July 20, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Beatitudes show us how to become holy by what we do

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes [cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23]. The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: ‘What must one do to be a good Christian?’ the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount”
(Pope Francis, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” #63).

Chapter three of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”) contains an extended and powerful reflection on the Beatitudes.

The pope tells us that “the Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite.” They clearly run counter to the way the world teaches us to live. “We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride” (#65).

Space limitations make it impossible to address the pope’s insights into each of the Beatitudes. I strongly urge everyone to read prayerfully “Gaudete et Exsultate,” and to pay special attention to the Holy Father’s reflections on the Beatitudes in chapter three. Here he outlines for us a clear and compelling formula for holiness:

  • Being poor of heart: that is holiness.
  • Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.
  • Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.
  • Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.
  • Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness.
  • Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.
  • Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness.
  • Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.

Holiness means dedicating ourselves wholeheartedly to following the words and example of Jesus. This is the witness of the saints. They were not perfect in their efforts to practice the Beatitudes, but they sought and received the Lord’s forgiveness whenever they failed to live up to them, and they persevered, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the end, Pope Francis reminds us that there is only one criterion for holiness. It is the Lord’s powerful words in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:31–46).

These are uncompromising demands, the pope says. “Holiness, then, is not about swooning in mystic rapture.” If we want to be holy and take our rightful place among the communion of saints, we must acknowledge and accept the words of Jesus “in a spirit of genuine openness,” and “without any ifs or buts that could lessen their force” (#97).

Holiness is not ideological, elitist or selective in its application of the Lord’s teaching. We cannot be poor of heart and act without mercy. Nor can we be for peace without hungering and thirsting for justice. We cannot be pro-life and refuse to welcome strangers. As Pope Francis says:

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty” (#101).

These are harsh, unsettling words, but they flow directly from the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel quoted above.

All of us are called to be holy. We don’t have to be heroic, but we do have to take the demands of Jesus seriously in our daily lives. “Jesus’ words are few and straightforward, yet practical and valid for everyone,” Pope Francis says. “For Christianity is meant above all to be put into practice” (#109).

Holiness is what we do in Jesus’ name. Let’s pray that the power of the Holy Spirit will help us follow faithfully the Lord’s commands. †

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