Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pope Benedict on, "Blessed are those who mourn..."

If you are feeling down about evil in the world, then you are in mourning, says Pope Benedict. In his first book, Jesus of Nazareth, he explains how you should feel comforted.

I'm behind on many things.  It may come as a surprise that, despite my best intentions, I have never read Pope Benedict's first two books on Jesus of Nazareth.  Newly released now is the third book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.

I have never been a big reader, but I find myself lamenting what I am losing by not reading. So, I'm reading more, especially using a Kindle which makes it easy to take many books with me everywhere I go.

The internet age made it easier for us to have access to current events faster than we could in the past.  When focus on current events is not moderated and goes to excess, it can leave us feeling depressed, down, and overwhelmed.  We are then left without tools to deal with the stress of some of those current events. One of the things sacrificed, is wholesome reading of sound classics like, The Confessions: Saint Augustine of Hippo (Ignatius Critical Editions) or, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  I'm sure I'm not the only one to have neglected reading the Jesus of Nazareth series by Pope Benedict. I can give you a litany of excuses, but they remain a litany of excuses. One could read for just 15 minutes per day and make headway.

I declared war on my own pre-occupation with current events.  I started reading the first book. With that, I want to share some quotes with you, to show how we can learn to cope with current problems by reading, and reflecting on sound writing, rooted in Scripture.  Given the way immorality and greed are advancing, this section of the Pope's first book on Jesus of Nazareth gave me great comfort and I hope it will also put you at ease.

Pope Benedict, in Chapter 4 of his first book, Jesus of Nazareth, when discussing the Beatitudes - specifically, "Blessed are those who mourn...," opened my eyes to something.  Let's start here (emphasis mine in bold):

Let us go back to the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4). Is it good to mourn and to declare mourning blessed? There are two kinds of mourning. The first is the kind that has lost hope, that has become mistrustful of love and of truth, and that therefore eats away and destroys man from within. But there is also the mourning occasioned by the shattering encounter with truth, which leads man to undergo conversion and to resist evil. This mourning heals, because it teaches man to hope and to love again. Judas is an example of the first kind of mourning: Struck with horror at his own fall, he no longer dares to hope and hangs himself in despair. Peter is an example of the second kind: Struck by the Lord’s gaze, he bursts into healing tears that plow up the soil of his soul. He begins anew and is himself renewed. (Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-05-15). Jesus of Nazareth (p. 86). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition. )

He doesn't stop there.  The Holy Father wants to make sure we get it, so he digs back into the Old Testament:

Ezekiel 9:4 offers us a striking testimony to how this positive kind of mourning can counteract the dominion of evil. Six men are charged with executing divine punishment on Jerusalem—on the land that is filled with bloodshed, on the city that is full of wickedness (cf. Ezek 9:9). Before they do, however, a man clothed in linen must trace the Hebrew letter tau (like the sign of the Cross) on the foreheads of all those “who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in the city” (Ezek 9:4). Those who bear this mark are exempted from the punishment. They are people who do not run with the pack, who refuse to collude with the injustice that has become endemic, but who suffer under it instead. Even though it is not in their power to change the overall situation, they still counter the dominion of evil through the passive resistance of their suffering—through the mourning that sets bounds to the power of evil (Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-05-15). Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 86-87). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

If you suffer today because of evil in the world, then you are in mourning.  We Christians are in many battles these days.  In some countries, it's not just a battle with immorality, but a battle that could end in the loss of life and other forms of physical suffering on top of the emotional and spiritual forms.  Here in America, we find ourselves losing liberty. This threat is rooted in the dominion of evil which wants us to go along with immorality.

You can't watch prime-time television without seeing everyone sleep with everyone else (not their spouse) and the mechanisms are in place to encourage ill-catechized Catholics to accept it all.  Then comes the abortion push (because everyone is sleeping with everyone else). Abortion is readily dismissed by many who profess to believe in God, including Catholics.   But, if you dwell in these terrible things you risk falling into hopelessness and despair. People who have faith are not disquieted by those who have no faith; they pray for them, secure in God's peace.  St. Teresa of Avila, who suffered much said, "Let nothing disturb you." This doesn't mean we should be passive and not engage others in the public square, for example.  It means if we find ourselves falling into hopelessness, it's time to pause and pray.

Pope Benedict continues to drill his point home...

Tradition has yielded another image of mourning that brings salvation: Mary standing under the Cross with her sister, the wife of Clopas, with Mary Magdalene, and with John (Jn 19:25ff.). Once again, as in the vision of Ezekiel, we encounter here the small band of people who remain true in a world full of cruelty and cynicism or else with fearful conformity. They cannot avert the disaster, but by “suffering with” the one condemned (by their com-passion in the etymological sense) they place themselves on his side, and by their “loving with” they are on the side of God, who is love. This “com-passion” reminds us of the magnificent saying in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s commentary on the Song of Songs (sermon 26, no. 5): “Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis”—God cannot suffer, but he can “suffer with.” At the foot of Jesus’ Cross we understand better than anywhere else what it means to say “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Those who do not harden their hearts to the pain and need of others, who do not give evil entry to their souls, but suffer under its power and so acknowledge the truth of God—they are the ones who open the windows of the world to let the light in. It is to those who mourn in this sense that great consolation is promised. The second Beatitude is thus intimately connected with the eighth: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). (Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-05-15). Jesus of Nazareth (p. 87). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)

Pope Benedict wraps up his message quite neatly in the next paragraph:

The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because “everyone does it.” The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity. It considers this mourning to be an accusation directed against the numbing of consciences. And so it is. That is why those who mourn suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. Those who mourn are promised comfort; those who are persecuted are promised the Kingdom of God—the same promise that is made to the poor in spirit. The two promises are closely related. The Kingdom of God—standing under the protection of God’s power, secure in his love—that is true comfort. (Ratzinger, Joseph (2007-05-15). Jesus of Nazareth (pp. 87-88). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition. )

Wow! Just wow!  The Holy Father really knows how to package something.

If you have never read the Jesus of Nazareth series, I encourage you to start.  At times, some of it may be difficult to follow. Read through those parts slowly. Or, set it down and come back to it the next day. And, if you still don't get it, move forward.  These kinds of books are not meant to be read once. Like with Scripture, what God doesn't bless you to grasp today, He may grant you that understanding the next day or next year.

I like to highlight and send select, short quotes up to Twitter and Facebook when reading from my Kindle Fire.  If you are following there, you might find these in my feeds, but it is often later at night that I read.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

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