Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes

Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes: Receiving the Blessings You Long For

by Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R. (1994)

The primary value of this book is that it gives a modern take on what St. Augustine had (unknown to me) already offered as the pairings of each of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit with each of the eight Beatitudes. It is a very down to earth yet effective book.

Fr. Groeschel assigns each pairing to one of the ascending stages of the spiritual journey: Purgative, Illuminative, and Unitive. These divisions go back to the early days of Christian thought: St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine, among others.

Here is a solid excerpt from early in the book, as the author is getting warmed up. It is from Chapter 2, “Written on Our Hearts”, in a sections called “The Law of the Spirit of Life”:

Why this concern about the gifts of the Holy Spirit? The fact is that we cannot successfully continue or even begin to live the life of the Beatitudes unless we are lifted up “on eagles’ wings” (Ex 19:4) through the improvement of these spiritual gifts. Many people–including clergy and religious–spend a considerable amount of energy on Christian activities such as prayer and good works, yet don’t appear to have a clue as to their ultimate goal, the final destination of their spiritual journey. Even the concept of a spiritual journey often escapes their notice.

Scripture tells us that the gospel abrogated the law given to Moses, and that we follow “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2). But if you were to ask most people where this law of the Spirit of life is to be found or what it entails, they would be hard pressed to tell you.

Some would guess that the law of the Spirit of life means the Sermon on the Mount, or the whole gospel, or all the teachings included in the sacred tradition of the Church and the apostolic teaching. And in fact, all of these sources represent the external, visible, comprehensible, even printable law, if you will. This visible law guides us and is called the law of Christ. But the Fathers of the Church, in an all-but-forgotten teaching, maintain that the “law of the Spirit of life” is written on the heart (or inner being) of the devout follower of Christ.

St. Paul clearly describes the true location of this law: “you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3). In Galatians we are told to “walk by the Spirit,” and that if we are led by the Spirit, we are “not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).

St. John Chrysostom in several sermons speaks of the new law as the Holy Spirit himself. St. Augustine wrote an entire treatise, “De Spiritu et Littera,” where we find the following summary on this important and little-known doctrine: “What else are the laws of God himself poured into our hearts than the presence itself of the Holy Spirit? By his presence love is poured out into our hearts which is the fullness of the law.”

The ultimate location of God’s law is in the heart (or in the center of being) of the individual believer. This teaching has not been popular because it can be misunderstood easily and lead to moral subjectivism. Yet the Holy Spirit can’t write one moral law onto my heart and another one onto yours. We obviously need the “external” moral teaching of Scripture and tradition to keep us from sinking into a quagmire of confusion. At the same time we must remember that this law is inscribed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

– pp. 44-45

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