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 of the lectionary, the book of readings and gospels for every day of the year, is why? What is the rationale for editorial decision that cut out the middle of a particular text and change its meaning? Today's first reading is a case in point.
The reading from Zephaniah is not continuous. The editors joined chapter 2 verse 3 to chapter 3 verses 12 and 13. The result is consoling. It is almost idyllic. That is the problem. The twenty-three deleted verses comprise 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 is preceded by turmoil and strife.
Peace and comfort preceded by turmoil and chaos is an accurate description of life as we live it, of life as it was lived during the writer's time, and of life as it will always be lived. Turmoil followed by consolation. One hopes post-covid consolation gets here soon.
Psalm 146, the responsorial, is the first of the five hymns that bring the magnificent Book of Psalms to an end. Psalms 146 to 150 are unlike anything
that precedes them. Nothing follows them. We do not hear "Why, O Lord?"
We do not hear “How long O God, how long?” or “Out of the Depths I Cry to You.” The last five psalms are songs given to 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 lamenting the past and praying for a better future. Psalm 146 prepares us for the 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 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, updated and bowdlerized to push social agendas by both the left and the right. 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 mostly ignored by preachers, activists, and social revolution types. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Poverty, peace, hunger, and persecution are headline grabbers. They offer a chance to mount the political soapbox, or politicize the pulpit, so as to rail, rant, or speak in bumper sticker language. They are an opportunity for inflammatory and passionate sermons in the manner of Elmer Gantry.
Mourning does not garner headlines. Grieving doesn't make it to the front page
unless the ridiculous concept called "closure" is included somewhere in the story.
Mourning doesn't get headlines because it is personal, private, and solitary.
Those who are mourning make those who are not uncomfortable. People are poor together. Groups suffer injustice. Persecution is systematic. Mourning is solitary. Mourning is solitary even when the loss is shared. No two people grieve in the same way, even for the death of the same person.
Those who do not mourn will say or do anything to push aside the pain the other is experiencing. "There, there, you'll get closure real soon. Let's go out for dinner and a movie. It’ll help you get there."
Mourning is among the most lonely and isolating of human experiences. While most people who hear the words mourning or grief will ask “Who died?,” mourning and grief are triggered by any loss: The loss of friend through death,
the loss of a spouse or parent through Alzheimer’s disease, the loss of independence upon moving from home into a nursing home. The loss of one's driver's license can trigger severe mourning given the secondary losses a sudden inability to drive.
Grief and mourning can be triggered by the loss of a part of oneself, either a physical loss such as a breast or a limb, or a more abstract loss such as retirement or one’s health.
The difficulty with mourning and grieving is that no one can do the work of mourning for another. There are no substitutions or pinch-hitters allowed.
Oftentimes attempts to comfort those who mourn fall somewhere between clumsy and damaging.
There is no rallying cry for those who mourn. There is no social justice solution for mourning. There is no preferential option for those who mourn. There is no answer except compassion and willingness to listen on the part of the other.
Mourning is the great leveler. It brings both peasants and dictators
to their knees in pain, rage, fear, and sorrow. It sets off deep hunger in the one who can barely afford bread as well as the obese celebrity chef on TV.
Those who mourn do not know peace. Unlike the poor or persecuted who can be challenged to act 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 in sorrow are isolated from the rest of society.
No writer ever described grief and mourning as effectively as C.S. Lewis when he wrote the opening sentence of A Grief Observed, the small journal he kept
after his wife’s death from bone cancer .
“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.
The photos are from Loyola, Spain in the summer of 2019. I presented two talks at the conference on Ignatian Spirituality. Loyola is almost visually overwhelming.
|Shape, pattern, shadow, and texture are among the characteristics is look for, particularly in black and white. This fulfilled all criteria.|
|The stained glass in this particular chapel is non-figurative, composed of irregular shapes of blue, purple, and magenta. The sun splashed the walls with color.|
|A delicate blossom. Amazingn how a camera can capture such details so quickly.|
|See texture, shape, and so on criteria. Nothing like the weather to create beauty.|
|I took multiple shots of the roses growing adjacent to this wall.|
|Mass. I chose not to concelebrate.|
+ Fr. Jack, SJ, MD