Of all the sayings of Jesus, the Beatitudes are among the most famous, and best-loved. As we approach the Advent Season, reflecting on them provides a good opportunity to prepare ourselves for it. Too often, in our society, overcome by the commercial demands of the season, we need a space into which we can withdraw and contemplate why we are Christians.
St Hilary of Poitiers points out that Jesus teaches that we should adore and serve only God, and if we are to do that, we must leave behind the glory of human ambitions and renounce the thought we strive for our own glory. We work for God’s kingdom, in the sure and certain faith that it will be ours. The Fathers agree that Jesus is not talking about worldly poverty – which we are called upon to alleviate – but a humility of heart and a sincere desire to serve God. When He tells us that theirs is the kingdom of Heaven, He is pointing to the fact that those who are last will be first, and that those who serve, shall themselves be served. It is a lesson to us all about our priorities.
St Jerome tells us that the mourning mentioned by Jesus is not that which concerns the dead, but rather that which directs itself at our sinfulness, just as Paul wept over those who committed sins but refused to repent. We are to mourn over the sins of the world, and over our own, for we are not free of them. All sinners are under assault by the Devil, but those who repent will be rewarded.
Chromatius reminds us that the meek are those who are gentle and unassuming in their faith; they are the ones who, like Jesus Himself are meek and humble of heart. They neither provoke evil, neither do they let themselves be provoked by it. These people, Augustine assures us, will inherit the land of the living, according to the Psalmist.
We are, Chromatius adds, to seek after righteousness with earnest desire, and not faintheartedness. We are to pursue it, for if we think we have it, we might lose it; we can always be better than we are, and we can always conform ourselves more perfectly to God’s commands. We need to study the Scripture, to pray, and to attend to God’s word in our hearts. Only thus can we be truly filled, for only God satisfies our longings.
Chromatius says we are to have compassion, for God has had compassion on us. He has forgiven us far more than we are called on to forgive from those who have offended us; we cannot hate others and say we love God – the truth is not in us if we do that.
Augustine tells us that the pure in heart are those who, through God’s Grace, have cleansed themselves from the filth of sin. If we see the Son, we have seen the Father, but we must refrain from sin, and we must control our passions and rely upon God, and not be proud of our self-control. We act in HIs name, or nothing we do is good in His eyes.
Chromatius goes on to say that the peacemakers are those who standing apart from the stumbling blocks in the way of the peace of the Church, guard fraternal love and call for unity in the one faith.
Augustine describes the inner battle between desire and lust, which seek to conquer us, and the desire to cultivate God’s peace in our hearts and minds. We seek peace within ourselves so we can bring it to to others and to the Church. When we do that, we are truly the sons of God.
The Fathers agree that persecution is the lot of the Christian in this world; the Apostles and Holy Martyrs, who followed Christ, we examples to us all. We are not to abandon the faith whatever the provocation, temptations or threats. We shall be criticised by the world for adhering to Christ; earthly shame is more than matched by Heavenly Glory.