Posts Tagged ‘John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy’

imageBlessed Are Those Who Mourn — Really?

There are times when Jesus seems to put the best face on something that no sensible person would really want.  Take mourning, for instance.  Who’s really all that keen on mourning?  Is there anyone who enjoys a good grieving these days?  Is there anyone who gets a thrill out of losing someone or something dear to them?  There may be such people, but thankfully I don’t know where they live.

Was Jesus just a little haywire when he suggested that mourners are blessed?  Certainly it’s a nice thought that someday they’ll be comforted, but is that promise of comfort enough to justify all the current sadness?  Frankly, I’m more than a little skeptical, and I’d be willing to forego both the mourning and the comforting, if that’s an option.

imageHeaven knows there’s plenty of opportunity in life to mourn, and most of us have already tasted a little bit of it already.  We also know how tough it can be to pull ourselves through such an experience, and comfort often comes only after prolonged struggle.  It’s never a picnic, and no sane person would wish to mourn — until you consider the price you must pay to avoid any and all mourning.

How might it sound if Jesus were to turn this whole Beatitude around?  At first blush, “Blessed are they who never mourn” sounds like a terrific option to me.  What a blissful existence never to lose anyone important to you.  How delightful never to lose anything of value to you.  What a blessing that would be — or would it?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but invulnerability to all pain and suffering might very well extract a heavy price.  It could demand that we be unfeeling and devoid of emotion.  It could require that we steel ourselves against any potential hurt or disappointment.  Would such a pain-free life be worth it?

imageSeen from that perspective, those who never have to mourn may be the ones to be pitied.  Because they’ve risked nothing, they’ve nothing to lose nor nothing to mourn.  Such people lead risk-averse lives.  Such people find it difficult if not impossible to make commitments, be they in marriage or in friendship.  Such people hold back from loving others, for fear of being hurt.  Such people dread closing off their options in life, lest they compromise their freedom.  Ironically, such people can cherish a bundle of competing dreams, but eventually they find they’ve never fulfilled a single one of them.

When we meditate on the Beatitudes it’s always good to see them for what they are: wisdom.  So when Jesus says that they are blessed who mourn, he’s merely pointing out the consequences of a life well-lived.  This Beatitude is an invitation to participate fully in life, knowing that along the way there will be ups and downs.  But long before we reach the finish line of life, we’ll know that it was worth all the effort just to run the race, as Saint Paul reminds us.

imageUnlike those who never have to mourn, those who do mourn do so because they’ve risked something of themselves.  They’ve loved other people and extended themselves to others.  They’ve made commitments, fearless in the hope that something good will come from them.  They’ve closed out some options, knowing that wisdom and common sense demanded it.  And they’ve chosen one dream and left others aside, just because it’s important to get on with life.

So where exactly will we who mourn find the comfort that Jesus promises?  Well, I think that one part of that comfort is in knowing that Jesus will walk with us every step of the way, no matter what.  The second comfort is like it.  In the course of a life filled with risk, we will meet fellow travellers.  We will not walk alone, and one of life’s joys is to be found in sharing life with others rather than in insulating ourselves from them.

Finally, we’ll likely gain a little wisdom along the way.  I’ve always puzzled over that other promise of Jesus, when he said that those who lose their lives for his sake will find them.  I may be risk-averse by nature, and I love predictability; but like most other people I also like surprises.  I just hope I’m open enough to let Jesus surprise me now and again.


+On Sunday, June 15th, I celebrated Mass at the Church of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville, MN, and you can find my sermon on The Feast of the Holy Trinity in Presentations.  Rockville is a village only thirteen miles from Saint John’s, and it wears its German heritage on its sleeve.  The small church, holding about three hundred, is just the right size for a parish church, as far as I am concerned.  One highlight of the Mass came when the children were invited to bring their offerings up and place them in the basket, which I held out to them.  One two-year-old dutifully dropped a dollar into the basket with one hand, and then reached in to retrieve another bill with the other hand.  His four-year-old sister put a stop to that.

+This week in the Abbey we did something that we rarely do:  we gave up on a book we were reading at table in the refectory.  We had been reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, but Abbot John summed up the feeling of many when he declared it to be “pretty tough going.”  We’ve now started Massimo Faggioli’s John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy.  At the very least, we can all imagine Pope John as someone who would be more than happy to sit down and join us for dinner.

image+Now that we are into the summer season, all sorts of groups have begun to appear on campus.  Last week we enjoyed the unlikely juxtaposition of two groups who coexisted happily as they shared the campus.  For years we have hosted an annual retreat of Buddhists, led by several elegantly-robed Buddhist monks.  This year all 250 of them did their daily rounds of silent meditation at one end of campus, while at the other end we hosted a weeklong camp for the Woconia High School Marching Band.  I wish I could have gotten a group photo of them together, but that was not to be.

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