Human Dignity and the Beatitudes
by Jill Rauh
Assistant Director of Education and Outreach, Secretariat of Justice, Peace and Human Development
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
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"
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!
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
are these fundamental characteristics? What is the profile of a "blessed"
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?
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 "
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."
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 (www.kinoborderinitiative.org) 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.
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.
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?
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
[CCC], 2nd ed. [Washington, DC: LEV–United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops (USCCB), 2000], no. 1717).
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, w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2014/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20140209.html).
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
For all of us, our communion with
one another, membership in Christ's Body, and participation in the Eucharist
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.
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.
Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the
Gospel, Being Disciples www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/sacraments-and-social-mission.cfm
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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.