Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Breath of Consolation

I’ve discovered a marvelous commentary (meditations, really, but based on the Greek text) on the Gospel of St Matthew, entitled Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Ignatius Press). His two immense volumes cover the first 18 chapters of the Gospel, and they contain a wealth of profound insights, beautifully expressed. The following reflection is influenced in part by his commentary.

We are familiar with the Beatitudes, perhaps all too familiar. Phrases like “poor in spirit” roll easily off our tongues, but don’t always pass through our hearts. In both Greek and Hebrew, one word means both “spirit” and “breath.” The expression “poor in spirit” can be almost incomprehensible (or perhaps misleading), but what the first beatitude really means is: “blessed are those who depend on God for their very life’s breath.” The recognition (and its application in our way of life) of our constant need for the Spirit, the Breath of God, confirms us as heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. Poverty of spirit is a humble acknowledgement that we belong to God, that we can’t even take our next breath without his life-sustaining love and active presence. This is a cause for rejoicing for those who seek the face of God with their whole heart, who want to be wholly involved in the life of God and ever renewed by his Spirit. “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).

Those who mourn or weep are also called “blessed” by the Lord. One would perhaps see less cause for rejoicing among the mourners than among God’s humble dependents. But these are not two entirely separate groups. The promise made to those who weep is that they will be consoled. To “con-sole” means to be with another in his or her solitude. God will enter and share the solitude, will be present at the side of those who weep. The Greek word that is translated “console” is a word that literally means “to call to one’s side.” This is the very same word that gives the name “Paraclete” to the Holy Spirit. This term is alternately translated Consoler, Comforter, Advocate, and (rather weakly) Helper. The Divine Spirit, whom we call to our side as our Comforter and Advocate, is thus a Breath of Consolation that sustains our lives in the midst of our poverty and pain.

Blessed are you if you put your trust in God alone, if you do not “serve two masters” (or more), if you find your joy and hope in Him who provides all that you need for patient and peaceful endurance in this life, and for immeasurable gladness in the next. Blessed are you if you allow the Lord to enter into the solitude of your pain and sorrow. And blessed are you if you “weep with those who weep,” for you who console others will be consoled by God. “The Father of mercies and God of all consolation comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction…” (2Corinthians 1:3-4).