The Beatitudes represent a very steep ladder through life, each step taking us higher and higher towards our goal: Heaven and the Beatific Vision. The preceding steps lead us on to those that follow.
From the very first rung we will obtain glimpses of the rewards to come, including seeing and feeling the guiding hand of God in our lives and we shall also obtain opposition at each of the rungs, even persecution. Sadly this will be often from fellow Christians who will either envy us or hate us for showing them up: a thorn in their sides. At this point we shall have reached the point at which our souls are completely God-oriented. How did we get here?
The first three rungs of the Beatitudes discipline our souls, leading to interior perfection. We of necessity had to purge our souls of earthly things, dross and stains. In addition our hunger for a world of God's Justice moves us from being self- to other-oriented. A person who has reached this stage could never be angry with another or ever contemplate suicide: the very thought would be abhorrently self-seeking.
Clean of heart means cleansing the whole interior persona: soul, memory, reason, intellect, and will. We will by now be seeking intimate union with God and thereby perceive God or His presence in some form or other when granted the graces so necessary for this. However, we must always have the purest of intentions to firmly adhere to God's demands for justice and mercy. In other words we need to achieve moral uprightness and upright informed consciences, nothing less will do!
We will face many dangers living, especially in this increasingly godless and disobedient world, whatever our situation, which will either distort or distract us from the necessary purity of intentions and, by subsuming us, we face loss of recollection and peace, neglect of prayer thereby neglecting our interior life and thereby we end up mere charitable workers.
In the background should be the cleansing of our sins with their legacies of wounds and weaknesses which encourages future falling back into sin. The guilt of these can be removed by Confession and the stains on our souls by acts of Justice and Mercy. Once we achieve real progress we can avoid falling back by prayer and the diligent practice of Virtue. It is said that in matters of Faith we can only go forward or backwards and never stay still; it is true in the case of the Beatitudes - we can struggle on ever upwards or fall back and give up. A good illustration of this dilemma facing us is the familiar game "snakes and ladders" in which we appear to be making rapid progress until we fall on a snake or into the devil's trap and slide rapidly down. We have to get up and struggle on upwards or slide down even further. Many of us never get beyond the first rung, and like the rich man, shrug our shoulders and give up: God forbid that He ever permits us to do this.
So as Fr Coleridge points out, "the soul is to be made into a beautiful garden in which God is to take His pleasure and set up residence. This garden must be free of poisonous weeds and deadly growths representing mortal sin. Above and beyond these, there must be nothing in it which can offend God's eyes: nothing out of order, wild, hideous, deformed, stunted or half-withered. That is it must be free from all venial sins and their consequences which are displeasing to God and altogether unfit for the soul in which He delights".
Let us remind ourselves of the lesser sins, some of which although not mortal for want of full advertence or deliberation but still constitute grievous offences; others are less serious being on matters which don't sufficiently warrant God's wrath, while a third type are the effects of inattention, surprise or weaknesses of natures and therefore are neither deliberate like the second type or grievous like the first. So what is the medicine for such deformation of our sous which has not been rendered dead by mortal sin but is sick requiring urgent treatment?
The first type, not fully mortal sin, requires Confession, and the occasions or situations that gave rise to them avoided. The stain has to be scrubbed out by genuine acts of Justice and Mercy.
The second, venial, type such as vanity, inaccuracy of speech, unhealthy thoughts, and so on, must be cleansed by meditation and consideration so that we become conscious of our spiritual defilement and deformity. We fall into such states because we lack the graces and ability to see the consequences of our actions.
The third, carelessly venial, type concerns mainly distractions, surprises and natural weaknesses which can be overcome by prayer, practices of virtue and entering into a closer union with God and His wishes.
As you can imagine all this demands continual vigilance, discipline and obedience through self-examination. Nevertheless we all have faults which we never see until they are pointed out to us by others: insensitivity, slothfulness, irritability, impatience, laziness, impetuousness, coldness or aloofness, self-asserting, arrogance, or shyness to name but a few. All these habits or tendencies appear within our daily actions and can be habitual. Because we are blind to these faults we fail to progress towards removing them until we trip over them or somebody kindly points them out to us. We need humility to accept them and to be cured of them. In Part II we shall examine a model so necessary to help us move forward.
"The Preaching of the Beatitudes", Henry James Coleridge SJ, Burns & Oates, London 1876
"The Two Edged Sword, an interpretation of the Old Testament", John L McKenzie SJ, Geoffrey Chapman, London 1959