Scribbles, &c.

The Beatitudes

Jesus of Nazareth, a personal meditation by Pope Benedict XVI on the person of Christ, focuses on the portion of Jesus' public life from His baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. The little book is dense, which ought to come as no surprise given Benedict’s extensive academic background. I say this to say that it’s slow going.

Proceeding through the Sermon on the Mount, the Holy Father offered this meditation on the second Beatitude:

Let us go back to the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4). Is it good to mourn and declare mourning blessed? There are two kinds of mourning. The first is the kind that has lost hope, that has become mistrustful of love and truth, and that therefore eats away and destroys man from within. But there is also the mourning occasioned by a shattering encounter with the truth, which leads man to undergo conversion and to resist evil. This mourning heals, because it teaches man to hope and to love again. Judas is an example of the first kind of mourning: Struck with horror at his own fall, he no longer dares to hope and hangs himself in despair. Peter is an example of the second kind: Struck by the Lord’s gaze, he bursts into healing tears that plow up the soil of his soul. He begins anew and is himself renewed.

Some time ago, I was talking to a priest about confession, and one of the things that I told him was that I was having a bit of trouble with the examination of conscience forms that you find online in various places. They generally follow the Ten Commandments, and frankly I found myself having a difficult time finding myself in them. On the other hand, I couldn’t for a moment believe that I’d spent the weeks since my last confession in a state of complete perfection. Oh sure, there was the usual collection of venial sins, but what could I go to re-frame self-examination? He suggested that I begin looking to the Beatitudes. This turned out to be really good advice, for where the Decalogue is pretty cut-and-dried (“Do not kill,” even allowing for all of those things that stop short of actual murder but nevertheless gravely harm the spirit of another), the Beatitudes force the reader to put himself into the place of, for example, a peacemaker.

What would the blessed peacemaker look like? How would he react in this particular situation, or how would he respond conflicts large and small? And, then: was this me? Did I live this out? What action, stillness, word, or silence did I omit, thus falling short? We first have to dare to imagine what the blessed look like. Well not entirely imagine - the example stands before us in the person of Christ. We have to imagine a hunger and thirst for righteousness, see ourselves hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of the kingdom and all that entails. Then and only then are we animated to act and speak, or more importantly, remain still and silent. With God’s grace, we will be the peacemakers, poor in spirit, and meek He described.

Jesus of Nazareth extensively quotes Jacob Neusner’s A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, which will probably wind up on my to-read list shortly. It seems to have been favorably reviewed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and looks to be an excellent follow-on to Sacks and Soloveitchik.