Monday, October 22, 2018

Living out The Beatitudes gives us the greatest interior freedom in life.

Jesus’ sermon on the mount, also referred to as The Beatitudes, are short, pithy and very challenging to understand and accept for many Christians.  Tomes about them have been written, and rightly so, because they are key to unlocking the door to the Kingdom of God.  Even the phrase “Kingdom of God” holds in itself a mystery that is deep and profound.  Many tend to equate this with a similar sounding phrase “Kingdom of Heaven”, and they are not quite the same.  Certainly, those who are effortful in living out the values of the Kingdom of God are in good stead for the final embrace of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of God has a certain ‘already but not yet’ quality to it.  Right now in this life, one can and should be living the Kingdom of God if one considers himself a true disciple of Christ.  The Kingdom of God isn’t so much a place outside of oneself, but a state within the heart of the disciple of Christ who brings certain qualities and attitudes to the world no matter where he or she may be.

It is when one understands this correctly that it becomes truly possible that joy can be found in whatever situation one is in, from being in concentration death camps run by despotic regimes, to living in marriages where one spouse is unfaithful and unloving and could be cheating on the other spouse.  In my earlier days, I often wondered how some saints could really find peace and beatitude within the walls of Auschwitz when they were so deprived of liberty and dignity in so many ways.  I later came to understand that these holy people didn’t predicate their joy on things external to them, but on their relationship of abiding love with God.  

This strength within is displayed so clearly by Jesus in a short sentence in John’s gospel. It is found in John 10:18, where we see Jesus saying “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”  Jesus’ sense of equanimity and peace within was not based on, influenced and predicated by how he was treated externally.  His sense of freedom was not taken away one bit even though he was bound and nailed to a cross.  That his limbs were nailed to the wood of the Cross didn’t curtail his liberty.  How can we attain this kind of deep freedom? 

Jesus gives this very same power to us in his teaching of his Sermon on the Mount.  Each of the Beatitudes is really bringing us to one place but through different avenues and boulevards.  That one place is an interior freedom and joy.  While the world tells us that its versions of joys are premised and dependent on things like wealth, prosperity, strength, laughter, universal acceptance and approval, Jesus enters into our world and breaks this mindset with his set of Beatitudes.  He gives us new eyes to view what seems to plague and bother humanity that is tuning in only to a very narrow bandwidth of happiness.  

The truth is that unless one is able to appreciate the entire life and purpose of Jesus, these Beatitudes will hardly make much sense.  A simple test would be to bring up any of the beatitudes in office cooler conversations, and we will likely be viewed with raised eyebrows or dismissed as nutjobs.  But for one who is cognizant of the fact that Jesus is the universal savior of the world, desiring to try to live out any of the beatitudes becomes evident that one is keen to show true and active discipleship at a high level – akin to high-octane Christianity.

Just like the issue of forgiveness, living out the beatitudes is never intuitive and easy. I get the response “Father, it’s so hard” whenever I encourage penitents in the confessional to forgive those who have hurt them, particularly when spouses have been betrayed in marriage. If it is easy, everyone would be forgiving and merciful.  Yet, the truth is that most people want to give tit for tat when hurt.  It takes great effort and a willingness to want to give love to one who has taken love for granted, or has been parsimonious with love.   In the same way, Jesus put in a whole lot of effort to go willingly to the Cross to be the sacrificial Lamb of God.  To be sure, it was an effort that was backed by and fueled by great love for both God and for us.  This needs to be the power behind the effort that makes our forgiveness real and meaningful.  The same logic needs to be applied when living out each of the beatitudes.  

But when we do put in effort to strive for this level of Christian excellence, Jesus tells us that we will be experiencing a joy (which is what beatitude means).  Joy is significantly different from happiness, which is fleeting and based on a predetermined set of circumstances.  The joy that God gives in the beatitudes isn’t dependent on our getting things in life the way we would like.  The joy can be there despite harm done to us whether it is physical, psychological or medical.  

It is for this reason that those who endeavor to live out the beatitudes are truly the blessed ones.

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