Striving towards Heaven in today’s culture can be a tough undertaking. Wouldn’t our path be easier if Christ had laid out a step-by-step program for how to know him better? Luckily for us, He does give us an eight step program, instructing us how to find true happiness.
In one of his lesser known homilies, Saint Augustine writes that “anyone who piously and earnestly ponders the Sermon on the Mount—as we read in the Gospel according to Mathew—I believe he will find therein … the perfect standard of the Christian Life.” It’s no coincidence that the word “beatitude” and “beatific” share the same root. After all, both words point us towards true joy and happiness, which can only be found in Christ.
If we desire to see the face of God, we must follow the message of Christ’s very first public sermon. Here’s a quick look at each beatitude mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew – and how we can live out their message in our daily lives!
1. Be humble
Christ tells us that humility is the first step to Heaven and happiness. Speaking to his disciples and the crowd gathered on the mountain, He says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
When we hear the word “poor” we automatically assume Christ was talking about our worldly possessions. But to be poor in spirit is not to be without any material goods. Instead, Christ calls us to a spirit of humility. In his commentary on the beatitudes, Augustine writes that “whoever is puffed up is not poor in spirit.”
Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves. Instead, it is simply thinking of ourselves less (and thinking of the Lord more!). But what does humility look like – how do we know when we’ve spotted someone living out this virtue?
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives us a guideline. He writes, “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”
2. Have contrition for your sins
Christ continues to reveal the path to happiness, saying, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It’s important to note here that Christ is not glorifying and blessing every kind of suffering that enters our lives. He does not condone despair, since that is mourning without hope.
Augustine writes that this beatitude urges Christians to have contrition for their sins. We are to mourn for the damage our sin has done to our relationship with Christ. We also mourn for the sin of others, which has added weight to the cross Christ carried for us. Augustine explains that our “true consolation will be that which gives comfort that will never be lost.”
3. Practice detachment
In our present world that thrives on pride and success, meekness can seem like a foreign concept. But Christ says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”
“Saint Augustine writes that the earth refers to the heavenly kingdom and in another sense, self-possession ordered to Christ that unifies and integrates a community of souls,” explains Steven Rummelsburg.
For those striving to be meek, there is no hurried rush to possess everything the world offers. Instead, there is a gentle understanding that meekness leads to a inheritance of the kingdom of God – and that’s much better than anything the world promises.
4. Hunger for justice
How often in our life have we hungered for something temporal? That raise at work, buying our first home, establishing a name for ourselves. But Christ warns us that these hungers will never be satisfied. Rather, He tells us, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
Augustine encourages us to hunger for the bread that will fill us – Christ. He also encourages us to pray for the virtue of fortitude. “Fortitude corresponds to those hungering and thirsting: for they labor in earnestly desiring joy from things that are truly good, and in eagerly seeking to turn away their love from earthly and corporeal things: and of them it is here said, ‘Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.'”
5. Show mercy
Christ tells us that the merciful are blessed, and that they will be shown mercy. To practice mercy, we must take a hard look at how we treat others in our life. How do we treat our family, friends, and neighbors? How do we interact with those who make us uncomfortable, those who make life harder for us by their actions? What does our interaction with the homeless look like?
In his sermon, Augustine reminds Christians that we ourselves are beggars, homeless here on earth while we wait for our true home in Heaven. Recognizing our own status as a beggar, Augustine writes that “as you treat your beggar, so will God treat his.” He goes on to explain further, saying that “Out of your own fullness fill an empty man, so that your own emptiness may be filled from the fullness of God.”
6. Be single hearted
The Lord tells us,
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
How do we practice this beatitude in our daily lives? First we must ask what purity is: that which is not mixed with anything else. When you buy a pure gold necklace, you are buying a chain made of gold, not mixed with any other precious medals. So those who live out this beatitude seek God out with a purity, a single desire.
“That is a pure heart which is a single heart: and just as this light cannot be seen, except with pure eyes; so neither is God seen, unless that is pure by which He can be seen,” writes Augustine.
7. Become a peacemaker
If we live for the Kingdom of God, we must strive for peace during our life here on earth. Christ tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” And while peace with our brothers and sisters is incredibly important, we must first make peace in our own heart and soul.
“Now, they are peacemakers in themselves who, by bringing in order all the motions of their soul, and subjecting them to reason — i.e. to the mind and spirit — and by having their carnal lusts thoroughly subdued, become a kingdom of God,” Augustine explains.
8. Prepare for persecution
What can those who follow Christ’s eight step plan to happiness expect to find? While the beatitudes lead to happiness, they also lead to persecution. Christ’s last sentence of his first sermon reads: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
If we perfect the first seven beatitudes, we can expect to be ridiculed. Augustine writes: “Let any one who is seeking after the delights of this world and the riches of temporal things under the Christian name, consider that our blessedness is within; as it is said of the soul of the Church by the mouth of the prophet, ‘All beauty of the king’s daughter is within,’ for outwardly reviling and persecution and disparagement are promised; and yet, from these things there is a great reward in heaven, which is felt in the heart of those who endure.”
If we live the way of the beatitudes, the culture will take notice. But our persecution is not in vain – through it we are blessed – even happy! Our persecution offers a chance to unite our sufferings with those of Our Lord. And by uniting with His suffering, we pray also to be united with His Resurrection in the Kingdom of Heaven.