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Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Our celebration of All Saints began last night with Vespers. As part of the service we sing the Beatitudes, which we then hear again proclaimed in the gospel at the vigil and then at Mass. This helps keep them in my mind all through the feast. Sometimes approaching the Beatitudes can be a bit bewildering, I don’t know which one to focus on and focussing on all of them together can be a bit overwhelming.

Today I haven’t had that difficulty, each time I encountered the Beatitudes the same words leapt out at me:

“How blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.”

They have particular resonance because I’m so aware of how desperately the world needs peace at this time. So many people are having their lives torn apart by in these times when war is causing so much pain and suffering in so many places.

It’s left me reflecting on this essential call to make peace. It can sometimes appear to be a soft option, but that’s not the case. It requires commitment, courage and strength. To be peacemakers we have to find ways of working round personal hurts and grievances, however justified.

We’re called to be open and vulnerable, to acknowledge the hurts we carry and to do all we can to heal the hurts of others. Peacemakers are called to reach out across barriers that can seem insurmountable in trust and hope.

Where is Christ calling you to be a peacemaker today?

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Rejoice and be glad

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I normally think of the Beatitudes as full of promise and invitation so I was a bit surprised the two words that jumped out at me from today’s gospel were “calumny” and “persecuted”. On reflection I realised that given the times we are living in I maybe shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was. This has left me pondering a dilemma, how do we allow ourselves to trust the promises and invitation Christ gives us when life is hard, challenging and uncertain?

The Beatitudes invite us to:
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

It seems to me that this is a real possibility when life is relatively easy, or at least seems manageable. It’s a lot harder to hold onto that promise, and respond to the Christ’s invitation in hard times. We can of course spiritualise the Beatitudes, telling ourselves that the promise is for eternal life, and not for this earthly life.

If I’m honest that doesn’t seem to be quite enough to sustain us through challenging times. Christ’s invitation, his call to rejoice, and his promise of new life as much to sustain us in this earthly life as they are for the next.

Even when it feels like we are surrounded on all sides by calumny and persecution he calls us to discover glimmers of blessings, love and hope in the most unlikely of circumstances. This is the challenge that comes with the promise and invitation of the Beatitudes.

Where is Christ challenging you to look for glimmers of hope today?

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The challenge of the Kingdom

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Luke’s Beatitudes are challenging read. Unlike Matthew, whose focus is on the spiritual attributes of the Beatitudes, Luke links them much more to the grim material reality of poverty and hunger. For those of us who live materially comfortable lives it gives them a stark urgency, showing us precisely how different the values of the kingdom are from our human values.

Almost everything he lists as blessed, we would choose to call cursed, and vice versa. His words remind me that if we are to follow Christ we have to choose to live by values that are not the world’s. We have to be prepared both to rock the boat and to live with the consequences of that:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven.”

They have particular resonance as we face a cost of living crisis that is driving many more people into poverty. It seems to me that they call us question a status quo that leaves so many unable to meet their most basic needs while others, including ourselves, have so much more than needed.

They call us to look hard at our own lives, the choices we make and how they impact on other people. Their concern with the material reality of life remained us that the call to build the kingdom is not just about our heavenly future. It is a call to do all we can to make it possible for everybody have the material basics they need to live life with dignity.

How are you allowing the challenge of the Beatitudes to shape the choices you make in daily life?

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Hidden blessings.

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Listening to Luke’s beatitudes in today’s gospel I’m struck by how challenging they are. Often their promise of “blessing” or “happiness” seems a long way from the circumstances they describe. We know that the reality of poverty, hunger or mourning rarely leave us feeling either “happy” or “blessed”. This reflection by Fr Denis McBride helped deepen my understanding of the text. He writes:

“The beatitudes are not prescriptions for becoming poor or hungry or mournful or afflicted…they give instances of what happens when the kingdom arrives in this broken world. They speak of a variety of experiences that people go through as a result of getting involved in God’s way of doing things. So there is the promise that God can handle the poverty, the hunger, the tears, the rejection.”

His words cast the Beatitudes in a new light for me, rather than being prescriptive they show us the way that the promise of God’s Kingdom can transform even our most challenging experiences and circumstances. They remind me that whatever we face, however painful the circumstances we live in the God is with us, God can handle whatever we’re living, whatever we have to face.

The transformative power of the promise of the Kingdom can bring real blessing into our lives however bleak our circumstances. In these challenging times that is a consoling thought.

Where are you discovering blessing in the midst of challenging circumstances?

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Building the kingdom

Approaching the end of the liturgical year and preparing for Advent draws our thoughts to the coming of the Messiah. It seems appropriate then that my last Beatitudes post also turns our attention to the Kingdom we long for:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

The final two beatitudes carry a warning alongside their promises. Jesus is always very direct with his disciples about the cost of following him. Truly to live by the values of the kingdom as he lays them out in the beatitudes is not easy. To live in that way risks causing painful misunderstandings and can lay us open to persecution.

Even with the best of intentions, and with the purest motives, our love, care and concern for others will not always be well received or understood. When that happens the temptation is to give up, to walk away from the situation.

This beatitude points us a different direction. Taking us back to the first beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in spirit” it calls us to revisit our motivations when our actions are misunderstood. We can ask ourselves what really compelled us to act. Were we really motivated by the best interests of others or did some part of us want recognition for our actions? Did we really offer help freely enough to allow it to be accepted or rejected?

It calls us to keep relying on God’s grace in every situation. Even when we are misjudged or misunderstood, even when our motivations are mixed, it calls us to keep trusting that grace and to persevere in building the kingdom however challenging the circumstances.

Where are you being called to persevere in building the kingdom today?

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Becoming peacemakers

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“Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be recognised as children of God.”

Peace is something we all desire. Deep in our hearts we recognise its value and know how necessary it is for human flourishing. Yet in practice it can seem almost impossible to achieve. A quick glance at the news shows a world torn by conflict, with each one having devastating effects on the lives of ordinary people.

Living in times as troubled as our own St Benedict understood the importance of peace. In every aspect of the rule, from his planning of the liturgy to the distribution of goods, St Benedict seeks to organise daily life in a way that allows peace to flourish.

In one of my favourite quotes he tells the cellarer of the monastery that everything is to be organised so that:

No one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.”

Reflecting on his words I’m aware that peace is something we need to cultivate and nurture. While it is an inner disposition, it is also in many ways a very practical concept. We can choose to arrange our lives in ways that promote peace or undermine it.

Like the cellarer of the monastery we are called to think first about the well-being of others rather than our own needs. If we are able to do that, even in the smallest ways, we will be helping to build communities where peace can grow and people can flourish.

Where are you being called to make peace today?

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Pure in heart.

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

This beatitude is a call to look inwards, to examine the motivations that prompt our actions and behaviour. It reminds us that important as our actions are, they are not enough by themselves. Our actions have to be motivated by the love that is the heart of Christian faith.

Reflecting on this beatitude takes me back to the rule of St Benedict in his chapter on obedience St Benedict writes:

“The disciple’s obedience must be giving gladly, for God loves a cheerful giver. If a disciple obeys grudgingly and grumbles… in their heart, then even though they carry out the order, their action will not be accepted with favour by God, who sees they are grumbling in their hearts.”

We’ve all been in situations where we’ve responded to a request with a grudging heart, saying yes when we would prefer to say no. We silence the discomfort this brings by telling ourselves that it least the task was completed. Sometimes that is truly all we can manage. Yet, this beatitude reminds us that it is not enough. If we truly want to follow Christ, then our actions need to flow from a heart filled with love.

The call to purity of heart is a call to seek God, to spend time in God’s presence so that we can learn to love as God loves. It carries with it a promise that if we give our attention wholeheartedly to seeking God we will come to recognise the transforming presence of God in our lives.

What enables you to give your whole attention to seeking God’s presence in your life?

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Mercy and Compassion

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“Blessed are the merciful, they shall have mercy shown them.”

The need to both give and receive mercy unites us all. However well intentioned our actions we all fall short, make mistakes, fail, cause hurt to others. We also all have the experience of being hurt and wounded by others. So whatever else we experience we can be sure that we all stand together in our need to forgive and to be forgiven. As well as taking us to the heart of our faith this beatitude touches the very core of what it is to be human.

It takes us back to the Lords prayer with it’s call to a forgiveness based firmly on our experience of the loving forgiveness we receive from God. It turns us both inwards to examine our hearts and outwards to reach out towards others. Reflecting on mercy William Barclay writes:

“Mercy is the reverse of self-centredness… It is the attitude of a person for whom the needs of others are more important than their own and the sorrows of others more poignant.”

His words capture the essence of mercy, reminding me that it is rooted in compassion. Mercy draws us out of ourselves to offer healing, hope and reconciliation to others. It calls us to imitate the love of Christ. It asks us to make ourselves vulnerable, risking misunderstanding and rejection to rebuild broken relationships and communities. It seems to me that even to take the first tentative steps in being merciful we need to be able to accept our need of Christ’s mercy in our own lives.

Where do you need to accept the mercy of Christ in your life today?

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Desire and fulfilment

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Jesus says to his followers:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness they shall have their fill.”

It seems to me that the heart of this beatitude is desire and passion. At its heart is the passion of love that fuels our desire for communion with God. That love does not exist in a vacuum, our loving relationship with God soon spills over into a concern for the well-being of others. Our knowledge of God leads us to care passionately for all God’s creatures. It leads us to want to build communities based on fairness, justice, respect and equality for all God’s children.

This can quickly come to seem like an impossible task, and it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed by the needs of the world. This beatitude shows us a way to around that. If our care for others comes from our relationship of love with God, we have a sustaining source to nurture us when we feel overwhelmed by the suffering we see around us.

Prayer keeps us humble, able to acknowledge and accept the limitations of our actions. It can remind us that we can’t (and are not called) to solve all the worlds problems. It can compel us to do what we can to alleviate the suffering in front of us, however large or small that is, and to put the rest into the hands of the God whose love sustains us all.

How is your desire for justice fuelled by your prayer?

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Mourning and consolation

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Jesus tells his followers:
“Blessed that those who mourn: they shall be comforted.”
In the wake of the Covid pandemic this third Beatitude seems particularly relevant. It resonates deeply with the experience we’ve lived through in the past 18 months. Suffering, and the grief and mourning it brings has always been part of human experience, but they are particularly present in the face of a pandemic that has left us with much to grieve over.

Our grief covers a whole spectrum. There are the griefs that we recognise as significant and life changing, and there are other griefs that we dismiss as small or less significant. Wherever our grief falls on that spectrum Covid has left us all mourning. As we begin tentatively to rebuild our lives it’s tempting to turn away from that truth, to push it aside, denying it or burying it.

Jesus calls us to take a different approach. In his life he was not afraid to acknowledge his pain. He wept openly with Martha and Mary at the death of their brother, and again over the fate of Jerusalem. To show our pain can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, especially in a society that expects us to be in control and on top of things. This beatitude reminds us that it’s important to acknowledge and to share our grief. It is by creating spaces in our lives where we can mourn our losses together that we will find the comfort and consolation that Jesus promises us.

Where do you need to be consoled at this time in your life?