HILTON HEAD — The word beatitude comes from the Latin “beatus,” meaning blessed or blessing. Jesus used the beatitudes to describe the qualities of the inhabitants of the kingdom of heaven during the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Today, they could be considered the predecessor to the tips often provided to help people achieve certain goals in their lives.
Kathleen M. Sullivan, Ph.D., senior director of spirituality and service for the Notre Dame Alumni Association, observed that correlation and is using lessons she learned from her own struggles to help others.
Sullivan brought her heart-felt and enthusiastic lecture, “Servant Leadership: The Intersection of the Beatitudes and the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,” to St. Francis by the Sea Church on April 21. The speech was part of the Hesburgh Lecture Series sponsored by the Notre Dame Club and featured talks by university faculty.
The beginning of Sullivan’s presentation discussed what the beatitudes mean and provided a modern version of the opposite definition.
The first beatitude is “blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The opposite is, “blessed are those who rely totally on themselves, they shall boast full credit for their achievement.” Sullivan reminded the audience to act as servants and ask how well they served at the end of each day.
The second beatitude, “blessed are they that mourn, they will be comforted,” is opposed by “blessed are those who complain about their suffering, they will be entitled to self-pity and attention.”
To live the true beatitude, Sullivan advised people to turn sorrow into a servant by focusing not on what they have lost, but on what they have left.
The third beatitude is “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” Contrary to this is the idea of “blessed are those who use their authority, power or position over others, they will appear important and get what they want.” While meek has a more negative connotation today, the original translation was self-control, Sullivan said. Today, that means finding the courage to speak the truth and to be considerate of how the truth is spoken, she said.
The fourth beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be satisfied,” is contradicted by “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for prestige, money and influence, they will be revered by others.” Sullivan said success is fleeting, but satisfaction is a peace that transcends success. The more we grow in our relationship with Christ, the more our hunger and thirst for righteousness will deepen, she said.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” is the fifth beatitude. The opposite is “blessed are those who are quick to judge and label others, they will be seen as morally superior.” Sullivan said we need to learn to practice forgiveness.
The opposite of the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God,” is “blessed are those who manipulate, pretend interest, cleverly disguise ulterior motives, they shall rise to the top and be admired.” To practice this beatitude, Sullivan said we need to ask ourselves what our intent is when we speak of others.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” is the seventh beatitude. Sullivan presented the opposite as “Blessed are those who look the other way or indulge in negative conversation, they will be a good friend of the crowd.” To practice this beatitude, she said we need to become champions of healthy relationships and the success of others. She noted that this isn’t always easy, especially if others are more successful than us.
The final beatitude is “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The opposite is “Blessed are those who rationalize away their beliefs, they shall clench the glitter of success.” In discussing the application of this beatitude, Sullivan quoted Gen. Colin Powell, who said, “Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting people.”
Before discussing the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the best-selling book written by Stephen Covey, Sullivan asked the audience to choose a beatitude that they would focus on for the coming week. Using a visual exercise, she demonstrated how people have different blind spots and suggested that the seven habits can help them identify those areas and ways to overcome them.
The first habit is to be proactive, which is in direct opposition to being reactive.
“It’s ineffective to think you are a product of your circumstances,” Sullivan said. She used a quote from John Wooden, retired basketball coach and author, to make her point: “Never let the things you can do nothing about interfere with the things you can do a great deal about.”
Sullivan said the first habit about being proactive reminds people to hit the pause button, to be mindful of the beatitudes and to live them.
The next two habits she discussed were “begin with the end in mind” and “put first things first.” These remind us that each of the beatitudes asks us to think about what matters most and what our ultimate purpose is.
The fourth habit is “think win/win.”
“Never compare yourself to others,” Sullivan said. “You cannot control if someone is more intelligent, better looking, wealthier, more athletic, etc. You can, however, control doing your best.” True nobility is not about being better than anyone else. It’s about being better than you were yesterday, she said.
“Seek first to understand then to be understood” is the fifth habit. A person cannot be influenced until that person feels respected, Sullivan said.
The sixth habit is synergy, which means having a common mission but using differing opinions to create better solutions.
The final habit is “sharpen the saw.” “To sharpen the saw, you have to find a balance between the desire to live, to love, to learn and to leave a legacy,” Sullivan said.
Drawing the connection between the beatitudes and the habits, Sullivan said that think win/win relates to the meek seeking mutual benefit. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” relates to the beatitude about peacemakers because they practice this habit routinely. The fruit of the poor in spirit uniting with his Spirit can be compared to synergy. Continuous improvement in all dimensions fortifies us to live the beatitudes, which relates to the habit of sharpening the saw, Sullivan said.