The Beatitudes

 

"The Beatitutes: The Most Dangerous and Revolutionary Text in Human History" in two parts, was originally printed in 2012 on the CIOFS.org website. These formation papers are great to study and review, so we have made them available to our members, here /fss

(In two parts, images omitted)

EVANGELIZED TO EVANGELIZE

by Fr. Fernando Ventura, OFMCap

 

Dossier prepared by the CIOFS Ongoing Formation Team

Ewald Kreuzer, OFS, Coordinator

Fr. Amando Trujillo Cano, TOR

Doug Clorey, OFS

 

THE BEATITUDES:

THE MOST DANGEROUS AND REVOLUTIONARY TEXT IN HUMAN HISTORY (Part I)

 

In the May and June Dossier, we will reflect on the most dangerous and revolutionary text in the history of humankind. In his presentation, Fr. Fernando presents the "Constitutional Charter" of Christianity, the text that manages to explain the reason why we are here, the text where we can discover our mission, and the text without which we will never find the meaning of our lives.

Regrettably, it is possible for us to turn the text of the beatitudes into a pious exhortation to a state of resignation... a kind of anesthesia... that removes from the individual the ability to act.  He or she becomes depersonalized and everything is attributed to the will of God: what is lacking in his/her life in terms of actual needs - effective, affective, and material - and even the lack of recognition of one’s personal dignity.  The individual is left in a kind of "limbo", awaiting for a liberation that never comes, and that leads to the sin of “deferring hope”.

Danger of resignation

Are you suffering? Are your rights violated? Are you hungry? Do you have the minimum required to live with dignity?  Do you feel alone and abandoned?

Well, be patient because this is the will of God … and in eternity, you will be very happy (!)

This postponement of hope is sinful, opiate, neurotic and stupid. And, unfortunately, this is still very much the speech of some "pious minds in our squares".  Although these barbarities are not said aloud, they are thought about, and form a frame of thought and reflection that can lead to a foolish kind of charity that will never lead to the revolutionary solidarity needed in our time.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit...” (Mt 5,3)

Being the first of the Gospels, let’s examine Matthew. First of all, it is important to say that, regardless of how well we speak a foreign language, we cannot stop thinking in our own language. This is exactly what happens with Matthew. He writes his texts in Greek, but his own language is Aramaic or Hebrew. When composing this key phrase of the entire text of the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, the first key that unlocks the main door to the hidden code of the Bible, Matthew feels that the Greek language is not able to bring to light the exact concept he is trying to get across.

A linguistic difficulty: what does "poor" mean?

Indeed, everything plays out from the word "poor". This is really the key to reading and interpreting the whole text. In his mother tongue, Matthew has two different words to talk about the two different categories of the poor. In Hebrew,  the words Dalim and Anawim are used to talk about two different categories of people, referring not only to their social status, but, above all, to their main attitude towards life.

The Greek language, like most of the languages we use today, has few words to describe the "poor" and those words that are available always describe the poor as people who lack the minimum to live on with dignity. Take, for example, the Portuguese language:  the “poor”, “needy”, “destitute”, “homeless”, “beggars”, etc are all words that describe a certain type of people of which, objectively, we cannot say that they are “happy," and, even less so, that they are in that situation because that is the will of God for them and that they will be very happy in eternity...

With this kind of thinking, we can in fact engage in “religious terrorism” and agree with Marx and Freud if religion is used to insult God and the poor, committing that sin of “deferring hope”. We cannot be proponents of hopelessness. We cannot insult the poor in the name of God; much less so can we do it from our own abundance, describing the misery of others as God’s determination and a sine qua non condition for a future of eternal bliss. This is an insult. This is terrorism. But, unfortunately, it is done...

When does eternity begin?

One of the ills that greatly afflict our thinking has to do with the fact that we are more or less convinced that our eternity begins at the time of our death.  Another big mistake! The fact is that our eternity begins at the moment of our conception. Thus, if it is so, the time, space, and earth which we live are already impregnated with eternity. If it is so, we are already experiencing eternity and the moment of death becomes the pinnacle of life. If it is so, the moment of death is the moment of the definitive encounter with God ... the moment of death is the moment of resurrection! I believe that, to this day, Francis of Assisi was the only one able to understand all of this to its logical conclusion and therefore was able to call death "sister”.

Where the revolution starts

Let’s return to the linguistic difficulty of Matthew who lacks words in Greek to say whatever he purports to cover with his Hebrew linguistic culture. Blessed are the poor in spirit ... the poor of spirit ... motivated by the spirit ... the poor led or conducted by the spirit ... all these are possible translations of this Greek expression in which Matthew is forced to add to the word "poor" in order to safeguard the dignity of the latter, as well as the dignity of the ways we speak and understand God in his "being" and "acting" with us, but especially through us. It is here that the revolution starts.

And, it is also here that the “hidden code” is articulated.  And, because it is so hidden, it is also shamelessly made manifest. It is not a “code” that hides unspeakable secrets but a “code” that discloses how to be of God and of others, or better yet, how to be of God being of others. But, it is also from here that can arise the religious terrorism that postpones hope to a beyond in temporal time. Or, it is from here that we can be thrown into the deepest dimensions of being and acting human. More than a text that speaks of the "action of God", the Beatitudes are, on the contrary, the Magna Carta of human action in the light of God, the Constitutional Charter to be followed by all those men and women who dare to be of God in the path of Jesus Christ. These are the men and women who dare to be of God and of others. This idea bears repeating... maybe, one day, it will stick.

A code for reading the Bible

From here, we can start reading the text and our own lives without fear or hindrance. It is here that we will find, in fact, a code for reading the Bible. Far from being a secret code, hidden in the innermost shelves of eternity where the mold eats away, it is a challenge that is so disquieting and disturbing that it makes me come out of myself, and thus take me out of my comfort zones and throws me into action; it does not allow me to use a cosmetic salon that hides the wrinkles of my faith, but pushes me into the open field where I can even get sunburnt, but is the only place where I can find a "lasting tan." The final challenge remains the same ... challenging, disturbing, disquieting, pushing for victory over this schizophrenia that leads us to want to be of God without being of others, to live as divorced from life, in a pseudo-marriage with God,… marked by successive and increasingly deep "stabs’ in our matrimony.

The reference to the poor

The key word, the central concept that gives meaning to the whole text, is the reference to the poor. Separating the two basic categories for which the Hebrew language allows no confusion, we find then a God who does not need a people who is miserable, ragged, snotty, waiting for a happiness that is sure to come in the afterlife, but rather a God that presents a personal and unavoidable challenge. Those who are proclaimed happy are not those who do not have the minimum to live on with dignity, but those who recognize that everything they have comes from God and, therefore, are open to others unconditionally. They are the ones who put all of their "riches", of whatever type that they are, at the service of others. To these belong the kingdom of heaven, because it is to these that is given the task of building a world in defiance of the "norm", of the "do not worry," of the image and likeness of Cain's speech, in his answer to the question of God: "Cain, what did you do to your brother?"; "I am not responsible for my brother."  How much actuality there is in a sentence with more than 2500 years of history!

The poverty that God loves

The poverty that God loves, the poverty which God challenges in the Beatitudes, is not even close to the poverty of the "not having" material goods or other materials.  The challenge of poverty, as a minimum, is for all of us to avoid the mania that we own the world, that we are the center of history, that we are the holders of the absolute truths about life, death, and eternity; these are the riches that lead so many people to live with their bellies full of God in such a way that they cannot let out more than a few mystical gases for the consumption of others, because the space for their own conversion is quite occupied, and their bellies so swollen that they cannot see the floor that they step on ...The poverty that God loves goes the other way. And it is very important to make this clear. I can be much richer by owning a car falling to pieces but that I do not put at the service of anyone, than to have a newer car that I put at the service of all and, moreover, assume to drive myself...

The key to the reading of the Beatitudes

This is the key to reading the Beatitudes. As we said, it is the most dangerous, and revolutionary text in human history; far from being a text which speaks of God, it is, above all, a text in which God speaks for us. The difficulty is precisely here… to accept that God speaks... furthermore, to accept that God pushes me to be different, to put at risk all my comforts, my securities, my preconceived ideas, my ways of "not thinking" because all this is difficult, because all of this hurts, because all of this makes me concerned, because it stirs all the chicken coops where I move; hopefully at least Jonathan Livingston Seagull learned the joy of flying ...

But it is precisely here that the strength of a religion is at stake; it is here that one can evaluate the degree of commitment of someone with their way of reading life and understanding God. A religion is exactly this ... a challenge to freedom, a "punch in the stomach" of laziness that makes me not even think, because everything is already said and thought by others... and I have nothing more than to conform myself with what was "always taught me" because it is so and that’s it. How boring! This kind of religion is opium and neurosis in the words of Marx and Freud respectively. In this respect we should hear Professor Agostinho da Silva’s words “I do not have a religion; there is a religion that has me.”

To live with dignity

Now, we can read without fear the rest of the text. The poor and suffering will no longer feel insulted in their dignity and, even those who do not have even the minimum to live with dignity (the poor Dalim in Hebrew), already can finally feel happy.  This is so, not because after death they would be able to enjoy all that was denied them in life, but because increasingly, there will be more anawim, those people that meddle in the lives of others so that these may have the right to be people and to have life, and the dalim, those without the right to live the life of people, will cease to exist.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION IN FRATERNITY

1. Why are the Beatitudes such a dangerous and revolutionary text?

2. Which kind of poverty does God love? 

3. What is the key to reading the Beatitudes?

 

 

 

THE BEATITUDES:

THE MOST DANGEROUS AND REVOLUTIONARY TEXT IN HUMAN HISTORY (Part II)

 

In this edition of the dossier, we continue Fr. Fernando’s reflection on the Beatitudes, the "Constitutional Charter" of Christianity. This important text is really the secret code of the Bible and of life. The Bible was born from life, and, if we want to and allow it, life can be born in the Bible.  However, it will not be an ”easy life" but, then, nobody ever said it would be easy.

 

"Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted."

We are only able to cry for two reasons: we cry because we are joyful, or we cry because we are sorrowful.  Isn’t this true?  But I will dare go further. There is really only one reason that is able to make us cry... we cry because we love. They who do not love do not cry. This is the only real reason that makes someone cry.

Every day, we are confronted with the news of tens, hundreds, and even thousands of dead casualties.  But, even with these large numbers, we may not cry. However, if one person that we love dies, then we will surely cry.  In numerical terms, the reality is unparalleled. Tens, hundreds or thousands of deaths on the one side and "only" one dying on the other. The only thing that is different is the relationship; that which led to the tears of sadness was love.

That’s it... blessed are you who weep because you are blessed to be able to love. Blessed are you who love - who are able to have and build a relationship with someone, who refuse to live proudly as singles," who are able to love others and life, who do not live to do transcendental meditation looking at your own belly button, who are not content with lonely pious and mystical ruminations. This is at the heart of love and of life. As a Portuguese proverb says: "Those who are subject to love shall be bound to suffer ". Well, nobody ever said it would be easy; yet, none of those who dared to live like this said it was not worthwhile.

"Blessed  are the meek for they will inherit the earth"

In this beatitude, we have another statement in defiance of the norm and another possible misunderstanding of what it means to be "meek." Here, we must define what it means to be “meek” in the light of what has been said before. Once again, this beatitude challenges us to a new attitude of being, of being different, of being in a new way, and in a way unlike that of those who make violence the driving force of their existence. The meek are the experts of “non-violent violence” The violent cannot have the last word; never will they have it, if we want to put them in opposition to the meek. But perhaps, we must go a step further. In the depths of his or her being, the "meek" is, ultimately, someone in balance with oneself, with others, and with God. This meekness is to be urgently cultivated. We are not talking about apathy towards life or an attitude of “anything goes” or problems of self-esteem... the challenge is much more profound. It is the challenge of Mahatma Gandhi, Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King  it is the "war of the non-violent."

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall be satisfied"

Anawim and dalim, the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance and the miserably poor, united in the same struggle and determination to regain their lost dignity, their right to be treated as persons, so often denied by the great ones of this earth, by the lords of hatred, of opium, of power, and of death. This beatitude is not about a commitment to change history only for the sake of confrontation, but rather it expresses a willingness to go further; it is close to the experience of hunger and thirst since it touches our innermost being and will only reach its goal when it is satiated.

It is not enough to be "nice"... our society already has enough friendly people.  It is not enough to cultivate the smile of political correctness... Confucius said that “behind the smile are teeth.” Did you ever feel that people were smiling at you on the outside but, on the inside, they really wanted to bite? Did you ever smile at anyone willing to do the same?  Indeed, the challenge is much deeper.  The blatant invitation is to be empathetic. It is not enough to just to be "nice". Consider the word “sympathetic” made up of “sun” and “pathos”, meaning “to suffer with someone”. The urgent urgency of our revolutionary act definitely pushes toward empathy (em + pathos), meaning “to suffer with”, and making the struggle of the others my own... right now, today, at this moment, now and for eternity.

Thus, today is not the time to cross your arms, waiting around the corner of life for eternity to pass.  Rather, today is the time to roll up your sleeves, without fear, and with the courage of those who know in Whom they have put their trust.

“Blessed  are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”

In the Old Testament, two of the central “attributes” of God are mercy and truth (hesed and 'emet).  In this part of the Beatitudes, Matthew identifies the anawim as precisely the people who live this same sense of God. A God of hesed, a God of mercy is ultimately – based on the etymology of the term – a God with guts” or, in a more poetic vein, a God with “a heart”, a God who challenges the anawim to this same attitude toward life.

Far from simply taking poetic liberty for speculative purposes, the invitation of this Beatitude to happiness and bliss is precisely an invitation to having a heart beating to the rhythm of the heart of God – a passionate heart, a heart that is not solitary, a heart that is married to life and to the world, just as God is married to the whole of creation... no exceptions. God is married to all… even to Catholics.

“Blessed  are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”

Inserted in and committed to the story of humankind, the heart that seeks to adjust its pace to the rhythm of God’s heart will "inevitably" find its balance and will be able to recover its original purity. Whoever is able to make this intimate journey cannot fail to find their own balance of being and, in so doing, will have found the first stage that leads to happiness – that of achieving balance with oneself.        

Then, it will be possible to "see God". Then the taboo related to how we see life will fall to the ground. Then, it will be possible to understand that those who "see God" are really those who are able to see the other... because God is not in any distant heaven, but in the here and now, in the life and the time which is already our eternity.

Let us be clear. The God of the Bible, the God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, is not a God of some distant heaven. Our God is a God of the "earth," a “close” God, of the road, of dust and of wind, a God who is a companion, a God that we can call “You”, and, therefore, a God of relationship. That is why God allows us to “see” Him, allows us to touch" Him, and does not preserve himself from entering into a relationship.

“Blessed  are the peacemakers , for they shall be called children of God”

As the text of the Beatitudes becomes more explicit in terms of describing what it means to be "blessed", it now points to a new category of people who bring together all of the attributes outlined above: the peacemakers. It is here that we reach the central concept of the challenge of conversion. Shalom is much more than a concept that speaks of the absence of war. It is, in itself, a concept of wholeness that encompasses all dimensions of life and the relationships of each one with himself, with others, and with God. It is indeed a utopian concept, a challenge to the construction of the future, a dream of eternity, educating to “long for the future”, and the construction of a paradise that never existed but that, by the will of God, all humanity is called to dream and build.

This dream of full equilibrium is present in all cultures, times, peoples, and civilizations. Whether you call it peace, shalom, salaam, morabeza, nirvana, pankasila, metempsychosis, or shanti, humanity will always have this desire written in the depths of its genetic code. It is there that God's plan is really inscribed. The problem resides in humanity’s inability to make a correct reading of its own code – divine and human – merged and intertwined in an upward spiral of complexity / consciousness, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin. Having so much difficulty in understanding the harmony of the movement of this dance, we therefore attempt, too quickly, to build a "personal peace", building instead the "collective war" in the name of God ... and in order to build peace!

And we confuse it all.  Sad is our plight.  We are far too ready to establish peace through war, along the time. The great "cultures" have always been able to find reasons to justify killing in the name of God.  Today, we wonder about recent fundamentalism...

Metanoia, conversion, jihad, are similar concepts with similar meanings. All of them, etymologically, or at least theologically, are associated to the concept of "war" or "holy war". Furthermore, it is – primarily and essentially – a war waged by each on oneself, a struggle to develop the abilities of the self being in its subjective relation with others and with God. Achieving this degree of balance amounts to building peace through war; however, this is a war that sees on the battlefield the "warrior" who does not want to "kill the other" or the "god of the other," but simply to kill his own false gods that keep him from accepting the other and their way of understanding God, seeking a balance that will lead "fatally" to peace.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.”

Well, this actually seemed too good to be true. The text of the Beatitudes lands back into the real world. Having presented the ideal in the face of our possibility, the reader is left in this final portion of the text, to be confronted with the reality of "fate" which waits for anyone who expects to be able to base their life on this set of principles, taken to the last consequences. Persecution, insult, lies, slander, will be the traveling companions of anyone who dares to touch preconceived ideas. There are many other moments throughout history that reveal the fulfillment of this "prophecy". That is why this is the most dangerous and, at the same time, the most revolutionary text of all the history of human literature. So too is it a text whose ultimate meaning can never be hidden.

"To all of you brothers and sisters in Christ and Francis, agents of active solidarity, I leave a sign of my respect and affection for what you mean to me – hearts beating in history, hearts that beat to the rhythm of the heart of God."       

Fr. Fernando Ventura OFM Cap

Literature:                                                              

Ventura, Fernando, Roteiro de Leitura da Bíblia, Ed. Presença, 2009.

Ventura, Fernando, Do Eu solitário do Nós solidário, Ed. Verso de Kapa, 2011.

FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION IN FRATERNITY:

In light of Fr. Fernando’s reflection on the Beatitudes, study and discuss in your fraternity the following texts  in the General Constitutions of the Secular Franciscan Order:

1. "Secular Franciscans should pledge themselves to live the spirit of the Beatitudes and, in a special way, the spirit of poverty." (GGCC Art. 15/1)

2. "Secular Franciscans are called to be bearers of peace in their families and in society: they should see to the proposal and spreading of peaceful ideas and attitudes; they should develop their own initiatives and should collaborate, individually and as a fraternity, with initiatives of the Pope, the local Churches, and the Franciscan Family; they should collaborate with those movements and institutions which promote peace while respecting its authentic foundations." (GGCC Art. 23/1)

3. "Secular Franciscans – called in earlier times "the brothers and sisters of penance" – propose to live in the spirit of continual conversion." (GGCC Art. 13/1)

 

 

 

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