Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Reflection – I’m going through the Beatitudes this week, in view of the upcoming feast of All Saints. The Church chooses the beatitudes as the Gospel for that feast, and it is the beatitudes that give us the clearest simplest picture of Christian sanctity.
This one’s a tough one. Well, no one has ever said being a saint would be easy. But really, who wants to mourn? Grief is a terrible thing—as it happens, priests find themselves quite often in the presence of grief, both parish priests who of course are ‘in at the death’ constantly, and those of us who do more long-term direction. It is often when people are grieving deeply that they are impelled to seek pastoral care and counsel. Sometimes it seems to me that I do an awful lot of comforting those who mourn - well, at least I do my bit to keep the Kleenex corporation in business.
There is something about serious grief that undoes us, that is just ‘too much’ for us, that sets us adrift in life like nothing else quite does. How on earth can this be ‘blessed’? And how on earth are we to receive this beatitude from the Lord as a blessing, as a path to holiness?
I have to admit that I’m not quite here on this one, understanding-wise. But I think it is, in fact, precisely this aspect of grief, how hard it hits us, how much it undoes us, unmoors us, rocks us off our foundations, that is in fact a blessing in one heck of a good disguise. Because, you know we’re not made for this world and this life, right? We are placed here in this world, and it is our home and we are to love it, but this is not where we will be forever. And there can be a deadly complacency, a worldliness in the truest sense of that word, where we hunker down and nestle in to this life, this world, the little home and little comfortable place we have fashioned for ourselves here. We can make ourselves very much at home in the world, and in consequence completely forget that it’s not forever.
Well, grief shatters all that. It’s brutal, it’s horrible, it’s painful beyond belief, but it shatters utterly our worldly complacency, forces us to face the dreadful fact that everyone we love, everything we care about, and we ourselves are all passing away, are all going to die, and in fact this one who we love has just died and we cannot bear the pain of it.
Tough stuff indeed, and I don’t think anyone but Jesus could get away with saying ‘blessed are you’ when you’re in this state. But, well, it’s true. Or rather, it is Truth, because He is Truth. And of course the corollary is vital: for you shall be comforted. Our complacency and worldly comfort is shattered, and the hope of heaven opens us for us, not perhaps with some great vivid emotional force, but as a matter of faith.
In the face of serious, deep grief, our attachment to this world and this life is, in fact, weakened. We have all seen the phenomenon of a closely united married couple, and how very often when the one dies, the other does not really live too much longer. Grief gets us moving, and combined with faith and hope, it can get us moving right out of this world and into eternity.
And this leads us to the grief of the saints, which is connected to this, but slightly different. In the face of death of one we love, we experience in grief a great outrage, a great offence. ‘This should not happen!’ we think and feel, strongly. And this is true. Death should not happen. The parting, the sundering, the separation-all of this is wrong, all comes from a world that has gone awry.
The saints who mourn deeply do so because they love, not just their spouses or their children, but the whole world. And they see the whole world in its ‘wrongness’, its captivity to death and futility, its fallen state. And they mourn, not because the world is so rotten, but because the world is so beautiful, so precious, so good… and it has been blighted by human pride and selfishness and malice.
None of us shed too many tears when some cheap plastic product bought on sale at Walmart breaks and has to be replaced. But if a great irreplaceable work of art, something beautiful beyond words and impossible to reproduce is marred by human folly or ill will, this is a great loss and sorrow. The world, creation, and the human person is God’s great masterpiece, God’s work of art, and it exceeds human artistry by an infinite degree.
So the saints mourn over the marring of God’s art. And they are blessed, for this grief makes them yearn for heaven with a passionate intensity. Not because they want to escape a lousy world, but because it is in heaven that God’s artistry will be restored and renewed in its perfect beauty.
Grief is all about love. No love, no tears, with love comes tears. The saints love greatly, so there are tears aplenty on the road to sanctity. But it is love that heals the world, and love that bears us over the threshold of the world into a world renewed by love, where the consolation of God will come to all the grieving, all the lost, all those who mourn.