Sunday, 19 January 2014

Blessed are you who mourn, you will be comforted

(From dust you came, to dust you will return)
 

This Beatitude appears to be a puzzle: what is there that is blessed or even to be happy about mourning? There are people in the world who can no longer cry or show any emotions, there are some who have no conscience, others who live in a permanent state of denial of death and accountability, and those who have dismissed sins or consider that they have never sinned. Some people turn their faces from the suffering of others so that they cannot be affected or influenced, and others are attracted like ghouls to stare with fascinated fixation at aircraft or vehicle disasters but have little or no sympathy for the victims or the loss of their loved ones. Mourning brings out the emotional, caring and feeling sensitivity within us.
 
Jesus mourned deeply for the sufferings and loss of others, but He highlighted those who could not face the miseries and sufferings of this world and mourned over their inability to see its hollowness and the relative shortness of their lives before appearing before the Judge of all things. Blessed and indeed happy are those who can mourn and live with love and empathy for the sufferings of others: Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta well understood this Beatitude because she saw Jesus in the faces of the suffering poor. Jesus used her and uses us to bring comfort to the unfortunate.
 
Mourning hinges critically on the two previous Beatitudes, Poverty of Spirit and Meekness. We should live our lives to have in order to give to others rather than giving to others so that we can have for ourselves which is the role of greed today. Instead, by sharing in the crises of others, we appreciate our own impotence and inability to rely on temporal things, but on their behalf or with them we cry out Abba! Father! Because we are always other-centred, knowing what we have and could have, yet we live with only what we essentially need and give to those in need our help and our love. We in all meekness understand our relatively fortunate position and yet accept we are indeed our brother's keeper. Pope Francis recently wrote that we will have to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.
 
 
 
We recognise our own share in the world's guilt and what Jesus did we must do also; yet He was sinless and we who sin must join Him in solidarity with the sinners of this world, because who among us could cast the first stone at another? We don't dismiss sin; a sin is always a sin in whatever context it occurs, and only God can decide the culpability. We cannot judge the culpability of others although we condemn the sin, which cannot be erased except through recognition, sorrow, confession and penance.
 
 
 
If we truly mourn for the plight of others, our own sins, the sins of the Church and those of the world, we will be comforted and helped to endure these horrors. By helping others, by sharing in their misery, hopelessness, losses, lack of any faith and despair we will make light of our own problems. Then we will indeed be blessed and find peace and true happiness. We will be truly other-centred and our own afflictions will cease to affect us as they become lost in the care we give to others.
 
Turning to death and the loss of a loved one: these should remind us of the relative shortness of our own lives and that one day we will too be in that coffin and have to face accountability. So in mourning the loss of our loved ones, we should mourn too for own sins, lack of faith and inability to fully trust in God's hand in all things including taking the loved ones from us. We feel deeply for those who have lost a sick child or family members in war. It is easy to rail at God rather than to soberly assess whether our self-centredness is dominant. Other-centredness might view the loss as a good thing for the departed who being called back home by God will be far happier than we could ever have made them: are we deep down jealous or possessive?
 
 
 
Our mourning should reflect our recognition that we own nobody and nothing, and our willingness to hand back to God what he gave to us because we are other-centred and not self-centred. The attachment to a loved one may make the pain of separation unbearable; however, a Christian will view this as temporary and hope in all hope that a wonderful reunion will occur in a relatively short time.
 
 
 
In mourning we don't go about "celebrating a life" for if that person did not get to heaven that life was a disastrous failure. But if that life was lived following the narrow way pointed out by Jesus we have confidence that salvation, with God's mercy, will have been achieved: when we meet again then we will celebrate. Instead, we spend our time in sobriety; prayers for the deceased so that their period of purgation is short; prayers for our endurance and comfort; penance; almsgiving, withdrawal in contemplation; suffering through our loss and turning to others less fortunate than ourselves to give them help and comfort. If we mourn correctly, even under conditions of the most cruel cross of the cutting apart of our attachment, we will be comforted and strengthened in order to endure, and therefore indeed blessed.
 
Losing a loved one, a vocation, a career or a loss of capabilities through war or sickness, is always extremely painful and bewildering, and at these times our trust in God is sorely tried, but if we hang on in there, comfort will truly come and with it the soft, quiet happiness of peace.
 
If we truly understood this Beatitude, and were other-centred and meek, we would find it difficult to contemplate suicide, deliberate or assisted, for all suffering has a purpose. People often pronounce that life is no longer worth living and their crosses are too hard. However, if we all thought this way and did away with ourselves or others because of apparently unacceptable suffering for ourselves or others, how could anyone practice true love, for example in hospices, hospitals, care homes and in our own homes, and thereby achieve heaven? It would be a far colder and more dreadful world than ever experienced. We must never fail to place our trust in God completely Who will give us the endurance and help we require, especially if we mourn over our weaknesses and temptations to run from suffering.
 
It is right to mourn over our afflictions but never to the point of taking our own lives because if we do we could never have understood the redemptive meaning of the cross and remain fixated on self-centredness and at worse self-pity. All suffering has redemptive powers for ourselves and others. By offering our sufferings for our own sins and the salvation of others, we will be comforted and strengthened to endure, ultimately to achieve Heaven for ourselves and others. Surely the price is worth paying? We should accept that suicide is a grave sin, but withhold all judgement which is not ours to give and pray for mercy and consideration of hopefully diminished culpability.
 
 
 
So in summary we should mourn deeply over our loved ones and also over the world and its deformed state, as Jesus mourned over Jerusalem and in the Garden of Gethsemane over what could have been and could be, but for sin. We unite with the sufferings of each other, and by walking alongside each other in this pilgrimage of life we pick up those who stumble, bury those whose pilgrimage has ended and comfort those struggling on despite their losses, We recognise our unity in the suffering body of Jesus Christ, and never blame God for our calamities or those of the world, but see these as caused by our fallen nature. This increasingly deformed world groans and reacts in agony as sin upon sin is piled high onto it. The increasing volatility of nature may be just a manifestation of it reacting against man's sins which have reached an unprecedented level; where is the compensating love and mourners?
 
References:
The Preaching of the Beatitudes, H J Coleridge, Burns Oates 1876
The Eight Beatitudes, George Chevrot, Sinag-tala 1981.


Sunday, 5 January 2014

Whatever happened to the Three Kings?



 

It is said that after presenting the Baby Jesus with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, the Three Kings returned east, where they gave up their thrones and distributed their wealth amongst the poor. Together, they continued to journey eastwards, finally settling in India, where some forty years later they were baptized by the Apostle Thomas.

 All three were then ordained as priests, after which they went their separate ways to proclaim the Good News. Ten years later, the three met up once more to spend their last Christmas together. After celebrating Mass on Christmas Day, they died. Their bodies were taken to Israel and buried in the city of Jerusalem. Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered their graves during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She brought their bodies back to Constantinople where they were housed in the Church of Santa Sophia.

Shortly after the death of the Empress, her son presented the bones of the Wise Men as a gift to the bishop of Milan. By now, the relics were housed in a huge marble sarcophagus. The bishop transferred the sarcophagus to Milan on a wooden cart pulled by a team of oxen, As soon as the cart entered the city it sank into the mud. The bishop took this as a sign from God, and built a basilica on the site.


In 1162, the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich Barbarossa, captured the city of Mi
lan and sent the relics to Cologne. It is said that the bones were transported to Germany in three ships.


For the next 50 years, the workshops of Cologne's goldsmiths were occupied with the crafting of a magnificent golden shrine for the relics. Such a fabulous shrine needed an equally splendid church to house it. The people of Cologne set about rebuilding their cathedral on a grand scale. Construction began in 1248 and the new High Altar was consecrated 80 years later. After this, the pace of construction slowed considerably, eventually grinding to a halt due to a lack of funds. It was not until 1842 that construction was resumed by the King of Prussia. It took another 32 years to finish the Cathedral, with the very last of the stonework being put in place in 1880.


During the Second World War the city of Cologne and its Cathedral were severely damaged by Allied bombing. However, the golden shrine itself escaped undamaged. Today it can still be seen behind the High Altar.


After taking 632 years to complete, Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic structure in northern Europe. It is currently the most visited building in Germany with more than 15 million pilgrims and tourists every year. Amongst the people of Cologne the Cathedral is popularly known as the Dreikoenigenkirche - "The Church of the Three Kings".
 
 
 
Taken from the newsletter of St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster.