Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

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Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Mt 5:4)  In his commentary on this Beatitude in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes that there are two kinds of mourning:  “The first is the kind that has lost hope, that has become mistrustful of love and of truth and that therefore eats away and destroys man from within. But there is also the mourning occasioned by the shattering encounter with truth, which leads man to undergo conversion and to resist evil. This mourning heals, because it teaches man to hope and to love again.”

Pope Benedict writes regarding the women at the foot of the Cross that “they remain true in a world full of cruelty and cynicism or else with fearful conformity.”  It’s not in their power to change the overall situation or avert the disaster, but by refusing to harden their hearts to the pain of another, by “being with” and “suffering with” the innocent One unjustly condemned, they place themselves on his side, at his side. By their com-passion in the etymological sense – their sharing in His passion – by their refusal to turn away from it or to harden their hearts in anger or fear or vengeance, they opened their hearts to the love of the God who is love.

What else were they supposed to do?  Run away in fear like the other disciples?  Run out with guns and knives and kill everyone mocking Christ?  Disrupt a press conference to complain about the Jewish and Roman authorities?  Would any of that have helped carry on the work of the kingdom the Lord had come to establish?  Or would it simply have made things immeasurably worse?

One can imagine the reaction of a certain sort of bystander: “For God’s sake, woman, stop this crying and do something. Pick up a sword, cut off someone’s ear!  Get some vengeance on the Sanhedrin and the corrupt Roman government.”  And what else could these women have said other than, “For God’s sake, no.  I’m sorry, but you are greatly misled.”

“The mourning of which the Lord speaks,” writes Pope Benedict, “is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’  The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity.  It considers this mourning to be an accusation against the numbing of consciences.”

A friend recently sent a link to an article by Elizabeth Bruenig titled “A Culture That Kills Its Children Has No Future.”  “Funny,” my friend wrote, “I thought this was going to be about abortion.”  It wasn’t.  We’re not allowed to mourn aborted children. The world demands conformity, and mourning those children would be considered an accusation against consciences that have become numb.

An L.A. Times editorial published the same day was titled “Can California Afford to Be a Haven for Abortion? It Can’t Afford Not to Be.”  A culture so comfortable killing children should not be so shocked, shocked to find other people killing children.

*

Ms. Bruenig spoke several times of a “culture of death.” Shades of Pope Saint John Paul II!  But in her case, this term had nothing to do with millions of aborted infants or even the thousands of young inner-city youth killed in gang violence each year.  She also spoke of “moral decline,” but for her, this meant increased gun ownership.

I don’t like guns myself, but statistics cited by people like David Frum in his article “America Has Blood on It Hands” suggest I am an outlier. “The United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands, 120 guns per 100 people in this country,” writes Frum.  It’s an odd locution: “put more guns into more hands.”  Someone put them there?

I could say, “the U.S. put more pornographic material into more hands this year than ever!” But then someone might point out that people bought that material. There seems to be a market for it. I might not like it (and I don’t), but since so many people were willing to pay, I guess they do.  My presumption, therefore, is that in any vote, I would lose – unless I change hearts and minds first.

I think my ideas are great. That’s why I hold them. But sometimes other people disagree.  I have learned over the years that this doesn’t mean they’re evil or necessarily stupid. We just disagree.  It is important to disagree without being disagreeable: without hatred or recrimination.

The author of the “Culture That Kills Its Children,” by contrast, wrote this: “Then there are some who say that every terrible thing – including even this untenable thing that no civilization could endure, this demonic murder lottery of schoolchildren –simply must go on, and somehow, they are winning.”  I was left wondering who these people are?  Who is saying that “every terrible thing simply must go on”? I guess I missed those interviews.

Do such comments help?  Are they going to bring the peace we – all of us, in our own ways – so desperately want?

So much anger, so much hatred, so much mistrust, so much needless vilification: perhaps this is why so many people buy guns.  Personally, I wish they wouldn’t, but their free choices are not up to me.

Perhaps, then, there are times when we need to just stop and mourn: to suffer with others – not turning away, not pointing fingers of recrimination and blame to anesthetize the grief – but just to sit quietly and mourn together. There will be time enough to go back to gouging each other’s eyes out tomorrow or next week or next month.

“Those who do not harden their hearts to the pain and need of others, who do not give evil entry to their souls, but suffer under its power and so acknowledge the truth of God – they are the ones who open the windows of the world to let the light in.”  (Benedict XVI)

*Image: Christ on the Cross, mourned by the three Marys, John, and a Donor by Pier Francesco Sacchi, 1514 [Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, Germany]

You may also enjoy:

Dylan Thomas’s Refusal to Mourn

David Warren’s Blessed Are They That Mourn 

Randall Smith

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Guidebook for Beginners and Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris: Preaching, Prologues, and Biblical Commentary (2021). His website is: randallbsmith.com.

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