Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Once we have seen and accepted that we are poor in spirit, we begin to see ourselves as we really are. Christ comes to us where we are, not where we wish or imagine we were. Christ meets us as we are, not as we pretend to be. But most of us spend a good deal of our life and energy pretending to be somewhere and be someone we are not. Coming to see our poverty is to come to see ourselves as we really are, to see that we are not who we wish we were, to see that, in fact, we are far from where we think we should be.

Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed mourning, or compunction (penthos in Greek), is a sadness of heart that comes from an awareness of sin. It is not necessarily an awareness of having broken a rule or law, but rather it is the awareness of the distance created between oneself and God (or/and our brothers and sisters) because of sin. Sometimes it is a sadness somewhat like longing, longing for a loving relationship with God but feeling only distance. This mourning is especially painful when we have experienced the Grace of God in our lives in the past and have somehow lost it. Here the mourning is deep indeed. God has given us his Gift, and we have lost it.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Comfort comes to those who mourn. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit comes to those who are contrite, who feel compunction in their hearts. The second step up the ladder ascending Christ’s commandments is divine sadness coming from the knowledge of our poverty. When we allow the knowledge of our weakness to dwell in our hearts, it produces mourning, or compunction. Compunction draws the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Once the Holy Spirit begins to dwell in our hearts, we begin to transform. Outwardly, we may still not be able to turn the other cheek or love our enemy very well, but inwardly, the acknowledgement of our poverty and the tears that it has produced have draw the Holy Spirit into our hearts. And in our hearts, we are beginning to change.

Mourning is key to growth in the divine life, which is why the fathers of the Church put so much emphasis on tears. Weeping over our sins creates room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit. It is as if the tears wash away the pride that keeps the Holy Spirit away. Tears are sometimes called a second baptism, a washing away of sins. Weeping, of course, is merely a physical manifestation of psychological pain (literally, pain in our soul). Some people do not weep easily, yet feel great compunction; others weep easily over trivial or even selfish matters. It is not the physical tears that bring the Holy Spirit, but the compunction: the mourning of soul over the separation caused by sin. Any attempt to sidestep compunction, to seek a way to grow in God and walk the way of His commandments without first finding compunction is doomed to failure. Without the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, any apparent success in the spiritual life will only produce arrogance and pride. But if we weep over our poverty, then we know that any success we may experience down the road is purely Grace. It is the work of the Comforter in our lives, who comes to those who mourn.


Anonymous said...

Hi Father Michael,

Perhaps the last thing we need is more to read about H1N1... but seeing as the world around us seems to have gone mad about this topic, could you remind us of how to respond in the midst of this chaos?

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Anonymous,
Fear is the enemy. Fear comes from our insane over attachment to worldly things. Sickness and death are part of life as we know it on this earth. The only eternal life is in Christ and that is actualized is us through death (baptism, asceticism, loving others more than ourselves); and, ultimately, through the physical death of our bodies opening the door to the resurrection. Once fear is not a factor, then we can take normal precautions not to infect ourselves or others (it's really just common courtesy and common sense). Get a flu shot (or not according to your conscience). Personally, I favor getting the shot, if you can. I don't think I know more about it than my doctor who recommends that I get it. (Think about it for a moment: why would you go to a doctor whom you think is such a fool as to know less about medicine that you do?) But above all, don't buy into the hype, the spin, the angst. I imagine that the odds of dying from the flu are less than the odds of getting killed in a traffic accident driving to the doctor for the shot. Hype creates fear, and fear only reveals that our eyes are no longer focused on our Lord, but on just about anything else.