The Beatitudes as Nursery Rhymes

Every child should learn a catalogue of reassuring poetic principles that are held by heart. And for those who would become as little children, the Beatitudes can assume the ringing, singing education of the nursery, bringing happiness as well as holiness. The Beatitudes are not rigid laws, but attitudes of virtue and blessedness that bring joy. Like nursery rhymes, they frame the truths of reality, the human condition, and the divine plan; teaching young hearts—and the young at heart—the ways and wonders of the world and providing the happiness that leads to heaven.

The Beatitudes are in no way wasted on children. Their wisdom is for children—and the childlike—to keep in their hearts as little keys to the Kingdom. The greatest secrets of the world are not to be withheld from the little ones. “The gates of heaven are lightly locked,” says Our Lady in Chesterton’s ballad. Therefore, every child’s Penny Catechism lays out the summation of existence on the first page: God made man to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings, to rephrase this doctrine of the Garden of Eden in the dialect of the Garden of Verses.

The Beatitudes are the code of human happiness; and happiness is nothing to be suspect of, for “happiness,” as St. Thomas Aquinas declares, “is the end of life,” and the Beatitudes are the way. There is no such thing as a sad saint. Happiness is essential to holiness, and the example of children, who are famed and celebrated as happy, is central to the paradoxical blessedness of the Beatitudes: rejoicing in things invisible and imparting an earthly taste of the heavenly happiness that is to come. Happiness is bestowed to the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers—a gift given and received as a parent to a child.

The happiness of the Beatitudes lies in a type of virtue that is built upon simplicity, humility, and felicity. Man must be master of his action, as Aristotle taught, but he must also remember to be a child as well as a chief. An act of true, religious virtue is not only one of habit, freedom, and self-determination, but also one of worship.

Love is central, which renders virtue more of a state of being rather than doing, of living in love, and the happiness that is given as the resulting gift. This is Christian virtue—the virtue that requires both the independent, determined strength of manhood and the dependent, loving heart of childhood—and it is the outlook of the Beatitudes. It is the difficult balance between the dove and the serpent: the simplicity and strength that aligns human will to God’s will. It is difficult to grow into maturity; it is even more difficult to be reborn as a little child, learning to see things again for the first time and to receive life from God rather than realizing it independently.

This reality, this mystery, is the element of nursery rhymes, which serves as a measure and mantra of the wide world and the happiness it holds. As these poems settle comfortably into the hearts of children, structuring their worldview, so should the Beatitudes act on the children of Christ as rejoicing and glad tenets that show the Way to St. Ives and the rest of the company of saints, providing perspective on the justice of God and the happiness that is the end of life. Even those who mourn and suffer will live happily ever after, as is reinforced by the lore and limericks of the nursery.

As such, the Beatitudes, like any of the old optimistic rhymes, belong in the everyday songs of all Christians, old and young alike, for their actuality and applicability expands, extends, and adapts over time. The Beatitudes are truly poetic, for they are impenetrable and beautiful expressions of experience. Poetry, like any profundity, is concentrated thought; and though a poem may never be fully understood, its meaning is slowly revealed throughout life. A poem is learned and loved more and more as life advances.

This truth is especially true regarding the Beatitudes. These teachings take a lifetime to learn for they are about life itself and the perfection of the specifically Christian life. Each of the eight has a meaning that is like a seed, which, planted in a wondering mind, grows eventually into a tree of complexity, strength, beauty, and wisdom. And so should all apply the sermon on the mount to heart and mind alongside Jack and Jill of the hill.

The Beatitudes are verses in the song of creation, being the promises of happiness to those who faithfully, lovingly, and worshipfully accept Christ’s teachings and His divine example. They are the refrains of the New Covenant where happiness is assured on earth as it is in heaven. They afford not merely a renewed vision, but a new vision in which time and eternity meet; where the pagan lament for the “tears in things” is elevated into a hymn of everlasting joy. Though there is, of course, inescapable loss in life, there is also a sense in which things do not change or even diminish—in the heart of God, and the eyes of a child, all things are made new.

The Beatitudes are the victorious pronouncement of virtues that require a childlike virtuosity. This playful mastery can come to beauteous and bounteous fruition by including and incorporating the Beatitudes in the same way that “Little Boy Blue” is included and incorporated in general consciousness. Let these words of Christ be written on the heart as well. Let them speak and sing as life is lived and loved, and as the God Who is Life and Love moves the stars with a happiness can be shared before it is held by the blessed.

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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