GOD IN OUR MIDST
God Hears Our Cries
By Donald Senior, C.P.

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Only those who have not lived long enough do not know what it means to mourn. The death of a parent or spouse. The end of a marriage or friendship. The loss of a job. All of these experiences cut into our hearts and make us weep.

Jesus' words in this second Beatitude touch on this most painful and profound human experience. The Bible is God's Word but it is steeped in our world. The Scriptures are not abstract or the result of a first-century theological seminar. The words and passions of the Bible resonate with the down-to-earth experience of genuine human beings.

The Bible knows all about loss and mourning: the grief of Abraham at the death of Sarah; the profound sadness of Moses as he gazed at a promised land he would never see; the sobs of David over the violent death of his dearest friend, Jonathan; Rachel weeping for her lost children; the tears of Jesus as he laments over his beloved city of Jerusalem and its impending fate.

It is no surprise, then, that the Gospel includes those who mourn in the list of the Beatitudes. The Greek wording of the Beatitude hints at the specific kind of mourning Jesus might have had in mind. The word penthountes—to "weep" or "mourn"—is used in the famous passage of Isaiah 61:1-3, a text that most interpreters of Matthew's Gospel believe had a strong influence on the formulation of the Beatitudes:

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners...to comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning...."

The ones who mourn in this text of Isaiah are those who are "lowly," "brokenhearted," "captives," "prisoners." This is the grief of those who feel that their lives are crushed and who lost everything: their hope, their freedom, their reason for living.

Lingering Images

It is hard, of course, to hear about "mourning" and not to think of all the losses and violent deaths that have occurred in our own country as well as in Afghanistan and the Middle East the past few months. Images of people weeping over broken bodies of loved ones shattered by violence are burned into our hearts. So, too, are the dazed and haggard faces of the multitude of refugees created by the war, people without hope and in desperate need of food and shelter wailing in anguish.

In calling those who mourn "blessed" Jesus does not suggest that there is anything pleasant or beneficial in mourning. People mourn because of tragedy and terrible suffering. Some of that suffering is the result of human sin, such as violence inflicted on the innocent or abject poverty imposed on people without means. There is nothing blessed about that at all. No, the only reason people who mourn are blessed is because God hears their cries and will comfort them.

Our Responsive God

A fundamental belief of the Bible and of our Christian faith is sounded in the second half of this Beatitude. No cry of the poor and suffering will go unanswered. Early in the biblical saga, God made that clear when he said to Moses in the desert of Midian, "I have heard the cries of my people and have come to rescue them." Jesus' prophetic words echo that same sentiment. God is not indifferent to human suffering and will comfort those who mourn. This is the intent of the reign of God for which Jesus has come; it is the future for which Christians earnestly hope.

Jesus' words give direction to our lives now. It is understandable that we mourn and lament the sufferings we experience or witness in others. Jesus, too, lamented the sufferings of his people and cried out in anguish at the prospect of his own death on the cross.

At the same time, we take heart in knowing that God still holds all those who suffer in the palm of his hand. Comforting those who mourn, alleviating the suffering that leads to anguish are divine and noble works that we are called to as followers of Jesus.

Passionist Father Donald Senior is president of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, and professor of New Testament studies. He is past president of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and newly appointed to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Next: Blessed Are the Meek

Questions for Reflection:

• How do you handle grief? Where have you found comfort?
• It is often difficult to approach someone who has suffered a loss. What are some practical ways of comforting others?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."

 

FAMILY CORNER
Blessed Are They Who Mourn
By Judith Dunlap

Bad things happen even to the very young. Friends move away, parents separate, pets are lost. For us parents there is a great temptation to say, "Don't cry. Everything will be all right." It sounds like a Christian response rooted in faith and hope. In truth, the "Everything will be all right" part is fine. It's the "Don't cry" that needs to go.

Tears are cleansing. They are a gift of our human condition. They communicate our feelings, allow for the cohesive bond of compassion and open the door for healing. But sometimes tears get stifled. It takes faith and hope to trust that all will be well, just as it takes courage and humility to accept our own tears and those of others.

We parents often have almost a compulsive need to make things better, to solve problems, to fix things. And so we say things like, "Don't cry" or "Look at it this way," when often what our children really need is just our quiet presence and the support of our love. It helps, when we find a youngster in distress, to take a few moments for some quiet prayer of our own—to ask for the grace to experience and share God's comforting love. If we take the time to listen and suffer our children's pain with them, then perhaps later they will also be open to talking and processing the experience.

As Christians we communicate faith and hope through our love. Our compassion draws us closer and helps to shoulder the burden and quicken the healing. As parents we need to allow our youngsters to show their grief, offering our comforting presence and gentle support as a testimony to our words, "Everything will be all right."

 

For Family Response:

Talk about what it means to be "blessed." How can we be blessed when we are really sad?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

MEDIA WATCH
Amelie
By Frank Frost

The story of a winning French waif who sets out to make the world straight, Amelie is a rare foreign film (French, with subtitles) that has achieved commercial success in America, making it a clear contender for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture.

It is also rare for its unabashed optimism. It is rated A-III, R.

At the beginning, Amelie appears to be a film about fate. "On a certain day, at a certain time, a fly landed on a street, a tablecloth was lifted by the wind, sperm were swimming toward an egg," a narrator tells us as the film opens, drawing our attention to unattended magical moments converging in the flow of fate.

It is an act of fate when Amelie drops a cap from a bottle in her bathroom, which happens to roll against a loose wall tile, behind which Amelie finds a box of personal treasures left there by a little boy many years before. This will change her life. She resolves to track down the owner of the box and do him the favor of returning it.

This quest to find the owner of the box, Dominic Bretodeau, introduces her to other characters, each in need of love or respect or freedom in some form. She undertakes to manipulate fate to help each of them: Lucien, publicly humiliated by his greengrocer employer; the "Glass Man"—so called because his bones are so fragile—stuck in a rut copying the same Renoir painting over and over again; her concierge, lost for decades in mourning her husband who died in a plane crash after running off with another woman; even her own father, who has retreated from life altogether since her mother died.

This is a whimsical love comedy not only in its story, but also in its telling. The camera work and occasional speeded-up action give the feeling that the filmmaker, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is winking at his audience. In one sprightly musical-comedy-like sequence Amelie becomes the eyes of a blind man while escorting him along the street, all the while describing at top speed the wondrous ordinary sights they pass.

But Amelie also encounters a mystery along the way and is attracted to a strange young man, Nino, whom she first encounters scraping things out from under an automatic photo carrel in the train station. She repeatedly manipulates circumstances to get his attention from a distance, but then uses endless stratagems to avoid actually meeting him.

In the end Amelie helps all the others: Lucien, the "Glass Man," her concierge, her father, and Gina, a fellow waitress at the restaurant where she works (another little gem of absurdity). Above all, returning the box of treasures to Bretodeau triggers a reconciliation between him and his daughter and grandson.

It turns out that life is not just about fate after all. It's about choices—choices to embrace life in whatever form it comes.

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Joseph

There is so little we know of St. Joseph. What we do know is that he was the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. He was a blue-collar worker, a carpenter by trade. He was descended from the house of David. He was, as Scripture tells us, a "righteous" or "just" man.

There is so much more we would like to know about him. What were Joseph's thoughts and feelings when he learned that Mary, the woman to whom he was engaged, was mysteriously "with child"? How did he feel when he and his wife were forced to take shelter in a simple stable when it came time for Jesus' birth? What was life like for Joseph, as well as his wife and son, after they fled to Egypt to avoid persecution at the hands of King Herod? As Jesus grew and Joseph passed along his carpentry skills, what kinds of father-son conversations did they have as they worked side by side?

Despite the abundance of questions and the lack of answers, devotion to St. Joseph runs deep. For centuries, the Church has honored him as the patron of fathers, of workers, of a happy death (because Jesus and Mary are thought to have been present when he died, likely before Jesus' public ministry), of many countries, including Russia, Mexico and Vietnam.

Special veneration of St. Joseph probably arose first in the East as early as the fifth or sixth century. In England his feast was observed by 1100 but it was not until 1479 that St. Joseph was introduced into the Roman Calendar. In 1962, Pope John XXIII added Joseph to the list of saints in the First Eucharistic Prayer. The feast of St. Joseph is celebrated on March 19.

David Thomas

David Thomas has long seen St. Joseph as a great role model. No wonder. As the father of five biological and two adopted children and foster father to 75 youngsters over the years, the 63-year-old editor and writer often turns to the third member of the Holy Family for guidance.

Like St. Joseph, he—and his wife, Karen—treasure family.

"Our children are not our possessions but gifts to be cared for," Dr. Thomas told Every Day Catholic. "They come from the Spirit of life, and we give our life's blood to them and for them. No other historical figure did that so willingly as St. Joseph did."

When he looks at St. Joseph, Dr. Thomas sees a devoted husband and father, a man of deep, altruistic love whose human dimension is often lost. "Here was a man in a family situation not of his own making, but he stayed present to Mary and Jesus throughout his life. They remained in each other's hearts. They lived by faith and trust."

Dr. Thomas is a modern-day husband and parent who must constantly juggle family and work pressures. He now serves as codirector of the Bethany Family Institute and is an editor with Benziger publishers. For 20 years he directed the Leadership and Family Ministry program at Regis University in Denver. He served as a consultant to the 1980 World Synod of Bishops on the family. He holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Notre Dame and also has had special training in family therapy.

"Society provides us with many ways to escape the responsibility of parenthood," Dr. Thomas observes. But his role model offers an alternative. Joseph could have done the same, "but he stayed true."

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)



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