How can we practice Jesus Christ's commands in real ways in our lives?
Do we choose to grieve over our sins, mourn the tragedies of the world and seek God’s help?
Father Jeffrey Kirby asks this question in his book “Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life” (St. Benedict Press, $12). He quotes the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “... the Cross must come before the crown. ... There must be fellowship with His sufferings before there can be fellowship with His glory.”
How do we find happiness and live the beatitudes? We talk a little about it here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: “The Eucharist is the foretaste of our complete contentment in eternity with God.” How can we approach this more worthily? How can we deepen our belief and its power in our lives?
Father Jeffrey Kirby: The Eucharist is the enduring presence of Jesus Christ with humanity. He will not leave us orphans. Contrary to the brokenness and loneliness of the world, Jesus is always there for us, accompanying us and helping us along the way of life.
Understanding the Eucharist in this way helps us foster a deeper devotion. Some possible ways to grow in this devotion include being consistent in participating in Sunday worship. Participating in daily worship when possible. Making visits to the Eucharist throughout the day, perhaps on our way to work or coming home. Arriving to worship early and spending time in prayer. Avoiding the parking lot chaos and staying after worship to pray. Making a regular Act of Spiritual Communion, especially if we cannot visit the Eucharist during the day. Reading the portions of the Bible about the Eucharist as well as good spirituality books that teach about it. The list goes on.
The principal thing is to find what works for each of us and nurture that devotion so that we can experience the Lord’s eucharistic presence more profoundly in our own lives.
Lopez: When Pope Francis ended the Year of Mercy, he said it is only beginning. How can living the beatitudes help make that a reality?
Father Kirby: The Jubilee Year of Mercy was a blessed opportunity for mercy and compassion. The year went quickly, however, and there are some offenses that need more time to forgive and from which to heal. This is the point Pope Francis emphasized when he said that mercy had to continue.
The beatitudes fill in the blank. They stand as a perennial path for each of us to take up the summons to receive and show mercy. When we’ve been hurt, or someone we love has been offended, and we want to forgive but are struggling with this process, we can turn to the beatitudes and find help and encouragement along the way to mercy and happiness.
Lopez: How can even busy people — maybe moms and dads in a particular way, but also those who find themselves physically alone and afraid — dive deep into the beatitudes?
Father Kirby: The beatitudes are for everyone, since we were all created for happiness. The eight counsels of the beatitudes are a sure path to this happiness. Our task in life is to find the right way to integrate and live them.
In married life, the beatitudes teach spouses how to show deference, deep compassion and selfless service to one another. This could mean helping to clean the house, picking up groceries on the way home, changing over the laundry, overlooking a slight or giving a compliment.
For those who are alone or afraid, the beatitudes can steer them away from self-pity, rash judgment and selfishness. Instead, they can focus on the needs of their neighbor, generously open their hearts to others who are suffering and work diligently for light and goodness in the world.
Lopez: To what extent could the beatitudes be a recourse in the wake of the sexually violent climate we find ourselves in? Your sentence: “The person enslaved to lust is absorbed in himself and cannot understand the needs or dignity of others” got me thinking about this.
Father Kirby: The beatitudes are an invitation to dispel the obsession with sexuality that has led contemporary culture to objectify people and treat them as a means for mere pleasure or control.
Such a treatment of anyone is an offense to a person’s dignity. It’s a sacrilege to their spiritual identity — it strips them of everything except their body. As human beings, we are body and soul, and both of these need to be acknowledged and cherished.
If lust dominates, dignity is discarded. The beatitudes oppose this fallen inclination and show us the path of love, respect and gentleness. As these are nurtured, they become safeguards to our happiness and the happiness of others.
Lopez: Is purity of heart — chastity — really possible in the world today?
Father Kirby: Chastity is an act of love. As love is redefined and manipulated, chastity becomes harder. Our human nature, however, was created good. We, therefore, have a natural orientation to what is true and right. And so, even if things are confused or difficult, love and chastity are always possible by God’s grace.
The human heart was made for chastity. Our lives thrive when we know and exercise this virtue well. As the consequences of lust and undisciplined sexual expression increase in our culture, people of goodness will more eagerly pursue a way to life and sexual expression without guilt, suffering and sorrow.
The beatitudes will always be an answer to inquiries for goodness. They are a source of help and encouragement to anyone who chooses a life of love and chastity.
Lopez: About peacemakers, you write: “The ones who foster peace are those who have the courage to take a stand for what is right, and those who submit to God and his will. Peacemakers cherish human dignity and the common good, know human rights and human responsibilities, and can distinguish right from wrong based on the tranquility of order. They speak the truth even when inconvenient, and are bold and selfless in their service and defense of goodness.”
Father Kirby: The commission to be peacemakers is not easy. From the Civil Rights movement, to our opposition to communism, to the pro-life movement and other efforts, we are called to teach and defend what is true.
Truth is the order and structure for peace. While it’s comfortable to say nothing, these dispositions make us morally weak, and oftentimes we become accomplices to evil.
The beatitudes call us to speak the truth in love and stand up for what is right.
Lopez: “God told our first parents to avoid relativism since human nature does not have the capacity to fulfill the demands of giving moral identity to an action (to decide whether something is good or evil). We don’t have the proper nature for such actions. As contemporary business language would say, ‘It’s above our skill set!’ ”
Father Kirby: Relativism is very appealing to our fallen nature. It can be a real power trip to think that we are able to determine what is right or wrong, and convince ourselves that we are the standard by which all other things are judged.
But such a perspective creates a very small, suffocating world for us. We have to let some air in. And the air for our hearts is the light of truth.
In the truth, we can see what is good and what is evil. We can accept this direction and seek to integrate truth into our lives. As we do this, we find greater order in our hearts and in creation. This is peace. It’s the peace we were made for and the peace to which the beatitudes direct us.
Lopez: How can God “show me happiness,” as you propose asking in a prayer toward the end of your book?
Father Kirby: In the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is praised as the Beatitude of God. This can be translated to read “the happiness of God.” In understanding Jesus in this way, we can ask God to reveal happiness to us through Jesus’ life and teachings. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that the beatitudes themselves are an “interior biography” of Jesus. If we want to see happiness, we ask God to unveil it to us through Jesus Christ.
This petition is also a request for spiritual disclosure to our own hearts. As we discern how to seek happiness by living the beatitudes in our own state in life, we ask God for his guidance and enlightenment. At times, we cannot figure these matters out on our own, so we rely on God’s help.
Lopez: Why does happiness require suffering? Why would God do that if he loves us?
Father Kirby: Suffering and happiness exist together because happiness isn’t just about us. It depends on a proper relationship with God and those around us.
This openness of heart leads us to realize that happiness isn’t a synonym for pleasure, or a euphoric high or the accomplishment of a perfect state of affairs based on our desires.
Happiness is something more. It’s about laboring for goodness in ourselves so that we can be of greater good to others. It’s also about helping others to see goodness in themselves and letting it flourish.
These efforts are not without suffering, since we may, at times, have to deny our own desires, ambitions or preferences. This is how suffering and real, substantial happiness coexist.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review and a contributor to Angelus.
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