The term beatitude comes from the Latin noun beātitūdō which means “happiness.” Merriam Webster more appropriately defines it as a state of utmost bliss. What gives us this utmost bliss? Simply, to seek God, to know God, and to serve God, until we live as one with God.
“How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.” St Augustine
In the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us qualities or moral choices that help us attain happiness. In a sermon on the topic, Bishop Robert Barron divided the beatitudes into four that teach us what qualities to seek and the four that teach us what qualities to avoid.
Qualities to seek:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” God is love and God is compassion. When we allow the Divine to dwell within us we project that as mercy. We must not only experience the feeling of compassion, we must also express the mercy through acts, through spiritual and corporal works.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Jesus often criticized the Pharisees for been preoccupied with external cleanliness, yet had evil in their hearts. To know Divine bliss we need to, with the grace of God, strive to avoid sins and practice virtues. To seek to be and act in the world, while always in the presence of Christ.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Jesus not only asks us to be righteous, meaning to live a holy and just life pleasing to God, but to desire it with all our being. To want it as much as we hunger for food and thirst for water. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” To be supremely happy we must be at peace with ourselves, our life, and our past. But as importantly, we should help create peace among our brothers and sisters in our family, workplace, and community.
Qualities to avoid
In thinking about the qualities to avoid, it is helpful the recall what Thomas Aquinas said about the most common substitutes for finding happiness in God: wealth, pleasure, power and honor.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Poor in spirit could be interpreted as being humble, but we can also think of it as not craving wealth over God, to practice abandonment to Divine Providence.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We can interpret this mourning, as been conscious of our sins and the sins of others, and mourning the offenses. Often the desire for immediate and unrestrained pleasures lead to sin and to eventual suffering. Blessed are those not addicted to pleasure over God.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” There are many teachings in the Bible exalting the virtue of humility. To know that all of who we are, all that we are able to achieve, we owe to God. We can be tempted to seek power for its own sake, and become so full of ourselves that we don’t leave any room for God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those that are not preoccupied with their own honor, their desire to be liked, and are willing to have people mock them or reject them for living a life of righteousness, mercy and justice, a life in keeping with a pure heart.
To be truly happy, to be in a state of utmost bliss, is to be in perfect unity with the Blessed Trinity.
References: Beatitudes sermon by Bishop Robert Baron, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2.12, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary