I’ve been thinking about each of these blessings of Jesus, with the promise that I would suggest how to use them as a spiritual discipline.
Happiness for those who want no power over others:
The rule of heaven belongs to them
Happiness for those who grieve:
they will be comforted.
Happiness for the gentle:
they will possess the Land.
Happiness for those who hunger and thirst for justice:
they will be satisfied.
Happiness for those who show mercy:
mercy will be shown to them.
Happiness for those who have clean hearts:
they will see God.
Happiness for the peacemakers:
they will be called God’s children.
Happiness for those persecuted in the cause of good:
the rule of heaven belongs to them.
Happiness for you, when they hurt you and persecute you and slander you for my sake,
Be full of joy and delight
Because the reward which awaits you in heaven is huge.
For in the same way they persecuted your ancestors, the prophets.
Firstly, how can I think that any of these blessings applies to me? I’m not a spectacularly bad person, but nor am I sufficiently good to describe myself as merciful, or gentle, or a peacemaker, especially if these terms designate character traits that last over time. Doubtless Jesus hoped that they might become traits of character, but he offered them to disciples whom he knew to be flaky at times. We can conclude therefore that he did not intend them only for those who are settled in virtue.
Perhaps I can show how they can apply to me, if I take first the one that doesn’t look like a virtue:
happiness for those who grieve:
For they will be comforted.
If I really grieve, the truth of my sorrow links me with all who grieve even if the cause of my grief is different from theirs; no true grief is selfish but is open to being shared even if an actual act of sharing does not take place; shared grieving is one of the fundamental conditions of humanity. I can be reminded of this even when my own life is comparatively fortunate, if I open myself to another’s grief. In the recognition that bad things happen to all and bad things are done and said by all (except the great saints), there is a humour and a happiness that superficial people never know. It is a blessing of tears which promises a time when all tears will be wiped away. It is the happiness of those who grieve and can be discovered by honesty about my own suffering and openness to the suffering of others. Jesus’ blessing directs me towards this honesty and this openness.
But really? Where can any promise of ultimate comfort come from, and without it, can human sharing of grief in any way match the vast and varied history of suffering? Goya looked closely at suffering in his etchings, “The disasters of war” which emphasise that there is no comfort, no possible redemption, as in this one which he entitled, “no hay quien los socorra” – there is no one to rescue them.
Are there any words which can assuage this man’s terrible grief? I’m inclined to say no, but then there is the evidence of the etching itself: another man has seen, and entered into it and borne witness with all his skill to this suffering, in such a way that his desire to share the burden of this poor man is not incredible. And if we could write the same words below an etching of the crucifixion, we might be able to see it as an image of God’s desire to share the burden of those whom no one has rescued. This identification of God with the grieving Jesus is itself resurrection, new life, tears washed away, happiness for all who mourn.
Whether the suffering is heavy or light, Jesus’ blessing invites the laughter of God’s rescue which is to come. I have particularly recognised this in moments when I am grieving my unworthiness for any of the other blessings of Jesus: even this grief, if it is genuine, can allow me to enter the place of shared humanity and shared happiness.
When I’m using the blessings as a spiritual discipline, therefore, I always start with this one, because the grief it blesses is always with me.