Posted February 03, 2011 in New Millennium:
The Secret of the Kingdom

by Fr. David May.

If you were to ask me what is the most difficult thing to grasp about the spiritual life of the Christian, without any hesitation I would say: the First Beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3).

It is my view that in this simple phrase, the Lord encapsulated the very core of the Gospel, the essence of who he is, and the "secret" of possessing the kingdom of God.

If you were then to ask, which word in this phrase is most baffling to the human mind, I would answer: "blessed." Most of us have a difficult time grasping how those who constantly experience poverty of spirit can be called in any way blessed.

If there is any blessing we tend to avoid, it is probably this one! So, let’s look further into the matter.

First, there is the phrase, "poor in spirit." Scriptural commentaries give any number of meanings to this phrase, meanings more or less related. Words that come to mind include: dependent, needy, childlike, desperately poor, or more simply, desperate.

Also: impoverished, unfulfilled, incomplete, miserable, empty, abandoned. One could possibly add to these: failed, beaten down, found out, bottomed out, and struck out, although other beatitudes might be more appropriate to one or another of these.

As you can surmise, "poor in spirit" encompasses a broad spectrum of what for us are usually extremely difficult situations in life. But it is to people experiencing such situations that the kingdom of heaven apparently belongs most especially.

Most of us have experienced one or several or even many of these conditions, and when we did, we probably didn’t write home to report how blessedly life was going!

Situations described by words such as these mean pain, suffering, and confusion. Where’s the blessing in all this? Where is the kingdom of heaven?

The answer to that last question is: in crying out to God. All of these situations are ready made to reveal to us our complete neediness as fallen creatures in a fallen world. And our misery and desperation induce us to cry out to God.

That brings up another question: do you ever think of Jesus as a man who continually cried out to his Father from the depths of his spirit?

Or do you assume that he didn’t really have to do such a thing, except perhaps in Gethsemane and on the Cross… and that then he simply did so to encourage us in our struggles, to give an example?

And what about Our Lady? We have no record of her having to call out in desperation to God. Even at the Cross, she was silent, and there is no mention of the tears we sometimes see depicted in art or film.

The only words we have from her are the Magnificat celebrating the great things God was doing in her life. Do you presume therefore that this is the whole picture of the Mother of God?

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jesus and Our Lady really did call out continually from the depths of their spirits to God, their heavenly Father.

Suppose that this is really supposed to be normal for human beings: to be in constant relationship to God, constantly seeking his help, his wisdom, his light, his counsel.

Of course, for them that relationship was not obscured by sin and its consequences as it is for us, but that does not change the fundamental reality of hearts turned constantly to the Father.

For the most part, you and I learn about these depths from situations of desperate need, confusion, and impoverishment.

We learn about them when our life is one hell of a mess and we are scared half to death because we don’t know what to do.

Or, we’re sick and frightened at the prospect of further suffering, perhaps even death. Or, we are so empty inside that it hurts and it feels like darkness and confusion are about to swallow us up.

Or we’re out of control and can’t stop ourselves. Or, we’re embarrassed and ashamed at our latest failure to do whatever well. Or, we’re so concerned about those we love that we lose sleep at night. Or…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

How is it that such situations are the first Jesus alludes to on the mountaintop when he teaches his disciples the principles of the New Covenant?

To begin to grasp this mystery, we must turn to Our Lord offering himself on the Cross for us.

Our faith teaches us that there, in his Passion, our Divine Savior embraced every human fallible and failed situation in life in order to redeem it. He made himself eternally present to all suffering so that all suffering could be changed into a pathway to Resurrection.

How does this transformation come about? In crying out to God.

The Gospels have numerous stories reporting the great results people received when they cried out to Jesus, threw themselves at his feet, got themselves lowered through ceilings into his presence, and so forth. It is this gesture of faith that evoked from the Lord the word, the gesture that brought healing and salvation.

This reality has not changed. Those who cry out from the depths, over and over and over until they are heard, learn the truth of the First Beatitude. Simply by embracing the very situation that everyone else is trying to escape, they are raised from death to life.

They receive the mercy and love of Jesus where they are, in their poverty, over and over again.

Suddenly, in an instant, poverty becomes wealth (of mercy), desperation becomes joy (in salvation), suffering becomes an offering of communion (with the Lord).

It takes time for most of us to learn to live this way, to accept that this is the way it not only will be but should be.

The undercurrent, if you will, of commitment to helping the poor is poverty of spirit. The source of perseverance in our vocational commitments is a continual crying out to God for the light of his countenance to shine upon us.

When we are weary and at the end of our rope, what we need to do is fall into God’s arms. That’s what Jesus did when he prayed from the Cross, "Into your hands I commend my spirit."

Those who live this way are signs of the Resurrection, because they themselves "rise up" to love again, to hope again, to believe one more time that Christ has indeed won the victory.

But what manner of victory! As he lay in the tomb, so we, too, must be very, very still in our hearts. We, too, must be assured that God is faithful.

We Christians are meant to be that assurance to the whole world … and the challenge to its godlessness. It is our joy in the gift of salvation and our willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven that bring the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven to this earth.


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