Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted
What do you automatically think of when you hear the second Beatitude – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”? (Mt 5:4)
Until rather recently, I thought that Jesus intended this for people who were mourning the loss of a loved one. When my Dad was dying, I was certainly comforted by the thought that this wasn’t truly the end for him, by the conviction expressed in St. Francis’ Peace Prayer – ‘It’s only in dying that we’re born into eternal life.’ It didn’t take away the human pain of loss by any means, or allow me skip past a normal grieving process, but it certainly gave comfort. Non-believers might say, ‘I’m never going to see him again!’ – but not Christians – because we have the hope of eternal life that Jesus won for us. One day the world will end, the dead will rise, and we will have our bodies restored to us. We will all be re-united, never to be parted again: ‘God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’ (Rev 21:3-4). There is certainly comfort in this – even if we need to wait a long time before it happens.
Yet, Jesus is not speaking of mourning a loved one in this instance. Instead, one of His meanings – according to the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible – is mourning the present state of the world; the second is the focus of this blog entry: mourning our own sins. Last week, I wrote on the first beatitude – “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – and this second one flows from it. To have poverty of spirit means to recognise our tremendous need for God. We need His mercy at every single moment, even in those moments where all seems well for us spiritually, even when our prayer life is going from strength to strength, even after emerging from a heartfelt confession that has wiped our sins away. Here, Jesus is saying that we are ‘blessed’ when we mourn over our sin. Why? Because when we truly recognise our sinfulness, sincerely seek to do right by God, and are humble enough to seek His forgiveness – the Holy Spirit will act as our ‘comforter’. In fact, the Holy Spirit restores God’s divine likeness – lost through the sin of Adam and Eve – to all the baptised. He gives us a precious inheritance – the life of the Blessed Trinity. He leads us back to the Kingdom of heaven, gives us the confidence to cry out to God as our Father – and empowers us to once again live as children of light. What a gift He is!
Why, though, is sin a thing to be mourned over? Is it not simply – as the modern world might put it – a ‘mistake’? It’s not a big deal, right? For years, I thought like this. My comprehension of sin’s seriousness was minimal, nil even. Yet the Catechism – though it acknowledges that some sins are much more serious than others – asserts it unequivocally: ‘Sin is an offense against reason, truth and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour’ and ‘Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it.’ When we sin we disobey God in spite of His love and goodness towards us; we put our faith and trust in lesser things. This is a great cause for mourning because only in God can we find true happiness and peace. Every time we sin, we turn from the only One who can truly make us whole. When we pursue something other than God, we only succeed in wounding ourselves – it might feel great for a time, but then the sense of emptiness and disillusionment will hit. We will grow haunted by the sense that we were made for more. And this would be true: We ARE meant for more than a life of sin – because of what Jesus achieved for us on that cross. We are meant for eternal glory with God in heaven.
However, time for an important distinction. To mourn over our sins is not to be transfixed or obsessive about them; it is not to be scrupulous – stressing over every little thing being a sin when it’s not; It is not to live in a way which is devoid of joy or peace. It is a healthy awareness of our sin which is also steeped deeply in the knowledge that we are unfathomably loved by God. We want to do better; moreover, we know we can by His grace. This is why those who mourn for their sins are blessed: they have the Holy Spirit to comfort them, to empower them in realising their desire for more, to direct them back heavenwards. I am a sinner, undoubtedly, but I’m not alone.
May I mourn on account of my sins,
knowing that they draw me from You,
the source and light of all I am.
Thank you for the great gift of the Holy Spirit,
Who comforts and directs me back heavenwards,
Letting me walk once more in the light of Your grace.
Through Christ Jesus our Lord,