Tolstoy once wrote, “You want goodness, and you will receive it when you desire goodness for all.” If we transpose the word “happiness” for “goodness” we have one meaning of the beatitudes. “Beatitude” means “happy” or “blessed.” It is normal to want to be happy, but personal happiness is a very tenuous affair. If my happiness comes at the expense of others, I must numb my heart to their sufferings and such numbing diminishes my own happiness.

If I love those of my country but hate others simply because they were born on the other side of a river, my heart will be drawn and quartered by my own partiality. Less than universal love creates a civil war in my own soul. When we realize that our own happiness requires that we desire the happiness of others, many riddles are solved and a weary burden is laid aside. To desire the happiness of all is like rising above the clouds in an airplane, or like when a fever breaks and we remember what it is like to feel whole. As it grows, love rises above all partial viewpoints and lives in the unshakable peace of the whold.

St. Francis sang songs of universal happiness. In his hymns, woods and waters, people and animals were all happy. Legend says that, as a result of his mysticism, Francis acquired the stigmata, the wounds of love. Universal love which means to burn with a desire for the happiness of all is not without its pain, but such love transfigures even our wounds. The Beatitudes become clearer by rephrasing Tolstoy’s words, “You want happiness and will receive it when you desire the happiness of all”