We have now reached the fourth Sunday of Advent, as well as Christmas Eve. We will finish our series on the Beatitudes with a reflection on the final two, and thus enter the Christmas season with a renewed desire to live truly happy lives by following the formula Jesus gave us.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” -Matthew 5:9
Before we understand peace, we should clarify what it is not. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. Today’s world tells us that we ought to be quiet when we disagree, “live and let live,” or “go along to get along.” To outwardly reject sin as such is considered judgmental, combative, and agitating. However, when we stay silent for the sake of not rocking the boat, is that authentic peace? People or situations can have no outward signs of fighting or conflict while still experiencing strife and tension under the surface.
Real peace requires that hearts and minds be rightly ordered. So, while sin sows disorder, virtue sows order, which has the natural effect of peace. For the person who seeks to be a peacemaker, he must first ensure his own interior life is rightly ordered. Then, with spiritual maturity, he can proceed with wisdom and charity to help facilitate peace around him. It is rare to see a conflict in which one side is completely right and the other is completely wrong. Most often, both parties contribute to the problems and disorder. For this reason, this particular beatitude often finds itself at the later stages of one’s spiritual journey. It takes quite a bit of work, time, and experience cultivating a properly ordered interior life to reach the point of it having a positive effect on the exterior.
The reward for this beatitude is that the peacemaker shall be called a son, or child, of God. God the Father is the author of peace because he is the author of the rightly ordered, created world, and it is fitting that anyone who participates in that order and peace is the child of the Creator. Before the Fall, in the Garden of Eden, there was no strife, hardship, conflict, or chaos. It is only when sin entered the world that we began to see the effects of sin disrupting the order of creation and, hence, the loss of peace. The Father will recognize a reflection of himself in the person who seeks to reject the disorder of sin and the restoration of proper order and goodness.
Jesus, who arrives tomorrow as an infant child, is the Prince of Peace. He came to destroy sin and restore order to the world by offering an opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, and reparation. Jesus humbled himself to take on human flesh and to share in our human experience, showing us that each of us can do our part to restore order to the world and be peacemakers. His entire ministry was devoted to teaching us how to do just that.
The Blessed Virgin Mary also exemplifies what it means to be a peacemaker. By Eve’s first sin, disorder came into the world, and by Mary’s fiat, order was restored. While Eve disobediently picked the fruit of the tree that was forbidden, Mary gave her consent to have the fruit of her womb nailed to the tree for the sake of humanity’s reconciliation and, as a result, peace.
In his book Heart of the Gospel, Fr. Sebastian Walshe offers a four -step process for working toward peacemaking. First, “we must establish peace within ourselves.” In other words, we must establish right order in our own hearts before we can even begin to establish it outside of ourselves. Secondly, we must patiently bear the burdens of others. because if we are easily disturbed by the weaknesses of others and place unobtainable demands on them, we cannot facilitate peace (see Galatians 5:22- 6:2 and Romans14:14-20). The third step is fraternal correction, in which we are called to name sin as sin but do so with the motivation of love and conversion for the sinner (see Matt 18:15-17). Again, this works better when one’s interior life is properly ordered first, and we take the wooden beam out of our own eye before pointing out the speck in our brother’s. The final step of being a peacemaker is forgiveness and reparation. This is a continual process of forgiving others as we have been forgiven, but also of mending the fences, when possible, where sin has caused damage. When reparation is not possible on this earth, maintain peace in your own heart, while offering prayer and sacrifice for others, with the hope of reparation and peace in eternal heaven.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:10
This final beatitude is the perfect culmination of the previous seven. We have already established that the beatitudes are the heart of the gospel message and the roadmap for achieving real happiness, so it seems odd on the surface that the final thing for which we should strive is persecution. Whether mental, emotional, or physical — persecution is painful, and our human nature is not predisposed to seek it out. However, a well-formed soul knows that persecution is actually a cause for joy, because it means you are doing things right according to God’s will. Not only does persecution mean that you are striving to be a good Christian and love Jesus in your heart, but it also means you are bringing Jesus to others. After all, why would anyone persecute you for your Christianity if you were keeping it to yourself and not bothering anyone else with it?
To be clear, beatific persecution is not persecution for any reason, no matter what it is. Beatific persecution is being subjected to suffering for truth or virtue. It is to suffer specifically for God because you live in pursuit of truth and virtue. It is fitting then, that the reward for this is Heaven because this is the ultimate reward for a life well-lived, an eternal paradise where we will see God, as he is, face to face. The more persecution you endure for your Christian witness, the more confident you can be that you’re on the right path, so rejoice in your persecutor’s attacks! The fact of the matter is that each one of us will suffer and die. How much better to suffer and die for what is good and right with the promise of eternal paradise, than to suffer and die in vain for worldly concerns and temporal desires?
Again, we can look to Jesus and Mary as examples of pursuing this beatitude without fear. Shortly after the birth of her Son, it was prophesied to Mary that a sword would pierce her heart, so it was evident from the beginning that her “yes” to God would not come without a heavy price. Yet, this did not deter her. Jesus also knew what his fate would be, but he continued to preach the gospel message to the masses without hesitation. They boldly lived for truth and virtue so that others would be encouraged to do the same, and the persecution eventually came. What did Jesus say or do to warrant the suffering and death he endured? What mercy was offered to his mother’s heart as she followed and watched? Can you look to them as an example of how to be a Christian witness in the world at a fraction of the cost of the suffering?
This Christmas season, reflect on the beatitudes as something to be pursued for the sake of happiness that is to be experienced both in the here and now, as well as eternally. Meditate on how the Incarnation of Christ as an infant in his mother’s arms radiates the peace and happiness that we all seek. Finally, contemplate how living the beatitudes can create a permanent disposition of the tranquility of the nativity scene in our hearts year-round.
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