Once there was a man named Ralph who was known for always maintaining a cheerful, hope-filled attitude no matter what happened; he remained calm and contented even over the course of several years of financial setbacks, family problems, and health concerns. A friend of his asked his secret, and Ralph answered, “I always use my eyes in the right way.” “What do you mean?” the friend inquired, and Ralph explained, “When something goes wrong, I first look up to Heaven, and remind myself that my duty and goal is to get there—and that if I succeed, nothing that happens to me here on earth really matters in the long run. Then I look down at the ground, and try to realize what a small piece of earth will be mine when I die: merely enough space to hold my casket, six feet under. That helps me keep this world’s problems in perspective. Lastly, I look at the countless men and women in my neighborhood and in the world who are much worse off than I am in many respects, and this reminds me how greatly I’ve been blessed by God, in spite of my worries and problems. These three looks make me humble, happy, and content, and they root out every desire I might otherwise have to complain” (Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol. 5, #16). We might well say that Ralph had learned the secret of living in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Following these teachings of Jesus will lead us to Heaven, while at the same time gaining for us a peace in this life that the world cannot give.
The word “beatitude” means blessing, and St. Matthew’s (5:1-12) account of the Beatitudes, might be called the “executive summary” of all of Jesus’ numerous teachings. Moreover, many Scripture scholars would agree that the most important of the Beatitudes is the first one, with all the others commenting upon and developing it. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Being poor in spirit is ultimately rooted in being humble. True humility doesn’t mean putting ourselves down or denying our goodness and value as persons; no, it simply it means calmly and graciously admitting that we’re ultimately dependent on God for everything we need, and that our happiness lies in seeking His glory, not our own. Whereas the prophet Zephaniah (2:3; 3:12-13) urges us to practice humility, and promises that those who are humble in God’s sight will be preserved by Him from all harm; St. Paul (1 Cor 1:26-31) takes this idea a step further in stating that humility will not only protect us from evil; it will actually allow us to share in and actively cooperate with God’s glorious plan of salvation. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they were not wise, powerful, or important by worldly standards—but in Christ they have become witnesses of the truth and ambassadors of grace, for “God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.” This gift of salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, and the gift can be received only by those who are humble. As the apostle says, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.” The reason for this is simple: only by trying to give all glory to God can we discover and fulfill the deepest desires of our own hearts.
The world, of course, lives by a very different set of values, and this sad fact isn’t by chance or coincidence. Satan, who was created as Lucifer, the greatest and most beautiful of all the angels, rebelled against God because of his pride. Through pride, he lost everything, and now he and his evil spirits try to drag all humanity into their same fate of everlasting agony and despair. The devil has, for the time being, a great deal of influence in this world, and he uses it to tempt Christians, seeking to blind them to the truth while undermining Christ’s teachings and the authority of His Church. In fact, someone once expressed this by writing what we might call “Satan’s Beatitudes:”
Blessed are they who are too tired and busy to go to church on Sunday, for they are some of my best workers.
Blessed are they who are bored or amused with their pastor’s mannerisms and mistakes, for they get nothing out of the sermon.
Blessed are they who gossip, for they cause strife and divisions that please me.
Blessed are they who are easily offended, for they soon get angry and quit.
Blessed are they who do not give their offerings to carry on God’s work in the Church, for they instead help spread my kingdom.
Blessed are they who profess to love God but hate their own brother or sister, for they will be with me forever.
Blessed are the troublemakers, for they shall be called the children of the devil.
Blessed is the one who has no time to pray, for that person shall be easy prey.[modified from Brian Cavanagh, Sower’s Seeds Aplenty, Fourth Planting, #4]