Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Beatitudes: The only solution for our times



The situation we face today gives emphasis to the warning words written by Fr H J Coleridge SJ in 1888:




"It is worthwhile, again and again, to urge the truth on a generation like that in which we live, that men without faith in a future life and a sense of responsibility to a judge above them for all their actions, are likely, if they attain power in the world, to shrink from no crime and to rule without mercy."

We face this growing barbarism in the West today at a time when Christ's Church appears to be at its weakest.

To reinforce this concern, the Aid to the Church in Need's "Mirror" Newsletter for February reported the haunting words of a Czechoslovakian priest who was imprisoned for 12 years because he was determined to remain faithful to the Church in Rome and was tortured for refusing to deny the Pope. To this "hero of the faith" the West is in a state of betrayal and he would "rather spend another 12 years in a Communist prison" than stay any longer here in the West: in comparison prison was a joy!

Confronted by such a prevailing anti-Christian climate, is there perhaps a way forward out of the abyss?

Again from the writings of Fr Coleridge in 1876:

"In the catacombs, in the Egyptian deserts, in the great cities of the Empire, in the monasteries which grew up around the sacred places of Palestine, the BEATITUDES were the laws of life before the Western world fell under the invasion of the barbarians, or the Eastern bowed its neck to the yoke of impure prophets. They were the rules by which men lived who saved Europe and the Church from the destruction, and painfully built up a new civilisation out of the combination of old and new races. As their practice has varied or increased so has the Church been in decay or in vigour. When there has come a time of renovation and revival, the inspiration has always been caught from the Beatitudes."

We have to act or be overcome and we of the LMS should, if we are to be true to our support of the Church's Traditions, take a lead in promoting the Beatitudes as a way we will follow and in doing so, follow Christ.

Remember the story of the rich young man who lived faithfully the Commandments but to Jesus this was just not enough. To become a true follower he had to become detached and follow Christ's Narrow Way: the Beatitudes. We, as indicated by the references below, are also obliged to do the same, and the sooner the better. Except for the brief reading of the Beatitudes each year at Mass, little of consequence is said to help the faithful in these obligatory rules of life. We get little informed guidance on what they really mean and what we need to understand in order to follow them. A great silence on this subject appears to have settled over the Western world, apart from a few confused attempts here and there.

I have found Coleridge a true master of this subject and, if prepared to wade through his Victorian prose, many nuggets of practical advice and explanation are to be found. His work, "The Public Life of Our Lord - Preaching of the Beatitudes", Burns & Oates 1876, as well as other volumes, can be downloaded electronically from www.InternetArchive.org.   The other very useful and less verbose explanation is "The Eight Beatitudes" by George Chevrot, Sinag-tala Publishers Inc, Manila 1998, ISBN 971 554 036 8.

Since the Beatitudes are so important to us all, I am taking the liberty of providing a rendering of essential nuggets to be found in both books over an extended period.

As a starter, please view each Beatitude as a rung within a ladder standing on and supported by the Commandments or Natural Law, Scripture and Traditions of the Church. Proceeding up the ladder requires increasing denial of self and suffering, until the few who manage to reach the top become other Christs, achieving the highest standard of Christian living and holiness. These 8 or 9 rungs are recursive in that within each rung they, to some extent, re-occur. So even if you just achieve full poverty of spirit, you will have also experienced some of the joys and sufferings associated with higher levels of the Beatitude Ladder.
The Beatitudes are Christ's narrow way to Heaven. Living by the Commandments is but the beginning, as Jesus advised us to become perfect and this can be achieved only by living his Beatitudes. These in the modern world are alien but we are obliged to adhere to the rules of life defined by the Beatitudes. More about these rules in the coming months

References on Obligations to live the Beatitudes:

Gaudium et Spes, n72, Vatican II

Apostolicam Actuositatem, n4, Vatican II

Moral Questions, Statement of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, n82, 1971

The Easter People, Message from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, n190, 1980

Christifideles Laici (Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful), Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, n16, 1988

Veritatis Splendor, Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, n17, 1993

Indirectly:

Canon Laws applicable to the Clergy: 273, 276, 277, 282, 285, 286, 287

Canon Laws applicable to the Laity: 210, 212, 217, 222(2),223

Note: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) is somewhat unhelpful in its explanation of all the Beatitudes, concentrating on the first Beatitude. However CCC 1965 to 1968 make it abundantly clear the fundamental importance of fulfilling the Decalogue by following the narrow way of the Beatitudes to achieve a truly Christian life prepared for Heaven.



Afterthought

These thoughts were prepared two weeks before the election of Pope Francis I, and it is our prayer that he will earn the supreme title of Saint Francis II, for he does appear to be setting us an example bidding us to follow him following Christ along the Narrow Way. 



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