Finding the Happy Life in the Beatitudes
Occasionally at Sunday Mass, instead of reciting the Creed we renew our baptismal commitments, including renouncing the empty promises of those things that are not of God. This renunciation of worldly false promises, together with virtue and grace, is necessary to lead a life in the Spirit and have a truly happy and prosperous life.
Jesus – who is the way, the truth and the life – left us a short treatise on how to lead such a happy life, a series of lessons that we call the Sermon on the Mount, which are most fully set out in Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew. Saint Luke includes similar lessons in Chapter 6 of his Gospel. The Sermon begins with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), which sum up the way of Christ and are “the only path that leads to the eternal beatitude for which the human heart longs” (CCC 1697).
The Catechism teaches that the natural desire for happiness has been placed in the human heart in order to draw us to God who can alone fulfill it (CCC 1718). While the secular culture proposes happiness in terms of earthly desire, the Beatitudes are ordered to the kingdom of heaven and show that “true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement – however beneficial it may be – such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love” (CCC 1716, 1723).
In their expression of those who are blessed – for example, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are persecuted and reviled on account of their Christian faith – the Beatitudes are paradoxical to the empty promises of what the world calls the good life, yet they “sustain hope in the midst of tribulations” and “shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristics of the Christian life,” depicting Jesus’ countenance and portraying his charity (CCC 1717).
Pope Benedict XVI noted in a long exposition on these lessons in his book Jesus of Nazareth (volume one) that the Beatitudes are words of promise that also add depth to the injunctions of the Ten Commandments to love thy neighbor (pp. 70-71). In a particular way, “the Beatitudes are the transposition of Cross and Resurrection into discipleship,” he wrote. Displaying “the mystery of Christ himself,” the Beatitudes are “a road map for the Church” and “directions for discipleship” (p.74).
By their contradiction to the ways of the world, the Beatitudes inherently call us to conversion – to turn to the way of the Lord and see with eyes of faith. And if we seek to live well, to live a good and happy life, we must live this life of beatitude. If we do this, if we humbly open our hearts to God, showing mercy and compassion to others, bearing witness to Christ in how we live, then we will know the true happiness and blessedness of the kingdom of heaven, beholding God as his adopted children.