Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:3-4).
Spiritual struggles often come down to this irony: Offered what we most want for free, we refuse it. That gift is the love of God and the invitation to participate in love. We could desire nothing more than that.
God offers love freely, and only when we reciprocate freely do we love God. And freedom is precisely the sticking point. There we erect obstacles to grace.
The first of the obstacles: We refuse to accept God’s love. To acknowledge our need for God, we must give up the illusion of self-sufficiency, the idea that we make our own way in life and only need divine help in a pinch. Yet, giving that up offends our pride. Thus, did Adam and Eve fall.
Another obstacle: We hold back the free response of loving God in return. We do so because once we give of ourselves, we mistake the giving for loss of freedom. We expect the beloved — especially God — to keep us in a box, to control us with rules and expectations. So we hold back to preserve the supposed freedom to do as we please.
But by itself, freedom to do as we please proves hollow and ultimately false. For only the freedom to be ourselves brings us deep, abiding joy. And created in the image of the one, loving God, we can only be ourselves by giving ourselves in love.
Jesus offers the keys to overcoming obstacles to receiving God’s love. The first two Beatitudes offer the grace necessary for overcoming obstacles based on pride and on a selfish misconception of freedom.
The poor in spirit are blessed because they give up the proud illusion of self-sufficiency. For these beggars of God know that all they have, including all their powers come as gifts from God. Overcoming obstacles of pride begins here.
But as soon as he blessed those who claim it all — even life in the reign of the one, loving God — Jesus blessed those who know that on the road to that kingdom, they lose it all. All we have this side of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of Heaven is ephemeral.
And those who lose the most cherished spouse, child, parent, or friend, those bereft of a dream that charged their lives, those dismissed from work by which they made a difference, and those who suffer the decline of physical or mental powers — in a word, those who mourn — face a choice. They may abandon God in disappointment. Or they may freely accept God’s love by sharing their grief with God.
Mourning provides a great opportunity for intimacy with God. For when we pray our grief and even protest our loss, we insist on faith in God to carry us to a new tomorrow despite our weeping. And only in grief do we join in the suffering of God whose heart breaks with every cruelty and with every proud refusal of grace.
In a word, overcoming obstacles to receiving God’s love and to responding with love requires gratitude and grief. Only in gratitude and grief together can we open our hearts and freely participate in God’s work of giving and receiving love in both the twilight and daybreak of our days.