今天的读经是真福八端（Beatitude）。从小到大听过很多次，可是从来都觉得“反正都是在讲道理”，所以从来没认真去读去体会，于是便没看到 Beatitude 的美。第一次认真理解 Beatitude 是几年前的生日，当天的读经便是 Beatitude。
I know you might be thinking – laws, rules, regulations. Weren’t ten enough? Now we have eight more. It seems as though at times, the Catholic Church is obsessed with rules and regulations. But look at the first word that Jesus says from this place. The first word out of His mouth in the Beatitudes is “happy”. He said, “Blessed, happy are the poor in spirit.” Jesus’ life is about joy. He says at the Last Supper, “I’ve come that you might have joy. You might share my joy, then it might be complete.”
How do we relate “joy” to the law? Two things that seem, often, at odds with each other.
Part of the problem is we have a very modern sense of freedom. Freedom means, “I can do what i want. I find joy when I determine my own life. “
But there’s a different view of freedom in the Bible. You might call it freedom for excellence. It means, the disciplining of desire, so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.
So i stand before you as a relatively free speaker of English, I can say whatever i want. Is that because i just decided i’ll speak anyway i feel like? No, no, i was disciplined by a whole series of laws and rules, regulations. What’s Jesus telling us here on the Mount of Beatitudes? He’s telling us the laws, rules, if you want, that will place within our bodies and our minds and our spirit, the capacity for joy. That’s why on this place of the law, the new lawgiver, the new Moses is the great place of joy, of “Beatitudo”.
I would like to suggest a reading of the eight Beatitudes that looks, first, at the more “positive” formulations.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” This stands at the heart of the matter, for mercy, or tender compassion, is God’s most distinctive characteristic. St. John would give this same idea a New Testament expression in saying, “God is love”. To have the Divine life in you, therefore, is to be conformed to love, to become love. And therefore, when you receive the Divine life as a gift, you must give it as a gift. And then by a kind of spiritual physics, the Divine life increases in you.
We turn now to the closely related Beatitude. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This means that you will be happy if there is no ambiguity in your heart about what is most important. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said that a saint is someone whose life is about one thing. He didn’t mean that the saint lives a monotonous existence. He meant that a truly holy person has ordered his/her heart toward pleasing God alone. And thus, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ” We want many things, but what most fundamentally do we want? What is the hunger that defines and orders the secondary hungers of your life? What, in Paul Tillich’s language, is your “ultimate concern”? If it’s anything other than the will and purpose of God, anything other than righteousness, you will be unfulfilled. The last of the “positive” Beatitudes is this, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Since God is the creator, He is that power through which all creatures are connected to one another. God is a gathering force, the unifier of all that He has made. Therefore, the one who has fundamentally ordered his life to God becomes necessarily a peacemaker, for he channels the metaphysical energy that links all things and all people. One of the most recognizable signs of sanctity — you can see it in all the saints — is the radiance of just this reconciling power. That’s why a peacemaker becomes, ipso facto, a child of God, and therefore happy.
With these more positive Beatitudes in mind, we can turn with greater understanding to those Beatitudes that might strike us at first as a bit confounding or conterintuitive. We sense within ourselves this infinite longing for God, but we attempt to fill it up with something less than God. Thomas Aquinas named these four classical substitutes as wealth, pleasure, power and honor. We know that we need God, but we try to fill the void with something less than God, some combination of those four things. In point of fact, it’s only the emptying out of the ego in love, that paradoxically fills us up. Now, the classical spiritual tradition refers to this errant desire as “concupiscence”, but i think we could translate the idea very effectively with our more modern term of “addiction”. And here’s why. We’re hungry for God, but we try to fill the hunger with something less than God and so necessarily we are frustrated. In our frustration, we convince ourselves we need more of that finite good, and so we strive and strive and strive, and we get it, and find ourselves necessarily frustrated. At this point, a kind of spiritual panic sets in, and we find ourselves obsessively turning around some finite good that can never in principle make us happy.
The first of the “negative” formulations is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is neither a romanticizing of economic poverty nor a demonization of wealth, but rather a formula for detachment. Might I suggest a somewhat variant rendition, how blessed are you if you are not attached to material things, if you have not placed the goods that wealth can buy at the center of your concern. When the kingdom of God is your ultimate concern, not only will you not become addicted to materials things, you will, in fact, be able to use them, with great effectiveness, for God’s purposes.
Under this same rubric of detachment, we should consider the Beatitude “How blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. I know this can sound like the worst kind of masochism, but we have to dig deeper. I think a very legitimate translation would be how “lucky” you are, how happy and blessed you are if you are not addicted to good feelings. Good feelings, pleasant sensations – physical, emotional, psychological – are wonderful, but they’re not God. And if we turn them into God, they become in short order the focus of an addiction, which can be seen clearly enough in the prevalence of drug abuse and pornography and conspicuous consumption in our society. Again, this has nothing to do with Puritanism. It has to do with detachment, and therefore, with spiritual freedom.
Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth”. Once more, Jesus is not so much passing judgment on institutions of power as He is showing a path of detachment. How lucky you are if you are not attached to the finite good of worldly power.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, experienced it firsthand, the horrors of the first World War, and witnessed those in the second. It’s no accident that in his great work, he proposed as the most tempting talisman precisely a ring of power. But when you’re detached from worldly power, then you can follow the Will of God even if it means walking a path of extreme powerlessness. Meek, unaddicted to worldly power, you can become a conduit of true divine power to the world.
And the last of the “negative” Beatitude is, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” We must read this once again in light of Thomas Aquinas’s analysis. If the call to poverty holds off the addiction to material things and the summons to mourn counters the addiction to good feelings and the valorization of meekness blocks the addiction to power, this last Beatitude gets in the way of the addicting attachment to honor.
In the late 19th century, Charles Lwanga was the chief of pages in the court of King Mwanga, who governed the region of what is now Uganda. When the king demanded sexual favors from Charles, the young man refused, even at the cost of his life. Charles and many of his companions were burned to death at Namugongo, the site which today is the very focal point of African Christianity. Charles’ radical detachment from worldly honor unleashed the Divine life in an incomparably powerful way.