Three of Pope Francis’ 6 new Beatitudes helped me look at people different from me in a whole new way.
I want to show you three pictures.
They are images to which my mind often returns, and I bet you have seen similar ones yourself.
The first is a family portrait. Father and mother, aunt, young son and daughter, and baby boy. They are ahead of me, clustered together in line at London’s Heathrow airport. On this July afternoon, we are all flying to Chicago. I’m returning home after a writing retreat in the U.K. This family is traveling into a great unknown, a new life in the United States.
The baby, barefoot, is sleepily wilted over his mother’s shoulder. The two older children stand up very straight and do not say a word. The aunt leans in to her sister, straightens the scarf around her face, and gently runs her finger over the baby’s cheek.
I unzip the top of my suitcase and slip a bag of presents for my family inside. I’ve spent the last hour wandering around the airport, buying souvenirs. For my mother, a bone china mug commemorating the birth of Princess Charlotte. Candy for my children. A bottle of Highland Single Malt Scotch for my husband. Gifts tucked away, I look up. The Syrian family is still stalled ahead of me. The father pulls passports and paperwork from a canvas tote bag. I notice that this bag is the only item that the six of them will bring onto the plane.
Behind me, another American is frustrated by the wait. She steps out of the queue and walks to the side of the desk, demanding the gate attendant’s attention.
“Is this the right line?” she asks. “What’s the hold up? Are you almost done with these people?”
To my ear, her voice sounds like it’s coming through a megaphone; to the Brits around me, it must truly be deafening. (Why must we so often live up to the “loud American” stereotype?)
The gate clerk dismisses her and turns back to the Syrian family. The three adults glance over their shoulders as the woman retreats to the back of the line. Their faces are utterly calm. They look disoriented, numb, exhausted.
Fast forward a few weeks, and look at a second picture with me. I imagine you’ve seen this one because, in August, it was plastered all over the Internet. In it, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits in an ambulance, his face dusty and bloodied after a Russian military strike. One of his eyes appears to be swollen, and he is barefoot. The boy lives in Aleppo, the worst-hit city in the Syrian civil war. Most of Aleppo’s residents have fled, and that Omran and the Daqneesh family still live there means they don’t have the resources to leave. Days after the picture was taken, Omran’s ten-year-old brother Ali died from injuries he suffered in the bombing, and the family’s apartment building collapsed.
In the now iconic picture of Omran as he waits for medical attention, his face is utterly calm. He looks disoriented, numb, exhausted.
The third picture looks like something out of a sci-fi movie—it’s as though the aliens or zombies have destroyed the earth after a decades’ long war with the humans. The images are so shocking, unreal—as though computer generated. Captured by drones, they show what cities such as Omran’s hometown of Aleppo look like now after five and a half years of war.
In news coverage, the phase “war-torn” is often paired with any mention of the nation of Syria. Before I saw the drone images of Aleppo, I carried that phrase in my head. War-torn Syria. The phrase sounds lilting, lyrical somehow … as though Lara’s Theme from the movie Dr. Zhivago should be playing in the background when we speak these words. There’s an air of bleak romance about it. But, after seeing these images, I no longer think of Syria as “war-torn.” It’s decimated. Annihilated. Ruined.
The camera floats above massive piles of rubble and abandoned buildings. The streets are empty, save one or two figures walking alone. The city looks strangely calm, and viewing these images leaves me feeling disoriented, numb, exhausted.
How we gain spiritual energy by standing with those in need
In a homily, given on All Saints’ Day to an audience in Sweden, Pope Francis proposed what we are now referring to as “new beatitudes,” or “beatitudes for the modern age.” The term beatitude comes from a Latin word that means “happiness.”
As the Pope said, “If there is one thing typical of the saints, it is that they are genuinely happy.” The saints, he said, knew “the secret of authentic happiness, which lies deep within the soul and has its source in the love of God. That is why we call the saints blessed.”
We find the original beatitudes in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 as well as in the Gospel of Luke. These are Christ’s “blessed are you” statements—”Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven,” “Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted”—and so on.
In his homily a few days ago, the Pope described the beatitudes as a Christian’s “identity card.”
“We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age in the spirit and love of Jesus,” Pope Francis said. “Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy.”
Sometimes the big numbers overwhelm us—more than 11 million people have died or fled their homes in Syria—and leave us disoriented, numb, and even exhausted. But, we can gain “fresh spiritual energy,” to quote the Pope, when we lovingly stand with those in need.
Among his six modern beatitudes, three bring to my mind refugees like the family I saw at Heathrow, like Omran and his family, and all of those who have left their homes, careers, possessions, and family in a desperate hope for survival.
|They see God in the faces of the people who have lost everything.|
The Pope said:
“Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness.”
“Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him.”
“Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.”
And there are examples—happy and life-affirming ones—of Americans here who don’t see our new neighbors as “those people” (or worse), but as fellow bearers of the image of God. They look into the eyes of refugees with love. They see God in the faces of the people who have lost everything. They give of their own resources to make these travelers comfortable. And they are blessed.
These include people like Barbara Howe and Marsha Lewis (and many others), who help resettle Syrian refugees in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Their governor, Gov. Dannel Molloy, welcomed a Syrian family after the state of Indiana rejected their resettlement plans. Governor Molloy has since received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his stance on accepting Syrian refugees.
They are the staff members and volunteers at organizations such as World Relief who offer myriad opportunities for supporting refugee families, including providing welcome kits and joining a “good neighbor” team.
The Pope’s modern beatitudes are, indeed, invigorating, waking us from detachment and calling us to look with love on the marginalized.
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