If you’re like me, the first time you ever took the trouble to learn the Beatitudes it was a list you had to memorize in catechism class. For most people, that is all the Beatitudes has been: a list, and now likely a forgotten list.
What many don’t realize is that the Beatitudes were at the very heart of the teaching of Jesus Christ, and that they are a not a memorization exercise but way of life to be lived.
The world first heard the Beatitudes proclaimed overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in the Sermon on the Mount, and they are as central to the teaching of Jesus as the Ten Commandments, given on Mount Sinai, were to the teaching of Moses.
Everything Jesus taught originates from and returns to the Beatitudes. In short, the Beatitudes are the Gospel, the good tidings, which Jesus came to preach, and all of his moral teachings are fulfilled in them. Becoming and being a Christian is simply the living-out of the Beatitudes more and more fully. Yet they will only be perfectly lived in the life to come.
Beatitude is a fancy name for happiness. It comes from the Latin word beatitude, a kind of happiness that is more than emotional satisfaction; it includes the sense of blessedness. In the scriptures, the Greek word Jesus uses at the beginning of each Beatitude is makarioi, which implies a kind of all-inclusive happiness that satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart and even transcends the possibilities of human nature. In fact, the same word is used in the New Testament to describe God’s happiness as well as the heavenly happiness of Jesus (see, for example, 1 Timothy 1:11 and 6:15). So when Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes that we are or will be blessed, he is telling us about a transcendent happiness that is a share in the very happiness of Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Trinity.
This kind of happiness is the meaning of life, and the ultimate goal of our every desire and choice.
Sometimes we can lose sight of this fundamental fact. Our search for happiness is like the air we breathe: we are unconsciously looking for it in every decision we make, yet we can get so preoccupied with the particular things we think will get us to happiness that we sometimes fail to appreciate that ultimately, it’s not this or that thing that we really want, but rather happiness itself.
And if we understood that the particular good we are striving after won’t actually make us happy, we would stop seeking it right away.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us what true happiness is.
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