. The English language, usually rich in vocabulary and nuance, fails us here because “blessed” has two quite distinct meanings. It can mean praiseworthy as when we say, “blessed be God” and “blessed be his holy name,” i.e., “praised be God and his holy name.” But blessed can also mean fortunate as when I say that I was blessed with good parents or with good health. Which of these two meanings is used in the Beatitudes? We can answer that question by examining the original text of the Bible, which is in Greek, for Greek has two different words corresponding to the two meanings of “blessed” in English. The Greek word for praiseworthy has come into English as “eulogy,” as when someone who has died is praised at his funeral with a eulogy. But the other Greek word, for which there is no English equivalent is the one found in the Beatitudes. It’s makarios, and it means fortunate. It remains, then, for us to examine why the people described in the Beatitudes are fortunate, lucky. Given the richness of the text, I shall content myself with considering only one of them, the sixth: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The reward—“to see God”—should excite in us a desire to be so fortunate. Purity of heart essentially means singleness of purpose. We are to pursue our goal without distraction, directing all we say and do ultimately to the glory of God. Such a life has the beauty of integrity in that short-term goals—good health, work, family, etc.—are means by which we grow in virtue and in the love of God. For partial goods, to the extent that they are goods, remind us their source in God. And so, what I may term a chaste love for things that pass will be coordinated in a vision that looks on God as their source. It is not surprising, then, that the vision of God himself is their completion.
Some detail may allow us to enter more fully into the significance of this Beatitude. Consider the quest for truth that we find, for example, in scientists. The rigour of their methods and their strict allegiance to honesty – at least in theory – are the source of their remarkable achievements. And as their investigations reveal ever more splendidly the mysterious nature of the physical world, their enthusiasm and their, admittedly, partial success, instill in them a sense of humility that should induce them to contemplate with ever greater reverence God, the Creator. But when the object of scientific investigation is Man himself, the psychiatrist will share with the physicist awe, but here in contemplating the range and depth of human consciousness. If the investigation of the cosmos induces its explorer to kneel before its creator, so too must the equally extensive and mysterious inner universe of the human mind or, better, the soul. But in this case, there is an additional factor to be considered, viz., sin, whether original or actual, that has occasioned the Son of God to come among men as the ultimate remedy for their ills.
A consideration of beauty leads us to the same conclusion, for who can deny the ability of music or the other arts to take us out of ourselves? Only a degenerate society, such as our own, could attempt to dignify with the name of art what is harsh and ugly. On the other hand, to have composed, to take but one example, one of Schubert’s songs would justify a man’s existence; and he wrote more than six hundred. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, is Man provided with the fulfilment of the promise of the sixth beatitude, that the pure of heart will see God. Even as I enunciate that statement, I realize that it requires qualification. For goodness, moral virtue, transports us even more assuredly into the presence of God. Supreme in this regard is the chaste love of husband and wife by which, Scripture tells us, the very love of Christ for his Church is sacramentally realized. But all forms of affection—friendship, collaboration, filial docility, parental devotion—are goods that exhibit that generous forgetfulness of self that comes closest to the supreme goodness of Jesus in his career of teaching, healing and, through his death and resurrection, redeeming the human race.
These few, random observations on the Christian covenantal charter of the Sermon on the Mount are intended as an incentive to all of you to open your Bibles to the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the Gospel of Matthew and to ponder anew the privileges and demands of the Christian state of life. Its severe beauty will be irresistibly attractive to the soul that, touched by divine grace, has become the dwelling place of the Spirit of Jesus. +