Praying the Beatitudes
By Gary T. Johnson
I would like you to consider the Beatitudes in a new way: to use them as a guide to prayer. The text is in Matthew 5:
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
My suggestion is that you consider each Beatitude as introducing a list of prayer requests. Identify your prayer requests for each category, and pray for them in turn by name. Some will be easy from the very beginning, such as recalling the individuals you know who are mourning losses. Some may take some reflection, such as identifying individuals and groups who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
As you do this from day to day, you will find that your list for each category gets larger. More and more people come within the reach of your prayer. Your sensitivity to human need becomes more acute. Your concern grows. You begin to lose your indifference to the most fundamental of human conditions, the conditions that have the potential of drawing people very close to God.
Before you begin, you may note an apparent paradox. How can it be that our prayers matter, particularly in the context of the Beatitudes? After all, we are assured by Jesus that the persons in each category already are "blessed." Not only that, Jesus identifies a reward for each. How can our prayers matter for those who are already blessed, for those who will have their reward?
If you "pray" the Beatitudes as I suggest, you will solve this paradox. You will never again doubt that prayer makes a difference. It will make a difference in you, as your sensitivity to human needs grows. It will make a difference to others as your growing concern inevitably leads to action. You will reach out yourself to those who mourn, and you will comfort them. You will seek out and support those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Through these actions, you will be doing God's work on earth.
And you will be doing even more on a spiritual level. Is adding your blessing to God's own blessing, an idle gesture? Of course not. You will be in tune with the divine. What better form of praise can there be than to add your blessing to God's own blessing? In some mysterious way, you take responsibility, you become involved. As you pray, you see others, you see the world, from a vantage outside your own. You look beneath the surface. You make connections. The mind of Christ is in you.
Pray does make a difference, even prayers for the blessed, even for those who have their reward. The verses that immediately follow the Beatitudes confirm the part that we play in God's plan:
13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
The salt of the earth. The light of the world. What we do makes a difference. What we pray makes a difference.
Living the Beatitudes