Saint Leo makes the link that encourages us to link the Beatitudes with the health of one’s interior life and the adherence to the will of God. Here, humility of spirit is given as a key to living in the kingdom of God.
When our Lord Jesus Christ, beloved, was preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, and was healing various sicknesses through the whole of Galilee, the fame of His mighty works had spread into all Syria: large crowds too from all parts of Judæa were flocking to the heavenly Physician (Matthew 4:23-24). For as human ignorance is slow in believing what it does not see, and in hoping for what it does not know, those who were to be instructed in the divine lore, needed to be aroused by bodily benefits and visible miracles: so that they might have no doubt as to the wholesomeness of His teaching when they actually experienced His benignant power. And therefore that the Lord might use outward healings as an introduction to inward remedies, and after healing bodies might work cures in the soul.
Then He separated Himself from the surrounding crowd, ascended into the retirement of a neighboring mountain, and called His apostles to Him there, that from the height of that mystic seat He might instruct them in the loftier doctrines, signifying from the very nature of the place and act that He it was who had once honored Moses by speaking to him: then indeed with a more terrifying justice, but now with a holier mercifulness, that what had been promised might be fulfilled when the Prophet Jeremiah says: behold the days come when I will complete a new covenant for the house of Israel and for the house of Judah. After those days, says the Lord, “I will put my laws in their minds, and in their heart will I write them.” He therefore who had spoken to Moses, spoke also to the apostles, and the swift hand of the Word wrote and deposited the secrets of the new covenant in the disciples’ hearts. There were no thick clouds surrounding Him as of old, nor were the people frightened off from approaching the mountain by frightful sounds and lightning, but quietly and freely His discourse reached the ears of those who stood by: that the harshness of the law might give way before the gentleness of grace, and the spirit of adoption might dispel the terrors of bondage.
The nature then of Christ’s teaching is attested by His own holy statements: that they who
wish to arrive at eternal blessedness may understand the steps of ascent to that high happiness. “Blessed,” He says, “are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). It would perhaps be doubtful what poor He was speaking of, if in saying blessed are the poor He had added nothing which would explain the sort of poor: and then that poverty by itself would appear sufficient to win the kingdom of heaven which many suffer from hard and heavy necessity. But when He says blessed are the poor in spirit, He shows that the kingdom of heaven must be assigned to those who are recommended by the humility of their spirits rather than by the smallness of their means. Yet it cannot be doubted that this possession of humility is more easily acquired by the poor than the rich: for submissiveness is the companion of those that want, while loftiness of mind dwells with riches. Notwithstanding, even in many of the rich is found that spirit which uses its abundance not for the increasing of its pride but on works of kindness, and counts that for the greatest gain which it expends in the relief of others’ hardships. It is given to every kind and rank of men to share in this virtue, because men may be equal in will, though unequal in fortune: and it does not matter how different they are in earthly means, who are found equal in spiritual possessions. Blessed, therefore, is poverty which is not possessed with a love of temporal things, and does not seek to be increased with the riches of the world, but is eager to amass heavenly possessions.
Eternal Shepherd, graciously guard Thy flock, and through blessed Leo, Thy Supreme Pontiff, whom Thou did appoint pastor of the universal Church, keep it under Thy continual protection.