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Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

April 28, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

The first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3), in its essence, consists in the recognition of our total dependence on God for everything — not only our physical, material needs, but our spiritual needs as well.
Whether rich or poor in this world’s goods (including personal talents, the esteem of others, or any other “thing”), one who possesses true poverty of spirit treats “creatures” with humility and even a certain indifference, fully realizing they are divine gifts to be used only in accord with the holy will of God.
In an insightful and eminently practical little volume entitled Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes (HOH), Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR (1933–2014), describes the poor in spirit as those who “seem to walk above the fray, unaffected by the little inconveniences of life that can so easily cause the rest of us to become impatient or outraged. . . . [They] glory in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (pp. 156-157).
To become poor in spirit, counsels Fr. Groeschel, “we must look into our souls and see all the graces unused or wasted, all the gifts unaccepted, all the calls to do good left unheeded” (HOH, p. 161). A helpful barometer for poverty of spirit is to examine, with heartfelt honesty, our generosity with the time, talent, and treasure we have been given.
St. Paul perhaps best captured the meaning of becoming poor in spirit from a spiritual perspective when he spoke of the “thorn in his flesh” that prevented him from becoming over-elated by the abundance of revelations he had received:
“[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Rather than removing the thorn, our Lord allowed the Apostle to the Gentiles “to experience redemptive suffering and the strengthening grace necessary to endure his pain for his own purification” (The Didache Bible, p. 1571).
The reward, as stated in closing last week, consists in no less than inheriting the Kingdom of God.
We now turn our attention to the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4), which corresponds to the equivalent blessing and woe in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21), as contrasted with: “Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).
This Beatitude, which flies in the face of the worldly maxim of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32), is described by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, as “humanly speaking, the nearest to a contradiction we can conceive. It is like saying, ‘Happy are those who are unhappy’” (see www.therealpresence.org and click on “Beatitudes” in the site index).
As the Servant of God further explains in his Basic Catholic Catechism Course (BCCC), “What is normally occasion for weeping is here called a blessing and a source of happiness” (p. 102). Likewise, in his marvelous little work entitled The Cross and the Beatitudes: Lessons on Love and Forgiveness, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen states: “The world never regards mourning as a blessing, but always as a curse. Laughter is the gold it is seeking, and sorrow is the enemy it flees” (The Cross and the Beatitudes, p. 83).
Etymologically, the word “mourn” is derived from lugent as it appears in the Vulgate (St. Jerome’s fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible) and means “to lament, to bemoan, to bewail.” As described in The Navarre Bible — New Testament, those who mourn “are people who suffer some sort of affliction, and especially those who grieve over offenses committed against God by themselves or by others” (p. 61).
Indeed, in this Beatitude “Christ encourages sorrow for sin in the midst of a world which enjoys empty laughter and is seduced by worldly pleasure” (BCCC, p. 102). It is here that the great paradox of Christianity can most readily be perceived in that living the Gospel message, which the world holds in contempt, is a source of interior joy for Christ’s followers, but involves hardship and struggle, that is, the cross, and leads to eternal life.
Are there legitimate grounds for mourning and grief? “In our human experience,” states Fr. Hardon, “grief is not only permissible, but entirely fitting” (ibid).
For example, at the loss of a loved one in death, the experience of bereavement is normal and salutary. Even Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus: “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11:33-35).
It is likewise legitimate to experience sorrow “over our own past sins, or the sins and resistance to God’s grace by others” (BCCC, p. 102). We see this disposition in Jesus in the account from St. Luke’s Gospel when He mourned over the sins and hardness of heart of those He came to save: “When [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [of Jerusalem] he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42).
Only a week later as He carried His cross up the hill of Calvary and the women “bewailed and lamented him” (Luke 23:27), Jesus turned to them and said: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28).
We must be wary, however, warns Fr. Hardon, of falling into the wrong kind of mourning. He speaks of it being inappropriate for one of two reasons: 1) the object of grief is unworthy, or 2) if the measure, duration, and intensity of our grief are excessive (cf. BCCC, p. 102).
For example, suppose one grieves at the good fortune of another. Not only is such grief inappropriate, but constitutes the sin of jealousy or envy.
Likewise, although it is legitimate and even commendable to experience deep grief over the commission of serious sin, it would be inappropriate to mourn with the same intensity over experiencing a loss in the stock market or denting the fender on a new automobile. In other words, the grief one experiences should be commensurate with the object of grief.
Fr. Hardon cautions us to take care in that “mourning always presents a danger, namely, the danger of falling into discouragement which, if it is not controlled, can lead to despair.” Here we can recall the experiences of St. Peter and Judas Iscariot. Both sinned seriously and both experienced profound grief. After betraying our Lord, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Matt. 26:75), but repented. Judas, on the other hand, also experienced deep grief but despaired and “went and hanged himself” (Matt. 27:5).
“Because a temptation to discouragement very often lurks in mourning,” says Fr. Hardon, “sadness is a favorite temptation of the devil in persons who are sincerely trying to do the will of God” (BCCC, p. 102).
When we are sincere in our efforts to please God and do His will, but nevertheless fall into sin, we must always guard against succumbing to sadness, which should not be confused with repentance. We should rather rise from our sin, seek our Lord’s merciful forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession, and begin anew.

The Daily Crosses

St. Thomas Aquinas identifies knowledge as the gift of the Holy Spirit that is linked to the second Beatitude. Following the thought of St. Augustine, the Angelic Doctor writes, “Knowledge befits the mourner, who has discovered that he has been mastered by the evil which he coveted as though it were good” (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 9, art. 4).
Fr. Hardon offers further explanation of the veracity of this connection: “Sorrow for past mistakes answers to the gift of knowledge; then comes consolation when creatures are accepted as God would have us do so. . . . Mourning is by way of merit, comfort by way of reward. In the measure that a person knows the vanity of this world, his comfort begins already now and is destined to reach fruition in heaven, when all things on earth will pass away” (The Catholic Catechism, p. 202).
What, then, is the reward promised by Christ for those who mourn? Nowhere in Sacred Scripture does Jesus promise to remove trials and tribulations from our life on Earth. Rather, He tells His followers: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
His promise to comfort us is a commitment to give us “the supernatural strength which enables us to be sorry for our sins, to carry our crosses, to surrender ourselves to God’s will, and mysteriously, like St. Paul, to rejoice in undergoing trials as we strive to do God’s will….He promises the spiritual strength we need to remain firm in our hardships and to grow in God’s friendship through our trials” (BCCC, pp. 102-103).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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