Monday, June 08, 2009

Re-reading the Beatitudes

We hear the Beatitudes (Matthew's "extended play" version) several times a year, most notably on All Saints' Day, but here they are again for our regular old Monday in Ordinary Time. But today the Beatitudes line up with a first reading and responsorial psalm that are also about "blessings": the opening "movement" of St Paul's second letter to the Corinthians ("Blessed be...the God of all consolation") and Psalm 34 ("I will bless the Lord at all times.... Blessed the one who takes refuge in him"). That's a lot of blessing going on (in both directions: up to God and down to us)!
Maybe it was this context that helped me recognize a long-term impediment to my appreciation of "the" Beatitudes. I realized that when I have read the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek..." I was intimidated by them, because I read them more as a series of qualifications, a kind of all-encompassing job description for discipleship. But what if all those qualities and their attendant blessings ("theirs is the kingdom of heaven; they shall be comforted; they will inherit the land") really express the same condition and the same promise, but each time under a different aspect? That would make the eight (really nine) Beatitudes a kind of super-charged Hebrew poem in typical parallel structure (and the 3 X 3 ups the ante even more in terms of its poetic quality). The Beatitudes poem would be "enclosed" within the beginning "theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" and the closing "your reward will be great in heaven." That makes the Beatitudes a poetic call to hope: precisely what the first reading celebrates: "just as you share in the afflictions (of Christ), so you will share in the consolation."

No comments: