Today’s world is sick with pride, with insatiable desire for riches and domination, and can’t be healed except by accepting this message. To be faithful to the mission that Christ entrusted the Church, to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14 [Translator’s note: French copy says Mt 6:13-14, but it’s verse Mt 5:13-14 in RSV, appears it may be a typo in the French version]), the Church must be poor, humble, meek and merciful... There’s a strong call today to hear this essential teaching of Jesus which we may not have truly understood or put into practice. The more the Church progresses through history the more it must radiate the spirit of the Beatitudes, giving off “the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). The Holy Spirit wants to act forcefully in this direction, even if it
sometimes stirs up its Church. Every Christian must give off the perfume of the Gospel, an aroma of peace and meekness, of joy and humility.
I am more and more convinced that poorness of spirit is the key to spiritual life, and the key to any path towards saintliness and fruitfulness. The Beatitudes contain liberating and enlightening wisdom. And yet, they’re one of the parts of the Gospel that we have the most difficulty understanding and putting into practice. Even in the Christian realm we have a tendency to think in terms of riches, quantity, or measurable efficiencies too much, but the Gospel invites us to adopt a very different attitude.
A Holistic View of this Gospel
Before taking a look at each of the Beatitudes one by one, I’d like to make some reflections on them as a whole.
This Gospel passage isn’t easy to understand. It is paradoxical – even shocking (when I was a young priest it was difficult for me to preach on the Beatitudes!) – but little by little we come to realize that it’s an extraordinary text, one that encompasses all the novelty of the Gospel, all its wisdom and the power that it contains for profoundly transforming the hearts of men and renewing the world.
We must, of course, read Jesus’ words in their context. The Beatitudes passage is situated after Matthew’s verses that describe the crowds coming from everywhere to listen to Jesus:
And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan (Mt 4: 23-25).
It’s in seeing the crowds that Jesus climbs the mountain, sits down, lets his disciples approach him and begins to teach by proclaiming the Beatitudes.
The crowds that gather around Jesus are thirsty for healing, for light, for happiness. He responds to this thirst; he gives these suffering people a magnificent promise of happiness, repeated nine times, but in language that’s very different from what we might expect. What he proposes isn’t a human happiness, the image of happiness that we are accustomed to, but an unexpected happiness, encountered in situations and attitudes that are not normally attached to the idea of happiness. A happiness that is not a human production but a “surprise from God,” accorded precisely at the time and place where we thought it was impossible...