There are many kinds of grief. Some of them come upon us suddenly, in natural ways, just as pleasures do; they may even arise from charity, which makes us pity our neighbours, as Our Lord did when he raised Lazarus; and these do not prevent union with the will of God, nor do they cause a restless and unquiet passion which disturbs the soul and lasts for a long time. They are griefs which pass quickly for, as I said of joys in prayer, they seem not to penetrate to the depths of the soul but only reach the senses and faculties.
Thus said S. Teresa of Avila in ‘The Interior Castle’ when considering the love of our neighbour : recognizing that pitying our neighbour – being willing to endure grief for their sufferings – is, or at least can be, a virtue; an alliance with God’s will that we should care, and be willing to suffer for those about us.
Obviously, helping those who suffer is a virtue; trying to relieve pain or distress, alleviate poverty, cure sickness . . . all these are obvious, and are things for which it is easy to find Christian (and indeed other God-fearing) bodies : but a willingness to suffer, not physically, or by deprivation, but by emotional distress, the endurance of grief ? That’s a different matter.
Obviously it would be difficult to establish a body which published its willingness to do this; if only because it must be very difficult to accept that type of suffering for people with whom one has little in common . . . because it must be difficult to relate to them sufficiently closely to understand what causes the grief; and without such comprehension it seems unlikely that one could really experience – and thus share – the grief.
For friends, on the other hand – and even for people one knows well – it is far from hard : a willingness to share in their sufferings will, almost inevitably, mean that one does . . . and whilst it may well not be as deeply, or as long, it is none the less a genuine sharing . . . and in my experience, at least, often has a genuinely beneficial effect on them by helping them rise above their grief, and think themselves back into an appreciation of God’s overwhelming love.
So : it’s not, I think, a ministry that one can deliberately set out to fulfil on any given day . . . but that, perhaps, makes it even move important to be willing to accept its necessity when one does meet a grieving friend who needs one’s loving care : and then one can, as time passes, recognize the truth of what S .Teresa said a little later on :
We cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reasons for believing that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbour. And be certain that, the farther advanced you are in this, the greater the love you will have for God; for so dearly does His Majesty love us that He will reward our love for our neighbour by increasing the love which we bear to Himself; and that in a thousand ways.