In the opening pages of his latest book, The Eight Doors of the Kingdom: Meditations on the Beatitudes (Scepter), Fr. Jacques Philippe tells us that his book is a meditation on the Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel with a particular attention paid to the first, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Fr. Philippe has no equal in writing short, meditative guides to Christian prayer and spirituality. His ten previous books include Interior Freedom, In the School of the Holy Spirit, The Way of Trust and Love: A Retreat Guided by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Thirsting for Prayer.
Like these works, The Eight Doors of the Kingdom is a retreat between book covers built on the foundation of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of saints that can help you grow in your faith.
The Beatitudes are a natural subject for Fr. Philippe, since he belongs to the Community of the Beatitudes, a religious order founded in France in 1973 whose spirituality is partially based on these core teachings of Jesus Christ.
Given his devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as well as his community’s adoption of Carmelite contemplative spirituality, and a spirit of childhood based on the little way of St. Thérèse, the first Beatitude equally is a natural subject for Fr. Philippe
A foundational truth of this spirituality informs The Eight Doors of the Kingdom: Faith requires a Christian to learn how to trust completely in God’s infinite love and mercy and to bring this same love and mercy into the world.
And this requires the knowledge, to use a comment Fr. Philippe makes in his discussion of persecution in the book, that God “loves us without measure so that we can love him without measure, even more than our own lives.”
While Fr. Philippe has explored these truths in his earlier works, his meditation in this book shows us how our acceptance of the Beatitudes can lead us to freedom and happiness, and ultimately union with the Holy Trinity. In the third Beatitude, for example, he in part explains possession of the earth with this observation:
“A third way of interpreting possession of the earth is that for someone who lives the Beatitudes—a man of humble heart, poor and meek—is well in the end. Every circumstance, fortunate or unfortunate, every success and failure, adds its bit to making him grow. Practicing the Beatitudes is the way to immense freedom.”
The world with all its illusions is powerless to provide such freedom and happiness. Only God can, and the path to this freedom and happiness is through Jesus Christ and the Beatitudes, which teach us what it means to live as a Christian on the way to heaven.
One of the passions that often ensnares us is anger. In four pages, Fr. Philippe offers a concise explanation of anger, the harm it causes, and how to defeat it. Those who live by the Beatitudes, he tells us, will examine their anger honestly and admit when it is the result of pride and self-interest, even when protesting what is perceived as an injustice.
To free ourselves from anger, we must trust God and forgive the debts that we believe others owe us. This means that we must accept the reality of injustice and “out of love of Jesus” give up “demanding that we always be treated with perfect justice.”
Forgiveness takes courage and self-renunciation. To live as Jesus Christ teaches, we must forgive those who have harmed us, no matter how difficult it is to forgive. Forgiveness, unfortunately, is in short supply in our society today, which tends to glorify the sin of vengeance.
Many of us can attest to the truth of Fr. Philippe’s observation about sinners in the Church with our personal testimony:
“Our churches are full of the images of saints with halos, flowing robes, and angelic visages. But how many of them were once murderers, adulterers, or people like St. Augustine who made their mother weep for thirty years—great sinners until the grace of conversion touched them.”
Those of us who were once great sinners and who like St. Augustine have experienced the grace of conversion have an even greater obligation to forgive out of our understanding that we remain sinners. Even those whose sins are less treacherous than those of the great sinners Fr. Philippe notes cannot experience freedom until they learn how to forgive. No forgiveness, no freedom or happiness. No ultimate union with God.
Although of the Western Church, Fr. Philippe offers a concise explanation of the gift of tears in the Eastern Christian tradition and includes incisive quotations from the Eastern Church throughout the book.
These quotations include, among others, those of: St. Isaac the Syrian, the seventh century bishop of Nineveh and later monastic known for his homilies on asceticism; St Seraphim of Sarov, the beloved and best known Russian ascetic and spiritual teacher to whom the Blessed Mother appeared twelve times; and St. Diadochus of Photike, the fifth century writer of one of the most important works of Eastern Christian spirituality.
The inclusion of these observations reveal the spirituality of the Beatitudes not just from the perspective of East and West but also from the unified perspective of the Church.
Everywhere we look in our society today we can see the consequences of the rejection of the guidance Our Lord provides us in the Beatitudes. The ultimate consequence is alienation from God. Fr. Philippe writes:
“In modern times the rejection of God has turned against such fundamental elements of God’s creation as the distinction between the two sexes, male and female, and the family. There is an impetus in the direction of a version of humanity severed from the plan of God.”
Severed from the plan of God, man will no longer be human. The Beatitudes teach us, Fr. Philippe tells us, “how to practice faith, hope, and love in our daily lives.” Jesus Christ teaches us, therefore, how to be fully human. He teaches us that being fully human requires that we renounce our ways and the ways of the world for the better way planned for us by God.