Great mourners can be great rejoicers.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). With his second Beatitude, Jesus uttered one of the strangest sentences imaginable. What sense does it make to declare happy those who are sad? We would congratulate those with eyes lined by laughter; Jesus congratulates those with eyes flooded by grief. We would congratulate those with mirth in their hearts; Jesus congratulates those with an ache in their guts. What sense does this make?

Very little, if we share the values of our culture.

A few years ago, Russell Baker commented that “the number of places a person can escape entertainment becomes smaller every year.… It used to be, for example, that a man could go to his dentist and count on an undisturbed bout of suffering which helped him to grasp the transience of life and perceive the agony of the flesh. No longer. Nowadays, while the drill bites at his nerve endings, he will be entertained by an invisible orchestra playing ‘The March of the Wooden Soldiers’ through a hole in the ceiling. The invisible orchestra is spreading across the country like the chestnut blight.… A people forced to live with Leonard Bernstein in the elevator, Doris Day at 30,000 feet, and ‘The Animals’ on the commuter bus is a people that will have precious little to smile about at the end of a hard-day’s entertainment. To restore entertainment to its proper role in society, we must restore the right to brood undisturbed.”

And, I would add, we must restore the right to be sad. The stampede toward entertainment begins, so often, with the flight from sorrow. Better to have something pleasant distract us, we might think, than ...

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