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 which is 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 love again.
1, 86 Nazareth
Reflection – Well, ‘tis the season to be mourning, right? Fa la la la la, la la boo hoo… Tis the season… for quite a few of you, my Catholic readers, in these last weeks of Lent ‘tis the season for parish reconciliation services, for making one’s Easter duty, the annual requirement to confess all grave sins of the past year.
Mind you, I fervently hope that this is not the only time of year you all go to Confession. To bring your sins to the Lord and receive his mercy is precisely the movement of grace that makes the difference between the two kinds of mourning Pope Benedict describes here.
Our sins, our unloving and rebellious responses to life, to God and neighbor, yield this sadness that ‘eats away and destroys us from within.’ Repentance is precisely the ‘shattering encounter’ with truth, the truth that our sins are met by the love and compassion of our Father in heaven, an encounter that shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency and independence, and opens us up to the hope and love that are his infused gifts to us.
It really is a question of where our life is coming from. If our life is from and for ourselves, if the whole point of life—its source and summit—is our own ideas, wants, hopes, abilities, strength, then we are on a path to the mourning that destroys us. We are not strong enough to bear that weight placed upon ourselves. Sooner or later, one way or another, our number is up—we are defeated, love runs out, trust is betrayed, destruction is upon us and the abyss yawns at our feet.
If our life is from Another, if the source and summit of our life is not us but this mysterious Other, this Being, this God who is so very hidden and yet so very present to us, then the mourning that does indeed come to us—the revelation of our failure, the disclosure of our shame, our guilt, the manifestation of our profound poverty in whatever form that takes in us—this mourning leads us to joy and life.
It is precisely this experience that breaks us open to the God who loves us and who wants to give us everything. We don’t precisely ‘need’ to take this route: Our Lady never sinned, never failed, lived without shame and guilt, and she was open to God from the beginning. But we have to be realistic—for almost of us, the tendrils of selfishness and egoism are such that the path to joy must lead through mourning.
But this mourning, even as it breaks upon us, will not break us. Or if it does break us, the God who loves us will put us back together, this time the right way. ‘There is a crack in everything: that’s how the light gets in,’ sings Leonard Cohen. Mourning is that crack (the crack of dawn?), and so the light of mercy and love gets in to all of us, if we want it to. And that’s what Lent is about, in essence, and what confession is about, in essence.
So git to Confession, y’all. God’s waiting for you there, to turn your mourning into joy.