The Beatitudes


If you have been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, you will be familiar with the open-air chapels around many of the churches.

These structures vary in size and shape, but will usually accommodate a busload of pilgrims for a mass or service. Because there are so many people on pilgrimage, a chapel must be booked well in advance.

We were a group of New Zealand Catholics with Bishop Pat Dunn, and we were in the Galilee area, with a chapel reserved for the afternoon.

But something had gone wrong with our booking. There was nothing available for us.

Our bus driver pulled over to the side of the road and phoned other churches. One after another, the answer was the same. No chapel available.

Just as we were ready to accept defeat, the driver found a vacancy at the Church of the Beatitudes. It was the only one free, a basic altar and bench seats on the brow of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The day was very windy, which was probably why the exposed chapel was not being used.

Below us, the water was misted with spray. Wind rushed up the hill with great energy. It tore at vestments and clothes, ruffled pages, and the hosts on the altar had to be covered.

We all agreed, though, that we had a spectacular view and that the Holy Spirit was vigorous.

Bishop Pat managed the flapping pages of the lectionary to find the day’s gospel. He paused, then smiled. “The reading today is the Beatitudes.”

The Beatitudes! We looked at each other, and we too smiled. No one seemed surprised. The Holy Spirit had a fine sense of humour

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are profound but can seem stark in their brevity. I‘ve paraphrased them to suit where I am this day. I suggest you do the same.

  1. Blessed are those who are not full of themselves, for they have room for God.
  2. Blessed are those in sorrow, for although grief is painful, it has a cleansing effect and can make space for new growth.
  3. Blessed are the meek. Because they are not self-absorbed, they will feel connected with everyone and everything.
  4. Blessed are those whose hearts are hungry, for God is the shape of that hunger.
  5. Blessed are those who show kindness, for what they do for others they also do for themselves.
  6. Blessed are those who are in love with God, for they will know God in all creation.
  7. Blessed are those who are not judgmental. They will see as God sees.
  8. Blessed are those who meet criticism with love, for God is love, and they are replacing ignorance with an experience of God.

When we are young, the Beatitudes make little or no sense. In our youth, we are gatherers, accumulating experience, a sense of identity, a place in the world. Jesus’ words in this reading may even seem to threaten us.

It is only when we have a mature understanding of who we are, and are at the stage of letting go, that we see the beatitudes as a rich blessing.

They are all about emptying ourselves so that we can be filled with God’s presence.

It sounds easy on paper,  but achieving it is the work of a lifetime.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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