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the 'be-atTitudes' of jesus
…Through the lives of Enlightened Souls and Divine Incarnations

Every December, devout Christians around the world remember the message of Jesus Christ, and examine its relevance to our contemporary lives.  The term "Beatitudes" refers to the eight life lessons that Jesus delivered during the Sermon on the Mount.

Two thousand years later, what was good advise then, is still so for anyone keen to live for a higher purpose. 

Apart from their timeless appeal, the Beatitudes transcend cross-cultural barriers and apply in inter-faith contexts as much as they did when Jesus spoke His words of wisdom, drawn straight from the Spirit, to the suffering Jews. 

As a tribute to the one whom the Christians worship as the son of God, and the rest of humanity looks up to as a universal Master, in this Christmas month, Heart2Heart examines the practical quotient of the Beatitudes and their place in our lives and times.

Do the Beatitudes belong to seminary discussions, speeches and sermons, or can they actually be lived? Can the talk be walked? Has anyone really done so?  If so, when, where, how and most importantly, were they all Christians?

Join us in this journey to discover the state of bliss that is yet another definition of the Beatitudes, and that can be unlocked when the Beatitudes become truly the be-attitudes of our lives.

spacerThe Birth of the Beatitudes

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The Sermon on the Mount
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When Lord Jesus began His first address to a large crowd gathered at His feet on a hillside in Galilee, Israel, He began with His most radical teachings – The Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes are a series of eight blessings through which Jesus succinctly portrayed the character of a person who truly and powerfully walks the spiritual path to God.

In these poetical phrases, Jesus laid down the golden path traversing which every man and woman, be it in Israel or Iceland, Africa or Australia, pauper or king maker, could envelope their self with divine light. It is these eight sublime tenets with which Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount, the revolutionary discourse that shocked His listeners, who were used to the traditions of Judaism.

In this first Sermon, Jesus gave a new and revolutionary dispensation of the path to God: He reinterpreted Mosaic Law, and in particular, the Ten Commandments; condemned the ‘good works’ of fasting, giving alms, and prayers when they are only done for show; expounded the Lord's Prayer; and denounced those who judge others before first judging themselves.

The Beatitudes were His opening salvo - a torpedo of love to shake humanity awake from material values and a fixation on the world of the senses. Centuries have rolled by, but even today the Beatitudes surprise and tantalise us, they awaken and illumine us as they are all reversals of commonly held beliefs and attitudes. The powerful declarations embedded in them pull us away from earthly and worldly rewards and redirect us within, to the inner world of God’s grace and purity.

spacerSermon on the Mount:
Divine Discourse Delivered at a Dangerous Time & Place

More than two thousand years ago, when Jesus began His ministry among the Jewish people, the world was a dangerous place. The Roman occupiers were wholly in control and life was often harsh and brutal for the Jews. They longed for release from their problems and many prayed for the expected Messiah to come and save them, and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

For many Jews, this new Kingdom would very naturally involve the overthrow of the Romans and a restoration of the rights, dignity and aspirations of the Jewish people. Of course, they would expect greater material gains as most of their wealth was being siphoned off as taxes to their Roman masters.

However, Jesus’ first teachings to His people were not what any ordinary person would have expected. Jesus did not give the people what they wanted – He gave them what they needed; that is, if they had the eyes to see and ears to hear. He taught that “The Kingdom of heaven was within” and the Beatitudes are His testimonial to that fact, for they point to an inner living reality open to all.

spacerInside Out Transformation:
Sermon Marks Radical Departure from Conventional Ethos

Scholars and seekers alike see the Beatitudes as a completely new life of the spirit, whose values are totally at odds with a worldly life, but if practiced, powerful enough to completely transform our attitudes, goals and lifestyle.

By the time He delivered this powerful message, the compassionate Lord Jesus Christ, had already established Himself as a great spiritual teacher, orator and healer of the sick. Crowds were following Him from all around. Just before Jesus delivered the Beatitudes to His followers, the Bible records that:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

~ Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4 v23-25


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Jesus teaches in the Synagogue
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The people had faith in Him. He was tall and robust, with fiery eyes that blazed a divine light. He had just withstood the temptations of the devil in the wilderness; and now, wholly sanctified and ascending into His full power He was ready to save His flock. And He used choice and chaste words to attract them.

His pronouncements were piercing and He spoke only to teach and guide those around Him, those who looked up to Him. Already a few had become his pledged disciples, like Peter, Andrew, James and John.

The people were ready to listen to His message – but could they assimilate it? Were they able to understand the profound and deep meaning that could change their lives? And in the same vein, are we, as we read His words afresh?

Jesus opened His Sermon on the Mount with the most powerful directives ever given to man. As He taught His followers, there could be no doubt as to His stature, His authority and the divine origin of His wisdom. Here are those timeless assertions from the Divine, one by one, each one as pointed and powerful as the other.

Part 1:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The Heart of Christ is born
in the poor in spirit
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As these first gifts from His divine lips were articulated, the world had to adjust to its fundamental understanding of the concept of transformation, for He was telling them, ‘My child, don’t rely on your ego; don’t let pride and vanity take hold. Be humble, be gentle, then God will bless you and you will be welcomed into God’s kingdom.’

Jesus was urging His listeners to become aware that by losing their ego, their pride, they can gain an eternal reward: the kingdom of heaven.

Hence He exhorted them to be poor in spirit, bereft of worldly pride and assertiveness.

The poor in spirit are completely empty of ego and entirely open to the Word of God. Like empty cups, God can fill them with humility and inner peace, which keeps them ever acting from the Will of God. A man who shines by way of being ‘poor in spirit’ will never put himself first – he will always put others’ welfare before his own.

This divine virtue of humility is exemplified amply by the one of Christianity’s modern day Saints, St Maximilian Kolbe, whose extraordinary life of sacrifice stands out in the history of mankind.

 

 
 

The Life and Message of St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

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Maximillian as a young
Franciscan novice
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He was born the second son of a poor weaver on 8 January 1894 at Zdunska Wola near Lodz in Poland, and was given the baptismal name of Raymond. Both parents were devout Christians with a particular devotion to Mary. In his infancy, Raymond seems to have been normally mischievous but one day, after his mother had scolded him for some mischief or other, her words took effect and brought about a radical change in the child's behaviour.

Later he explained this change. "That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both." Thus early did the child believe and accept that he was destined for martyrdom. His belief in his dream coloured all his future actions.

In 1907, Raymond and his elder brother entered a junior Franciscan seminary in Lwow. Here he excelled in mathematics and physics and his teachers predicted a brilliant future for him in science. Others, seeing his passionate interest in all things military, saw in him a future strategist. For a time indeed, his interest in military affairs together with his fiery patriotism made him lose interest in the idea of becoming a priest.

The fulfillment of his dream would lie in saving Poland from her oppressors as a soldier. But before he could tell anyone about his decision his mother announced that, as all their children were now in seminaries, she and her husband intended to enter religious life. Raymond hadn't the heart to upset his parents' plans and so he abandoned his plans for joining the army.

He was received as a novice in September 1910 and with the habit he took the new name of Maximilian. From 1912 to 1915, he was in Rome studying philosophy. He was ordained in Rome on 28 April 1918. He lived the next 21 years as a passionate and exemplary Franciscan monk until the second World war broke out.

By September 1939, Maximilian began to organize a shelter for 3,000 Polish refugees, among whom were 2,000 Jews. "We must do everything in our power to help these unfortunate people who have been driven from their homes and deprived of even the most basic necessities..." The friars shared everything they had with the refugees. They housed, fed and clothed them, and brought all their machinery into use in their service.

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"Mary gives me strength.
All will be well."
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Inevitably, the community came under suspicion and was watched closely. On 17 February 1941, he was arrested and sent to the infamous Pawiak prison in Warsaw. Here he was singled out for special ill-treatment. A witness tells us that in March of that year an SS guard, seeing this man in his habit girdled with a rosary, asked if he believed in Christ.

When the priest calmly replied, "I do", the guard struck him. The SS man repeated his question several times and receiving always the same answer went on beating him mercilessly. Shortly afterwards the Franciscan habit was taken away and a prisoner's garment was substituted.

On 28 May, Fr Maximilian was with over 300 others who were deported from Pawiak to infamous Auschwitz death camp. He was put to work immediately carrying blocks of stone for the construction of a crematorium wall. The work went on all day without a stop and had to be done running --- with the aid of vicious blows from the guards. Despite having only one lung, (the other had been lost to tuberculosis) Father Maximilian accepted the work and the blows with surprising calm. Sometimes his colleagues would try to come to his aid but he would not expose them to danger.

Always he replied, "Mary gives me strength. All will be well." At this time he wrote to his mother, "Do not worry about me or my health, for the good Lord is everywhere and holds every one of us in his great love."

In Aushcwitz, where hunger and hatred reigned and faith evaporated, this man opened his heart to others and spoke of God's infinite love. He seemed never to think of himself.

In Aushcwitz, where hunger and hatred reigned and faith evaporated, this man opened his heart to others and spoke of God's infinite love. He seemed never to think of himself. When food was brought in and everyone struggled to get his place in the queue so as to be sure of a share, Fr Maximilian stood aside, so that frequently there was none left for him. At other times he shared his meagre ration of soup or bread with others.

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St. Maximillian Kolbe compassionately serves the Polish refugees
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He was once asked whether such self-abnegation made sense in a place where every man was engaged in a struggle or survival, and he answered: "Every man has an aim in life. For most men it is to return home to their wives and families, or to their mothers. For my part, I give my life for the good of all men."

Men gathered in secret to hear his words of love and encouragement, but it was his example which counted for most. Fr Zygmunt Rusczak remembers: "Each time I saw Fr Kolbe in the courtyard I felt within myself an extraordinary effusion of his goodness. Although he wore the same ragged clothes as the rest of us, with the same tin can hanging from his belt, one forgot his wretched exterior and was conscious only of the charm of his inspired countenance and of his radiant holiness."

There remained only the last act in the drama. The events are recorded in the sworn testimonials of former inmates of the camp, collected as part of the beatification proceedings. They are as follows:

Tadeusz Joachimowski, clerk of Block 14A says,

"In the summer of 1941, the camp siren announced that there had been an escape. The commander announced that on account of the escape of the three prisoners, ten prisoners would be picked in reprisal from the blocks in which the fugitives had lived and would be assigned to the Bunker (the underground starvation cell)"

Jan Jakub Zegidewicz takes up the story from there: "After the group of doomed men had already been selected, a prisoner stepped out from the ranks of one of the Blocks. I recognized Fr Kolbe. Owing to my poor knowledge of German I did not understand what they talked about, nor do I remember whether Fr Kolbe spoke directly to the commander.

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Fr. Kolbe volunteered to be doomed to the underground starvation cell to help another inmate
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He never stopped praying, whether alone or with prison inmates, food or no food
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When making his request, Fr Kolbe stood at attention and pointed at a former non-commissioned officer known to me from the camp. It could be inferred from the expression on commander's face that he was surprised at Fr Kolbe's action. As the sign was given, Fr Kolbe joined the ranks of the doomed and the non-commissioned officer left. A little later, the doomed men were marched off in the direction of Block 13, the death Block."

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The effervescent joy of the 'poor in spirit' shines from St. Kolbe
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The non-commissioned officer was Franciszek Gajowniczek. When the sentence of doom had been pronounced, Gajowniczek had cried out in despair, "Oh, my poor wife, my poor children. I shall never see them again." It was then that the unexpected had happened, and that from among the ranks of those temporarily reprieved, Fr Kolbe had stepped forward and offered himself in the other man's place.

When the sentence of doom had been pronounced, Gajowniczek had cried out in despair, "Oh, my poor wife, my poor children. I shall never see them again." It was then that the unexpected had happened, and that from among the ranks of those temporarily reprieved, Fr Kolbe had stepped forward and offered himself in the other man's place.

Then the ten condemned men were led off to the dreaded Bunker, to the airless underground cells were men died slowly without food or water.

Bruno Borgowiec, an eyewitness recalls what happened: "In the cell of the poor wretches there were daily loud prayers, the rosary and singing, in which prisoners from neighbouring cells also joined. When no SS men were in the Block, I went to the Bunker to talk to the men and comfort them. Fervent prayers and songs to the Holy Mother resounded in all the corridors of the Bunker. I had the impression I was in a church.

"Fr Kolbe was leading and the prisoners responded in unison. They were often so deep in prayer that they did not even hear that inspecting SS men had descended to the Bunker; and the voices fell silent only at the loud yelling of their visitors. …Fr Kolbe bore up bravely, he did not beg and did not complain but raised the spirits of the others....Since they had grown very weak, prayers were now only whispered. At every inspection, when almost all the others were now lying on the floor, Fr Kolbe was seen kneeling or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS men.

"Two weeks passed in this way. Meanwhile one after another they died, until only Fr Kolbe was left. This the authorities felt was too long; the cell was needed for new victims. So one day they brought in the head of the sick-quarters, a German, a common criminal named Bock, who gave Fr Kolbe an injection of carbolic acid in the vein of his left arm. Fr Kolbe, with a prayer on his lips, himself gave his arm to the executioner. Unable to watch this I left under the pretext of work to be done. Immediately after the SS men with the executioner had left I returned to the cell, where I found Fr Kolbe leaning in a sitting position against the back wall with his eyes open and his head dropping sideways. His face was calm and radiant."

 
 

From this unparalleled example we can understand how this virtue leads people to spend much time in prayer where they find all their strength coming from God – rather than the cleverness of the mind or the nourishment of the food.

By living the lecture in its truest and literal sense, in his thought, word and deed, St. Kolbe rose above all divisions, including the racial divide.  There were no Jews and non-Jews for him. All was one.  In that state of inner unity, he experienced a state of equanimity and bliss otherwise unimaginable under his circumstances. The poor in spirit are indeed ever full of rejoicing and thanks to God, because they have overcome their ego, and rest in the presence of God. They have God’s protection, His smiling glance and have turned away from chasing the mirage of the world’s apparent rewards. Indeed they live in the ever present ‘kingdom of heaven’, which is the living presence of the Lord’s Grace.

End of Part 1

Dear reader, how did you like this story? Did it inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories focussed on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and other such divine incarnations? Please write to us at [email protected] with your name and country. We look forward to your feedback, comments and suggestions to help us serve you better. Thank you very much for your time.

- Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 6 Issue 12 - DECEMBER 2008
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