At first glance at the Beatitudes one would be forgiven for thinking that this list was aimed at the suffering soul on their way to sainthood; with words such as ‘mourn’ or ‘persecute’ it doesn’t seem to be a list that would conjure up any feelings of joy. However, it is only when we start to unpack these words and bring them into the relevancy of our own lives that we begin to see that not only are Jesus’s words accessible, they are life giving.
In my work with young people we strive to enable them to be their perfect self, this does not mean looking good, having wealth, being the wittiest or most intelligent or most popular. Happiness and inner peace is a journey of selflessness and love and the Beatitudes perfectly reflect the way. Although the layout of the Beatitudes appear as if our blessings and happiness are at the end of our journey, we find that it is living out the beatitudes that true happiness can be achieved.
‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
In life, we play a variety of roles, dependent on the audience around us. We hide behind a mask keeping our true vulnerable self, hidden, for fear of rejection, ridicule. Imagine reaching a stage in life where you can be free of your mask, feel self-worth and know that you are loved unconditionally by God. It is in that space that we receive inner peace, a space where reality occurs and fakeness disappears. Jesus, help us to realise our true self.
Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
I often tell the young people to imagine a bottle within them. This bottle is there to collect all the tears we prevent from falling. But the bottle is only so big and the more we bottle these tears the more it fills until one day it is full and all the mourning we suppressed begins to overflow with a deep sadness which can scare us and depresses us. Tears enable us to mourn for our loss, separation, injustice. Jesus, help us to realise that it is only in mourning that we can journey through the hurt and that we can offer our heavy hearts to God for comfort.
Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage. We witness a lot of hate and violence these days not only in action but in words. How wonderful to be gentle, to have the self-control not to engage in words that hurt others and hurt ourselves. Many is the time we speak first and think later and are left with regret and sadness at our own actions. Jesus, help us to be gentle. Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
We try to instil in our young people that self-worth and self-value is grown from self-lessness. We do not have to look far to see injustice and we can turn a blind eye towards it. But it is only when we reach out and support those who need our help that our own self-worth grows. It is when we turn our backs on those who need us that emptiness and bitterness begin to grow. Jesus, help us to hunger and thirst for what is right.
Happy the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them. Forgiveness and mercy are a gift to us. It is only when we truly forgive that we are lifted out of the feelings of hatred and self-pity. So, although God in turn will show mercy towards us, it is in being merciful that we can find peace. Jesus, help us to forgive.
Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God.
One of the exercises we do with young people is called the Fish Bowl. We ask each of them to write their name in the bowl to reflect how they are feeling about themselves at this moment in time. The higher they write their name in the bowl the happier they are within themselves. This exercise then leads into the discussion of what makes us feel good about ourselves and what makes us feel bad about ourselves. It is in these spaces that we begin to see how we live our day, what we surround ourselves with, our daily influences. We then begin to categorise them into positive and negative influences and it is at this stage of the exercise that we begin to realise how much of our day is filled with negative influences that effect our heart, our mind, our body and our soul. These negative influences make us feel sad, lonely, worthless, insecure, angry, etc. The challenge is to replace the negative with positive activities and influences that help to build that pure heart, mind, body and soul. Jesus, help us to be pure in heart.
Happy the peacemakers: they shall be called sons of God.
When we think of peace we think of happiness, inner joy, relaxing, at one with ourselves. We think sometimes that peace is outside of ourselves, it is on the walk we need to take, it is in the programme we need to watch, it is from the person we need to talk to, when really, peace is waiting within, for that moment when we stop to connect with God and hand over all our anxieties in the knowledge that He will take them and console us. We work to enable our young people to practice that hope and peace in their lives. Jesus, help us to find true peace in God and in turn become true peacemakers.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Today more than ever, we are challenged to understand the cause of right. We can feel silenced by the shouts of others that try to blind us to the truth. Happiness is knowing that we choose the right cause even within that persecution. Unhappiness and despondency comes from doing nothing. Jesus, help us to have courage and stand up for what is right, even if we are persecuted for it.
‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’ The beatitudes ask us to reject the world’s version of happiness, riches, indulgence, self-motivation, as these all lead to unrest, unhappiness and emptiness and it is only in fulfilling acts of love and selflessness that we can be truly happy.
Jesus, help us not to meander through life led and moulded by the dictates of this world. Help us to live according to God’s will as it is only in fulfilling our true potential that true peace and happiness exists. Amen
By Colette O’Doherty
Director of Religious Education & Youth Ministry