Before his baptism by Saint Ambrose at Easter in AD 387, Saint Augustine went to northern Italy near Milan on a kind of retreat. While there he wrote a small work entitled The Happy Life in the form of a dialogue with various family members, a typical rhetorical style of the time. With his “dialogue partners,” he establishes that all people wish to be happy but that happiness will not be found in the material things one desires. Satisfying one desire, another simply emerges. Happiness is not fleeting, but is permanent and therefore, it can only be found in God who is everlasting. Augustine concludes the happy person is one who possesses God. Possessing God is a matter of living a good life, doing God’s will, and having a clean spirit. There is no doubt that Saint Augustine would have been familiar with the Beatitudes. He knew Scripture well. His conclusions about happiness square up well with the Beatitudes, which lead us away from ourselves and our own desires and toward God. The Beatitudes point to permanency. Ultimately, “’they will” lead to heaven, to everlasting Life … to seeing God. The “Kingdom of Heaven” is promised to those who seek the happiness, the blessedness that comes from possessing God.
Jesus announces the blessings for those who live in “the Kingdom of Heaven.” In this He describes the qualities that mark true discipleship: poor in spirit, mourning loss, meek, seekers of justice, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, bearers of insults and persecution. To be so blessed, so happy, so fortunate requires letting go of self. All of these qualities exhibit the self-emptying of Jesus Himself. Blessedness is of, in, and with Jesus – and His followers. Our blessedness is both a quality of who we are and a blueprint for how we are to be and to live as followers of Jesus Christ.
Happiness is a factor of how we relate to others – we are to be Jesus’ blessed Presence for others. Gospel living – taking seriously the Beatitudes – turns upside down the relationships people have with each other and invites a new world order that is the presence of God’s “Kingdom of Heaven.” And this presence of God’s Kingdom is not so much our own doing, as what God is accomplishing in us. Happiness – blessedness – is God’s gift to those who seek God and do God’s will.
The Beatitudes seem to describe behaviors and attitudes that we generally ascribe to those we call “saints.” Yet, all of us can name good people we know – truly good people. These (and we ourselves) are truly good – the blessed.
It is awesome to think that our own halting efforts at being really good – at extending mercy, justice, and righteousness to others as God has extended them to us – are one means for bringing God’s blessedness to others! Simply sharing in God’s work of salvation – providing for those in need – is blessing in itself that brings unequaled happiness. Our deepest happiness comes not from fulfilling our own needs and wants, but from reaching out to others as God reaches out to us in blessing. Happiness that comes from our own desires and efforts is fleeting. The blessings of God that are showered upon us as we live humbly, justly, and faithfully last forever. Here’s the truly amazing part: the happiness we share now here on earth is but a taste of our great reward in heaven!
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!
~ Fr. Larry