Saturday, November 6, 2010

Literacy on the Most Important Matters III

I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," said the Spirit, "let them find rest from their labors, for their works accompany them." (Revelation 14:13)

To have a “daily familiarity with death” and to “take on the likeness of death” sounds academic and downright foolish if it is not a living reality. For a grieving father who had just lost his son to cancer, all the theological talk about death and heaven can be a poor substitution for real consolation. Even the greatest of Saints, such as St. Augustine when his mother died and St. Jean Chantal when she lost her daughter, were knocked off of their feet by the death of their loved ones. In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote he was surprised at the profound depth of his grief over his mother's death. And as for St. Jean Chantal, she cried copious tears when her daughter died.

With that said the cause of their mourning was put in the context of eternity. The hope of seeing them was revived by their faith, spirituality and daily participation in the Liturgy. Their meditation on death as the vestibule of eternal life; acts of self-denial such as fasting; choosing to love God's will whether circumstances were agreeable or disagreeable; and offering simple sacrifices such as bearing criticism and humiliation in silence; all of these practices were what St. Ambrose referred to as being "daily familiar with death." As one priest wrote, "Life is born of death and that in God's hands suffering is the chosen instrument of resurrection." Scripture and the prayers of the Mass go to great lengths to remind us of this truth.

In the Sanctus, just prior to the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, Catholics proclaim to God that “Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” The good things on this earth- and even our dear loved ones –are but the foretaste of better things to come. Whether it be time well spent with family or seeing a beautiful sunset, these things serve as windows to heaven through the eyes of faith. And the human spirit is never completely satisfied with the good things of this earth nor does it feel at home until it rests in God's beatitude.

St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini captured this inspiration when she was on route from Genoa, Italy, to New York in 1894. One day when the weather was pleasant and the ocean calm, she wrote how this scenic moment from the deck of the ship reminded her of heaven:

There is a charming blue sky above and below us one can hardly distinguish the sea from the sky…the glorious splendor renders everything so bright and brilliant that the passengers exclaim, "How lovely, how beautiful!" We seem to see the portals of the heaven which do not close at the end of the day, because there day time never ends, for the day up there is eternal and the light which emanates from the Divine Face never fails.

There, in that abode, exist no night, no ignorance, no blindness, for everything is seen in God; there, no sorrows exist, no tears, no adversity, no sighs… Friends reach there at every moment, every instant; they do not disturb, but, rather, render the repose serene and sweet. Oh, sublime City, send down your beams of Light to these regions of darkness, this shadow of death where we still miserably live. Come, Oh Supernatural Light, to reveal to us the beauties of that Blessed Country, and detach us from the miseries of this earth; make our eyes so pure that, through the shining crystal of Faith, they may behold the eternal good which awaits us after a short time of sacrifice and self-conquering. He who fights will be victorious, and to the victor the prize is Heaven.

With such words, this depiction of heaven seems worth fighting for and better yet, worth living for. But the difficulties of life, especially losing a loved one through death, reminds us that we are in the "regions of darkness." In the Salve Regina we petition the Mother of God, “To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” As we suffer and as we mourn, this truth is most deeply impressed upon our souls. In the absence of people we love and even in the absence of the things we grow attached to, we are left with a void only God can fill. For those who love Christ and long to see Him face to face, that void will be filled; but only in heaven. In the meantime, we would do well to think, to talk and to write about heaven.

Like the early Christians, we can be literate on the most important matters of life. We too can be a people of hope and thus give that hope to those who struggle to find it. It is my prayer that Dan's father will be filled with that hope...the hope of immortality...the hope of seeing his son again; and even more so, the hope of seeing Jesus face to face!