An artist’s depiction of the Sermon on the Mount, in about 30 A.D., nearly 2,000 years ago, when Jesus preached his “new law,” summed up in eight blessings, the Beatitudes (Matthew, Chapter 5)

    The Church of the Beatitudes, a Roman Catholic church located on the Mount of Beatitudes near the Sea of Galilee in Israel, not far from Capernaum. The church is located on a small hill overlooking the sea, the traditional “mount” on which Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Christian pilgrims are known to have commemorated this approximate site since at least the 4th century. In her itinerary of the Holy Land, after describing the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, the pilgrim Egeria (ca. 381 A.D.) writes, “Near there on a mountain is the cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.” Both Popes Paul VI and John Paul II celebrated Mass at the church during their pastoral visits to the Holy Land. The modern church was built between 1936 and 1938 near the site of the fourth-century Byzantine ruins. The floor plan is octagonal, the eight sides representing the eight Beatitudes (link)

    Salus animarum suprema lex (‘The salvation of souls is the supreme law (of the Church)’).” —Canon 1752 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (link), the collection of the laws which govern the Church. It is the final canon in the code. (Note: it is set forth in reference to the decision of a bishop to remove or transfer a parish priest within his diocese)

    “The Church’s Code of Canon Law contains 1,752 laws covering everything from the structural organization of the Church as the people of God, the teaching of the Faith, the sacramental life of the Church, the administration of the material goods of the Church, and even penal and procedural law. But lest any of us… forget the purpose of all of this body of law, the very last law (or ‘canon’) states that the ‘salvation of souls,’ which must always be the supreme law of the Church, must be kept before our eyes.” —Catholic Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, in a July 13, 2016, column in his archdiocesan newspaper entitled “The Supreme Law of the Church” (link and link). I published the text of the column four years ago, in my Letter of Tuesday, September 18, 2018 (link)


    Letter #88, 2022, Monday, July 18: The Beatitudes

    First, a correction: In my last letter, on Friday, I wrote that “two traditionalist Catholics were ordained as Catholic priests this spring in France, but the identity of the bishop who ordained them has thus far not been made public.” I was mistaken: only one priest was ordained, Dom Alcuin Reid, and another man was ordained as a deacon, to the diaconate, not to the priesthood. My apologies for the error.

    Second, a reflection on the Beatitudes, the Blessings, of Jesus, from his Sermon on the Mount, and on our project to seek a greater unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.


    The Beatitudes

    Matthew 5:3-12

    The eight Beatitudes in Matthew:

    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 satisfied.

    7 Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

    8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

    9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called the Sons of God.

    10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

    11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

    12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”


    The four Beatitudes in Luke 6:20–22 are set within the Sermon on the Plain.

    20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

    “Blessed are you who are poor,

    for yours is the kingdom of God.

    21 Blessed are you who hunger now,

    for you will be satisfied.

    Blessed are you who weep now,

    for you will laugh.

    22 Blessed are you when people hate you,

    when they exclude you and insult you

    and reject your name as evil,

    because of the Son of Man.

    Four woes that follow in Luke 6:24-26:

    24 “But woe to you who are rich,

    for you have already received your comfort.

    25 Woe to you who are well fed now,

    for you will go hungry.

    Woe to you who laugh now,

    for you will mourn and weep.

    26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,

    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

    A long pilgrimage toward unity

    A bloody conflict continues in Ukraine after nearly five months (February 24 until today).

    NATO, led by the US, has declared it will do all that it can to push the Russians back and prevent the geographic dismemberment of Ukraine.

    Military armaments, in the form of conventional and sophisticated technological weaponry, are being provided to subdue Russian forces.

    At the same time, sanctions layered upon sanctions are being imposed upon Russia in an effort to cause sufficient financial pain to force Putin to cease and desist, and withdraw from Ukraine.

    The response of Vladimir Putin, and therefore of Russia, is, more or less, this: “Talk as much as you want. Sign whatever documents you like. We will outlast you and your spoiled Western societies with our war of attrition, restoring imperial Russia and sealing our place in history even as your evidently decadent Western society continues its swift decay.”


    How did it come to this moment?

    All seemed hopeful at the dawn of the new millennium when Vladimir Putin became President. He looked West. Inspired by Peter the Great, Russia sought to draw closer to the West in an effort to improve the life of its people. There was even talk early on of Russia joining NATO.

    In some important ways the time seemed propitious to address in a new way the many issues dividing East and West. The possibility of reuniting “the post-Soviet space” with the “free West” seemed real, almost within reach — a goal that might be achieved in a decade, or two, if effort were made to meet, and to listen to one another.

    Indeed, St. John Paul‘s hope that the Church might once again “breathe with two longs” seemed more than just a prayer. The history of ten centuries of division, dating back to the “Great Schism” of 1054 A.D., had witnessed one failure after another on the pilgrimage road connecting Constantinople to Rome. Now, this history might be written in a new way, with different results…

    It might be possible, we thought, finally to overcome the divisions… to replace suspicion with at least the beginning presuppositions for trust… to create the possible basis for a recovery of that union which marked the first 10 centuries of the united Church… East and West, Greek and Latin, Byzantine and Roman… to recover what had been lost…


    Urbi et Orbi’s Unitas Project had its origins in 1999 as Putin was on the eve of ascending to the Presidential Office in the Kremlin.

    A simple initiative. An initiative designed to identify confidence-building projects in Russia, at all levels of society, inspired by Christian faith.

    An initiative to support Russia’s own grappling with its Soviet — and Imperial — past, and to help renew the devotion of all sectors of society toward one another as children of God, made in His image and likeness.

    And, in doing so, assist the Russian Orthodox Church in returning to the path it was on in 1917, before the Bolshevik takeover, to bring the Church into a more fraternal relationship with its faithful and, as a consequence, to lay a possible basis for the establishment of the proper symphonia between the country’s faith community and secular society.

    For more than 25 years, Urbi et Orbi Communications found and supported projects to that end.

    It walked the pilgrimage road.

    Encouraged by officials in the Vatican, including at the very highest level — and in a special way by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — and by many individuals in the Russian Orthodox Church, both members of the hierarchy and prominent members of the laity, Urbi et Orbi, inspired by Our Lady of Kazan, Our Lady of Częstochowa, and Our Lady of Fatima, worked to deepen and make visible the impression of its steps along the pilgrimage path for others to follow, if God would will it to be so, in the days ahead.


    I still believe, despite all of the terrible words and actions to the contrary — in the West as well as in the East — that East and West together in faith can become a reality.

    How many more years of traveling the path? Who can predict?

    But I believe that faith, hope, and charity will triumph.

    Russia is not through with the West. It can never eternally be cut off from the West, from which it drew its Christian faith and life, and knowledge of Jesus the Lord — the savior from sin and death.

    We must, now as in the past, continue along a long pilgrimage road, the end of which is not yet glimpsed.

    But when the pilgrimage is done, there will be a time of blessings… though such a time is not yet.


    For more information about our project for unity, please go to this link.


    I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed… I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God” (Ez 36, 26).

    —Christians believe that God fulfilled His promise, expressed here by the prophet Ezechiel, in the Person of Christ who gathers from all nations (kata holos) all who belong to God, and he forms them into the new Israel through a new covenant. The beatitudes are the basic outline, the interior contours, of this new spirit. Jesus, the new Moses, writes these not on tablets of stone, but on the human heart changed and elevated by grace. Thus, the new law is an interior law.

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