Arriving where we started
‘A happy release’, ‘She is better off where she is now’, ‘He is out of his trouble’: with such comforting phrases we point a contrast between this life and the future one when someone who has been very ill has at last died.
It is right that those who have been in terrible pain should be relieved of it. Now, at the very least, they will be able enjoy the absence of their sufferings.
Happy are you who weep now, you shall laugh
We all, however, want to be merry in heaven. Even those of us who consider ourselves not too burdened at the moment hope for happiness forever with God. The beatitudes seem to argue that we had better get a burden quick. The Kingdom of God belongs to those who have had a hard time on earth.
How happy are you who are poor now, yours will be the kingdom of God
This is a harder teaching than the one which consoles the very ill with the assurance that the next stage will be better than the present one. The kingdom of God, we are being told, is specifically for those who been dispossessed here below. Perhaps you do not feel especially dispossessed? Or, if you do indeed have your burden to carry, you would nevertheless be reluctant to compare your troubles with the notable sufferings of others who are in more difficult situation.
Fortunately for all of us the troubles which are essential for our access to the kingdom are the sufferings of Jesus Christ. His agony, which draws into itself all the pains, little and grave, of those whom he loves, is that with which the joys of the future kingdom are contrasted. The Lord’s is the humiliation which is changed into glory. The rest of us hope to go into heaven on his coat-tails. Our own troubles, impoverishments and tears, will be replaced by their opposites, not because of our own endurance, but thanks to our association with him. Our being friends with Christ nevertheless alters our understanding of what presently ails us and of the troubles of others.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit for they shall see God.
That is, ‘Blessed are those who stick close to the one who made himself poor for our sake, for he will carry them with him into the presence of our creator.’ If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people. Our hope is for this life since the kingdom has already begun. However, our hope is also for a life which, like the kingdom itself, stretches ahead of us, gloriously, beyond our death.
At that moment when we depart from this world, we pray, our closest association will cease to be with other people and become principally with God. Sometimes we resist this re-shaping which is already beginning. Would you rather work out your own salvation than be carried by Jesus into the Kingdom of God?
We are children of God.
Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to mere children.
We are taken into heaven, like an infant being carried home. We do not stride into God’s presence on our own. If there is hard work to be done to get there it is the toil of allowing ourselves to be carried. There is a task to perform also in accepting that we cannot go in by ourselves. Meanwhile the following of Christ, which really does bring the kingdom nearer, gives us plenty of scope, not just for effort, but for beatitude, for happiness.
Happy is the one who does not linger in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of scorners, but whose delight is the law of the Lord, and who ponders His law day and night. Not glibly, does the scripture conclude All that that person does shall prosper.
The prosperity of the disciple is like the kingdom itself. What the Lord achieves in us draws us back to our source. The ‘prosperity’ of knowing ourselves children of God is different from other kinds of doing well. With maturity, with responsibility and with fidelity to the truth we accept what was always intended.
What God gives us is a happiness and a prosperity. He enables us to succeed in reaching him and being with him forever. From the very start, God has called us to live in this abundance which can take all of us well beyond present trouble.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started.
(T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, Little Gidding)
Peter Gallagher SJ