"Blessed Are They..."
September 13th Readings Reflection: Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Today’s Gospel is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where He gave us the Eight Beatitudes. These serve as a guide for the Christian seeking to follow in Our Lord’s footsteps along the path to perfection and salvation. The great Father of the Church St. John Chrysostom, whose feast the Church celebrates today, gave a beautiful analysis of the Beatitudes that helps us better understand the meaning of each.
The first Beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” St. John Chrysostom explained that Jesus is referring here to a poverty of spirit in which we are “humble and contrite.” Such a soul has died to himself and lives only for God.
The second Beatitude is, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” St. John Chrysostom said that the promised reward for meekness shall be given both in this life and in the next.
The third Beatitude is, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” St. John Chrysostom pointed out that Jesus is referring to those who mourn “for sins.” We must mourn for our own sins and for those of the whole world, praying for the conversion of sinners. Such mourning, Jesus promises, will receive consolation both in this life and in the next.
The fourth Beatitude is, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.” Justice is the virtue by which we give to everyone what they are due. St. John Chrysostom pointed out that justice is opposed to covetousness, by which we hunger and thirst after things that other people possess. This Beatitude reminds us to be grateful for the many gifts God has given us and to remember that our deepest desires can only be satisfied in God.
The fifth Beatitude is, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” In the Our Father, we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God is merciful to us when we show mercy to others.
The sixth Beatitude is, “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.” This Beatitude, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, refers to “those who live in [the purity of] temperance.” Like justice, temperance is one of the four Cardinal Virtues; it is the virtue by which we control our passions and desires. When tempted to indulge the desires of the flesh, we should remember this Beatitude and Christ’s promise that if we practice temperance and remain “clean of heart,” we shall one day see God.
The seventh Beatitude is, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.” This Beatitude reminds us that we must always strive for peace in our lives. We must forgive others and seek to make amends with those whom we have hurt, so that peace may replace any resentment or anger that we harbour. St. John Chrysostom explained that when we work to establish peace, we are imitating Jesus Himself, Who “unite[s] the divided, and… reconcile[s] the alienated.” For this reason, the peacemakers are “called children of God.”
The eighth Beatitude is, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” When we hear this Beatitude, we usually think of the martyrs, who suffered to the point of death for their Faith. However, we all experience opportunities to be living martyrs in our own lives, enduring all things for Christ (cf. 2 Tim 2:10). When we are ridiculed or shunned for holding fast to the teachings of Christ and His Church, this Beatitude should give us hope that our reward is eternal salvation.
The Beatitudes may sometimes seem daunting because they call us to the highest level of perfection. Recognizing our own faults and weaknesses, it is easy to become discouraged and despair of ever reaching the perfection of the Beatitudes. However, as Sacred Scripture continually reminds us, all things are possible with God’s grace. May the Beatitudes serve to inspire us to never give up striving for perfection so that we may one day inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
St. John Chrysostom, pray for us!
All quotes and references to St. John Chrysostom’s teachings in this article are taken from his “Homily 15 on Matthew,” available at New Advent.