This reflection is based on Matthew 5:1-12 on the occasion of the Solemnity of All Saints.
- the poor in spirit
- the mourners
- the meek
- those who seek justice
- the merciful
- the pure of heart
- the peacemakers, and
- the persecuted.
These are hardly the people we would normally consider blessed, not to mention aspire to become! Yes, there are some “nice guys” on that list (#3 to 7, for example), but remember what they say about nice guys finishing last? It would seem, therefore, that the Beatitudes is nothing more than the Lord expressing his compassion for the faint-hearted, the downtrodden, and–to put it bluntly–the losers of the world.
But to do so is to misread the Beatitudes. In this excerpt from her poem “Who the Meek Are Not,” Mary Karr talks about this misunderstanding.
My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.
In other words, contrary to what we usually imagine, the meekness exalted in the Beatitudes is not so much characterized by timidity or faint-heartedness. Far from these stereotypes, it is, in fact, defined by a surrendering of one’s will to its master’s. The meek that our Lord blesses are people who have a passionate commitment to obeying the Father’s Will. Certainly not for the fainthearted and downtrodden, the meekness of the Beatitudes refers to those who, like the mighty stallion, are ready to race forward to do whatever their Master bids them.
I have to confess that after Mary Karr’s poem, I never read the Beatitudes the same way again. As it turns out, every single blessing uttered by our Lord in the Beatitudes is not, when you think about it, intended for the timid and the faint-hearted. The Lord speaks of them with his characteristic compassion in many other passages, but here in the Beatitudes, his blessings are reserved for those who have the courage and the passion to do what they are called to do, and who are willing to suffer for it.
Fr. Greg Boyle, the Jesuit priest who has for many years been working with gangs in Los Angeles, describes the Beatitudes not so much as a spirituality, but a geography because it tells us where we should stand. Far from a merely pious expression of sympathy for the oppressed and downtrodden, the Beatitudes is a call to arms, inviting each one of us to ask ourselves if we have the courage, the passion, and the endurance to stand with the oppressed and downtrodden.
As we commemorate all the saints and blessed today, both named and unnamed, let us recall that they are the personifications of the Beatitudes. Far from the stampita stereotype of the timid and unassertive, eyes turned heavenward, they were, in fact, a bunch of daring and passionate men and women whose eyes were always focused on their cross-bearing Master.
So the obvious question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we have the guts to live so that we receive these special blessings from the Lord?