Standing on the Mount of Beatitudes in Israel, one of our tour group whispered something in my mother’s ear. Apparently, the tour leader had suggested to this woman, a teacher, that she read the Beatitudes aloud to us all to enhance our visit to the Mount but the teacher suffered from dyslexia and found reading aloud a paralysing challenge. How could she get out of it? “Tell the tour leader,” my mother suggested. “She’ll understand.” She did and I was next on the list.
“Come on, you can do it!” my mother encouraged me. I was not yet eighteen, still stuck in that awkward age of self-consciousness where the smallest thing became soooo embarrassing, and reading aloud to a group of strangers made me want to disappear, preferably now. “By doing this, you’ll be helping someone,” my mother continued, “it’s the kind thing to do.” That was that, then. I looked across at the teacher. By this point she had flushed red and was leaning against the wall of the Italian chapel, biting her nails and looking as if she’d like to disappear into it. That made two of us. “All right, I’ll do it,” I told my mother and the tour leader. They smiled and handed me a sheet of paper.
“The Beatitudes,” I began. I figured at least it wasn’t a long reading. In fact, this would be over in no time.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment when I finished the reading. What a strange feeling it was, to read the words Christ had spoken in His Sermon on the Mount. Here we were on that very same Mount, standing in the porch of the Italian chapel that had been funded by Mussolini, of all people! It was more than a little surreal.
Looking back on that day has become a favourite family memory. My parents are proud that their daughter read the Beatitudes on The Mount where they were first spoken, almost two thousand years ago and, as I grew up, leaving that uncomfortable teenager behind, I began to realise what an incredible experience it had been. We hadn’t planned it; we hadn’t asked for this opportunity. It just presented itself out of the blue. How strange life can be at times.
Most importantly, the Beatitudes are something I believe in, especially now that I know what a battle life can be and that the easiest options are too often wrong.
St Gregory of Nyssa’s analysis of the Beatitudes makes for inspiring reading. As he observed:
“Beatitude is a possession of all things held to be good,
from which nothing is absent that a good desire may want.
Perhaps the meaning of beatitude may become clearer to us
if it is compared with its opposite.
Now the opposite of beatitude is misery.
Misery means being afflicted unwillingly with painful sufferings.”
Whether or not you are Christian, each Beatitude has universal significance. In basic terms, they encourage us to be humble, charitable, show love for our fellow man and hold firm in our belief in what is good. The reward will be an improved life with a clear conscience and peace. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone read and abided by the wisdom of the Beatitudes? I’m sure Epicurus would agree that the world would be quite a different place.