By Sister Marcella Clancy
“Blessed are they who mourn and who grieve,
they shall be comforted, they shall be consoled.”
When I learned Michigan’s Governor Whitmer extended the “Stay Home” order, I was not surprised, but was disappointed. “What’s the first thing you wanted to do when ‘this’ is over?” a journalist asked. No one mentioned shopping or material things in their response. Hugging someone and visiting in person topped the list. I would have said I want to go to Buddy’s, order a margherita pizza and a glass of dirty blonde beer and bask in the comfort that the tangible presence of friends bring.
I am tempted to perceive the impact of covid 19 through my own lens of discomfort. Yet a larger question haunts me. As Sisters of St. Joseph, we commit ourselves to work to achieve unity of ourselves, neighbors, and creation with God and with one another. How do I absorb and hold the collective pain and broken hearts of my brothers and sisters that this pandemic has caused?
It is overwhelming. As I write the coronavirus has resulted in over 56 thousand deaths nationally and over 200 thousands globally. Over 17 million Americans have lost their jobs and possibly 35 million around the world. Thousands who have toiled for years now have lost their livelihood. The U.N. Security Council warns that famines of biblical proportions loom as the poor, who suffer the most, are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus and its consequences. “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping. Rachel weeping for her children and she cannot be comforted because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15) Just because I cannot see their faces does not mean they are strangers or aliens to me.
A conflict lives in me. The Easter Season beckons me to live in the joy of the Risen Christ. Yet there is a beckoning to let this immense suffering shelter in my own heart. Johann Baptist Metz’s reminder helps, “Whoever hears the message of the resurrection of Christ in such a way that the cry of the crucified becomes inaudible, hears not the Gospel but rather a myth.” I am constantly tempted to move too soon to resurrection rather than to listen with God, without growing weary, to the cry of those crushed in spirit. Perhaps like Mary Magdalen I need to wait by the tomb longer. We have witnessed the positive effects the absence of human activity has on the environment. Yet Earth too weeps and offers us comfort. The healing of humanity and Earth are inextricably bound together.
While warning not to “ignore, spiritualize, or glorify” suffering, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ offers an alternative in the prayer of lamentation. Lamenting, she asserts, drives us to God complaining, mourning, wailing, doggedly demanding, “Why?” “How long?” “Where are You?” There are no “rationale explanations or neat theological solutions”. Rather in lamenting we keep “the question opened living with the ‘not yet’ of history while insisting on the promise of God.” The prayer itself allows the cry of the suffering to dwell in me, to give their anguish a voice lifted up to God, and ease the grip my own self-centeredness. Lamenting unto God has the potential to soften my heart, move me to do what I can to alleviate the misery and dismantle unjust structures which cause the poor to suffer more. Lamenting keeps hope alive, the Light that darkness cannot extinguish.
Pope Francis in a TED talk said, “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope… can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you.”
When Jesus included those who mourn and grieve among the blessed, he did so because they will be comforted and consoled. I suspect Jesus not only meant by God in eternity, but by me, by you in the here and now. We are the promise Jesus made to those who mourn and grieve. We are to be their comfort and their consolation. If there is a grace in this pandemic, this is this invitation.
About the Author
Sister Marcella Clancy, CSJ, has degrees in nursing and theology. In the past she ministered in hospitals, taught nursing and theology at the college level and served in parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Currently, Sister Marcella ministers as a spiritual director, facilitates retreats and offers presentations through Transformation Spirituality Center at our Nazareth Center in Kalamazoo.