How to live our lives

| October 31, 2009 | 0 Comments

The beatitudes have a central prominence in the Gospels. Taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel (5:3-10) and his Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel (6:20-26), the beatitudes tell us how we should live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God.

“Jesus does a lot of things in his earthly life,” said Father Michael Byron, theology professor at the St. Paul Seminary and pastor of St. Cecilia in St. Paul. “But there are a few times where he deliberately stops and teaches directly. This is one of those times.”

While the beatitudes tell us what our rewards will be if we live according to God’s will, Father Byron cautions that the word “blessed” in the beatitudes should not be equated with a particular emotion. “To be blessed is not necessarily to feel good,” he said. “It’s to know that you’re doing something right . . . and to persevere in the midst of what may not always feel like blessedness or happiness.”

Here, Father Byron explains each of the beatitudes and provides examples of how Christians can live them out today.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“I would suggest the poor in spirit are those who have a proper understanding of their human limitations and weaknesses and their inability to provide for their own eternal reward — an appropriately humble disposition before God,” Father Byron said.

“To be poor in spirit is to be willing to be self-giving for the sake of a greater good than my own,” he added. “It’s allowing myself to forsake something that I might otherwise enjoy, like money or more time or more freedom, for the sake of service to others”

Examples: Serving a meal at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, donating to a worthy charity, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“This seems like a complete paradox,” Father Byron said. “But if you’ve ever been with a person at the moment of their death, there’s just this terrible holiness about it. Right in the very midst of terrible loss is great bliss and great consolation from the Lord.”

Examples: “As a pastor,” Father Byron said, “I’m regularly astonished at how many ways people mourn all the time: people who are trapped in addictive behaviors, people who lose loved ones, people who live with chronic pain, people who have lost important relationships, people who have lost jobs despite trying their best, or people who have just been the senseless victims of circumstance, whether it be violent crime or natural disaster.”

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

The meek, Father Byron explained, are “those who know that this world is not all about ‘me’ and what I can get and what I can take from others. It’s an appropriate broadness of communion, that I live in the midst of others and that’s a good thing.”

Examples: “Concretely, that would be: Blessed are those who understand themselves to be connected to a community that’s bigger than self and are willing to not always be self-gratifying,” Father Byron said. “That can be comforting the sick, being present to the lonely, . . . something as simple as going to church and taking part in common worship.”

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

“God is that toward which our deepest desires are oriented,” Father Byron said. “To the extent that we can be in touch with our longing, we can be in touch with the real God.”

Examples: It’s easy not to seek righteousness, Father Byron said. “There are a lot of contrary voices that I hear every day that say don’t bother because it’s more fun to do what pleases me now.

“Every time I turn on the TV, I hear an ad that says I deserve this: I deserve a new car, I deserve compensation for my losses, I deserve the latest thing.

“I don’t deserve that,” Father Byron said. “If I’m fortunate enough to have the benefit of some of this world’s goods, that’s grace. But it’s not something that I’m owed. To know that is to hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

“Sometimes the merciful suffer a lot precisely for being merciful,” Father Byron said. “But this is the pattern that has been shown to us by Christ, who was killed for being merciful.”

Examples: “This again calls me out of self, to forgive when I don’t have to, to be present to those who need me when I could choose otherwise, to simply acknowledge sadness,” Father Byron said.

“A whole lot of mercy, it seems to me, is about presence,” he added. “It’s about showing up, just simply being with the ones who are hurting.”

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.

“The obvious application here is moral rectitude,” Father Byron said. “But I like to think that that’s maybe a bit too individualistic a reading of what this means.

“Clean of heart has to do with the health of a whole community, like the human family,” he said. “So it’s not just about me staying out of trouble. It’s about seeing to the possibility that all can be made well and aided in their need. There’s a social dimension to being clean of heart.”

Examples: “Clean of heart means not only to not cheat and not lie and not lust, but it means to have my priorities in order, with God at the head of that and Christian community very near to the head of that, and other things taking their appropriate place after that,” Father Byron said.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“We call our Savior the Prince of Peace,” Father Byron said. “To the extent that one is peaceable rather than violent, one not only will be called a child of God, but one is a child of God right now.”

Examples: “This can be understood on a personal level, on a family level, on a national level and on an international level — those whose reaction to perceived offense is not in the first instance lashing out or retribution or violence or fault-finding, but an attempt to be reconcilers and peacemakers,” Father Byron said.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“There is a culmination of the kingdom that is still to come,” Father Byron said. “But the kingdom of heaven has already arrived in the person and witness of Jesus Christ, so that when one is persecuted for righteousness, one is already participating in the kingdom, which, mysteriously at least in this life, involves suffering for doing that which is good.”

Examples: Those persecuted for righteousness are “people who stand up in a violent culture and say no to violence and they’re shouted down for that, people who are courageous enough to be the world’s prophets and to point out sin and error,” Father Byron said.

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