Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4)
This has always struck me as the most outstanding and counterintuitive of the beatitudes. The beatitude itself is a promise, not for the present sorrow, whatever it might be, but for the future. What is it to be comforted or consoled? As Merikakis notes in Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, to be consoled is to be “called to someone’s side.” If to be in desolation is be abandoned and alone, consolation implies that someone has come to be with me in my sorrow. This beatitude is the promise of an interior presence that is capable of transforming suffering from within.
What kind of presence is this? The kind of happiness that consolation brings cannot come from naivete. Divine consolation is a help to us in a world that is very much fallen and reeling from its wounds. As Christ rose on Easter, with the marks of the nails still in his hands and feet, so by the grace of the Resurrection, we are to rise with our own wounds. These wounds are to be glorified by a life of grace spent following Christ, but they are still wounds. Understood this way, consolation is not incompatible with loss or mourning—it presupposes it. In his Paschal Mystery, Jesus did not eliminate suffering, but he did something only God can do: he transformed it. What was once a mark of sin and death can now be sign of light and life. The aid that comes to us in our own afflictions is the presence of God in our souls, which heals us, and lets us know that we are not alone, and that nothing has been suffered in vain.
We can understand consolation as the interior awareness of this presence, which is a response to our frailty. This divine compassion is not just a sentiment, it is a person: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). We call the Holy Spirit “the gift of God most high” because it is by means of the Spirit’s presence that we receive consolation. It is a gift that is freely and abundantly given to all the baptized. Baptism, after all, is nothing less than the divine adoption whereby we become brothers with Jesus and sons of the same Father.
Most of the time, the best consolers are those whom we know and love. The closer someone is to us, the easier it is receive comfort from them. This is all the more true of the Holy Spirit, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. And this is necessary: sometimes human comfort is not enough to cope with loss. Like the mothers of Bethlehem after the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, we may be unable to accept merely human comfort: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more” (Matt 2:18). It is at this point that we must be silent and wait for God to act. This kind of passivity is not stoic resignation, or “acceptance” of the inevitable; it is an act of hope, which is among the most strong and striking of the virtues. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (Ps 31:24).
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)