At this holy time of year as we approach Passover and Easter, I reflect on the ways in which my faith informs my life. And I consider the ways in which I can strengthen my connection to the divine with these reflections.
The central emphasis of Eastern Christian monastic spirituality is the belief that we are called “to become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4) In the words of St. Athanasius, “God became man so that man might become God.”
The Psalms and Christian Monastic Life
One of the most profound ways that I have found to infuse my daily life with my faith is to practice the advice of the Eastern Christian Saint ‘Theophan the Recluse.’ “It is good, very good, to memorize several psalms and recite them while you are working or between tasks, doing this instead of short prayers sometimes, with concentration.”
Early Christian disciples regarded the Book of Psalms as powerful and insightful doctrine, offering prophecy as well as praise. The 150 psalms of the Old Testament are the principal element of the entire Opus Dei, an institution of the Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity.
The monastic life was structured around the call to “pray without ceasing,” and the core of the monastic group prayer is the Psalms. In praying the Psalms day in and day out, it is God in the person of Christ to whom we have recourse, upon whom we depend for life and light. We turn to Christ as God, Lord, Shepherd, Physician, King, Teacher, Rock, Bulwark, Hiding-Place.
There is a reciprocal interaction between your activity (doing self) and your prayers (being self), and vice versa. They mutually support and reflect each other. Through integrating our “being” self into our daily lives, we learn that happiness isn’t the absence or avoidance of pain and suffering, but the mastery within pain and suffering to deeply know and feel in our hearts peace, joy, beauty and love.
The Beatitudes as a Path to “Being”
In my theological studies, I have recently been examining the Beatitudes, which are most often associated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus offers the steps to heavenly glory, each of which begins with the word “blessed.” Just as the Beatitudes begin with the word ‘blesses’ so do many of the Psalms.
The Beatitudes show us that many of Jesus’ teachings had their foundation in the Psalms. Jesus used the Psalms more than any other Old Testament source during His ministry and more than 100 scriptures in the New Testament are quoted from the Psalms.1
The Sermon on the Mount and the Psalms
The setting for the Sermon on the Mount is related to the great multitudes Jesus attracted from all areas of his ministry. While it has been argued persuasively that Jesus’ going up to the Mount paralleled Moses’ going up to Mount Sinai and receiving the law,2 the mountain setting of the Sermon also evokes a sense of going up to the temple, and hearing various psalms sung by priests and Levites in the sacred temple precinct as part of Israel’s worship services. The mountain-temple connection in ancient Israel is well established. In fact, a common Hebrew name for the Jerusalem temple was har ha-bayit, “mountain of the house.”3
Both the Beatitudes and the Psalms describe personal qualities and characteristics by which they can influence others to receive exaltation. Many of the concepts and principles taught in the Beatitudes were rooted in the much older Psalms.
Even the ultimate command issuing from the sermon—to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:48)—is reflected in one of the Psalmist’s exhortation: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).
The Psalms and Beatitudes as Inspiration for a Healthy Life
The more we examine the Psalms and compare them to the life and the teachings of Jesus, especially those found in the Beatitudes, the more we draw ourselves to the Old Testament, the Jewish faith, and the roots of Christianity. Simply put, it is a healthy way to live, regardless of religion, or even without adhering to any particular religion or God.
The Latin beatus, from which “beatitude” derives, means “to be fortunate, to be blessed, to be joyful.” The Beatitudes that Jesus taught are named for the opening words of each statement, “Blessed are . . .”
Some Bible translations of beatitudes use the word “happy” instead of “blessed”; however, the meaning of the two words is not the same. Happiness is pleasure based on external things that happen to us. The Biblical use of blessedness goes much deeper, signifying an inner sense of joy and peace resulting from doing God’s will.4
The Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26) are the fundamental teaching of Jesus. They are believed to be one of the most concise summaries of the spiritual life of humanity. It is my favorite scripture.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Jesus Himself was poor, not only in body but in spirit. Without a “place to lay His head.” (Matt. 8:20)
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Mourning, according to God, is sadness of the soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart which ever madly seeks for that which it thirsts…
It is a golden spur in a soul, which is stripped of all attachment and all ties…
God does not ask or desire that we should mourn from sorrow of heart, but rather out of love for Him he should rejoice with spiritual laughter.
(The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7)
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Meekness is an essential possession of the spiritual person. Jesus Himself was meek. (Matt. 11:27-30)
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
It is those who are hungry and thirsty for what is good who receive the blessings of God. (Matt. 6:31-33)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
To be merciful is to be like God, for “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8)
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’ (Matt 7:22-23)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Christ, the “prince of peace,” (Isaiah 9:6) gives the peace of God to those who believe in Him. “The peace of God passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)
“Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Joy is the essential element of the spiritual life. (John 15:20-21)
“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15: 8-11)
“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:22-24)
The Psalms and Beatitudes share a common message and are the cornerstones of a spirit-filled life. Ultimately it is only God, which we can only know through selfless exchange of pure “Agape” Love, who can fulfill the longings of the human heart. As Pope Francis says “God came from Love.” The psalm verse readily comes to mind: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:9).
May you be inspired you to explore greater mystical heights through your own relationship with the Divine and be infused with a renewed passion to love and serve more, loving the Lord and extending your loving kindness to all.
Have a blessed Passover and Easter!
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.
- Several authors point out the parallel. See, for example, Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 174–75; John W. Welch, The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009), 17–23. However, W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 99, says the New Sinai typology “only acquires force from other elements in the Gospel which point to this.”
- Sigmund Mowinckel, The Psalms in Israel’s Worship (New York: Abingdon, 1962), 2:89–90.
- Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon, 2:1481–82; 1:566.