If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series on the beatitudes, click the category “Beatitudes” and start from the beginning! No repeated info. One beatitude builds on the others!
This beatitude is the first one which might at first glance of the Greek phraseology seem to be rather restrained, blunted, not quite up to par with the others. Let’s do a pendantic translation of what our Lord spoke:
Blessed are those providing what is desperately needed by another, for they will have what they desperately need provided to them.
That, of course, is already quite a lot. It takes giving of ourselves to help someone out. Without God’s grace, we don’t like to do that without some self-serving motivation of self-congratulations, or seeking the approval of others, or lusting after that “good feeling” that one gets when helping someone in need. If that’s all we’re after, we will almost immediately get donor-fatigue syndrome, for we will tire of our own hypocrisy. Turn the channel. Finad another distraction. And then we’ll get depressed and upset and frustrated with life altogether… right?
Christ Jesus, of course, is demanding pure motivations in all this mercy. Yikes! How to do this if we don’t have it in us to do this? Are we just to be bribed with a future reception of mercy? Is there is really a present blessedness in such self-sacrifice? I mean, blessedness doesn’t come from any action that we might do. To be blunt about it, filling the desperate need of another is sacrifice that’s not, in itself, going to make anyone happy, certainly not transcendentally joyful, that is, blessed.
So, is one blessed only because there is a promise of having our own desperate need met ["...for mercy will be provided to them."] when we need it most, say, at the hour of death, when we desperately need the gift of the grace of final perseverance? I mean, Jesus does say that there will be a time for all of us in our own futures when we will have a desperate need for which we cannot now prepare. Our need will have to be fulfilled, and this is a promise of His that our desperate need will be fulfilled. This is not just a material need (for no one can prepare for this), but a spiritual need that will be common to all our futures.
Being happy about the future fulfillment of a promise of our Lord is surely part of being blessed now – for hope is so very important in our lives — but the thing is that this blessedness starts now… present tense, a transcendal joy which is more than is to be entirely had with being content with a promise about something in the future. Of course, true hope is discerned when there is presently a partial realization of that for which one hopes. But in this case, in this beatitude, it is not one’s present needs which are to be met in the future, but one’s future needs which are to be met in the future. Right now, one has the wherewithal to help another. So where does that blessedness come from? What is it that makes the foundation of the realization of hope for the future so real in our lives right now that we have this transcendental joy, this happiness which has such deep currents running through every aspect of our lives on all levels and in every way? And perhaps, after all, this present blessedness might, in the end, have something to do with our own needs being met in the future. But how can that be?
The word for mercy in this beatitude, referring to us, is ἐλεήμων, which is today used in Italian for almsgiving. You can see that word on the almsgiving buckets of parish churches, for example. This is the kind of almsgiving the Fatima children would run to give to those poorer off than themselves, often giving their lunches, whatever they had, giving until it hurt, and hurt badly. When someone is in desperate, immediate need, this kind of giving is important. If you were on the receiving end, you would know this. If people had tossed a penny or two at the Soubirous family, I bet that almost half of Saint Bernadette’s familiy would not have died because of the wretched state in which they lived. Probably people thought that they weren’t worth a penny or two, for they lived in an abandoned jail cell whose only window opened on to a mountain of manure. It was dark and dank and stank to high heaven. Don’t be scandalized now, but they were the “shit family” and the little saint was called by everyone in town the “little shit”… la petite merdeuse. Who’s going to give her anything? Think hard about this…
Severely condemned by the more up-to-date Marxist-priest-theologians was the great Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was said that her taking care of the poor, often just being with them in their last dying moments in a gutter full of sewage, was not only useless, but detrimental to the fixing of the big picture, which, they insisted, needed such images of misery in order to provoke the violence of the masses against the powers that be. But she knew that individual love for someone in desperate need was of immediate importance. Go ahead and fix the structures of broken society, justly, but let me help this man die with love and hope, overwhelmed with goodness and kindness!
One can sometimes see the exasperation in the parishes of Rome. This sign tacked to the door of a church says that professional begging is not sincere, and that one should visit the local equivalent of Catholic Charities if one wants to do something about anything. I’m thinking that poor father has no imagination for what could be done from his own rectory. He must have been influenced by the more extreme of liberation theology antics, such as this one, saying that almsgiving is not the answer. Sure, there are gangsters, but begging like this can be the immediate answer to an individual’s desperate need. Everyone has a story. Some are professional “stories”. Others are real. It doesn’t take long to figure it out. Individuals are not ”units”; they are people. Honestly! Can we no longer help someone who is in desperate need of assistance, right here, right now? Do we just say, have a nice day and keep warm and well fed and then take off? What if, say, a youngster is on the streets of New York? A run-away. Most are pimped-off within 24 hours. Most die within two weeks of mistreatment. Are they professional beggers for their first few hours. Sure they are. But they also need help. Can we listen?
On this last point, a bit of advice about just how bad it can get… One does have to beware of the street-mafia groups, which are rife in Italy and pretty much everywhere else. I remember seeing a rather frightening number of little children in Calcutta who had hands or feet cut off, begging on the streets. Many had homemade skateboards to roll about on, or long sticks to hug lest they fall. They looked pitiable. That was the point. The street-mafia would steal children from one part of the city, bring them to other, chop off their limbs and, as they did with one little boy, put a tin begging plate in his mouth and make him crawl like a dog, he having had both hands and feet chopped off. I don’t see anything wrong with putting such children in an orphanage while beating the living day-lights out of the thugs! A good almsgiving, that.
While I’m at it, should businesses not provide a living wage to their workers, taking into consideration the number of children a family has? This is justice, not almsgiving… But how many have been made beggers because of a lack of justice. Sometimes people get a bit uppety about people in misery, saying that it’s all their own fault, but at the same time steal from their employees, making sure that they are turned out on the street… There are a few rich people who now find themselves on the street. Not many, though. Lots of tycoons sadly commit suicide when they go bankrupt. How silly to equate money with life. It’s an eternal mistake. We cannot serve both God and mammon.
But back to the original question about how to be blessed presently with mercy being provided to those in desperate, immediate need…
There is another word for mercy in the Gospels that is not used here, but is only used for Christ Jesus. That word describes something much more far-reaching than “merely” fulfilling the desperate need of another (if that can be described as “merely”!). The word, the verb, actually, in its conjugated form, is ἐσπλαγχνίσθη, as found, for instance, in Luke 15,20, where the father, seeing his prodigal son, is filled with compassion, that is, mercy. Mercy is misericordia or misery of heart, the misery of the other which one brings into one’s own heart so as to fulfill that need as if it were one’s own need. No transference here or other such rubbish. The other’s need is our need in the one Mstical Body of Christ. At any rate, this ἐσπλαγχνίσθη is translated slavisly as having had one’s heart sacrificed. Imagine that. The father’s heart was, as it were, sacrificed for his son. Jesus’ heart was sacrificed for us. That’s His kind of mercy, misery of heart, which is so good and kind!
Now then, if we are to do anything with a pure motivation, it is to be done with the grace of God, He uniting our hearts to His own, sacrificed Heart, broken open, pierced through.
It is that unity with Jesus which provides present blessedness and the reality behind the promise of mercy being provided for us when, in the future, we will indeed be in extreme need. This is the reality behind the present partial realization of the hope we have for the future. We are already with Jesus now in this mercy that we provide in His grace, by way of His sacrificed Heart. Are we not to remain with Him in our final moments? Are we not to be with Him in heaven? This is not a dumbed-down beatitude after all. We are here being lifted into the very Heart of our Lord and Savior, Mary Immaculate’s Son.
Now, just to say, if we do not know anyone in desperate need, emotionally, spiritually, physically… then we need to take serious stock of our lives and see in what ways we’ve gone way, way, way out of our ways NOT to take note of those who are in desperate need. If we want to be blessed now, united to the sacrificed Heart of Jesus, we had better open our eyes, depending on the grace of our Lord, for of ourselves we are just so blind. We are to be merciful just as mercy has been shown to us, and then we will also have the greatest mercy shown to us at the moment of death. It’s eternity we’re talking about. Think about it. Do something. Plan for it now. Then do it. Then, go to heaven! What blessedness! Jesus is just that good, just that kind… Truly. Give it a try. You’ll know it to be true.