Parish Resource - Rauh

catechetical-sunday-2015-poster-english-spanish-animatedHuman Dignity and the Beatitudes

by Jill Rauh
Assistant Director (now Director) of Education and Outreach, Secretariat of Justice, Peace and Human Development
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven." Matthew 5:3-12

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-26 are at the heart of Jesus' teaching. They describe as "blessed" those who are poor, mourning, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.Who is "blessed" today?

In the 1980s, Sr. Esther Hugues, a Minim Daughter of Mary Immaculate, encountered refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua who were fleeing violence caused by civil wars and political repression. "I experienced firsthand the deep desire of Central American migrants to find a better, safer life for themselves and their families." Active in the Sanctuary Movement, in which congregations and other religious institutions provided shelter, food, and legal help to these refugees, Sr. Esther recalls, "More than once these persons would share with me that once they saw the cross on our school chapel, their hope was revived, and they knew they would be safe." Blessed are the merciful, indeed!

For the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Beatitudes are the "synthesis" of Christ's teaching. They describe ways of being and acting that are "fundamental" to followers of Christ (The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct [TBM] [Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV), 2008], no. 47).

The Profile of a "Blessed" Person

What are these fundamental characteristics? What is the profile of a "blessed" person?

First, those who are poor in spirit (or simply "poor," in the Lucan version of the Beatitudes), "live in a precarious situation." They are "wholly dependent on God" (TBM, no. 47). It is not surprising that Jesus would call the poor blessed. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, those who are most vulnerable, including the widow, orphan, and stranger, are the ones on whom God bestows special care and concern. Who in your community is most vulnerable? What special care and concern can you share with these "blessed" ones in imitation of God's own tender love?

Next, the afflicted "do not turn in upon themselves but compassionately participate in the necessities and sufferings of others" (TBM, no. 47). Sr. Esther is now elementary principal at Lourdes Catholic School. Sr. Barbara Mosegur is principal of the high school. The school is in Nogales, Arizona, near the United States–Mexico border, known by locals as "Ambos Nogales," or "both Nogales." The poverty just across the border is devastating. Sr. Esther and Sr. Barbara engage students to serve at the Comedor, a soup kitchen on the border for deported migrants. There, students hear firsthand "

The third Beatitude lifts up the meek—those who "do not use violence but respect their neighbors" (TBM, no. 47). Sr. Esther and Sr. Barbara seek to build bridges across borders, cultures, and differences. One way they do this is by accepting students at the school from both sides of the border. In fact, Sr. Esther, who was born in northern Mexico, first came to the United States on a student visa—to study at Lourdes Catholic School! She knows firsthand the transformation that happens when students meet their neighbors from across the border. Sr. Esther says, "We instill in [our students] the conviction that for God, there are no borders or other human-made boundaries or distinctions."

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness seek to make God's vision for the world a reality (TBM, no. 47)—where "evil will have been vanquished, justice reinstated, and humanity's craving for life and peace fully satisfied" (TBM, no. 43). Sr. Barbara engages high school students in the work of the Kino Border Initiative ( to meet with their congressional representatives to urge just and comprehensive immigration reform, and to organize and participate in events to educate themselves and others about border issues. Children of a merciful God, Sr. Esther says, must always be

Next, the merciful "offer active help to the needy and are ready to grant pardon" (TBM, no. 47). "What we hope all of our students experience is that all human beings have the right to basic needs (food, shelter, dignity, just wages), regardless of human-made borders," Sr. Esther says. Yet, the attitude encouraged by the media—and prevalent in the surrounding community—is hostility toward undocumented immigrants, even "xenophobia." But the slow pace of change doesn't discourage her. Instead, it reminds her to imitate God, who is merciful, and to see how his vision is being realized in her students (one commented, "After listening, spending time with, and eating with migrants who have been deported, traveled part of the path they take in the desert, I now see things very differently") and in the many alumni of Lourdes Catholic School who continue to work in service and advocacy.

The peacemakers seek to "maintain and re-establish love-inspired fellowship among human beings" (TBM, no. 47). Through integration of social justice into the school's curriculum and bridge-crossing through service and advocacy, the sisters help students relate to their brothers and sisters on both sides of the border.

Finally, those persecuted for righteousness' sake "remain faithful to the will of God despite the consequent difficulties" (TBM, no. 47). Despite criticism by those unwelcoming toward immigrants, the sisters persevere, through their work, in bringing "the witness of the Gospel" to a world in need.

Are You Blessed?

Warning! This might shock you: By virtue of our Baptism, we are all called to be blessed! The Beatitudes "express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ's disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints" (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd ed. [Washington, DC: LEV–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), 2000], no. 1717).

The work of Sr. Esther, Sr. Barbara, and so many other holy men and women is not an "extra" or an "add-on" to what it means to be faithful. It's the call we receive at Baptism. Pope Francis reminds us, "We who are baptized Christians are missionary disciples and we are called to become a living Gospel in the world: with a holy life we will 'flavor' different environments and defend them from decay, as salt does; and we will carry the light of Christ through the witness of genuine charity" (Pope Francis, Angelus, February 9, 2014,

At Baptism, we become part of Christ's Body—and then we are sent on his mission. Our Baptism leads to mission in the world. We give expression to our baptismal reality, Pope Benedict XVI writes, "in our daily lives" in "the field" of the world, working to orient work and society towards the Kingdom (Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis [SC] [Washington, DC: LEV–USCCB, 2007], no. 79).

This is a call for everyone, not just priests and religious. "The baptismal call of Catholics is based on Jesus' commandment to 'Love your neighbor as I have loved you,'" Sr. Esther says. "I've always taught my students that the final exam we will each be given at the end of our life is: 'I was hungry and you gave me food . . . ' (Mt 25:34-40)."

For all of us, our communion with one another, membership in Christ's Body, and participation in the Eucharist together "leads to a determination to transform unjust structures and to restore respect for the dignity of all men and women, created in God's image and likeness" (SC, no. 89).

This means working to protect the life and dignity of all people—the unborn, immigrants and refugees, persons in poverty, and others who are vulnerable. Living the Kingdom—acting with confidence that God will work through us to make his vision a reality—requires new "blessed" ways of acting. In acting this way, we imitate the life and ministry of Jesus, who showed mercy to the needy, granted pardon to sinners, showed concern for the weak and simple, and healed the sick.

How is God calling you to imitate Jesus' example and live the call of your Baptism? How are you called to be blessed? It begins today.

For more information:

For a more complete treatment of the deepest spiritual meaning of the Beatitudes, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1716-1728.

Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples

Copyright © 2015, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.

Scripture excerpts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, rev. ed.© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, copyright © 2007, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV);Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, copyright © 2008, LEV; Pope Francis, Angelus, February 9, 2014 copyright © 2014, LEV. Used with permission. All rights reserved.