The Seventh And Eighth Beatitudes
Seventh, Christ blesses not peace, but peacemakers. Peacemakers are not pacifists. Peacemakers are warriors, but they are spiritual warriors, warriors against war. Sometimes war can be conquered only by war. Everyone speaks highly of peacemaking. How, then, is that countercultural, except to terrorists? Because the peace that Christ blesses is the peace the world cannot give. It is peace with neighbor, self, and God; not with the world, the flesh, and the devil. It not a peace with greed, lust, and pride, but the peace that comes through poverty, chastity, and obedience, three most countercultural virtues. These two kinds of peace are in fact at war with each other.
Our world’s peacemakers will embrace Christ’s peace, but only if they do not have to give up the world’s peace and only if they do not have to fight for it. Thus, paradoxically, we lack true peace because we are reluctant to war against the enemies of peace, and also because we do not put the three ingredients of Christ’s peace in the proper order. We preach incessantly about peace with neighbor, but seldom about peace with God.
Thomas Merton reminds us of this necessary order in three wonderfully simple sentences when he says, “We are not at peace with each other because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” Christ does the same in putting the first table of the law first, as Moses did. We need to relearn lesson one.
Christ blesses peacemakers, but when you are at war, you can make peace only by waging and winning war. Christianity is judgmental and repressive and negative. For Christianity says to us that we are at war, ever since a certain incident in Eden, and war judges the enemy (that’s why a war is fought: because a judgment is made about an enemy) and represses the enemy (that is what defense is: repressing the enemy’s offense) and negates the enemy, destroys the enemy (that is what offense is, destroying the enemy’s defense). Our enemies are real, just as real as flesh and blood; they are principalities and powers. They are not men; they are demons. And they are also our own sins.
Our Lord told us that he came into the world to bring a sword to wage and win this war. The sword is a cross. Happiness does not consist in pacifism; happiness consists in peace, and peace can be obtained only by waging and winning a war to make peace. The cross is like a syringe; it gives us a blood transfusion. It is the opposite of a normal sword. What Christ does is exactly the opposite of what Dracula does. Dracula, like the demons, takes our blood, our life. Christ gives us a blood transfusion. We are on a battlefield between Christ and Dracula.
When Christ says that peacemakers are blessed because they “will be called the sons of God,” he does not mean that peacemaking is the cause and being a son of God is the effect. The other way around: only the sons of God can make God’s peace, do God’s work. Peacemaking is the effect. But peacemakers are called sons of God. They are known to be sons of God because we recognize the cause by the effect.
Blessed are You when Men Persecute You
The eighth beatitude blesses not just pain or suffering, but persecution, that is, suffering imposed by rejection and hatred. This is the only one of the beatitudes that Christ repeats, both to emphasize it as the final and most outrageous beatitude of all, and to emphasize that it is not merely the pain, but the rejection, the reviling, the slander, that is blessed.
But how can this be? Everyone wants to be loved. How can it be blessed to be hated? One possible explanation is utterly inconsistent with Christ: a kind of sneering superiority, as if it were blessed to say to those who hate us, “I wouldn’t want love from worthless fools like you.” Surely it is great grief that the persecutors are fools. Of course they are not worthless fools; if they were, there would be no reason for our grief for them. And therefore grief on our part that they are not blessed is real, if we love our persecutors as Christ does and commands us to: “Love your enemies.” Notice that he does not say, “Do not use the word enemy, it is not nice.” We have enemies, but we must love them.
The reward that makes persecution blessed is the same as the one that makes poverty blessed: the kingdom of Heaven. Persecution has the same blessing as poverty because persecution is a form of poverty, poverty not of money, but of love, that is, of being loved. Both money and love are blessed only when they are given: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
We desperately crave love from the world. But the world is not Christ. The world is fallen, fallen into the knowledge of good and evil. The world is therefore afraid of Christ as the cavity is afraid of the dentist or as the liar is afraid of the light. (I use the word world here in the scriptural sense: not as the planet (Gaea, matter), which God created good, but as the time word, eon, that designates the era of sin, the kingdom of the devil.
Persecution is not blessed in itself, but it becomes blessed if it is persecution “for righteousness’ sake”, for the sake of God, not only explicitly, but also implicitly, that is, if you are persecuted for being that which God is: for being Godlike, for being righteous. Thus the righteous pagan like Socrates is also blessed when he is misunderstood, hated, rejected, persecuted, and killed, like Christ.
Just as your peacemaking is a sign that you are a child of God, and thus blessed, so being persecuted for the sake of your righteousness is also a sign that you are a member of His kingdom and thus blessed. Blessing comes only from what is good, and persecution, poverty, etc. are not good in themselves. Christ is not a Stoic or a Hindu or a Buddhist; blessing does not come from not caring about the good things of this world, which God created, nor from seeing through this world as an illusion, as maya, nor from the clever device of spiritual euthanasia by which our desires for things are quenched so that we can avoid the suffering that they bring. No, the Christian knows something real and good in itself that the Stoic, the Hindu and the Buddhist do not know (even though they may implicitly long for it and even attain it in the end), and that something is, simply, Jesus Christ. He makes blessed even the nails in His cross. And only He makes them blessed.
He that Loses His Life for My Sake shall Find It
Our ninth desire is for life, and the ninth blessing is death. Death contains all the other paradoxes. Christ teaches us this blessing of death not in words only, but also in deed — by his cross, which sums up all the beatitudes.
And the cross reveals the hidden source of all eight beatitudes: the historical fact, not the abstract principle, that God, out of sheer love for us, became incarnate, died, and rose to save us from sin and death. As Dorothy Sayers said, “The dogma is the drama.” By this dramatic judo, death itself was turned into an instrument for life, as an earthen dam is overwhelmed by the waters of the flood that conquers it, and the dam is swept along and made into a part of the flood itself. So the flood of God’s infinite life, when it entered our world, not only conquered death but turned death itself into life’s most powerful instrument. In the words of the old anthem “Open our Eyes”, “Thou hast made death glorious and triumphant, for through its portals we enter into the presence of the Living God.”
Blessed are the Peacemakers
We anticipate that final death, and its final blessing, in all our little deaths now. Our participations in Christ’s eight beatitudes are those little deaths. We not only anticipate it, we actually participate in it, in these little deaths, the real little (or large) dyings that we do every day. And we also anticipate and actually participate in the final blessing, “the presence of the Living God,” every time we “open our eyes” and see who it is that is really present there. Where our eyes see only the most undramatic little wafer of bread, look who is present! How absurd that we find it easier to get up off our knees than to get down!
The secret of happiness is very simple. It is Jesus. Not just the philosophy of Jesus, but Jesus, his real presence. He actually comes to us in such unlikely vehicles as poverty, pain and persecution. He has weird taste in vehicles. He came to Jerusalem on a donkey. And when he comes, he acts with power, though usually also with subtlety and not bombast. He really works!
I am haunted by my memories of a few precious hours in the company of two happiest groups of people I have ever met in my life. In both cases I was supposed to speak to them. In both cases, they spoke to me — with very few words, like Mother Teresa, like Jesus. One group was in fact Mother Teresa’s nuns, in Boston’s worst slum. Another was a convent of contemplative Carmelites in Danvers, Massachusetts. What they said to me, simply by being who they were, was unmistakable: “See how happy I am; see how happy Jesus makes me!” This is how happiness happens: it is not so much taught, like math, but caught, like measles.
The Church is in the business of spreading the good infection, like in “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, only this is a good infection. And that is “the new evangelism”. And it is also the old evangelism that won the world two thousand years ago. It will do it again, for there is no argument against real happiness. The smiles of the saints are the arguments that will win the world for Christ again. They are unarguable. Only one thing, then, is necessary to create a world of happiness from pole to pole. And it is not doing any of the many good things that Martha did, but doing the one thing that Mary did: just sit at Jesus’ feet; just be in his presence, know his love, all day. That is the scandalously simple secret of happiness.