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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Those Who Mourn

*Over the next several weeks, I will be reflecting on the beatitudes of Jesus.

~Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted~

We normally associate mourning with death: those who mourn, mourn their dead. We also associate Jesus’ beatitude ― “blessed are those who mourn” ― with death. “Blessed are those who mourn their dead. They shall be comforted. They shall experience the consolation of God. They shall see their loved ones again.” Something like that. This is not wrong. Jesus is, in part, talking about this kind of mourning. But he’s also talking about something much more fundamental. 

“Those who mourn” are not just those who have lost someone. In this case, those who mourn are those who look out at the world and grieve. Blessed are those who grieve for the world. “Woe to those who rest easy in Zion… who are not grieved over the ruin [of their brethren]” (Amos 6:1, 6). It is not a pleasant thing to say, but this world is a ruin ― not just today, in the midst of extraordinary turmoil, but all days. 

We live in a world scarred up by wounds and by pain. The scriptures call it a “valley of tears” (Ps 84:6). Everyday, we move among people who endure extraordinary suffering. Most of them hide it. But when our eyes pierce the fa├žade and see all this, Jesus calls it a blessing.

“Those who mourn” are those who see that the world is not as it should be and weep for it. They see and mourn for those this world has discarded ― the elderly, the aborted, the racially oppressed, the immigrant. “Those who mourn” are blessed precisely because they know this is not the inheritance God left for humanity, and that things will someday not be this way.

On the other hand, in Luke’s gospel, Jesus reformulates this beatitude from the other direction. “Woe to you that laugh now,” he says. “You shall mourn and weep” (Lk 6:25). What startling and harsh words! Nobody has them hanging above their mantle. The point is this: you don’t want to be totally at home in this world. This is a world that runs by the logic of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Deut 19:21). The cup of suffering runneth over here. If somehow you rest easy in this world, perfectly content as all manner of agonies and injustices stream by, then woe to you. Blessing comes, rather, in mourning and in lifting the burden from those this world has discarded.

One day, no one “shall hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain” (Is 11:9). One day, God will “wipe away every tear” (Rev 21:4). But that day has not yet come. And so Jesus says that the blessed ones are the ones who mourn, the ones who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” But this is not the whole of the story. 

Jesus closes these very beatitudes by insisting his disciples also “rejoice and be glad” (Mt 5:12). It might be the case that the world has not yet been consummated, that there are one-thousand agonies at each moment. But, for the Christian, after Jesus has walked with us ― after God himself has mourned with us ― the whole story has been rewritten. Christians believe that, on account of Jesus, this heartbroken world “shall be comforted.” Even now, Jesus has left the aroma of redemption upon all things, especially upon our suffering, our mourning, and our weeping. [1] And so, for the Christian, there are so many more reasons for joy then there are for sadness. There is so much pain in the world, so much injustice. But the last word has been Jesus’ word. And so even if the Christian is never quite at home in this world, joy is nevertheless the decisive theme and rhythm of her life. [2] “Rejoice always!” Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians (Phil 4:4). “Rejoice always!”


~Anthony Rosselli (PhD cand., theology, University of Dayton) writes out of St. Luke and Ascension Parishes in Franklin County, Vermont. These columns are archived here.

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[1] See Luis Martinez, The Sanctifier (Boston: Pauline, 2003), 313-314.
[2] See Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2001), 464.