4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Zep 2:3, 3:12-13
Ps 146:6-7,8-9, 9-10
1 Cor 1:26-31
Sometimes the only response to the editors who assembled the lectionary, the book that contains the Church's readings for every day of the year, is why? What is the rationale for the cuts? Today's first reading is a case in point.
The reading from Zephaniah is not continuous. It joins chapter 2 verse 3 to chapter 3 verses 12 and 13. The result is consoling. It is almost idyllic. The 23 verses that were cut consist of a long list of prophecies of doom, death, destruction and punishment. Only when much of the world is destroyed do we hear of the protected remnant, only then do we learn of the promised consolation. Peace doesn’t just happen. It appears to be preceded by turmoil and strife. Peace and comfort preceded by turmoil and chaos. That is an accurate description for the reality of life as we live it, of life as it was lived during the writer's time; turmoil followed by consolation.
Psalm 146, the responsorial, is the first of the last five hymns in the magnificent Book of Psalms. Psalms 146 to 150 are unlike anything that preceded them. We do not hear "Why, O Lord?" We do not hear “How long O God, how long?” These last five psalms are songs of pure praise. Each begins and ends with Hallelujah: Praise the Lord; the Lord who keeps faith forever, who gives sight to the blind and who sustains the widow; the Lord who promises that those who mourn shall be comforted; this, after 145 psalms mostly lamenting the past and praying for a better future. Psalm 146 is a perfect introduction to today's Gospel.
One challenge when preaching on Matthew's Beatitudes is the common misperception that the beatitudes are the entire Sermon on the Mount. They are not. They are only part of what is a very long and wide-ranging teaching. The beatitudes are as ambiguous as anything ever written. They have been used, and misused, interpreted and misinterpreted, to push social agendas on both the left and the right. Settle for your lot or begin radical revolution regardless of the damage you cause. One can justify almost anything through skillful use of words and concepts in relation to the beatitudes. With one exception. The exception is the beatitude that is ignored by preachers and activists.
“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Poverty. Peace. Persecution. Hunger. These are headline grabbers. They offer a chance to mount the political soapbox. To rant. To gesticulate. To speak in bumper sticker language. They are an opportunity for inflammatory and passionate speeches in the manner of Elmer Gantry. Mourning doesn't get headlines. Grieving doesn't make it to the front page without being associated with the ridiculous concept "closure" included somewhere. Mourning doesn't get headlines because it is personal, private, and solitary. Those who are mourning make those who are not very uncomfortable. People are poor together. Groups suffer injustice. Persecution is systematic. Mourning is solitary. Mourning is solitary even when the loss is shared. And those who do not mourn will say or do anything to deny the pain of others. "There, there, you'll get closure real soon. Let's go out for dinner and a movie."
Mourning is the most solitary and isolating of human experiences. While most people who hear the word mourning ask “Who died?”, mourning and grief are triggered by any loss: Loss of another through death to be sure. But also loss of another through Alzheimer’s disease, a move from the independence of one's home to the dependence of a nursing home, or even the loss of one's driver's license and the independence it granted. Grief and mourning can be triggered by the loss of a part of oneself. The loss may be physical such as a breast or a limb, or a more abstract loss such as retirement or one’s health where one's self-definition is radically changed.
The difficulty with mourning and grieving is that no one can do the work of mourning for another. There are no substitutions, or, for those who understand American baseball, no pinch-hitters. Oftentimes attempts to comfort those who mourn fall somewhere between clumsy and damaging. There is no social justice solution for mourning. There is no preferential option for those who mourn. There is no answer except compassion and a willingness to listen.
Mourning is the great leveler. It brings the peasant and the dictator to his knees in pain, rage, fear, and sorrow. It sets off deep hunger in the one who can barely afford bread as well as the gourmand. Those who mourn do not know peace. Unlike the poor or persecuted who can be rallied to action or marching there is nothing for those who mourn except to hope for comfort while trying to get from day to day. Those who mourn are alone. Those who weep are isolated from the rest of society.
No writer ever described the existence of those who mourn more effectively than C.S. Lewis in the opening sentence of the short journal he kept following the death of his wife, A Grief Observed .
“No one ever told me
that grief felt so like fear.
I am not afraid,
but the sensation is like being afraid.
The same fluttering in the stomach,
the same restlessness, the yawning.
I keep on swallowing.”
Lonely. Hungry. Isolated. Overwhelmed.
Blessed are they who mourn. May they be comforted.
Went out with camera for a bit last night. I love black and white shots at night. The lighting in many cities makes color photography difficult unless one wants odd color casts. The lighting in many areas here carries cause a yellow tint. Trying to correct it makes things worse. The final shot here is an exception. For the most part I prefer to convert night time photos to black and white.
A friend commented that I have the ability to capture solitude. This man is walking throguh the empty marketplace. And it is very cold.
Walking along Plečnikov's colonnade at the market. The other side overlooks the river.
A view across the river on the backside of the colonnade.
Plečnikov's colonnade. The place is bustling during the day with every table covered with wares.
An outdoor cafe. Even with under-the-table-heaters it was too cold for most to sip outside.
A votive candle on a table outdoors.
The Franciscan Church and triple bridges reflected in the river.