This week at daily Mass we touch briefly on the Beatitudes from Luke’s Gospel. This is one of the most famous texts of Scripture. Despite their familiarity, though, they are poorly understood by many people.
Let’s begin by exploring the word “beatitude.” Sometimes it is defined as happiness, but happiness is too transitory and dependent upon external factors to fully convey its meaning. In Latin, the word is beatus, and it signifies a long-lasting, abiding happiness. It refers to a deep, serene, stable, and confident joy that is not easily affected by external events or circumstances.
The Greek word translated as beatus in Latin and “happy” or “blessed” in English is makarios. It in turn is a translation of the Hebrew word ashere. The Hebrew word is really more of an expression or exclamation that could be translated in English in this way: “O, the blessedness of ….” In this sense ashere emphasizes that something is being described more than prescribed.
In ancient Greek times, makarios was most often used to refer to the happiness of the gods. They had achieved a state of happiness and contentment that was beyond all cares and labors—even beyond death. They lived in another world away from the problems and worries of ordinary people. Translating the Hebrew ashere to the Greek makarios in the New Testament emphasizes the stability of beatitude, which is from God.
Sometimes the concept of beatitude is translated as “flourishing.” For example, “How flourishing your life will be when you are merciful.”
Beatitude is not wealth, fame, honor, power, pleasure, or physical attractiveness. These are external and passing things that can easily be lost. They can also be arbitrary and rooted as much in luck as in virtue.
Happiness is “an inside job.” According to the Beatitudes, one is blessed even if poor, mourning, and persecuted. Even more, such a one is confirmed in his blessedness by such realities, because they are reminders that this world is not our home; its trinkets are passing and its “happiness” unstable.
Finally, beatitude is not something we simply learn, practice, or do; it is something we receive. The Beatitudes declare an objective reality as the result of a divine act. The indicative mood of the Beatitudes should be taken seriously: Our life is blessed and flourishing when we are poor in spirit, pure of heart, etc. The Beatitudes are not an imperative of exhortation, as though Jesus were saying, “Start out by being poor or meek, and then God will bless you.” Rather, He is saying that when the transformative power of the cross brings about in us a greater meekness, poverty of spirit, and so forth, we will experience that we are being blessed, that our life is flourishing, and that we are happier. Beatitude is a work of God and results when we yield to His saving work in us. The Beatitudes are not merely a prescription of what we must do, but more a description of what a human being is like who is being transformed by Jesus Christ.
The Lord teaches us these things:
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when we let go of our attachment to worldly wealth and by God’s grace are poor in spirit and content with what He has given us.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when we are no longer addicted to pleasant emotions but by God’s grace can accept that there is a time for mourning, and it is important for our growth.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when, by God’s grace, we are no longer consumed by the desire for revenge but rather have authority over our anger.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when, by God’s grace, our desires are set on good things rather than sinful ones and eternal things rather than transitory ones.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when, by God’s grace, we are able to be merciful with the very mercy we have received from Him.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when, by God’s grace, we are single-hearted (pure of heart); our life will then be about one thing rather than hundreds of contradictory things.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier when, by God’s grace, we want the things that make for peace.
- Our life will be flourishing and happier even when we are persecuted, for by God’s grace this means that we are no longer addicted to the honors and love of this world and are free of its grasp.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Reimagining the Beatitudes