Frassati Reflection: Heavy Blessings

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Matthew 5:3–6

Lorenzo_lotto,_annunciazione_e_visitazione,_1532,_05We’ve all heard this reading countless times. But even still, when we actually encounter difficulties in our lives, these words can seem so distant and trite. Poverty, grief, weakness, injustice: these things do not feel like blessings.

However, our trials force us to be dependent on God, to recognize our need for Him, and to grow in relationship with Him. We might see them as obstacles and misfortunes, but they are actually stepping-stones to Heaven. As St. Therese tells us, we must be small in order to reach the heights of holiness, so that we can let the Lord carry us there. Our trials humble us and make us small, bringing us closer to Him.

It’s okay if your heavy blessings don’t feel like blessings. It’s okay if the journey is rough: the Beatitudes are an assurance that even when our suffering seems meaningless, it isn’t, and even when things seem hopeless, they aren’t. The Beatitudes turn the pain and cynicism of the world upside down.

Jacopo_Pontormo_040If we look at the things of this world, we might not see evidence for the truth of the Beatitudes right away. We wear all kinds of blinders—fear, pride, insecurity, materialism, complacency—that obstruct our view of God’s presence and loving care. If we never encounter misfortune, if we are never asked to shoulder a heavy blessing, we might not go looking for God. But when we feel our need for Him most deeply, we can be spurred on to recognize our blinders and pull them away, to see Him clearly for the first time.

The world doesn’t have an answer for the problem of suffering. But Jesus gives us His answer in the Beatitudes. We can choose how we respond to suffering in our own lives: we can ignore and avoid it at all costs, living in fear until eventually it catches up with us. We can choose to become embittered and jaded about the injustice of the world. Or we can look at suffering through the lens of the Beatitudes, acknowledging that our blessings and our burdens are tightly intertwined, and accepting all as gift.

Because Elizabeth’s pregnancy was a blessing, but it was a heavy blessing. She rejoiced, she gave thanks, she loved her baby. But it was really, really, really hard.
I wonder what your heavy blessing is right now. The situation you’re in that you’re able to thank God for but that still weighs on you as a cross….
The temptation is to get caught up in the difficulty of it, to focus on the aches and exhaustion and fear of what happens when an old body gives birth. But the more we focus on all that’s ugly the more we forget the shattering beauty of what’s weighing us down. We start to define our blessings by the ways they inconvenience us instead of seeing them as gifts. We need the clarity of Elizabeth, stepping back from all the heaviness to rejoice in the goodness….
When you spend your life trying to be okay with a difficult situation, eventually it becomes too much. “It’s good, it’s a blessing, everything’s fine, I should be grateful” explodes into anger and self-pity. But looking at your marriage or job or friend or child or health and calling it a heavy blessing gives glory to God while acknowledging your weakness and that is exactly what Christians are called to do.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer

1. Lorenzo Lotto, Visitation (detail of St. Elizabeth) / photo by Sailko / CC BY-SA 4.0
2. Jacopo Pontormo, Visitation / PD-US

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