Friday, March 9, 2012

Anticipating the Triduum: Through the Prism of Creation

Christ revealed to us in the Holy Triduum (i.e. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday) that not only does death conclude our earthly life, but that life- a higher and fuller life -waits for those who love the Lord beyond the grave. However, for centuries since the beginning of time, God has been tutoring us about these mysteries of the Triduum through analogies of his creation. “The great truth,” Pope Leo XIII said, “which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation - that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live.”

Perhaps this is why the sun sets only to rise again; or why a person sleeps at night taking on the semblance of death only to wake up the next morning; or why a preborn baby knows only darkness until it is born to a world of light and color.

Father Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave a wonderful sermon to Pope Benedict XVI called, The Christian Response to Secularism. In it he said, “Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of the embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”

The pontifical preacher goes on to elaborate on this illustration with a story. Father Cantalamessa related the following to the pope and the faithful gathered at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome:

"There were two twins, a boy and a girl, so intelligent and precocious that, still in the mother's womb, already spoke to one another. The girl asked her brother: 'According to you, will there be a life after birth?' He answered: 'Don't be ridiculous. What makes you think that there is something outside of this narrow and dark space in which we find ourselves?' The girl, gaining courage, insisted: 'Perhaps a mother exists, someone who has put us here, and who will take care of us.' And he answered: 'Do you, perhaps, see a mother anywhere? What you see is all that is.' She replied: 'But don't you feel at times a pressure on the chest that increases day by day and pushes us forward?' 'To tell the truth,' he answered, 'it's true: I feel it all the time.' 'See,' concluded his sister triumphantly, 'this pain cannot be for nothing. I think it is preparing us for something greater than this small space.'"

Without a doubt, the dark womb is an analogy of our life here on earth. In 1917 when Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, she brought heaven to a world that was growing darker by the year. After each visit from the Mother of God the children were supremely happy and could not wait to see her again. Even little Lucia caught a glimpse of heaven while gazing upon the beautiful Lady from Heaven. She told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” One lasting fruit of the Blessed Virgin's visitations was that the three seers lost their natural fear of death. Indeed, they eagerly looked forward to heaven. For them- as with the twins in the mother's womb -death was no longer deemed to be the end of life; rather, it was through death that they were to attain eternal happiness.

Although supernatural interventions are rare for most people and although the Church only celebrates the Triduum once a year, the Lord, nevertheless, gives us daily reminders of death and resurrection through the prism of his creation. As St. Paul said, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20)

Not only is God's existence understood and perceived in what he has made, but it is equally true to say that his creation points to a blessed life after death! With each sunset, there is a sunrise that follows. To be sure, we learn from the Church's celebration of the Triduum and nature itself that for those who love God death is the incident, life the permanent reality.