This week we will examine the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This Beatitude may in fact be the hardest for Fallen human beings to understand. Suffering, pain, and affliction are aspects of the human condition. We have all experienced—or soon will—the devastation of losing someone we love. Mourning often comes with intense agony that is spiritual, psychological, and even physical. It shakes us to the core. It is in death that we come to see that this was not God’s original plan for us. He did not make us for death, but the Fall has made death a part of our existence. Even though Jesus conquered sin and death through the Paschal Mystery, we must all die and we must all bear the burden of losing people we love.
We must also keep in mind that mourning is not only related to death. It is also an essential aspect of the spiritual life. We must learn to mourn our sins. In coming closer to God, we come to see the horror of our sin and realize how weak we truly are and that we are wholly dependent on God. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep pain of our sins so that we may become repentant in order to turn back to God. It is this sorrow for our sins that pushes us to return to the Confessional regularly and to seek God more ardently. Why does Christ tell us that mourning is blessed?
We mourn in hope.
In looking at two types of mourning–that which arises from the death of a loved one and that which arises from sin—we can begin to understand that Christ’s message in this Beatitude is one of hope. The Paschal Mystery destroyed the despair of sin and death. We now have reason to hope. Death will not have the final say and our sins can be forgiven. We now live in the hope of Christ through the supernatural virtue of faith.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Even as we continue on the arduous journey of this life, we can hope in Christ Jesus who has overcome sin and death. When we fall into sin, we are able to return to Christ through the Sacrament of Confession in order to be healed and strengthened for the road ahead. Christ turns the evil we commit into joy as we return to him with a contrite heart. When a loved one dies, we feel the agony of the loss at the deepest level of our humanity, but in the midst of that suffering we can hope in the promise of eternal life for our loved one and for ourselves. Mourning is blessed because it is marked by hope in Christ.
Mourning teaches us fortitude.
This life is marked by challenges and tribulations. Some of those sufferings are our own and some of them are the sufferings of those we love or in our communities. There is not a person alive today, who has lived, or who will live, who will not have to endure great trials in this life. Affliction reveals to us that strength can only be found in God. This is true when we lose someone we love and when we battle sin. When we lose bodily health, a loved one dies, our job is lost, a spouse abandons us, our children won’t speak to us, we struggle with habitual sin, or any other form of suffering, the only option we have is to turn to Christ. These are situations largely outside of our control, in fact, suffering reveals to us what little control we actually have in life. This is a “valley of tears” and life requires a great deal of courage. Servais Pinckaers points out that this Beatitude shows us how to be fully human so that we can learn to embrace whatever may come our way.
The third beatitude (second in the order I am using) invites us first of all to be fully human: not children, to be amused with pretty stories and shielded from painful and disturbing sights, but adults who dare to look reality in the face and accept “blood, sweat, and tears” if need be—to borrow the words of Churchill’s challenge to England in 1940—without running away. This is not depravity or contempt for life. On the contrary, it takes tremendous strength, for it is in struggling that life is most fully affirmed, lived, and completed. It is precisely the virtue of courage that defines the adult. According to the ancients the characteristic activity for courage is confrontation with death.
Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, 79.
When we confront suffering–even the intense suffering found in mourning—we are slowly transformed into the person Christ desires us to be. It is in learning to be courageous that we can fight the battles God asks us to fight each day. It is impossible to be a saint without fortitude. The more we progress in the spiritual life, the more battles we will face as God entrusts us with more struggles to continue to grow in holiness. We never learn courage if we don’t ever confront dragons (G.K. Chesterton).
We must learn to die to self.
The answer to our afflictions is the Cross. When we find ourselves in periods of mourning, the only satisfactory answer is Christ crucified. Christ shows us how we are to live. We are to die to self day-in-and-day-out. This is a constant struggle that will not end until we stand before the Beatific Vision. Mourning reveals this reality to us in the most tangible way possible. The loss of a loved one reveals to us the profound cost of love. Love requires everything of us and we cannot hide from this reality if we are to truly live and become saints. We must empty ourselves completely in loving God and our neighbor. Mourning is an inevitable aspect of love.
A constant battle with sin and the sorrow the Holy Spirit places within our souls, is another form of learning to die to self. When a temptation arises—regardless of the emotions, thoughts, or desires involved—we must learn to detach ourselves from sin in order to love God and our neighbor. Sin impedes our progress when we do not desire to abandon the sins that enslave us. This does not mean that our battle with sin is easy or quick. It is a life-long battle, but we must understand that part of overcoming sin is a constant dying to self. Many sins seem innocent enough or make us feel good, but in reality, all sin is evil and harmful. By God’s grace and help, we must learn to overcome ourselves in order to grow in holiness. The Cross shows us how to empty ourselves in love. We must give everything. We cannot hold anything back from the love of God.
Those who mourn are blessed because our hope is now in Christ. Sin and death have been defeated by the power of the Cross. We now have the means to return to Our Lord when we fall into sin. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we can hope in the promise of eternal life. Our suffering is never wasted. God uses it to teach us courage and strength so that we can persevere through the battles we wage in our daily lives. The answer to our mourning is the Cross. We are to empty ourselves in love, so that we can serve God and others. In looking to Christ, we can enter into self-emptying love in order to grow in holiness. This Beatitude—like the others—reveals to us the path to holiness.