In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount why would Jesus say: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for justice? Is it because Jesus recognized that in some of the world’s cultures, the tendency is to place too high of a value on self-reliance? We sometimes, perhaps often, imagine that we can rely only on our own personal strength to face the challenges the world throws at us. Certainly, the U.S. culture seems to promote self-interest and self-reliance, i.e. “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.”
If we buy into this type of thinking, the tendency is to believe that we will only get as far as our own efforts will take us. We lose sight of the fact that we are beloved children of God and that God desires a personal relationship with us. We fail often enough and experience our own sinfulness, which may lead us to wonder how God could possibly love us, unworthy as we are. We might feel alone, filled with our own concerns and worries. We could end up only calling upon God when our efforts fail, when life teaches us that we are not in control of all that life presents to us.
A priest friend shared that when visiting with his spiritual director, he disclosed some of the struggles of his spiritual life. His director responded that a source of his struggles was his arrogance. The priest thought, “I’m not arrogant.” His director told him that the arrogance stemmed from his desire to not have to depend on God for help with his faults.
As my friend shared this conversation, I was struck by the awareness: “That’s me.” I desire to not have to depend on God’s help with my faults; instead, I prefer to overcome my inadequacies on my own. However, my memory bank can find multiple examples for each beatitude where I have failed. Blessed are the poor in spirit: How often am I filled with a sense of self-righteousness when I think I’ve been slighted or treated rudely, resulting in a less than Christ-like response? Blessed are the meek: How often has pride kept me from helping someone in need because I don’t want to get involved or I am in a hurry? Blessed are they who show mercy: How often am I incensed about the stories of injustice that are broadcast on a seemingly daily basis, and yet don’t take the time to do anything in response? With each example of failure on my part I can lose a sense of hope that I am loveable. It is in these times that humility will allow me to know that I need God’s love and forgiveness to be more Christ-like, to become more the person God has created me to be. Is this true for you, too?
In today’s first reading Zephaniah instructs us well: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who observed his law; seek justice, seek humility ...” It is these faithful servants who Jesus calls blessed.
This is not to deny our giftedness. Each of us has been endowed with gifts to further God’s kingdom. We are to develop and use these gifts. When we are in right relationship with God we recognize that credit for these gifts is due to God. In the second reading Paul encourages us that when recognition comes our way we should boast in the Lord, not in ourselves. The Beatitudes remind us of the attitudes we ought to have.
When I fall short in living out the Beatitudes, I turn to the words of St. Anselm. May this prayer enliven your desire to be a disciple of Jesus: “Hope of my heart, strength of my soul, help of my weakness, by your powerful kindness complete what in my powerlessness I attempt … although I have not yet attained to love you as I ought, still let my desire for you be as great as my love ought to be.”