By Sister Cynthia Serjak
I have always understood the Beatitudes to be about how we are to be in the world now, recognizing that acting in certain ways will bring about certain “rewards” in the life to come. So if I am merciful now, then when I need mercy (at the end of my earthly and earthy life), it will be there for me, kind of stockpiled, just in case.
Recently, however, I began to wonder whether there might be another way to interpret the tense of these promises. What if my being merciful in the world brings me into mercy right now? What if my “reward” is not delayed for when I may or may not need it at my life’s end but comes to me as soon as I extend it to someone else? In this case the word will is not so much about future as about certainty – if you do this, then this will happen.
In the Sisters of Mercy Constitutions #6 we have written: “By collaborating with others in works of mercy, we continually learn from them how to be more merciful.” What if my reward is learning mercy now? What if each time I extend mercy I get mercy back, expressed in my own growing in learning more about being mercy?
Often we say that in doing a ministry we received more than we gave, that in serving those on the margins we learned about our own marginality. We find ourselves with overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity to serve, because the exchange between me and others is so rich and rewarding and life-giving. Maybe that’s what the Beatitude means: if you are mercy in the world, you get mercy right back—no waiting, no stockpiling, just mercy, free and flowing and more than enough.
And what about the other Beatitudes? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the reign of God is theirs. That’s clear and compelling. Those who are poor in spirit get it. They know the reign of God now. And that certainty may be what keeps them going in the midst of a world that shuns them.
Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God. Right now they will see God, because they look with clean eyes as well as hearts. And those stubborn peacemakers, they are children of God here and now, already, no waiting, just knowing that if I make peace I am showing myself a as child of God.
The Beatitudes may be about the future, but they also may be about this very present. Why wait to see God or know yourself as a Child of God? Make mercy real now!