The Beatitudes Form Christ Within Us
The Beatitudes are God’s prescription for human happiness, but they aren’t things that would be your “first pick” (see Mt 5:1-12). Many of the things that people try to avoid, the Lord guarantees that if we accept them and even seek them in the right spirit, then happiness will be ours. How can this be? How can a certain kind of hunger lead to wholeness? Or a certain kind of sorrow to joy? We can hear the Beatitudes in the peace and calm of a church and acknowledge them to be inspiring ideals. But how practical are they for us? We may find that the first opportunity we have to experience Christian sorrow, poverty, hunger, is when we find out if they are more than ideals. We may also find that we don’t understand them as well as we thought—especially if we abandon the effort whenever we are challenged.
When the Lord blesses those who hunger, who are poor, who are in sorrow, He is not talking so much about an empty stomach, empty pockets, or just any kind of sadness that we might experience for whatever reason. We all experience those things more or less regularly: hunger, sadness, not having enough money, or of something. Jesus is talking about something that goes far deeper than that. If we are going to find happiness in Gospel poverty, sorrow, or hunger, then these things have to do mainly one thing for us: unite us to God. The Beatitudes connect us to God by taking away all of the other things we rely on for peace, security, and happiness.
And what do you have left when everything is taken away or surrendered? You have someone who is open to receive the grace of God in a powerful way. You have someone who is ready to be saved. You have someone who can become fully Christian.
Because ultimately what the Lord is proposing as the ideal for happiness is Himself, and not a series of practices to follow. We are not called so much to copy external actions, even the external actions of Christ, but cultivate a spirit in which He can act in us, live through us, love through us. Otherwise we can be as poor and sorrowful as we want on the outside, but never accomplish anything worthwhile on the inside, which is what God is mainly concerned about. St Paul says everything when he says, I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me; and We have the mind of Christ, etc. How do you “get” the mind of Christ? How do you reach a point where Christ truly lives in you?
By the Beatitudes. The poverty, the hunger, the sorrow—all of the things we would rather avoid—they put us in a position of dependence on God, which is a beautiful place to be in. Our Lady sings of it in her Magnificat; she tells us that God looks upon His servants in their lowliness and lifts us up from that place. Jesus stretches out His hand in mercy to us in that place. When we are in a position of weakness, we are in a place where we are ready to be saved, to be lifted up.
Perhaps we’ve all tried in one way or another to “save” ourselves, to make our own happiness. But we can’t ever fill ourselves to the point where we are satisfied in any meaningful way. We’ve can’t make ourselves joyful in any meaningful way. The bottom always falls out of self-made happiness. For example, if you try to make yourself pleasing to all so that no one would ever think of persecuting you, it will backfire, because sooner or later truth will be compromised in order to please everyone.
Because, again, Christianity is not a set of practices to be followed; it is the path to setting Christ free to live within me so that I become Him. Jesus must gradually become more and more free to love me, to use me, to love others through me. If you block this process by focusing on the wrong things, or otherwise standing in His way, you have a half-formed or deformed Christian—a monster or a fanatic. You have someone who is fixed on being poor, or sad, or persecuted, but without the spirit of Christ behind it all, moving it all, then you have someone who is still as independent and self-willed as ever.
If Christ is not the heart of everything for you, then you have something else there at your center that can’t handle the pressure of being the center of a human life. The real answer that the Beatitudes provide is to make God in Christ the focus of all that you think, say, and do. For the world in its present form is passing away, but Jesus Christ our Savior does not pass away.