Missionary Sending

Real Presence and Comforting the Sorrowful

Sorrow is all around us, but we do not always see tears. I’ve known friends and family members with heavy hearts and weary feet. I’ve seen them slosh through heartbreaking and often prolonged circumstances of grief, their sorrow undeniable but buried deep underneath some other emotion and carried seemingly alone. One instance stands out to me from my own family life.

When we finally took the step to place our Mom in memory care, I was the only one who cried. Through those tears, my fear and grief were expressed. My Dad has rarely wept in front of me, but I often hear him repeat in a quiet voice how much he loves her. Another family member, more practical by nature, wonders why God would do this to Mom since she has served him all her life, while another sibling keeps himself at a distance, visiting only when someone else is there.

I am certain that my Mom, so strong in faith, quietly resigned herself without a tear to something she had hoped would never happen. When I left to enter the convent, Mom told me that from then on, we would meet daily in front of the Tabernacle. Jesus now was the one who would keep us connected; Jesus would offer solace in any sorrow, be with us when we felt alone, and give us the courage we would need in the years to follow. This was such a wonderful gift my Mom gave me because it revealed how the presence of Jesus was always with me, no matter what was going on in my life—and I could seek his help whenever I needed him.

Her last words to me before I boarded the plane were, “I’m sure the chapel is always open.”

Woman in a red dress outdoors holding an open Bible

Sorrow Takes Many Forms

As I reflect on this, I’m reminded of a woman I’ve run into at daily Mass over the past two years who has been worried sick over her daughter, who left the faith and who had been trying unsuccessfully to sell her house in Sweden to come back to the United States. At 87, my friend knows she is not alone even as she carries the weight of working to support her daughter. As I see her at Mass, I know she is filled with faith even in her sorrow.

There are others that don’t have the benefit of that close, abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. One sorrows over his son’s painful behavior, unable to express the anger and rejection that lie dormant under his grief over his son’s choices. Another friend regrets that his life has not turned out as he wished. Still another frequently recounts the story of what she once was told by a priest that has nearly broken her heart. They don’t allow themselves to draw close to the One who longs to be close to them.

Comforting the sorrowful is a type of presence, but it is not always as straightforward as it may seem. It can be demanding to be present to others in their sorrow. It can be difficult to detect the sorrow buried under other emotions, such as anger, or when it is intellectualized and avoided altogether. The tears that some shed are episodic and rarely in public. One person puts on a brave face, sharing their faith that God knows what he is doing, while another grumbles and another withdraws. Someone else bustles about in practical and mostly helpful projects. Complaints disguise one person’s sorrow, while another’s retelling of the same story is a flag that unresolved grief still runs deep. Our way of sorrowing is as unique as our DNA. And perhaps it can be said that under so many of our emotions there is always a bit of sorrow, disappointment, disillusionment, or grief.

Man and woman sitting next to each other overlooking a lake

Ways to Comfort Those Who Are Sorrowful

How do we offer comfort to those who are sorrowful? What is the solace we have to offer? These questions are not always easy to answer. In every case, however, the soul does long to stand with another in loss yet not be overwhelmed by it, to empathize with another’s tragedy and not to run, to stand with another in the questioning and not to shut them down with answers they are not yet ready to receive.

So how can we begin?

The most important way to begin is to allow ourselves to experience how Jesus is always there for us, how in the Eucharist he is really present and receives us just the way we are. He teaches us through the Blessed Sacrament how to be present to those who sorrow.

Realize your comfort can be expressed in many ways. Here are eight tips to help you comfort those who sorrow in your own life:

Pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify in your heart the name of a person who is sorrowing, perhaps in secret, grief-stricken isolation. Hold them in prayer, particularly in Eucharistic adoration, and notice what you feel toward them. Ask Jesus to help you see what is standing in the way of your understanding this person’s sorrow more deeply.

Surround another with faith. One night, as I sat by mom’s bed, I said quietly, “Mom, this is your Calvary,” not knowing if she would understand. Her quiet “I know” assured me she had. Offering words of faith is truly an act of grace. This should be done gently and only when inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Listen to the stories. Some people process their sorrow by recounting memories. Sometimes we can offer comfort by simple, active listening.

Young man in front of a window with his head in his hands

Be patient. Everyone lives through suffering and loss differently. Some ways are more helpful than others, but most people are doing the best they can. Whatever they are doing also reflects their own personality and their history. Respect another’s way and just try to be with them, even if right now you don’t know how to help them.

Stand by someone. When we weep, we say we want to be alone, but most often we wish someone would notice and show us they care. Sometimes just being consistent in signaling your willingness to be with them (perhaps offering specific things you can help with), even if it isn’t during the tearful moments, does wonders to comfort someone.

Overlook a lot. Don’t get drawn into a person’s other emotions or upset at the actions that are covering their sorrow. Keep focused on what they are going through. Give them the gift of charity in your steady respect for their journey.

Don’t worry about what to say. Most often, we don’t need to say anything. Offering to do something with or for someone who is suffering can sometimes be more helpful. Grieving any loss in our life takes time, and it doesn’t help to hurry someone along the journey with answers they’re not ready to hear. It has been powerful when I silently connect with the other person on the level of their spirit where no words are needed, resting quietly within and offering them that peaceful gift.

Keep them in prayer. We can’t always be with someone in their journey, even if we know they need a companion in their sorrow, but we can always be with them through prayer. Praying with someone over the phone can provide great solace and yet respect their privacy.

As there are many ways to sorrow, so there are also many ways to offer solace to those who mourn. And chances are, you’re doing it already. As Saint Paul wrote: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). May we take his words to heart as we share with those who sorrow the gift of presence, rooted in the Real Presence that Jesus has first given to us.

Black and white photo of young adults kneeling before the monstrance on an altar during Eucharistic adoration

Reflection Question

How can you “meet” someone who is sorrowing in the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle and offer them comfort?

Action Point

Think of someone who is carrying a heavy burden and who feels they are struggling alone, and gently invite them to visit Jesus in the most Blessed Sacrament.


“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” Revelation 21:4