Certain realities in life we see only through eyes that are cleansed with our tears. —Pope Francis
One of the most powerful moments of Pope Francis’ visit to Asia a few years ago was when a weeping 12-year-old Filipino girl asked him how God could allow children to become prostitutes.
Francis discarded most of his prepared speech that he was due to give in English, reverting to his native Spanish to deliver an impromptu and heartfelt response.
‘She is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer and she wasn’t even able to express it in words but in tears,’ he told the crowd. ‘The nucleus of your question … almost doesn’t have a reply … [There are] certain realities in life we see only through eyes that are cleansed with our tears.’ He urged the people gathered ‘to think, to feel and to do’, asking them to repeat these words in a chorus.
Like Jesus, Pope Francis was reminding us that, paradoxically, our tears, our laments, our mourning and our grief are to be embraced rather than shunned.
Jesus’ saying, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’, often seems nonsensical to us when we are in pain. How can we be blessed when our hearts are breaking, when sorrow and loss overwhelm us?
Yet this beatitude is a deep source of our hope as we cry out to the Lord. It tells us that this ‘grief work’ is the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.
The great biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, reminds us that the Psalms (especially the lament Psalms) that many of us pray daily are a great resource as we live this mystery. He writes: ‘The laments are refusals to settle for the way things are. They are acts of relentless hope that believes no situation falls outside of Yahweh’s capacity for transformation.’
Yes, we need laments. We need to grieve and mourn and ‘see through eyes that are cleansed with our tears’.
Perhaps some people were surprised that Pope Francis did not have an ‘answer’ for that 12-year-old Filipino girl. But the gift of Pope Francis is his pastor’s heart—he is so honest and authentic. For the truth is that Christians rarely have ‘solutions’ to the problems of the suffering in this world.
But with Francis we have something greater: a conviction, born of the Risen Jesus, that love, solidarity and grief are the birth pangs of God’s kingdom, which is coming if we can but ‘mourn’.
Or, as Mary Oliver puts it so beautifully in one of her poems on grief and mourning:
To live in this world you must be able to do three
things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your
bones knowing your own life depends on it; and,
when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
For ‘those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy’ (Psalm 126:5).
This article is part of a series of reflections entitled Blessed Are You: Meditations on the Beatitudes & Daily Life by Br Mark O’Connor FMS.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.