The Beatitudes

The following Newsletter was delivered at an Order Meeting in 2010, it concerns the Beatitudes otherwise known as blessings. They were given by Our Lord during the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matt. 5).

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The Beatitudes refer to spiritual qualities that can spring from virtuous actions, which may become vehicles of grace. It is in the spirit of the beatitudes that Order members seek to grow in the spiritual life. 

The Beatitudes are: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. This beatitude is concerned with the principle of renunciation, which is to act without desire, to be indifferent to the outcome of mundane events, forsaking all attachment to gain or reward from one’s activities. Although it is almost impossible for people living in the secular world to live the life of a hermit or hesychast, Order members are nevertheless encouraged to perform all actions as an act of duty to humanity, to society, to the community, or to offer them up as gifts unto the Lord, because through renouncing ownership and attachment, the soul dies to the world and becomes alive to a greater reality – a spiritual reality that is the kingdom of heaven. This voluntary act of self-denial follows the advice given by the Lord, who said: ‘If you would be perfect, go sell all you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven: and come, follow me.’ [Matt 19: 21] A clear indication that those who wish to enter the kingdom of heaven must give up all attachments to the things of the mundane world – thereby becoming ‘Poor in Spirit’. It is an aspiration that serves as a counterpoint to the self-serving ambitions of the passionate nature.

The second beatitude, Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted is concerned with the soul’s awareness of its separation from God. For what do we mourn if it is not for the loss of something we love; and there is no greater love than the soul’s love for God; and no greater loss than the soul’s separation from, and the loss of awareness of, Our Lord and God, which is the main theme of the story of ‘the Fall’ [Gen. 3-4]. For many the notion of being separated from the divine has no meaning because they are so engrossed in the material world, they see nothing else. Consequently, any sense of loss is perceived in material terms only; but at some point there must emerge within each soul the realisation of its true spiritual estate and of the abyss separating it from that estate, and consequently to lament and mourn for its loss. Yet in this darkest of moments there is hope, because through this realisation, through this dawning awareness, the soul is able to overcome its inertia and begin the epic task of regaining that original state of divine union. Thus it is said: ‘Blessed are they that mourn’, and so they are, for in realising the true significance of their loss they are empowered to seek restoration in God – it is the beginning of the work of spiritual regeneration. 

The third beatitude Blessed are the meek – for they shall inherit the Earth, is concerned with the development of humility. It is not by any act of spiritual prowess that the goal of spiritual regeneration is attained, but through the conscious development of a quiet heart, wherein obedience, tranquillity, and a willingness to serve others, enables the soul to grow. Those who develop such qualities do not vaunt themselves above others but follow the example of the Lord, who took the lowly form of a man, and instead of living in regal majesty chose the simple life of a tradesman’s son, and in due course patiently suffered torture and death at the hands of a brutal administration. At the heart of such meekness is the willingness to serve God and to serve the common good, without any desire to serve oneself; for humility is best attained through the sublimation of ‘self’ in duty. Humility becomes then an outward expression of an inner stillness, a stillness that has taken the place of the incessant mental chatter of a mind dominated by the world of the senses. Such a state denotes the proper disposition of a soul aspiring to live in the ‘Presence’ of God. 

The fourth beatitude, Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled, is concerned with restoring ‘righteousness’, which may be understood as the perfect state of union with God that the soul knew before ‘the fall’; and to ‘hunger and thirst’ after righteousness is to seek relentlessly the restoration of that blessed state. It also signifies the need to establish Justice in a world ruled by force and greed; following Our Lord’s commandment ‘love ye one another’. In either case the need to sublimate natural law, as manifest in human life, is expressed in this beatitude, and to this end Order members are committed to seeking spiritual wisdom and the counsel of the wise, rather than worldly wisdom and the counsel of the worldly wise. The main Christian repository of spiritual wisdom is the Bible, from which are derived the principles and standards that govern and regulate human conduct and behaviour. These standards are the Ten Commandments – taken from the Old Testament, and the Great Commandment of Jesus Christ – taken from the New Testament. However, just as there are many levels of understanding to the scriptures, there are many levels of understanding to these commandments, and those who read them only with the mind born of the senses will never perceive the deep teachings buried therein. Yet, it is possible to penetrate the many layers of meaning embedded in the scriptures and learn more and more of the mysteries contained therein, but only with the assistance of divine inspiration, which may be attained through prayer and meditation, and by living the spiritual life. 

The fifth beatitude, Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy, encourages members to look beyond form and to recognise the presence of the divine manifesting within the essence of all creatures; for all creatures, however lowly they may appear to be, share in common a divine heritage. Consequently the instinctive rule, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” can never be sufficient for souls seeking to live the spiritual life. Indeed, those who seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps must learn to love all creatures equally; for Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creatures, loves all without exception. Therefore, Order members are encouraged to be open-minded and unprejudiced, to be patient and considerate, to empathise with the sensibilities of others, to be understanding and ready to absolve and forgive, for such qualities, and more, are part of the dynamic benevolence that is mercy.  

It is equally so with the sixth beatitude, Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. To the pure in heart all things are of God and to be approached in the spirit of non-attachment as part of one’s duty, because attachment generates self-interest and desire. What is heaven but existence in the Presence of God, and besides God what is there to desire on earth? Thus, Order members are encouraged to avoid becoming attached to any ‘thing’, be it material or otherwise, for attachment distracts the soul from the contemplative life and the experience of the Presence of God. All things, then, are seen to be of equal status and value, for they are either gifts from God placed in trust to be nurtured with compassion; be they family, friends, employees or members of the community, or opportunities to grow through opposition and suffering. Furthermore, objects, traditions, teachings, memories and processes, even our own body and mind should be viewed in the same light. Life on earth is short, and except for memories all leave this world as they came into it; what God bestows upon the soul is given because such things may assist it to advance on the path of spiritual evolution. Therefore to be pure in heart requires the development of non-attachment to all things – this is true poverty. 

The seventh beatitude, Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God, directs Order members to consider what influence their words and deeds may have in the world, and wherever appropriate to harmonise communications between people. Thus, members are encouraged to be tolerant of people’s views and avoid engaging in discussions that are critical of other people, and if there is nothing good to say about someone then to remain silent. However, caution is advised here because before peace can be established in the outer world it must first be established within oneself, since the peace referred to by the Lord is an inner peace that is first established within the soul, and then by extension in the world of human affairs. Thus it is equally true to say blessed are the peacemakers who establish peace within their own souls, for they shall be called the children of God. When such peace is established ‘within’, then the turbulent passions are calmed, even if only for a moment, and a unique clarity of consciousness prevails. It is in this centre of spiritual calm within the heart that the aspiring contemplative discovers the ‘presence’ of the Divine, and it is from this still centre of peace that the strength and wisdom to advocate concord within human society arises.

Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This beatitude could easily be translated as: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for Justice's sake. . . .” that is to say, for campaigning for justice to be established within human society, as the terms ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’ are generally understood to be more or less similar in meaning. However, to the contemplative, righteousness is more than justice; it is the alignment of the soul with the divine archetype, our divine exemplar the Lord Jesus Christ. This alignment must take place both ‘within’ the interior life of the soul, and ‘without’ through the soul’s communal life in society. Establishing justice ‘within’ is to rectify the interior life of the soul in conformity with the will of God as expressed in the commandments; it is the basis of the rule of reason and an essential pre-requisite to the spiritual life. Establishing justice ‘without’ is the art of ordering and managing communal life according to the rule of reason, which makes it is possible to live in harmony with other members of society. However, righteousness is not only an embodiment of the virtue of justice it is the embodiment of all the virtues, which are typically described as being seven in number: Faith; Hope; Charity; Justice; Fortitude; Temperance and Prudence. To seek righteousness then is to seek to establish all of these virtues in one’s life – to embody them, for in doing so we spiritualise our nature. However, those who are committed to living the spiritual life know that in their aspiration they will be opposed by the forces of this world; and that at one time or another, and in different ways, they will be tested, even to the point of persecution. Generally, such opposition will come from those who are closest to them, such as family, friends or neighbours. Occasionally, the State may be the main antagonist, but more commonly, opposition comes from within oneself, as demonic forces opposed to the soul’s regeneration seek to undermine and divert it from the spiritual path using its own powers and faculties against it; consequently, a strong will to persevere is required in such an undertaking.  

The Will may be described as the soul’s power of resolve to carry out intention. In the ‘natural man’, the first Adam, the will is directed towards fulfilling the essential instincts of survival and reproduction in the mundane world. As such it is the faculty or power of asserting choice or intention. The strength of the will, what we understand by the term ‘willpower’, is the degree of inner resolve to realise either choice or intention, which varies from person to person. At some point the soul is motivated, either through experience or by divine inspiration, to evolve beyond the restrictive parameters of the mundane world. Then the Will is directed to fulfilling that intention, and all of the soul's strength and determination will be called upon to make it succeed. 

The last beatitude, Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you, is concerned with the virtue of Fortitude or courage. Those who take the spiritual path must overcome fear, particularly the fear of rejection and isolation from society. Frequently people are suspicious of those who live the spiritual life; it is difficult to understand, and what people cannot comprehend they often reject. But being rejected by 'society' is only one aspect of fear, what is more pertinent on this path is the fear of separation from the physical world. It is a fear that only those who have undertaken the journey of the alone to the alone can truly understand. There is nothing new in this, indeed, exponents of the contemplative life who have gone before us have invariably expressed the conviction that this path is a very personal and private path, a journey into the depths of the inner reality of the soul, and those who take it go alone, separated from the herd; it requires great courage and willpower. 

Furthermore, in the tides and currents of social movements there are times when those called to the path will be persecuted for their convictions, socially harassed, physically abused and tortured, or even put to death. At other times they may be lauded and given positions of privilege and honour. Under either circumstance the spiritual well-being of the aspirant may well be threatened; on one side the possibility of abuse, on the other the possibility of seduction. From the perspective of undermining the soul’s commitment to the spiritual path there is little to choose between them. To be publicly persecuted for religious convictions, to be maligned and humiliated is common enough, but more frequently such abuse occurs within the family, or the community, and can be terribly undermining for those new to the spiritual path. However, those who persevere on their journey learn to overcome the fear of social ridicule and abuse, and the fear of the phantasmagoria that dances before the mind's eye, but more importantly they learn to overcome the fear of the deep stillness and darkness of their own minds and to trust in divine inspiration, for it is out of the darkness of the soul, that the light of a new life emerges.

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