The Beatitudes: In the Light of the Master

In chapter 2 from Gaudete et exsultate (On the Call to Holiness), Pope Francis outlined some tendencies of the modern world that lead us astray from God’s desire to call us to himself. However, he does not leave us to our own devices. The Shepherd of the Church brings us to the feet of the one who never leaves even a single member of his flock behind.

Francis proceeds from describing two possible enemies to holiness into his description of faith as a face-to-face fleshy encounter. Then he begins his third chapter which will deliver the blueprint to building the kingdom in our own lives. He has named our possible downfalls, now he embarks on conquering them. The third chapter is entitled, “In the Light of the Master,” and its main focus is Jesus’ Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount. Holiness must be intrinsically tied to the teachings of the Word because in his words we find the logic of true happiness: a blessed life.

The Holy Father could not be more clear: if the teachings of Christ, particularly in this section of the gospels, does not make us feel unsettled and challenged then we are not truly understanding what the master is saying (#66). If the words of the Lord do not mold us into who we were meant to be then holiness is an empty word and an ambiguous goal. His words, by their very nature, “go against the flow” in our culture. To be poor in spirit; to be meek; to be mourners; to fight for justice; to show mercy; to be pure; to be peacemakers; to be persecuted. These make up the main fabric of what it means to follow the one who handed over his life as a ransom for the many. These are the realities that make us whole.

To be poor in spirit or even materially poor means that we find our security in the God of the universe and not material things that fade away (#67). If we are not careful, we make our riches the source of complete satisfaction and we do not allow space for God to reside. If we do not depend on material things to bring us happiness then they have no control over our attitudes and life (#69). A person who is poor in spirit attains a holy indifference to what happens in life which brings a profound interior freedom. Their choice is Christ, which means they are not shocked when he commands everything from us. To be holy means we must be poor in spirit; we must unreservedly speak the language of humility. Then we will be made into “the little ones” that Jesus calls to himself.

The meek are the ones whose existence is grounded in complete trust of God. Our world today and the world of history is filled with conflict and dispute (#71). The call to holiness is a call to respond to violence with meekness. It also means that the shortcomings of those around us must not breed a spirit of impatience and contempt. The meek of heart place their entire hope in God alone, even when the world calls them fools. As the pope says, “so be it. It is always better to be meek, for then our deepest desires will be fulfilled” (#74).

Those who mourn do not turn their gaze away from the pain of those around them (#75). In society today, most people desire a life free from all sorrow. They want to stay in the moment of pleasure and entertainment without ceasing. Holiness demands that we never flee from the side of those who are in the midst of their own Calvary. True happiness is awarded to the heroes who desire to console others during their time of anguish: “They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.” (#76). The Risen Lord was identified by many because of his wounds. The holy mourners of our faith carry out the call of Jesus to not only carry their cross, but to aid others in bearing theirs.

Those who fight for righteousness connect to the justice that is the right of all people everywhere. Christians do not need to sell all they own to follow this Beatitude. A desire for justice in the world begins at home and in the choices we are given to make each and everyday (#79). People who are in the most need: the weak and the vulnerable, are the ones who are in dire need for aid. Holiness asks that our lives become so entrenched with the needs of others that it becomes natural for us to serve: like eating or drinking.

Holiness means we are merciful. The Holy Father says there are two aspects of mercy. A service of others along with the capacity for authentic forgiveness (#80). Holiness is a conformity to the inner unity of the Godhead. Therefore, if we are to be united to God, we must act in divine ways. The level in which we bestow mercy to others will be the level in which God shows mercy to us (#81). The biggest reason we show mercy to others lies in the fact that mercy has first been shown to us: “we must think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven” (#82). Being a member of the army is a given because of human nature. Holiness drives us to enlist more members through our words and actions.

Purity is related to holiness in several profound ways. However, none is more clear than the connection to the heart: “for a heart capable of love admits nothing that might harm, weaken or endanger that love.” (#83). Love is at the center of the life of holiness. Therefore, our words, actions, and lifestyle must never contradict the love that we are called too. A genuine heart loves others not because it ought to, but because it authentically desires it (#86). Purity ensures that we never endanger the precious gift of true happiness that is offered to us.

The peacemakers are not doormats. Holiness requires that we confront evil and conflict (#89). These are the warriors of the heart who refuse to ignore a world that is too often destructive. Building peace in our world means that we are not shy about Christ as the King of the Universe. He does reign, and as peacemakers we should trust in his victory.

Persecution from the world is not a price that may come to us, it is a guarantee given to us by the very words of Christ. “In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy,” (#91). Our vision must be glued to the cross. A Christianity without the suffering of the Word made flesh is by its definition un-Christian. Jesus’ suffering is not just meant to help us feel consoled, it is the means by which we grow and the source of all that is holy (#93). “Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.” (#94).

The Beatitudes enable us to meet and know the person of Jesus, but the pope stresses that holiness is even more than that. Christianity must be put into practice. When we follow the teachings of Christ, we can come closer to making them take flesh in our lives. That is where holiness takes us.

Editor’s note: This article is the third part in the series “Focus on Holiness,” which is an exploration of Gaudete et exsultate and how we can apply its lessons to grow in holiness.

image: alefbet /

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Thomas Griffin teaches in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school, and lives on Long Island with his wife and son. He has a master’s degree in theology and is currently a masters candidate in philosophy. Follow his latest content at 

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