Comfort the sorrowful

| Father Michael Van Sloun | April 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

The fourth spiritual work of mercy is to comfort the sorrowful. It is also known as to comfort the afflicted. Sorrow is mental suffering when there is grief, sadness or mourning. It is deepest and most painful at the death of a loved one.

Sorrow comes as the result of innumerable other things: betrayal by a friend, the end of a valued relationship, unfair treatment, feeling alone, a disappointment or a failure, something regrettable that we have done, something mean or evil that has been done to us, a disability, or the losses associated with aging — just to name a few.

When it comes to sorrow, Jesus truly has a compassionate heart. Jesus conducted a ministry of presence with those who were grieving a death. He went to be with mourners. When the widow of Nain lost her only son, he went to her and “he was moved with pity for her” (Lk 7:13). When the daughter of Jairus died, Jesus went to the home of her parents who were weeping and mourning (Lk 8:51). When Martha and Mary lost their brother, Lazarus, Jesus went to Bethany to be with them, and he wept with them (Jn 11:35).

Jesus comforted countless others who were sorrowful. When he encountered a dejected woman who had been crippled for 18 years, he comforted her, saying, “You are free of your infirmity” (Lk 13:12); when the criminal pleaded for mercy, Jesus comforted him saying, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43); and when the disciples were embarrassed about abandoning their master, Jesus comforted them saying, “Peace be with you” (Lk 24:36).

The role of comforter belongs not only to Jesus, but also to the entire Trinity. God says, “I will console and gladden them after their sorrows” (Jer 31:13b). The Holy Spirit is the comforter (Acts 9:31), the one who brings the divine gifts of consolation and peace.

God asks us to be angels of mercy who bring comfort to the sorrowful. When there has been a death, consolation is extended through personal presence. Go in person. Attend the wake or the funeral. Visit their home. Offer a kind word, but be careful about what is said. While people have the best intentions, I have heard people say some dreadful things: to parents who had lost a child, “at least you have the other children”; to a mother of a son who committed suicide, “God never gives us more than we can handle”; and, “I know just how you feel,” when, even if we have had a similar experience, we cannot know all of their trials and worries.

If we do not know what to say, it is better to say nothing at all. Speak with gestures. Smile. Offer a hug. Or give simple, sincere encouragement: “I love you.” “I’m praying for you.”

People are sorrowful for many reasons, and we can be angels of consolation by listening. A comforter is totally present mentally and focuses completely on another’s troubles. It is best not to interrupt or change the subject. Ask follow-up questions. Take time.  Be patient. Treat them with reverence.

Comfort can be extended in multiple other ways: a card, a phone call, an email, flowers, a little gift, a home-cooked meal, help on a task, companionship, or a prayer on their behalf. We are the face, the voice and the love of God when we comfort the sorrowful.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

Tags: , ,

Category: Year of Mercy