Circular Letter: Summer 2018
Living the Beatitudes with the Angels
The Angels and Saints in heaven all enjoy perfect beatitude in God. They have passed the test and, by God’s grace, have reached the goal. Man on earth, however, is still journeying with the help of divine grace through the trials of this life to reach that state of perfect joy and rest in God. To reach this goal, he must climb up the heavenly ladder, as it were, of the eight Beatitudes which Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:1-12 and Lk 6:20-23). We must live out these Beatitudes in the discipleship of Jesus, carrying with Him the Cross, in order to learn from Him to live the perfection of charity.
The Angels are sent to help us, as our guides and guardians, as counselors, admonishers and leaders in this “vale of tears”, to live out those Beatitudes. Yet, given the supernatural goal towards which man strives, the Angels’ natural capacities would not have sufficed to lead man to heaven. Thus, in order to become a Guardian Angel, the Angels must descend by the rungs of their own “angelic Beatitudes” in order to be able to fetch man and bring him to heavenly glory.
First, we want to meditate more closely on the eight Beatitudes in general, what are they? (For a fuller meditation, see Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1.) Some have posited that they are the “new commandments” given to replace the Ten Commandments of the old Law. Yet Jesus Himself tells us, “I have not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it” (cf. Mt 5:17). The Beatitudes of the New Testament seem rather to be best described by the promise of the first Beatitude itself, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” When Jesus looks upon His disciples, He sees their actual condition: they are poor, hungry, mourning, persecuted. By the standards of the world, they would be unhappy, miserable, not blessed. But if one looks through the perspective of the Kingdom of God, through God’s perspective, then the standards of the world are turned upside down. The poor of this world, for example, who are yet rich in faith are truly blessed, for they have found God and His Kingdom. It is precisely to this Kingdom of Heaven which all the Beatitudes tend and lead us, a Kingdom won through faith.
The Beatitudes are, therefore, promises. It is not as if to say, however, once we achieve all these steps, we will die and enter the Kingdom of Heaven and be blessed. Jesus has told us that the Kingdom is present here and now: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (cf. Lk 17:21). If we live out the Beatitudes, the Kingdom will be present to us already here on earth, and hence also, a growing degree of beatitude! They give us here and now a participation in the view God has of time and eternity, the eternal values of divine wisdom, whereby we “taste and see how good the Lord is” (Ps 34:9). In trial, persecution, hunger and sadness, the Beatitudes bring us the consolation of seeing our situation in the light of God, of seeing and even experiencing in what true blessedness consists. Our human nature and the world tend to a different goal; they find pleasure and “happiness” in self-satisfaction and the gratification of all one’s desires. These are sources of short-lived “happiness”, which ultimately end in dissatisfaction. When to the contrary we learn to die to ourselves, to accept the Cross through faith in God and His promises, when we learn the blessedness of poverty and hunger, of mourning and persecution for Christ’s sake and in union with His dying to this world, then God fills us with His own consolation and a “peace which the world cannot give” (cf. Jn 14:27).
St. Paul is a witness for us, as are all the Saints, of the divine paradox of the Beatitudes. For by embracing what seems to the world to be misery, they went beyond them and found great happiness, peace and even joy already in this life:
For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh…. Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Cor 4: 8, 16).
St. Paul experienced that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ in him (cf. Gal 2:19), not just the crucified Lord, but the crucified and risen Lord who had already “overcome the world” and overcomes it in us through faith (cf. 1 Jn 5:4).
In essence, the Beatitudes describe for us the interior life of Christ Himself, His attitude towards the Cross and the world. When He pronounced the Beatitudes, Jesus was merely making explicit what He in Himself was and how we are all called to be in relation to the Father. Jesus renounced the goods of this world for love of the Father and the salvation of souls. Like Jesus, we are called not to live for ourselves, but for God, and therefore enter into the blessedness of Jesus’ communion of love with the Father. In the light of the holy Angels, therefore, we want to go through each Beatitude to understand where we too, through faith and the Holy Spirit, must grow in the interior following of Jesus. And we want to see how the Angels, having come to us by their “own beatitudes”, lead us up this ladder to heavenly beatitude.
Jesus lays the foundation for all interior growth in the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Mt 5:3). He thus “indicates the first and most important thing for man: to make himself empty (poor) for God, so that God may be for man his one and all” (Mother Gabriele, Readings of the Year I, 26). Elsewhere Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Mt 6:33). “Sell all that you have and give to the poor, then come, follow Me” (Lk 18:22). This call to poverty is not just the radical call of consecrated religious. Every Christian must live poverty: “How can you receive God in your whole being, o man, if you have already filled it with desires and attachments and cares? You must surrender all and consider it nothing if you want to possess and see GOD. Above all, however, you must surrender yourself” (Mother Gabriel, ibid.).
The holy Angels in their trial already gave up all for the sake of God. Under the leadership of St. Michael, they denied themselves and their own will, rallying in the darkness of blind faith, “Who is like God?!” In contrast, the fallen angels refused to surrender to God and His plan for creation saying, “I will not serve!” (cf. Jer 2:20), and therefore became demons. And just as the demons were cast from heaven immediately after the trial, so the faithful Angels immediately received their reward, the Beatific Vision of God. And this is the first beatitude of the Angels, to see God! The holy Angels always retain this vision of God, even as they serve as Guardian Angels. Our Lord tells us this when speaking of the little children, “Their Angels continually behold the face of My Father in heaven” (Mt 18:10).
Because of their clear vision and the victory they won in the trial through fidelity and detachment from their own will, the Angels are given to man who still journeys in the darkness of faith as guides. They teach us detachment from self, to live SOLI DEO, that is, for GOD ALONE! They teach us to bend our will in order to serve the will of God. And in this way, already here on earth, we will experience the blessedness of humility and poverty of spirit. For its fruit is peace of heart, joy in the service of God and wisdom. Through poverty in the things of this world, as Our Lord promises, we will already participate in the goods and joys of the Kingdom of Heaven!
The second beatitude of man is, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land“. Like the first, this beatitude is also a paradox for the world. The world says to the poor and humble man, “Fool!”, and to the meek it says, “Sheep!” For the world values pride over poverty, and anger more than meekness. But it is precisely these two virtues that Our Lord wants us to learn first of all, as He Himself tells us, “Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of Heart!” (Mt 11:29) The greatest power and strength of meekness was demonstrated by Jesus in the victory of the Cross. “Because He surrendered Himself to death and was counted among the wicked, He shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses” (Is 53:12). Mary, too, willingly offered her Son beneath the Cross, thus participating in an integral and necessary way in the act of Redemption. She, too, suffered for the sake of souls, without fighting back, without holding on to grudges. She even prayed for those who crucified her Son. Thus, she became the Mother of Mercy and the Mediatrix of all Graces.
This beatitude, therefore, is not weakness, as it seems in the eyes of the world, but rather strength of will, the strength to make peace, the strength to be firm but gentle, the strength to bear the Cross, to overcome with patience, the strength of love over hate. It is easy to get angry, to react, to take vengeance. It is hard to love in the face of controversy and opposition, to forgive and show mercy. It is easy to get impatient, it is hard to endure and tolerate. It is easy to explode, it is hard to wait for the proper time and the right word. Thus, this meekness is really “strength of will; it is the weapon of love, the weapon of the Cross, the weapon of Our Lord and His Mother” (Readings, I, 26). The Angels, too, needed to exercise this meekness read from the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
The second Beatitude of the Angel is therefore being allowed to behold CHRIST—and in Him, Mary. In the Old Testament, the Angels were the executors of God’s strict justice. An Angel of the Lord was ready to kill even Moses because, having been raised by an Egyptian, he had not been circumcised according to the covenant of Abraham. (cf. Ex 4:24). In the New Testament, we see how Jesus Himself teaches the Angels to be gentle. In the parable of the weeds sown in the night among the wheat, the servants (the Angels) ask if they should pull them up. But the owner (Jesus) says, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest” (cf. Mt 24-30).
From the example of Jesus, the Angels in their Guardian Angel service learn gentleness and meekness. They are not to crush the seed of good will and seminal virtues (wheat) by a strict punishment of all our human foibles (weeds) along the way. Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven…. Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 7:48, 50). Like a good parent, the Angels learn from Him that encouragement of the good in a person leads to greater growth in virtue than the harsh punishment and eradication of every fault. Now, therefore, in the age of the Church as Guardian Angels, they do not condemn, punish or abandon their protégé when he sins, but intercede, persuade and accompany the soul until it finds its way to God again. How many times a day do we fail in our duties before God, and yet the Angel does not give up on us. And he wants to teach us this same meekness, forgiveness, gentleness and fidelity towards our neighbor, for “blessed are the meek”. Only when we learn this meekness will we find peace also in ourselves.
With the third Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn…”, man first thinks on the mourning over the death of a loved one. Even Jesus shed tears at the death of Lazarus. The death of man is a consequence of original sin, yet it is not definitive. For the Angel, death is merely a transformation, the separation of body from soul, and the beginning of eternity for the soul. What concerns the Angel most is our spiritual well-being and our eternal destiny. The third Beatitude of the Angel is thus “being allowed to behold the unbroken, uncorrupted creation”, that is to say, as it was “in the beginning”. He sees the devastation caused by sin in God’s paradise, and the punishment of death inflicted on man. He sees the eternal consequences of all our decisions, and also God’s means for restoring all creation. “The Angel is the bringer of consolation. He shows man the omnipotence and wisdom of GOD in creation. He broadens the perspective of man for GOD’s loving plans in creation” (Readings I, 26). Thus, the Angel wants also to teach man the proper hierarchy of goods, so that he may not be disheartened by the sorrows of this “vale of tears”, but rather, learn to fix his eyes on God and His loving plan.
The Angel teaches man to mourn much more over the devastation of creation—especially of human souls—through sin, and therefore, leads him to want to participate in the work of salvation and the ingathering of all creation back to God. One of the first responses to the sorrow over the consequences of sin is the desire to make reparation. In making reparation, here especially for our own sins, we can transform all our sorrows and even death itself into an act of love, by accepting and offering them to God. In this way, our sorrows can even merit for others the grace of conversion or repentance. And so our “mourning” will become a beatitude and brings us the consolation of our own justification and forgiveness, and of participating in the work of Redemption, of doing good for the Church.
This Beatitude is closely related, therefore, to the fourth, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:6). Mother Gabriel writes, “These are the persons who bear in themselves the hunger and thirst of the LORD for the salvation of souls. They offer themselves to the justice of God as victims of expiation in order to implore for sinners the love and mercy of God” (Readings, I, 26). This is the true imitation of Christ, who loved us even to the Cross. “By suffering for us Jesus not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning” (Vat. II, Guadium et spes, 22).
In order to lead us in this path of expiation, the Angels too must understand the power of the Cross. Thus, the fourth Beatitude of the Angel is “being allowed to behold the Redemption” (Readings). The Angels are not omniscient. They did not know beforehand that man would fall, nor how the Redemption would play out. These were mysteries “into which the Angels longed to look” (1 Pet 1:12). They had to follow the workings of God through the course of time. And with what awe and wonder they witnessed the Redemption and the establishment of the Church! They now follow how God works out each man’s salvation by thousands of different means, how God comes to meet man where he is. They see the great gift of the Sacraments, especially the Holy Mass (while man often sees it as merely a weekly obligation, to be done with as quickly as possible so that he can get home early for the Sunday sports on television!). And so the holy Angels want to share their vision with us, to teach us to hunger and thirst for souls and to use all the means offered to us in the Church for their salvation.
The fifth beatitude of man is “Blessed are the merciful“ (Mt 5:7). Our Lord Jesus Christ praises the merciful by word and example not just once, but all the ways of the Lord are merciful. The mercy with which GOD surrounds man knows no limits. Jesus is for both man and Angel the example of mercy. As mentioned above, before the coming of Christ and the Redemption, the Angel acted towards man primarily with God’s justice out of zealous love for God. But Our Lord brought then God’s mercy: “Even if a mother should forget her own child, I will not forget him” (Is 49:15). What a tremendous promise of GOD! See how the Angel now opens himself up for mercy, since he is now allowed to look at man through the Lord and His Redemption. And that is the fifth Beatitude of the Angel: Being allowed to behold man, in the Heart of Jesus and Mary. The Lord descends into the womb of the most pure Virgin. He becomes a man among men, a poor One amidst the poor. He shows mercy after mercy. He forgives sins; He sits at table with beggars and sinners. He gives Himself with truly divine mercy. How much there is for the Angel to behold and to praise! For through His Cross, Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of enmity” (Eph 2:14) between Angel and man, and “God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the Blood of His cross” (Col 1:20). Now the Angel can enter into the love of Christ and Mary for man.
The sixth Beatitude of man is “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God“ (Mt 5:8). While in the first beatitude, man strives to become ever more empty that he may be filled with God, so in this beatitude, he strives to become ever more clear, transparent for God, so that God may be reflected in Him and more easily communicate His will to him. The poor in spirit is a fighter, the pure is not a fighter. He is pure like clear, calm water, one can see through him and he can contemplate God in himself. Pope Benedict writes, “The organ for seeing God is the heart…. The heart—the whole man—must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God” (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1). The pure man, that is to say, can understand God because of the order in his own soul.
The sensual man cannot see or understand God due to his own clouded disorder of soul: how can a thief understand a “just God”, an adulterer a “holy God”? Included in this purity is honesty, truthfulness and justice towards one’s fellow man. The pure man is like the Angel, a pure child before God, free from the drives of his lower nature. The Angel can communicate more easily with the pure soul, because his soul is open to receive the light of God, like a clean, transparent window. And so the pure are guided by the Angels and learn with them to serve God with joy! And this is the sixth beatitude of the Angel, being allowed to serve God!
The pure of heart also offer pure sacrifices before God, just as in the Old Testament, every sacrificial animal was to be first of all pure. The Angel of Fatima told the children, “Offer sacrifice to God in reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for sinners. In this way, you will bring peace to your country, for I am its Guardian Angel, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, bear and accept with patience the sufferings God will send you.” We see here that those who pray and sacrifice for souls with pure hearts are also peacemakers. In the battle for souls, therefore, the Angel tries to awaken man to the need for prayer and sacrifice, and to all the sources of grace found in the Church in order to lead men to the peace with and in God and one another.
And that is the next Beatitude of man, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God“ (Mt 5:9). The sons of the evil one sow discord, wars, hate and lies. Man cannot defeat the evil one without supernatural help. The Angels not only serve God with joy, they also fight for God, and this is their seventh beatitude, to be allowed to defend and maintain peace for the Kingship of Christ. The pure of heart overcome the devil by resisting all his temptations, with a readiness to serve God even unto death. Those who have been led and defended by the Angels will learn to conform their will to the will of God and through their union with God’s will, bring peace to their surroundings.
The last Beatitude of man is, “Blessed are you when men reproach and persecute you… rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!“ (cf. Mt 5:10-11). Today in the Church, so many Christians are being persecuted for the faith. We want to send the holy Angels to defend them and strengthen them that they may love unto the end. And this is the meaning of all the Beatitudes. As mentioned above, they are steps on the ladder up to holiness, up to the perfection of charity. The world teaches us to seek ourselves, to seek profit, comfort, pleasure and gain. But the message of the Gospel, of the Beatitudes, is the opposite: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:24-25). If we are to be servants of Christ, we must follow Him also to the Cross. But this Cross will be transformed, already in this life, into peace and blessedness! “And where I am, there also will My servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves Me” (Jn 12:26).
In none of the Beatitudes is the Angel so closely associated with man as in this last one, especially in his service as a Guardian Angel!
“Blessed are you, Angel, My worker, My servant, when men reproach and despise, slander and persecute you! I am your reward! You are to walk upon earth in imitation of ME, silent, listening and obedient, poor, pure and faithful. You may care for the man about whom I was thinking when I created you, from his first to his last breath on earth—and ME in him! You, as the first created, may carry My Cross of Redemption after Me—and with the Cross, bring also the last created, man, to My Throne. As a light of illumination, I will even give you the word of exhortation and instruction for your protégé. I bind you to your Queen, MARY, My Mother. I let you accompany your protégé, poor and lowly in imitation of My Passion. But I give you the power of intercession and the protective mantle of My Mother. Thus you will fulfill your collaboration in the Redemption of the world as MY servant!” (Mother Gabriel, Readings of the Year, I, 26)
Let us, therefore, in imitation of Christ, of Mary and the Angels, and with their help, walk the way of the Beatitudes, a way of self-giving service, a way of love, and herein we will be truly blessed!
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