What is a Beatitude?

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This you will recognize is one of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is one of the most commonly recognized passages of New Testament. It is often one of the most challenging as well. It is in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus takes all the old, long held ideas of how to live in the world and turns them up-side-down. Those who heard it for the first time there on the slopes of the mount would have been profoundly moved by them and, at the same time, would have felt their consciences burning within them. And so it is with us as well.

What is a Beatitude? The word comes from the Latin word “beatitudo,” which means perfect happiness. It is related to the word “beatific,” as in beatific vision, which is the happiness that is associated with the joy that will be ours when we are finally able to look into the face of God directly in heaven. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount gives us the means, in this life, that will most surely lead us to the end of that happiness that our hearts and souls desire most, to finally be in the presence of God, forever.

But let us focus on the particular Beatitude that we are given for today’s devotional. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” What is mercy? We should not suppose that we know what it is without looking at it more closely. The dictionary describes mercy as: “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power.” We can understand the difficulty here. The world seems to teach us that whoever hurts us, or who gets in our way, or blocks our access to what we want, or who makes things difficult for us in some way, needs to be punished, or needs to pay us back in some way for the real, or perceived, suffering they have caused us. But Jesus is telling us here that this way has never led us to happiness. He is saying that the way to find the happiness that we are looking for is to practice mercy. Especially toward those who have in some way offended us, even those who are our enemies.

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We are being taught the logic of heaven here. Though we are in the world, we are not to be of it. The old ways have failed and continue to do so. And yet, we still practice them, because they appear, in the logic of the world, to promise immediate gratification and satisfaction for our injuries. But when we act in this logic we are more apt to be cruel, intolerant, mean and uncompassionate. These things can only cause further injury, and more often than not, will simply heat up the desire for revenge in the other. But Jesus is teaching us the logic of heaven. By showing mercy we free ourselves, and the offending other, from the endless cycle of injury for injury. Mercy is born out of compassion. Compassion is the ability to choose willingly to suffer with the other. We know what the offending other is suffering because we have been there. We too have been cruel, intolerant, or mean, but by the grace of God, we have come to realize how those things damaged us more than they achieved what we hoped they would bring to us. It is for this reason that we can be compassionately merciful. By being merciful, we can potentially bring about the healing that is necessary to form a healthy, life-giving relationship. This is the happiness that we most desire; to be in relationship with the other and ultimately with God. Mercy, then, is the path to Beatitude, or happiness.

Jesus, you are the example of mercy that we desire to emulate with our lives. We have seen and felt its effects personally in our own lives. We ask you to send us your graces so that we might grow in our understanding of this heavenly wisdom of mercy. Help us to become true and good instruments of your mercy in this world. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.