Be Blessed: The Beatitudes and a Flourishing Life
User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 29: St. Thomas Aquinas comments that the happiness described in the beatitudes is a stable happiness not easily unsettled or taken away.
Sunday, Jan. 29, is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13; Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Matthew 5:1-12a.
The beatitudes in today’s Gospel are difficult to understand because many of them are paradoxical. The Greek word makarioi in today’s text can be rendered as “blessed” or “happy.”
St. Thomas Aquinas comments that the happiness described in the beatitudes is a stable happiness not easily unsettled or taken away. As such, it describes a kind of flourishing that is more than an emotion or passing happiness. There is not time in this short reflection to look at all the beatitudes. Let’s limit ourselves here to the most paradoxical ones:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of God is theirs. In other words, how blessed and flourishing your life becomes when you are no longer so desirous of the passing wealth and pleasure and preoccupations of this world, but have your heart centered on the eternal glories of heaven: These glories are for us a promised treasure and will not disappoint! Blessed indeed are we if we grasp this truth.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. In other words, how flourishing and blessed your life becomes when you are no longer emotionally addicted to the need for worldly happiness and accept that this world has its trials. The mournful are not depressed; rather, they are comforted and strengthened, understanding that our afflictions in this age produce glory for us in the next (e.g., 2 Corinthians 4:17). Even in woe, there is a serenity that comes from this acceptance of sorrow and suffering.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. In other words, how blessed and flourishing your life becomes when your desires are turned from passing worldly things and are focused on the righteousness that brings true happiness. We hunger for God’s word and devour it when we find it. We rejoice to see God put sin to death in us and bring about virtue. We are blessed, excited and satisfied at what God is doing in our lives. How flourishing our lives become when we desire what really produces joy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. In other words, how blessed and flourishing your life becomes when you have your heart increasingly centered on one thing, the kingdom of God. (The Greek term, translated here as “pure” is more literally translated as “single-hearted.”) It is so easy for us to feel torn by contrary drives and wishes. The Book of James says that the man of two minds is unstable in all his ways (1:8). Blessed are those who can say, with St. Paul, “[T]his one thing I do. … I press on to the prize marked out for me in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13).
How blessed and flourishing life becomes when we are single-hearted and centered on one thing, one purpose. We “see God” because we are no longer distracted by so many lesser things.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. In other words, how blessed and flourishing your life is when you are no longer obsessed with worldly popularity and so fearful of what others think of you. How liberating to be free of such a wearing and futile life focused on pleasing fickle human beings. So much fear and inner division goes away when we can receive this gift from God!
Life flourishes and gives a deep, stable, serene and confident joy as we focus on what really matters and leave behind the trifling and ultimately unfulfilling things of this world to seek what is above.
Blessed are they — and we — indeed!