My dear friend Fr. Dustin Feddon, founder of Joseph House, recently recorded a brief reflection on grieving. Over the years, he and I have often spoken about the importance and sacredness of grief, and how the general loss of a cultural script — a shared ritual — for how we are to grieve has left us without a clear way to cope with failure, injury, loss, death. To not allow oneself to grieve such things, whether through repentance or mourning, is to refuse the act of surrender that alone can set us free.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” Jesus says at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. Penthos, the Greek word used in this beatitude, is a rich word referring to sorrow, grief, weeping, lamentation and contrition that opens out into joy and hope. Which means without mourning over evils committed or suffered, no comfort can come.
Fr. Dustin once shared with me a compelling image of grief as an act of “burying our dead.” We discussed the many ways to let go of the evils that cling to us in life, and bury them deep in Christ’s reconciling and restorative tomb. We also discussed the great need for human accompaniment, companions willing to walk with us along the way of life helping us to grieve, to repent, surrender and bury our dead, while pressing on in hope.
I’ve shared this story once before. As my mother was dying in 2019, and in the days following, the complexity of decisions that had to be made surrounding her funeral and burial, making arrangements for family, etc., prevented me from attending to the deep pain of losing her. I had to keep my focus. It was not the right time for that. Two days before my mom died, I met with a friend to talk about how he might help me to carry out some practical matters. As we sat down in my office, he asked, “How are you?” I was ready to give him the answer I had learned to give — “It’s hard, but I’m managing, with lots of help.” But a long silence followed his question, extending for thirty or forty seconds. It signaled powerfully he was listening for me. I broke the silence and started to speak, and then dissolved into tears. After I collected myself, he simply said, “I’m sorry.”
Those five words framed a sanctuary of listening silence, and gave me the strength I needed to carry on those next days and weeks ahead. He turned a corporal work of mercy into a spiritual one, as he helped me begin to bury my dead. To return my mom to God.
Our noisy, angry, pain-filled world needs bearers of the Listening Christ, whose compassion attends to the cries of the poor, the brokenhearted, the abandoned, the lonely, the lost. Our world needs sanctuaries of silence where — alone — we can grieve and God can speak to us a word of comfort, and heal our land.