Thursday, September 3, 2009

3rd Beatitude - Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.


Continuing our commentary on the Beatitudes by Saint Gregory of Nyssa:


Next, building on poor of spirit and meekness, we move to yet a higher rung. Does seeing those who mourn as blessed involve those who endure misfortune and hardship and imply that those who do not have such sorrow in their lives cannot be blessed? Of course not. Gregory says this would be ridiculous.


Saint Paul teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). A worldly sorrow and one that comes from God. Gregory writes, the work of the worldly sorrow is death, whereas the other works in those afflicted with it salvation through repentance. For surely, if a soul bewails its wicked life because it feels its bad effects, such suffering cannot be excluded from the sorrow that is called blessed.


If we do not feel sorrow when engaging in sin because we feel no pain, then we have become paralyzed and dead to the life of virtue. We have lost what God have given us to encourage us to come to repentance and to grow spiritually. But Gregory says there is more than this in the idea of mourning.


Saint Gregory writes:

For if He meant to indicate only repentance for sin, it would have been more consistent to call blessed those who have mourned rather than those who are always mourning. Taking by way of comparison an example from illness, we would call blessed those who are healed, but not those who are forever in process of being healed. Obviously the continual healing would indicate at the same time the continued existence of the disease.


Gregory tells us that we cannot limit this beatitude to those who sin or misfortune. We have many examples of the saints who were not in continual sin. We know they were not denied blessedness. We know that mourning has to do with losing something that is seen to be good. When one faces misfortune he mourns, because he lost what was pleasant to him. At issue here is what we see as pleasant. Gregory asks us to raise our understanding from what we know to be pleasant to that which we do not know to be good. He says, we must first know what really is the true good, and then, with this in mind, consider human nature. For only thus can we attain to the mourning that is called blessed.


Now this is key to understanding what Jesus meant by mourning. We need to expand our understanding of what is good, to include what is beyond the pleasures of this life. We need to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven and the Divine goodness. As we grasp that what is true goodness, the perfection that we are capable, the goodness that Jesus showed us through His life, what is beyond our comprehension, our sorrow should grow and we should mourn about this lack of understanding.


Gregory writes:

But lest our words should labor in vain in our effort to reach what is inaccessible, we will cut short our enquiry into the nature of the transcendent good.... And the more we believe the nature of the good to exceed our comprehension, the more should our sorrow grow within us, because we are separated from a good so great that we cannot even attain to its knowledge. …


This knowledge is something mankind once knew. Gregory explains that we only need go back to the story of creation where we learn that man was created in the image of God and lived in Paradise. But we were disobedient and separated ourselves from God’s goodness. This led to dire consequences.


Gregory writes:

Thus the creature that had once been without a master and in full possession of his free will, is now dominated by so many great evils that we can hardly count all our tyrants. For as soon as any of our innate passions is allowed to dominate, it becomes the master of the person it has enslaved. It occupies the castle of the soul like a tyrant, and afflicts the obedient lord through his own subjects. It uses our thoughts as its servants who carry out what seems good to it. For the whole array of passions, wrath and fear, cowardice and impudence, depression as well as pleasure, hatred, strife and merciless cruelty, envy as well as flattery, brutality together with brooding over injuries–they all are so many despotic masters who make the soul a slave in their territory as if it was a prisoner of war. If one were to add to this also the physical sufferings that are insolubly bound up with our nature, I mean the manifold forms of disease from all of which human nature was originally immune, our tears would flow still more, as we were comparing and contrasting what is painful and evil with the things that were good and pleasant.


When Jesus calls mourning blessed, Gregory says, “the underlying sense seems to be that the soul should turn to the true good and not immerse itself in the deceits of this present life.” Unfortunately, those who enjoy things of this world do not look for what is better. But if one chooses to seek, he will find what only those who seek can find. Gregory says that this is the primary reason Jesus calls mourning blessed. We need to be aware that we do not know true goodness, goodness that is so great we cannot describe it, and feel sorrow about our condition, mourning, and seeking to know.


Gregory concludes:

Therefore we should think it blessed to reserve our share of joy for the truly good things in eternal life, and to fulfill the duty of sorrow in this short and transitory life. We should not think it a loss to be deprived of some of the pleasant things of this life, but rather to lose the better things for the sake of enjoying the others. If therefore it is blissful to have the unending and everlasting joy in eternity, human nature is bound also to taste of the opposite. Then it will no longer be difficult to see the meaning of the passage, why those who mourn now are blessed, because they shall be comforted in the world without end. Now the comfort comes through participating in the Comforter. For the gift of comforting is the special operation of the Spirit, of which may we also be made worthy, through the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.

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