First Reading: Zep 2:3.3:12-13; Psalm: 146. R. v. Mt 5:3; Second Reading: 1Cor 1:26-31; Gospel: Mt 5:1-12a
THE BEATITUDE VIA NEGATIVA
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
In the Christian tradition, the via negativa is a style of argument whereby we reach the knowledge of God by considering what God is not. Since God is a divine being beyond human comprehension, anything said of him will necessarily be limited because our knowledge of him is limited. It suffices then that the truest things we can say of God are by way of negation. That is, by saying what God is not rather than saying what he is. According to Aquinas, words such as “infinite,” “incorporeal,” “immutable” and “ineffable best defines God than when we try to speak of God via positiva.
St Augustine said, “If you comprehend, it is not God. If you are able to comprehend, it is because you mistook something else for God. If you almost comprehend, it is again because you allowed your own thoughts to deceive you.” The via negativa style of argument also gives us the insight that certain knowledge or truth could be clearer if we searched from the opposite side. There is no better time to understand and appreciate what good health means than the time of sickness. As the saying goes, ‘we may not understand the value of what we have until we lose it.’ So sometimes things are clearer when viewed from the opposite side.
The teaching of Jesus in the gospel of today biblically known as the beatitude is the magna carta of the kingdom of God. In this teaching, Jesus presented an all time standard for every disciple of the kingdom. Jesus listed what the world considered signs of foolishness and weakness as the necessary attitude to salvation. Although this may sound demotivating; but the rewards in keeping them could give us the persevering spirit to practice these heavenly virtues relentlessly.
But just in case this beatitude and its rewards do not sound attractive to us; perhaps looking at them the via negativa way could remind us of what we are going to miss out and the painful consequences therein.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” If this does not sound attractive to us, maybe this could help us reconsider – “Woe to the proud hearted and those who trust in themselves, for they shall be cast out of the kingdom of God.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Does this sound foolish? Then how about this – “Woe to those who are uncompassionate and unremorseful to evil, for they shall weep.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” If we thought that gentleness, tolerance, and self control are signs of weakness; then how about this – “Woe to those who are indisciplined and unkind, for they shall lose their serenity.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirsty for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” If the desire to be holy doesn’t interest us, this most definitely wouldn’t be a better choice – “Woe to those who are indifferent to the things of God, for they shall feel empty and unfulfilled.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” If we thought that forgiveness was for the weak; then consider this – “Woe to the unforgiving, for they shall not receive mercy from God.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Our joy and ultimate goal is to be united with our God on the last day. So, “Woe to those who do not seek purity of heart, for they shall not be united with our God and maker.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Is this too much to ask? Then think of this – “Woe to those who promote conflict and war, for they shall sever their relationship with God and be called sons and daughters of the Evil one.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” If we can’t endure persecution; can we accept this? – “Woe to those who renounce or compromise their faith due to persecution, for they shall lose the reward of heaven.”
Can we perceive how more attractive these messages are when looked at from the other side? Perhaps it could help us better appreciate this message. Jesus is interested in our salvation which was why he gave us this divine constitution to guide our conducts. When he saw the crowd, he was moved with love and compassion and desired that they should be saved. It was for this reason that he sat down and gave them these beautiful rules to guide their lives. Jesus is addressing us today with similar words and wants us to act accordingly in order to be saved.
Every human decisions and actions stem from the inner persona. The inner persona is our real person that is only made visible by our physical body. This is not the soul. Our manliness or womanliness does not really consist in our appearances but in our inner persona. When it is said that a man is strong, it is not because of his biceps. Even a woman can be stronger without any muscle to flex. So our manliness or womanliness stems from the inner persona and exudes genderless attributes such as strength, bravery, tenderness and affection, to mention but a few. This also controls our words and actions. When for instance we say, “Yes, I can!” It is only an audible assertion of the inner persona. So what we say to ourselves is often the voice of the inner persona; and it controls us.
The demands of the beatitudes are not undoable. We need to leverage on the potency of the inner persona to attempt them. This however does not imply that we can practice these beatitudes by own power. Because without the grace of God, we cannot keep them. But every human action starts with a decision. And God needs us to set our minds on doing his will before his grace comes to work in us. If we saw the beatitude as too demanding, we may not keep them. If we gave excuses why we can’t forgive; forgiveness becomes impossible. If we considered making peace as a sign of weakness; we will never reconcile with anyone.
So God’s grace is inviting us today to listen to that assertive voice of the inner persona encouraging us to make a bold step towards keeping these demands of the kingdom. This is all we need to do. And afterwards, we can now wait and see how God will use us to do what out of our doubts and fears we considered impossible to do.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for the grace to live according to your divine teachings. Amen.
Happy Sunday Padre.