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Book Review: Author Turns Beatitudes into a Way of Life

By Sister Jean Peerenboom

Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness by Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. Translated by Marsha Daigle-Williamson (Servant Books, $13.99).

There are so many timeless lessons in the Scriptures, but none touch me as much as The Beatitudes, therefore I didn’t hesitate to pick up Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa’s “Beatitudes: Eight Steps to Happiness.”

I will admit that I never thought about the beatitudes as a road to happiness. I thought of them as a way to heaven; as a way to make this world a better place; and even to make me a better me – but happiness didn’t really enter the equation before reading this book. Now, it seems so obvious: Of course, I treat people better and my relationship with God blooms if I’m happy.

Cantalamessa makes the beatitudes personal and relevant today. The last chapter is an examination of conscience based on the eight beatitudes. “The best way to take the Gospel beatitudes seriously,” he says, “is to use them as a mirror for an examination of conscience that is truly ‘evangelical.’” It is a great way to end this 135-page meditation.

His final questions are on “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” He asks, “Am I ready to suffer in silence for the Gospel? How do I react when facing a wrong or an injury I have received? Do I participate intimately in the suffering of brothers and sisters who truly suffer for their faith or for social justice and freedom?”

The earlier chapters lead up to this examination well. The beatitudes, he says, are not “an outdated legal code … but a source of perennial inspiration because the one who proclaimed them is risen and alive.”

One of my favorite passages is “It is … the person and life of Christ that makes the beatitudes and the whole Sermon on the Mount something more than a splendid utopian ethic. The life and person of Christ represent a fulfillment of the beatitudes in history from which everyone can draw strength through the mystical communion that unites a person to the Savior. The beatitudes do not belong solely to the realm of obligation, but also to the realm of grace.”

He sees the beatitudes as self-portraits of Christ, so he begins by looking at how Jesus lived each one, and how we can live them today.

Here is how Cantalamessa looks at a few of them:
* “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit:” “What gives religious value to poverty is the motivation for which it is chosen, and in the case of Christ, the motivation is love.” The most precious gift is one that results from self-denial, and Jesus, in His own way, deprived Himself of His divine riches to be able to become one of us.

* “Blessed are those who mourn:” He contrasts pleasure and pain and asks “Where is God?” Sometimes the best tears are the tears of joy.

* “Blessed are the meek:” Here he talks about gentleness. He doesn’t exclude anger, because there are times when anger is an appropriate reaction, but he asks are we able to “moderate anger in a way that does not prevent us from evaluating the situation with peace and justice.” He adds, “The clearest sign of its presence is that we respectfully acknowledge whoever is before us as a human being. With his or her sensitivity and dignity, and that we do not consider ourselves superior.”

* “Blessed are the merciful:” “The Earth would be a much more livable place if we learned to think a little more about the misfortunes and the sufferings of others and a little less exclusively about ourselves – if we learned to substitute a genuine compassion for our neighbor for our own self-pity.” The merciful, he says, will find mercy “not only with God in the final judgment, but also here on earth now with their fellow creatures.”

* “Blessed are the pure in heart:” “It would be an invaluable contribution to society and to the Christian community if the beatitude about the pure in heart helped keep alive in us a longing for a clean, sincere world without hypocrisy – a world in which actions correspond to words, words to thoughts and one’s thoughts to God’s thoughts.”

The last two chapters on Peacemakers and the Righteous don’t seem as strong as the others to me. This may be due more to my own passions about the area of social justice and less to do with Cantalamessa’s message.

In the end, I found the book a good source for reflection about myself, God and the world around me. I often use Matthew 5:1-12 for reflection. But until I picked up this book, I’m not sure I had really read them. Cantalamessa helped me reframe the way I look at it. He goes beyond the words to search out the historical perspective and finds a way to make the Sermon on the Mount meaningful and practical in today’s world.

Sister Jean Peerenboom is the former religion/books editor from the Green Bay Press Gazette. Sister Jean is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. She writes a monthly book review for the Holy Cross Family Blogspot.

To read all of Sister Jean Peerenboom's book reviews, click here.

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