February 2001

Blessed Are Those Who Trust in the Lord ©

Everyone is keen to find happiness, but few are prepared to look in the right places.

Good news: you don’t have to spend another dime on horoscopes or New Age fast food for the soul. A simple bible explains everything we need to know about true happiness and false happiness: about truth and fantasy.

To highlight that truth, which is enshrined in what we typically refer to as the Beatitudes, Jesus presents a stern set of warnings. The result is a dramatic contrast.

Though we often find the word “blessed”, it’s sometimes translated as “happy”. To be blessed is to be sufficient and truly happy.

Blessed are you who are poor; but woe are you who are rich. Blessed are you who are hungry; but woe are you who are full. Blessed are you who weep; but woe are you who are laughing. Jesus’ words echo those of Jeremiah: Blessed are those who trust in the Lord; but cursed are those who trust in mere mortals, and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.

The simple truth is that poverty and hunger call out for trust in the Lord. The richness and fullness, to which Jesus refers, is the risk of trust in false gods – the false security of things that pass away with time and wear.

Blessed are the poor

Blessed are those who are poor, who are hungry, and who weep. To the poor, Jesus promises the kingdom of God. He promises to fill the hungry. And, he promises laughter to those who weep.

Indeed, there are special graces in voluntary poverty, in spiritual hunger, and in grieving for material loss. In grief, for example, our Lord is present in a very special way. John of the Cross teaches us how the Lord is present in a particularly intimate way in the Dark Night, in the darkness of Holy Saturday, and in the darkness of Christmas night.

In the emptiness of hunger, our Lord is poised to fill us with the bread of Life, and the wine that celebrates his everlasting covenant.

In spiritual poverty, we find trust in our providential God, in our caring, loving, and infinitely creative Lord. I’m not referring here to social poverty, the kind that victimizes people who are politically powerless. That form of poverty is a cancer that slowly poisons the human spirit. Rather I’m referring to voluntary poverty, the kind that expands the spirit’s freedom.

Jesus once said to a rich young man: If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, then come and follow me. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he couldn’t follow Jesus on those terms.

Lady Poverty

For Francis of Assisi, material poverty was an absolute. Lady Poverty was his spouse, and infidelity was out of the question.

So was it for John of the Cross. With a logic which surpassed human reason, he would write in his native Spanish: Todo y nada: “To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.”

Ignatius of Loyola, on the other hand, had a more neutral view. He neither preferred material riches, nor poverty. He preached about holy indifference. Detachment from, rather than attachment to or rejection of material goods was for him the key to trust in God – and the secret of happiness.

The word “happy” is also found in psalms: Happy are they who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. Again, we’re warned against false counsel, against fantasy, and against illusion.

We’re told that the riches of this world, the fullness of material things and the laughter of self-seeking pleasure yield sweet fruit, which neither nourishes, nor satisfies.

Only the bittersweet fruit of self-denial and, more importantly, trust in the Lordproduce fruit, which sustains the soul. Referring to those who trust in the Lord, the psalmist writes they are like trees planted by streams of water, which yields their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Of course, all of this is perfectly logical and, as such, ought to come as welcome news to those who are poor, to those who are hungry, and those who mourn.

If only it were that simple. For example, during the retreats I lead on loss and grief, I can only imagine what reaction I would get from someone who has just lost a child or a friend so intimate that it physically feels like their guts have been torn out, if I told them that they are blessed, or happy, or fortunate in some kind of spiritual sense. I can easily imagine how hurtful that would be to them, or how unfair it would be to the God of compassion, to the Jesus of Bethany.

But, does this human reality make the Beatitudes less valid? No, it remains a fact that reliance on God, and nothing else, is the only path to paradise.

Are we, therefore, being told to be Stoics in the face of agony or, even worse, to enjoy suffering? Are we being told that a true Christian is melancholic or a masochist? Not at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Jesus tells us repeatedly that we’re called to the fullness of life.

In fact, what the Beatitudes serve to do is to remind us of our true nature, as creations of God. And as such, we have imprinted in our soul a set of needs, which are best expressed as a burning desire to draw closer to our Creator.

Our blessing is in God

We have a need to behave in a way that reflects what we are, namely sons and daughters of Love. We have a natural allergy toward any behaviour that goes against our nature, and undermines the security we have in God. As Augustine of Hippo wrote in the opening sentence of his Confessions: “I am restless until I rest in thee.”

But we’re also suckers for illusion, fantasy and false counsel. This is our legacy as fallen humans. We get confused, swept under by the illusion of security provided by wealth; by the fantasy of contentment found in self-absorbing isolation, and by the semblance of love found in hedonism, or even secular humanism.

The good news is that when we need to come back to reality, we have Jesus to hold our hand and guide our fearful steps.

During February, we traditionally mark Valentine Day. It’s not a religious celebration. But still, you’ll likely wish someone a happy valentine. So will I. But this time, let’s reflect on the love which underlies celebrations such as these. At some level, all of this is done in the name of true Love. It’s normal to celebrate love because, in real love, is God in all his glory. Let’s accept the desire to be loved and to love as signs that we’re all children of Love, and, as such, we’re all brothers and sisters in Love.

The words happy and love go together. Happy are those who know what love is and give it away generously.

When you look at those big red hearts, remember the difference between truth and fantasy.

Always remember that most basic of truths: God loves you.

 

Prayer of Abandonment

O Lord,
I abandon myself into your hands;
Do with me what you will:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence.