In the classic work PENTHOS, Fr. Hausherr, S.J., relates a story from the Desert Fathers wherein one seeks persistently to know where another, Abba Poemen, ‘was in the depths of ecstasy’, until the old Abba finally relented and said: “ My thought was with St. Mary, the Mother of God, as she wept by the cross of the Saviour. I wish I could always weep like that.”
Pope John Paul II again and again referred to the necessity of going to the ‘school of Mary’, almost as much as he used the expression, derived from Christ’s own directive to the Apostles, about going “duc in altum”, that is, “into the deep.”
If we ask to enter the school of Our Blessed Mother then Mary will, in reality, take us by the hand and lead us into not only the depths of the Holy Gospel, of Liturgy, but ultimately into the depths of surrender to the purifying and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit, hence into both ‘intimate confidence’ in, and union with, Christ the Divine Bridegroom.
We will also experience ever more, with less and less resistance, the penetrating into the depths of our being of the ‘living and effective’ word of God [cf. Hb. 4:12ff] and will unhesitatingly, necessarily for our own salvation but also as intercessors for every human being, ‘confidently approach’ Divine Mercy for all grace needed.
Likewise we will discover the graced suffering and purification, the ineffable joy of, going ‘into the deep’ within the second Beatitude and discover, as Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis notes in his classic FIRE OF MERCY, pp.188-9, that, prayed and struggled to be lived, the Beatitudes by the action of the Holy Spirit will place and deepen within us ‘...the fundamental attitude of self-forgetfulness....receiving in an open and fruitful heart the grace of reconciliation with God...”
While it is true that in the first instance the blessedness of mourning relates to the grief over the death of someone and that the comfort is found after death because of the Resurrection, nonetheless we should also be open to the reality that ‘death’ has many forms.
I believe it is within the blessedness of accepting the pain, and purification of these other experiences of death we will experience in life the Holy Spirit’s gift of joy, which is ultimate comfort.
So when, commenting on Mt. 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn....” Erasmo states the “...heroic heroism...” of willingly feeling “...profound pain of the death of another.”, he connects this to, because of the Resurrection of Jesus and therefore Jesus’ obtaining resurrection for us, the virtue of hope.
Here, however without discounting the blessedness of such mourning, and constitutive tears, I am suggesting another dimension to the Beatitude, an apostolic, intercessory dimension, indeed a going into the deep of Christ-like solidarity with the entire human family, indeed with all creation itself.
We all know that the false self, so intensely woven from the experiences of early life, and some subsequent ones, is NOT the real “I” created by God, rather the false self is the flesh, the old man, of which St. Paul speaks, and which must die if we are to achieve that point of fullness of baptized personhood wherein, again as St. Paul stresses, the false I is so completely deceased that “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” [Gal. 2.20]
We also know Christ’s teachings about the grain of wheat which must fall into the ground and die if there is to be fruitfulness [Jn.12:24] as well as Jesus’ urging us to embrace full discipleship while cautioning us about not clinging to our life, which is also, if we contemplate Him and His word, the promised reward of following Him through death into resurrection [Mt. 10:16-40].
We fear death in all its forms.
Not merely the cessation of life on earth but of the so intricately constructed notion of self, indeed the equally ferociously clung too preconceptions we have of God, Church, other people, etc., etc..
We are so fearful if we lose them, if those illusions are shattered, die, we shall be terribly alone.
Pope Benedict, in his wonderful book, JESUS OF NAZARETH, itself an experience of the school of Mary and going into the deep, stresses the tender gaze of Christ upon us [cf. Pp. 71ff] when He pronounces the Beatitudes over us.
Pope Benedict also teaches that the Beatitudes are our actual condition as disciples for as true disciples we “...are poor, hungry, weeping....hated and persecuted...”
Lest we become discouraged and overwhelmed, the Holy Father reminds us that, “Jesus brings joy in the midst of affliction.”
Further on [cf. Pp. 86ff.], reflecting specifically on the second Beatitude the Holy Father takes us deeper, when he teaches that “...there is also the mourning occasioned by the shattering encounter with truth, which leads...to..conversion..to resist evil...heals, because it teaches...to hope and love again...”
Pope Benedict, like Abba Poemen, looks to another “...image of mourning that brings salvation: Mary standing under the Cross.”
I learned very early in life never to show weakness, never to shed a tear.
So deeply constructed was this particular aspect of the false self, so virtually impregnable, that I was well past fifty years of age when my Spiritual Director noted with amazement that he knew I had never wept and then stressed how critical it was that I should pray for the gift of tears.
Pope John Paul in his first Letter to Priests of Holy Thursday 1979 calls priests to go very deep into the mystery of priestly chastity and stresses that “...The priest, by renouncing this fatherhood proper to married men, seeks another fatherhood and, as it were, even another motherhood, recalling the words of the Apostle about the children whom he begets in suffering.”
Briefly through a series of encounters and with the blessing of my superiors I became a foster-father to John Everett who himself would be blessed with, to quote him and fully agreeing, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, Lucille as wife.
[ cf. http://blog.catholiclove.com/]
Eventually I ended up living as I am now in exile as an urban hermit and thanks to Lucille’s closeness to Our Blessed Mother, who inspired Lucille to encourage John to have me come and live near them, once their first child was born I became a grandfather.
Six years ago, still not surrendering to actual tears though by then I was constantly begging for the grace to weep but was terrified at the same time, one evening Lucille asked if I would babysit the then three month old Little One.
Lucille gave me all the usual maternal guidelines and noted that I should put the Little One to bed at such and such a time and “ Don’t go into her when she cries. She’s at that stage and eventually she will just go to sleep.”
Now pre-sleep crying I assumed meant some sort of near silent whimpering.
Man was I wrong!!!!!
At the appointed time, having given her bottle, made sure the diaper was dry, the little pj’s on, blessed her as she lay there and smiled angelically, I turned off the light and left the room and headed down the stairs wondering why Lucille had cautioned me.
I got barely three steps down when a wail beyond any heart-wrenching, ear splitting, cry-scream-groan-moan of cosmic proportions ripped through the air.
That such a tiny, angelic being could at such a pitch, so seemingly unceasingly wail like that was beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life and my entire adult-male-protective-rescuer being wanted to turn, rip that door from its hinges, grab the Little One and simultaneously comfort her out of such distress and beg forgiveness of the obvious hardhearted cruelty which had allowed me to abandon her!
Instantly however, frozen to the stairs, by now sitting hunched over I heard in my heart Lucille’s voice and another woman, the Woman, and this latter was telling me most tenderly that “This is not about you. Stay. If you go it is not about her. Stay. Listen to the silence of God.”
With some effort [indeed later I realized I had not been aware at whatever moment the Little One had stopped wailing and fallen asleep as Lucille said she would] I struggled to be still, to listen to the silence of God.
Suddenly I was hearing not the wailing of the Little One but the cries of every endangered child in the womb knowing abortion was afoot, of every hungry, homeless, rejected, abused child; I heard the cries of every battered woman and man, of every youth selling themselves on the streets, of the addict in withdrawal, the person suffering mental collapse, the human being they strive to break day by day in the labour camps.
It was if I was seeing in the silence of God all human suffering, feeling the weight of evil.
I wept, and wept and wept until I became aware the interior silence was also exterior and suddenly it was the Child Jesus of whom I was aware, and aware too of Jesus who ‘looked at him and loved him’, Jesus with Magdalene washing His feet with her tears, Jesus gazing upon Peter, Jesus appearing, risen, saying not to be afraid.
Penthos tears became tears of joy.
“The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil....those who mourn suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness....standing under the protection of God’s power, secure in His love – that is true comfort.”
“The converse is also true. The sufferer is not truly comforted, his tears are not completely wiped away, until he and the powerless of this world are no longer threatened........true comfort only appears when the ‘last enemy,’ death...and all its accomplices have been stripped of their power.....” [cf. Pope Benedict, op. Cit. Pp. 87-88]
Interior peace and joy, the Spirit’s gift, comes if we willingly contemplate, as Pope Benedict says, “...what consolation the Lord holds in store for all those who mourn and suffer in this world.”
We Are a People of Hope
6 months ago