Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
— Jesus preaching on holiness in the Gospel of Saint Matthew
When politicians wonder what qualities to bring to the hustings, and when voters ponder what traits to look for in candidates, the Beatitudes don’t figure much.
Scratching your head and googling the word? Welcome to the club. Few people in our time know or care about the Eight Beatitudes handed down by Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount, recounted in today’s All Saints Day reading (Matthew, 5:1-12).
After all, politics is not the place for saints, whose holy qualities are summed up in the Beatitudes. The poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the just and righteous, the merciful, the clean-hearted, the peacemakers, and the persecuted may be blessed in Christ’s book, but they probably won’t get elected.
Yet those are the qualities we sorely need in our rulers. And their absence is perhaps the biggest reason we are in such a dismal state, with tens of millions stuck in poverty for generations, killing suspects by the thousands as the only effective way left to stop the lawless, and our clean air, pristine waters, verdant views, and diverse life are going.
What’s mine is mine
It all begins with the idea that wealth, power, prestige and other bounties are for every man’s taking. Then the rich don’t have to share with the poor, the powerful can use it to get more of it, and the well-known and well-connected get privileges denied most of us.
Result: zero-sum is the only game in town. Politics, business, even religion become a ruthless battle to get and stay ahead, grabbing as much as we can for us and us alone.
That’s the exact opposite of poor in spirit, seeing everything as God-given, never one’s own, but entrusted to us. Riches, talent, power, position, and planet are all from the Lord and must be used for the good He wishes.
Living it up
Along with the all-mine mentality, the quest for enjoyment and ego are also hurting people and nation. Enjoying the good life and asserting one’s views and wants have become the be-all and end-all for our time, as seen in the personalities we admire and aspire to.
Take Donald Trump, whose high living and brash manner are both cheered and jeered, and we’re not sure which is louder. And many others are scrambling for their bit of affluence and influence, with little caring for the poor and obscure.
In our me-first world, there is need for mourning and meekness. Mourning for the violence, suffering, and injustice around us, and meekness in listening, not blustering. Only then can the cries of agony and anger be heard without the guns of rebellion.
Killing to live in peace
When leaders put money and power, enjoyment and ego above all, then justice and right go south. That’s the way of all corrupt flesh, as seen these days on the streets, in the corridors of power, and at the very jails where justice, not narcotics, is supposed to be served.
With justice gamed, the rule of law can’t stop the lawless. Enforcers resort to violence outside the law, employing evil to stop a greater evil. Even more devilish, we accept this Faustian bargain of killing thousands so that millions can have peace and security.
In this perverse and perverting national condition, we desperately need those who thirst and scream for justice and right, even and especially if they are alone. For if, God forbid, no one is left to cry out for what’s right, then we are truly and perhaps irretrievably lost.
Us against them
And in so much of our politics and other fields of endeavor, there is no room for mercy and peacemaking. Differences and divisions invariably ignite unyielding conflict. Decades of insurgency. Irreconcilable ideologies and interests. Kill-or-be-killed contests.
To be sure, there are hopeful signs in the new dispensation, with lessening animosities with our giant northern neighbor, and resumed negotiations toward ending the longest insurgencies in Asia.
Will these peace efforts win against the deep-seated distrust, fears and grievances, which have kept the dogs of war barking and biting all these many years?
Only if we seek forgiveness and friendship are the only way to stop shedding our blood.
Can we bleed for each other?
Perhaps the hardest Beatitudes for politicians — and anyone else, for that matter — are being clean of heart and being persecuted. The power game is a dirty business, with much double-dealing and backbiting. And being pummeled by one’s rivals is hardly the definition of political success.
Yet consider this: While one may not be able to avoid dirtying one’s hands, there are those who relish it, and others who abhor the compromises and constantly strive to find the unsullied path, even if one may fail.
After all, it’s not the hands that are supposed to stay clean, but the heart. And we need leaders who, despite their compromises, never stop wanting to fight against them.
As for persecution, it is indispensable in the quest for righteousness, justice and the common good. For many are lured by the all-mine, me-first, kill-or-be-killed, dirt-loving ways, and they abhor those who cherish and practice the Beatitudes, especially in the nasty game of money and power. And the evil vent their hate against the good.
To play politics the saintly way, be ready to bleed.
Have a blessed All Saints’ Day!