Fifth Sunday in Easter — May 15, 2022
“Walkthrough of the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who Mourn and Those Who are Meek (A Remedy for Sinful Emotions)”
Acts 14:21-27/Ps 145/Rev 21:1-5a/Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
How are you feeling right now? This is a question we casually ask each other all the time, but really think about what is being asked. For depending on the circumstances, you might be happy, or sad, or mad. Though you might feel differently at times, one thing is constant and true: the fact that you are feeling at all. Emotions are a big part of what makes us human. Now on their own, they are neither good nor bad. However, since our human nature is fallen, so are our emotions. When it comes to our lives of faith, how we use our emotions, or maybe, how they use us determine whether they (and thus our actions) become good or sinful.
I speak of the emotions because in our walkthrough of the beatitudes, I will again look at two today, and these two beatitudes actually pertain to human emotion. What are they? From Matthew 5:4-5, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” As with the other beatitudes we’ve looked at, these two definitely don’t sound like the key to happiness! How can being sad or being meek make someone happy?
To understand, we have to realize that Jesus is addressing two different, and perhaps most common, kinds of human emotion: Sorrow and Anger. The reason why is as I just said: by themselves, emotions are neither good nor bad. They’re just feelings. However, that all changes in how we use our emotions, how we feed them, or how we let them affect us. If we use our emotions well and keep them in check, they can lead to happiness in God. But if we’re not careful—and often we’re not—they can lead to sin.
So let’s look at that first: how can anger and sorrow become sinful? Let’s start with anger for that should be obvious; after all, we already learned about the sin of anger back during Lent when we covered the 5th commandment. Though anger can be good, it is all too easy to allow our anger to consume us with hatred, with vengeance, and a desire to put matters into our own hands in the way we think it’s best. But this sinful anger only breeds more anger, and it makes us become no different from our enemies.
Now what about sorrow? How can sorrow possibly be sinful? Again, the answer lies in what is causing your sorrow and how much you are letting your sorrow control you. The great Bible scholar, Dr. Brant Pitre, in his recent book “Introduction to the Spiritual Life” explains sinful/worldly sorrow in this way, saying that it “is an irrational response to evil, suffering, or loss. It is rooted in pride and a disordered love for the things of this world. It overreacts to the loss of earthly goods and frustration of worldly desires. It does not lead to repentance but to regret that things have not gone according to our will. When worldly sorrow turns into despair—the complete loss of trust in God’s providence—it can be a mortal sin. As the apostle Paul says, ‘worldly sorrow’ leads to ‘death’ (2 Cor 7:10).” Did you notice what the two have in common? When emotions cause a person to focus on themselves, their selfishness, and on worldliness, and allow themselves to be consumed by them, they lead to sin.
So if that’s the case, what is the remedy to these sinful emotions, especially when our feelings are so hard to control? Again, it’s the beatitudes! In the two we have today “Blessed are those who mourn and those who are meek”, Jesus is offering a remedy for worldly sorrow and sinful anger. As I look at each one, notice again the similarity: if both sinful sorrow and sinful anger are defined as being focused on the self and the world, the remedy of godly sorrow and meekness bring our focus back to where it should be, on God and on Heaven.
So first, “Blessed are those who mourn”—how is this a remedy for sinful sorrow? What Jesus is talking about is a Godly/virtuous kind of sorrow, one that we must have to face all the sufferings and evils of this life. Going back to Dr. Pitre, he explains it in this way: “…godly sorrow is a reasonable response to evil, suffering, or loss…It desires to change things for the sake of conforming to God’s will. It is rooted in love for God and neighbor. It does not exaggerate but faces evil or loss directly and realistically. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, trust in God, and eternal life.” In other words, a Christian with this beatitude sees their suffering from an eternal perspective. They are sad at the presence of evil, but their sadness allows them to resist this evil and hope for the joys of Heaven—this is why they shall be comforted! Our readings even teach us this lesson. The first reading has Paul and Barnabbas encouraging the Christians who are suffering, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And in the second reading, John sees a vision of what every suffering Christian longs for, a new heaven and a new earth, in which God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain…” That image reminds us that though we suffer now, it will one day end in glory—but only if we are patient.
Speaking of patience, that is also what the second beatitude on meekness is about. So how is this a remedy for anger? At first glance, it seems a meek person just lets injustices happen, as though they are pushovers. However, that is not really the case. Just like with Godly Sorrow, a meek person has a much broader perspective on the evil they are facing. They don’t give into anger but instead are lowly, patient, and gentle not because they are weak but because they have a greater strength: they rely on entirely on God. Psalm 37:8-11 teaches “Refrain from anger and forsake wrath…yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more.” Those who are meek remain humble and at peace and steadfast against evil because they know that God will take care of the wicked in the end. Why take matters entirely into our own hands when God is there? Giving into anger is easy, but controlling our anger is harder—that is why the one who is meek and has mastery over his anger has the greater strength and is the better man. Jesus affirms this teaching in today’s Gospel, reminding us of His new commandment to love one another. As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This commandments comes right after the Washing of the Feet, where Jesus teaches us the value of being lowly and serving of others!
Now, normally I would have us focus on a saint, but due to looking at two beatitudes at once today, I think that would take too much time. Instead, I’ll briefly list for you several saints who exemplified each beatitude, and I invite you to take time to learn more about them. Saints who lived out the beatitude of Godly sorrow/mourning include St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Saints who give a good example of meekness include St. Francis de Sales, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Anthony of the Desert, and St. Andre Bessett.
Friends, I know we have covered a lot of ground today tackling two beatitudes, but if you can remember anything, remember this: our emotions are good, but don’t let them control you. Don’t let them make you focus too much on yourself or this world. Rather, surrender them to God, trust in Him, and that will help us master our emotions to become truly happy—a happiness not rooted in feelings but in the Lord Himself.