Balancing the Beatitudes

I’ve been having this pining voice telling me recently to look more deeply into the Beatitudes, which I’ve been trying to swat away like an annoying gnat.

UGH, they’re so… SIMPLISTIC… beautiful, but face it – boring.

I think it’s because they’re the basics, you know, like learning how to walk.  As an adult it’s difficult to get excited about putting one foot in front of another when there are so many more exciting things like running, jumping, flipping… the BIG STUFF!   We’ll get to that later… for now this “Beatitude Bug” is buzzing in my ear – sookay, okay… let’s review:

Matthew 5:3-12 are the “eight classics”, the ones we learned in Catechism class in 1st Grade, when Jesus is giving his Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. 
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. 
Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So, after a little pondering and reflection I went on read the far less discussed ones that are in Luke 6:20-23, where Jesus gives his Sermon on the Plain:
Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!  Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

These intrigue me much more, not because it says anything greatly different from its counterpart in Matthew, but because of what immediately follows in the very next verses… “The Woes”…
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

These scare me to death!!!

Now wait… I’m sure I can justify my way through those.

I’m certainly not wealthy or living in luxury (at least when I get to chose who I’m comparing myself to)…
I have to bargain shop at the grocery story (but I’ve never gone hungry)…
I’ve struggled with depression (but I don’t live a miserable life)…
I’m certainly not a cult of personality (but I do have many wonderful friends who speak nothing but kind words to me and my family)…

WOE to ME!????
That’s hard to swallow.

It is important to really keep ourselves in check, though.  It’s so easy to justify ourselves on the side of holiness.  How often are we quick to judge other people in our hearts?

We judge people by the way they dress…
We judge people by the cars they drive…
We judge people simply by their behavior…

Oh, I’ve done it!  You know the ones who are dressed all fancy-schmancy, all dolled up in their makeup and jewelry, driving their luxury sedans, always smiling, with their “perfect little families”, nothing religious on the facebook page, not even a blog post about their personal religious insights – the SHAME!!  I can point out all the Sadducees and play the part of the Pharisee with the best of ’em! (hey, you’ve got an eyelash in your eye – here, I’ll get it!).

How often do we look at these people with disdain – hoping that the “karma” of the Beatitudes will get them in the end?  We make assumptions without getting to truly KNOW others.  Appearances do NOT always tell the whole story.
Recently God has been opening my eyes more and more to realize how meaningless appearances truly are – on both ends of the spectrum!  Sometimes holiness drives a luxury car, and sometimes anger and cruelty are masked with religious effects.
It’s far more enlightening than I expected it to be.

Living the Beatitudes is kinda like walking on a very narrow balance beam.  Even the “basics”, like putting one foot in front of the other, is a lot more challenging when you’re trying to balance – not to mention the “BIG STUFF” like running, jumping, and flipping!
We already know we shouldn’t become complacent and fall towards sin, or lead others to sin, through our appearances – that one’s easy!  We also should be on guard to avoid such overwhelming scrupulosity that we build up an outward image of holiness that we aren’t even close to actually living up to ourselves.

It’s TOUGH to keep a healthy balance!

6 comments
  • richardJanuary 16, 2012 - 5:31 am

    A neat way to help avoid turning in on ourselves is to pray and work for the salvation of souls.ReplyCancel

    • EmilyJanuary 16, 2012 - 9:04 am

      I agree completely, Richard!
      But my point was not about turning in on ourselves – I don’t believe that is the challenge for most readers of a blog like this (ie, those searching and reading about Catholic lifestyles)… but rather falling too far to the other side and becoming judgmental (in our hearts, not judging them eternally) of outward appearances.
      Sometimes those that we think need our prayers (by all outward appearances) actually have quite vibrant and deep prayer lives themselves. We wrongly assume these lost souls need our prayers, and instead we should be asking for theirs.
      Appearances CAN be deceiving.ReplyCancel

  • EmilyJanuary 16, 2012 - 9:24 am

    I should add that part of the inspiration for this post came from recently reading about St. Frances of Rome. She had found herself in a challenging situation and found an unexpected spiritual friendship with her sister-in-law Vannozza. Vannozza, by outward appearances, was not someone Frances envisioned as devout.
    Enjoy my inspiration:
    http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=49ReplyCancel

  • Gina NakagawaJanuary 16, 2012 - 10:32 am

    This is an excellent post with much nutritious food for thought. Yes, Christ wanted us to be close to Him and totally balanced. Simple to perceive, but very difficult to do. He left us the example and the means. We just have to do the “do.”ReplyCancel

  • richardJanuary 16, 2012 - 10:40 am

    Emily,

    Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • AdrienneJanuary 16, 2012 - 6:34 pm

    Emily, great post!

    While I love my comfortable home, I sometimes wonder how much I should be thanking God for all of my blessings. I am *very* comfortable (we’re not rich, but middle class America is very comfy). I realize that He’s not challenging me much in my physical world, and it makes me wonder… does He view me as weak?

    On the flip side, I am terrible about jumping to conclusions about others! As of late, I’ve been trying to build a new habit to replace that bad one. When I realize I’m focusing too much on someone’s “flaws” I switch and pray for God’s blessings upon them. That shakes me out of a lot of bad thoughts!!ReplyCancel