Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: . . .
Whoever will take the trouble to examine with a pious and sober spirit, will find in this sermon a perfect code of the Christian life as far as relates to the conduct of daily life. (St. Augustine)
The Beatitudes are the beginning of the first recorded public preaching of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Just a few verses before this, we read about how Jesus began his ministry: he heard that John was arrested, left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum in Galilee, and there began to preach. After calling the first disciples, he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them (4:23-24). The crowds were there because they had heard Jesus’ preaching, they had seen his ability to heal diseases and infirmities, and they wanted more, they yearned for more.
Their longing for him did not go unnoticed; upon seeing them, he went up on the mountain, sat down, opened his mouth, and taught them. St. Remigius of Auxerre (d. 908) tells us that “[w]herever it is said that the Lord opened His mouth, we may know how great things are to follow.” Great things, indeed—the Beatitudes are among the most sublime teachings of our Lord. As St. Augustine (d. 430) said, “Whoever will take the trouble to examine with a pious and sober spirit, will find in this sermon a perfect code of the Christian life as far as relates to the conduct of daily life.”
As the Lord spoke great things to the crowds gathered around him on the mountain, so today he continues to speak great things to us—God is not silent. The Word, spoken forth from all eternity (cf. Jn 1), speaks to the hearts of men. The Psalms are full of this beautiful image of the Lord speaking to our hearts: I will hear what the Lord God speaks; / he speaks of peace for his people and his faithful / and those who turn their hearts to him (Ps 85:9). When he speaks, he reveals himself to man—and he reveals man to himself (cf. Gaudium et Spes 22).
We learn who we are as adopted sons of God (cf. 1 John 3:1-2)—sons and daughters in the Son—when this divine voice speaks to our hearts, when we hear his Word, who is Christ, the revelation of the Father. God, who adopts us to be his own children, is the same God who made us, created us—and he created us male and female. This shouldn’t be overlooked: it is significant for who man is that he was created in this way, because God’s actions are never meaningless.
But can the Beatitudes really teach us something about having been created male and female, about marriage, about our conjugal relationships? Why, yes they can: for as St. Augustine (d. 428) says, we “find in this sermon a perfect code of the Christian life as far as relates to the conduct of daily life.” Indeed, Pope Francis has spoken about this several times, pointing out that in “proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life”; he has also made the Beatitudes the theme for World Youth Day 2014-16. The Beatitudes tell us how to live on earth—including in our marriages and family lives—so that we may live forever in heaven. (In fact, one way we can see this connection is by noticing that the Beatitudes are one of the options for the Gospel reading in the Rite of Marriage, and they are also the Gospel reading for All Saints’ Day, when we celebrate that God is wonderful in his saints.) In this series, then, we will see in the Beatitudes a sure guide for promoting, preserving, and living the authentic meaning of marriage and family, and thus coming closer on earth to the eternal happiness of heaven.
This series is a guest contribution by a Dominican student brother who has been fulfilling his pastoral ministry assignment by serving as an intern at the USCCB’s Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth.