Tag Archives: Beatitudes

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration

by Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict XVI (2007)

This book could be Pope Benedict’s version of “What I did on my summer vacation.” True. When it comes to theology this pope was a trekkie in every sense of the word. And I love him for it. I love that he didn’t let his job as the keeper of the papacy hold him down. He just had the good taste to make sure he did this stuff on his own time.¬† Not that he let that give him an excuse for shoddy workmanship. This book was world class all the way.

My favorite parts are the entire chapter on The Lord’s Prayer and the chapter on the parables, with particular mention to his treatment of The Good Samaritan. Another tip of the hat goes to the part called “The Dispute Concerning the Sabbath” in the chapter on the Sermon on the Mount.

From the last chapter, Chapter Ten, “Jesus Declares His Identity”, we have an excerpt from a section called “The Son of Man”:

Let us turn now to the scriptural passages themselves. We saw that the first group of sayings about the Son of Man refers to his future coming. Most of these occur in Jesus’ discourse about the end of the world (cf. Mk 13:24-27) and in his trial before the Sanhedrin (cf. Mk 14:62). Discussion of them therefore belongs in the second volume of this book. There is just one important point that I would like to make here: They are sayings about Jesus’ future glory, about his coming to judge and to gather the righteous, the “elect.” We must not overlook, however, that they are spoken by a man who stands before his judges, accused and mocked: In these very words glory and the Passion are inextricably intertwined.

Admittedly, they do not expressly mention the Passion, but that is the reality in which Jesus finds himself and in which he is speaking. We encounter this connection in a uniquely concentrated form in the parable about the Last Judgment recounted in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46), in which the Son of Man, in the role of judge, identifies himself with those who hunger and thirst, with the strangers, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned–with all those who suffer in this world–and he describes behavior toward them as behavior toward himself. This is no mere fiction about the judge of the world, invented after the Resurrection. In becoming incarnate, he accomplished this identification with the utmost literalism. He is the man without property or home who has no place to lay his head (cf. Mt 8:19; Lk 9:58). He is the prisoner, the accused, and he dies naked on the Cross. The identification of the Son of Man who judges the world with those who suffer in every way presupposes the judge’s identity with the earthly Jesus and reveals the inner unity of Cross and glory, of earthly existence in lowliness and future authority to judge the world. The Son of Man is one person alone, and that person is Jesus. This identity shows us the way, shows us the criterion according to which our lives will one day be judged.

– pp. 327-328

Not everything in this volume is as readable as the passage above, but the entire thing is worth the challenge.




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

The Sanctifier

The Sanctifier

by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez (2003; originally 1957 (English))

I had almost forgotten how good this book is. Luckily I had left a few bookmarks throughout the book that helped me locate the parts that really made an impact on me. Archbishop Martinez is an enjoyable writer to read, which I had really forgotten. Strange, as I had read this only about two years ago. Not so strange, perhaps, due to the other good books I have read since then.

Martinez, a Mexican archbishop, wrote this sometime before his death in 1956. It was promptly translated into English and published a year later, with an observation by the translator that this was overdue. That hint is the closest I can come to determining when the original Spanish edition was released.

There is an abridged version of this called True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, which leaves off the fourth and final–and worthwhile–section on the Beatitudes. So be warned that an online shopper might be prompted to purchase both of them together, with that ever-present suggestion, “readers who bought this, bought that”. If they did, they shouldn’t have.

(You can read a few pages, common to both, from the abridged edition.)

After a section consisting of a succession of short topical chapters that share the title of the aforementioned abridged edition, follow a section on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (first referenced by the prophet Isaiah) and another on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (which ought to be familiar to anyone who has read the epistles of St. Paul).

I particularly like his treatment of the Gifts, as he always gives a hierarchy of each gift. For instance, about the Gift of Counsel, he first talks about natural human prudence by which we conduct our worldly affairs. Then he speaks about supernatural virtuous prudence through which we navigate the difficulties of life. Finally he goes into divine prudence, which he tells us is the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, describing it as the equivalent of getting advice from above the level of our intelligence, and further outlining three degrees of progress in this gift. I can hardly do it justice in one summary paragraph, so I encourage you to read it for yourself.

I will give an excerpt, though. I would be tempted to take it from Chapter 18 of Part I, “Our Response to Christ Crucified”, but it would be too lengthy. Indeed, it would be tempting to offer most if not all of that chapter. Instead I give you something shorter from Part IV “The Beatitudes”. Here follows a relatively short passage from Chapter 8, ‘The Seventh Beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Mt. 5:9)’:

The fruit of wisdom and love is peace. But have we not said that peace was produced in the soul by the virtues and gifts proper to the earlier stages? Did not the first three beatitudes bring peace by tearing out of the soul the roots of restlessness? And did not justice and mercy establish proper relations with others?

The work accomplished by the active life was indeed a work of peace, but it was negative. It was the war that prepared the peace by shattering our enemies; it was the relentless sickle that prepared the harvest by cutting down the weeds; it was the strong wind that hurried the dark clouds along so that the sun might shine.

Pure peace is something divine that only wisdom and love can produce. To be peaceful, it is not enough to live in sweet concord with our brother. It is not sufficient to have all our powers in tranquil harmony under the empire of the will. Rather, all the desires of the soul must be fused in one single divine desire, all flowing as one great torrent, with no scattered currents of affection anywhere. The soul must be simple as God is simple, so that all things can be unified.

– pg. 338

(NOTE: The term “simple” as used above is not meant in the usual sense to convey any of: unintelligent, uncomplicated, humble, or unadorned, which are all common meanings of the word. Here it is used in the less-common sense of “undivided; whole; not complex; not made of many constituent parts each subject to analysis”. This is a recurring connotation that you will run into in many spiritual writings.)

Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue: Traditional Moral Wisdom for Modern Moral Confusion

by Peter Kreeft (1992; originally as For Heaven’s Sake , 1986)

Dr. Kreeft (pronounced “crayft”) is a Boston College philosophy professor and C. S. Lewis enthusiast/scholar. And he is one heck of a writer. He has a talent for clearing up a confusion the reader was not aware they even had, until he cleared it up for them. That is quite an achievement. It takes somebody of both talent and advanced education to accomplish that, without making the reader feel inferior or without introducing yet another confusion in the process.

The strongest part of the book is the latter half where he pits the Seven Deadly Sins against the Beatitudes in a match-up whose outcome is clearly never in doubt, but also never lacking in interest to the reader.

Here are a couple excerpts from Chapter Seven, “Poor in Spirit vs. Proud in Heart”:

Pride is not the same as vanity. In fact vanity, though it is a sin, shows some humility. For if I think I need your admiration, then I do not feel wholly independent of you, above you. The truly proud person couldn’t care less of what others think of him.

– pp. 99-100

In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis says that God appears to us like an uncle to a slum child playing with mudpies in the street, offering us a vacation at the seaside, but we stick to our mudpies. We are too easily content. Poverty of spirit is not mediocrity and cheap contentment; it is exactly the opposite; it is detachment from the mudpies for love of the sea. The Buddhist and the Stoic and the “peace of mind addict” teach detachment for the sake of tranquility or nirvana, but the Christian wants to be unclothed with the world and the goods of the body and the body itself only to be reclothed with Heaven and the resurrection body. Christ opposes selfish desire only to replace it with unselfish desire, not with emptiness. We are to be spiritually poor only for the sake of becoming spiritually rich, detached from what we can own so that we can be attached in a different way to what we cannot own, detached from consuming so that we can be consumed by God.

– pg. 106

Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom

Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom

by Thomas Dubay, S.M. (2003, originally 1981)

This may be the single hardest book to read I have ever encountered. It masterfully challenged assumptions I took for granted. It’s like a bucket of cold water thrown in your face.

What makes this book most difficult of all is that it holds up an ideal that seems to be unattainable. Yet it will change you for the better, if you let it. I know I changed a lot of my economic habits as a result of this book. I continue to realize ways in which I fall short, but I am better off for these realizations than if I never had them. I keep trying and trying to approach even the resemblance of attaining the ideal held out by this book. And I continue to be humbled as I uncover new ways (old really–just new to my consciousness) in which I fall way, way short.

I should add that Fr. Dubay gives one area where you should not skimp: spiritual reading material. Give yourself a generous allowance for that. Good advice I have found.