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For parts one and two, click here

RaisingofLazarus“RaisingofLazarusBloch” by Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://www.familyartusa.com/site/253614/page/917008. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg#/media/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg

I’d like to segue into the next topic with an analogy to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.

The tomb, for our purposes, can represent the “old geography” — beautiful in itself (indeed, part of God’s good creation), but unhallowed by the presence of death.

And then there is Lazarus, who (again, for our purposes) can represent us, to whom comes Christ bringing new life.

Now imagine laying in the musty darkness of the tomb, newly awakened as though reborn.  Christ, the Lord of life, stands above you with hands extended.  You take hold and begin to allow Him to help you up.  As you stand, and as your bones and joints creak, you realize just how hard this is, and how completely dependent you are on the grasp of your Savior.

This makes you grasp all the tighter, and yet you hesitate.  You’re afraid that if you grasp Jesus’ hands any more firmly, you will pull Him down into the darkness with you.

But here’s what you do not yet understand: He is already there.  Just as surely as He is there before you to pull you up, so also is He there behind you to push you forward.

Grief(“Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction” by Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg#/media/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg)

But why does it have to be this way in the first place?  It’s all well and good for God to be united to us in our suffering, but if He is all-powerful and all-loving, then why won’t He make our path to Him less agonizing?

There are numerous answers to this, but let me throw this out there for you: If the divine-human relationship involved all blessings and no crosses, that would give us less of a guarantee of God’s love, not more.

When we talk about a pattern of blessings for good works, gifts as tokens of love, etc., we find ourselves within the borders of commutative justice (this is a fancy way of saying fee-for-service, or quid-pro-quo); this is true even with tokens of love, in which case the Giver gives in order to get love from the receiver.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with commutative justice; it has its place.  But of itself it is impersonal, and does not necessitate the presence of love.  Co-suffering (which is the literal meaning of com-passion), on the other hand, does.

Prodigal Son“Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project” by Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Instead of a gumball-dispensing Santa Claus in the sky, what we have is a Divine Lover who so loves and values us that there is no kind of suffering — even death itself — that He will not (indeed, has not deigned to) fully enter into with us in order to give us life.

This does not mean that if we are faithful to Him, we will have to suffer forever.  As Scripture tells us, there will come a day when “He will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4).  But until then, we fallen creatures have need of the tutelage of suffering.

With that in mind, I’d like to close by sharing the thoughts of Cardinal Francis George, who recently died after a long battle with cancer.  In this very brief clip of less than two minutes, he shares some very profound and moving thoughts on how suffering prepares us for eternity.  Take a listen before reading the next sentence.

So the “New Geography” is a work-in-progress — but the good news is that the work has already been finished from on high, by He who holds all time and space in His hands.

NOTE: As in previous posts, I have embedded the entire video for aesthetic purposes only.  Feel free to watch that if you wish (the first 10 minutes consist of a preview of the “Catholicism” series as a whole), but for the beginning of this particular episode — titled “The Church: Christ’s Mystical Body” — click here.

Please enjoy the video, whether you are a Catholic seeking to delve deeper into the Faith or a non-Catholic person who is interested in learning more about the Catholic Church, even if only from a cultural or sociological perspective.

(Before you watch, I just need to make a quick note about the Crusades and the Inquisition: These were more complicated affairs than what has been presented to us over the centuries, and I think Fr. Barron was probably just unaware of some of the relevant research when filming this episode.

I am not saying this as a defensive Catholic trying to construe Catholic history as spotless and pristine.  Believe me, it is a fact that Catholics at all levels of Church life and hierarchy have done strange, terrible, and unconscionable things over the past two millennia.  But I would be remiss if I did not offer clarification in those particular areas where clarification is necessary.  But that’s all a matter for another post.)

A brief dramatization of a conversation between myself and some acquaintances, and then with Mother Nature, over the past two days:

 

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

FRIENDS

Hey, did you listen to the weather?  We’re supposed to get snow
overnight!

ME

Eh, it’ll probably just be a little bit of wet snow.  I don’t think any of it
will stick.

THURSDAY, APRIL 23

Snow 1

Snow 2

MOTHER NATURE

Okay Dan: What are we not going to do next time?

ME

[mumbling in a sheepish fashion]

Act like I know what I’m talking about.

MOTHER NATURE

Okay then.

For part one, click here Christ's Wounds“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

We spoke in part one of how Jesus Christ, through His death and Resurrection, takes up the wounded “geography” of our fallen world and makes even the scars of our existence capable of leading us to the Divine.  It is indeed a new Flood, more momentous than the one braved by Noah, crashing upon the world with new life, immeasurable power, and life-giving mercy:

Send forth your spirit (…) and you renew the face of the earth. – Ps. 104:30

Beowulf But before we get into that, it might be helpful to flesh out the “old geography” a bit more with a concrete example.  One particularly fascinating manifestation of the old geography is the worldview of the pagan Anglo-Saxons, which J.R.R. Tolkien touched on in an essay on “Beowulf”:

(…) [H]e who wrote (…) ‘heroes under heaven’, or ‘mighty men upon earth’, (…) [was] thinking of eormengrund, the great earth, ringed with garsecg, the shoreless sea, beneath the sky’s inaccessible roof; whereon, as in a little circle of light about their halls, men with courage as their stay went forward to that battle with the hostile world and the offspring of the dark which ends for all, even the kings and champions, in defeat. – “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”

This is just one example, but you get the idea.  Some variation of this ambiguous outlook on life has been present throughout all ages, and survives in more “modern” forms today. Until Christ returns to restore all things, there continues to be hardship, turmoil, suffering, darkness, and even death in the world.  But the whole of creation has in a sense been “baptized” by Christ’s saving work, so that the darkness of a world “ringed with the shoreless sea” and haunted by “the offspring of the dark” — in short, the mystery of evil (both moral and physical) — becomes taken up into and transformed by the mystery of the Cross. Christ Crucified by Velazquez“Cristo crucificado” by Diego Velázquez – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_crucificado.jpg

The Cross is very important to the understanding of Christianity — not because it is a gloomy or sadomasochistic religion…far from it; rather, because neither does it lean towards the opposite extreme of “Pollyanna-ism.”  The Christian teaching on heaven, redemption, and the victory of good over evil no more minimizes or negates the very real sufferings of the world than the Resurrection of Christ negates the horror of the suffering inflicted on Him.  But Our Lord has joined Himself to our suffering, and has thus given it a whole new meaning. He has done this as a sign of His infinite love for us, and in invitation to fellowship with Him.  This is how He will ultimately heal us, rather than by orchestrating our deliverance at a safe distance. Pieta

“Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450 cut out black” by Stanislav Traykov, Niabot (cut out) – Image:Michelangelo’s Pieta 5450.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cut_out_black.jpg

What we have now is what I would call Pietá spirituality.  Instead of seeing darkness, we can look at the world and see the scourged body of Christ in the arms of His mother, blood and water pouring out of His sacred side as a “fountain of mercy for the whole world” (to quote a Divine Mercy prayer).  As one person, I cannot solve all the evils of the world.  But if in my immediate situation I can minister to my Lord even a little bit, tending to those of His Wounds that I can see in my fellow human beings (or elsewhere), then perhaps I am not doing too badly. One more post — stay tuned.

Images from Wikipedia

Erik_Erikson“Erik Erikson” by ?Original uploader was Waveformula at en.wikipedia – http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/psychology/Erik_Erikson_2.png.htmlTransferred from en.wikipediaImage comes from WP Clipart[1] which ONLY features public domain images and provides extensive source information on their “Legal” page: [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Erikson.png#/media/File:Erik_Erikson.png

The great twentieth-century psychologist Erik Erikson once fittingly described the mother as a young child’s “first geography”:

[The child] may indulge in experimental excursions on her body and on the protrusions and orifices of her face (…) and the basic maps acquired in such interplay with the mother no doubt remain guides for the ego’s first orientation in the “world.”

(Erikson, p. 220)

So the early experience of the mother in a certain sense informs our view of the world — both as far as “mother earth” is concerned and in relation to our wider worldview — subsequently.  But it is not just a question of physical features.  We human beings are profoundly interpersonal creatures; and as infants, when we are totally dependent on our providers for our every need and extremely sensitive to our environmental influences, we absorb the emotional states of those closest to us.  This, like much of the infant’s experience at this basic formative stage, can have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact.

Now let’s imagine, from a Biblical perspective, the experience of the first human babies, whose whole existence early on subsisted in a loving and provident mother who, at the same time, bore within herself an unnameable sadness, a deep and incurable scar left by the memory of a primordial Fall from Grace — which Fall affects all the world, since it is mankind’s “stage.”

This broad psychological, emotional and spiritual inheritance, this great “genetic memory,” certainly finds its way into the psychology of humankind as a whole, and of each of us individually, in various ways.

Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin“Angelos Akotanos – Saint Anne with the Virgin – 15th century” by Angelos Akotanos (attribution) – scan from A Guide to the Benaki Museum, by Angelos Delivorrias. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg#/media/File:Angelos_Akotanos_-_Saint_Anne_with_the_Virgin_-_15th_century.jpg

Having gone from a natural to a Biblical perspective, let us now move from the broadly Biblical to the specifically Catholic.  I’d like to reflect a bit (speculatively, of course) on the infancy of the Blesséd Virgin Mary, whose “first geography” was her own mother, St. Anne.

A brief refresher on the Catholic understanding of Mary: She was by a special grace from God preserved from all sin, both Original and personal, from the moment of her conception.  Hence, she was outside the realm of Original Sin alluded to above.

St. Anne, however, was not.  She was most certainly a very holy woman, but she was not without the effects of sin…Original or personal.  She, unlike the child she bore, had a part in the sadness of our human condition.

Since Mary did not inherit Original Sin in the first place (unlike the rest of us), neither did its effects in her mother pass on to her (as it tends to do with the rest of us).  But Mary was not outside the realm of human sympathy.  This means that without any participation in the guilt of humanity, she would presumably have inherited and intuited from her mother a connection with human suffering, with the tragic “geography” of human existence, and from this a deep sense of compassion…

Madonna and Child“15th-century unknown painters – Madonna on a Crescent Moon in Hortus Conclusus – WGA23736″ by Unknown Master, German (active 1450s in Cologne) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg#/media/File:15th-century_unknown_painters_-_Madonna_on_a_Crescent_Moon_in_Hortus_Conclusus_-_WGA23736.jpg

…and this she would have given to her divine Son, Jesus Christ, in giving Him a human nature.  He, in turn, would subsume all this in His own flesh and lift it up in His Resurrection.

Christ's Wounds

“Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Original uploader was Dante Alighieri at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Tm using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg#/media/File:Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas.jpg

Mass-attending Catholics will recall this past Sunday’s Gospel, which recounts Our Lord’s post-Resurrection appearance to St. Thomas the Apostle:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

(John 20: 27-28)

We’ve all been wounded in one way or another, and we all know woundedness in the depths of our being.  But the good news is that Christ’s own Wounds are not only sympathetic, but saving.  Hence we can say that the Apostle Thomas was the first to come into intimate physical contact with the new geography.

As you might have guessed, I do have more to say on this subject.  But it can wait :)

Images from Wikipedia

Reference

Erikson, E.H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd ed.). NY: Norton.

This is a post about the three days of Easter weekend. I’m a little late to talk about Good Friday, and a little early to talk about Easter Sunday, so perhaps this is the perfect time to take all three days together (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself). Man of Sorrows

“Man lorenzetti” by Pietro Lorenzetti – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Man_lorenzetti.jpg#/media/File:Man_lorenzetti.jpg

Good Friday

What exactly is so good about Good Friday? Surely this must be sarcasm…we couldn’t possibly look at the day on which Jesus Christ was mocked, spit upon, hit, whipped, impaled through the head with a crown of thorns, crushed under the weight of a cross, nailed to that cross, and thereby condemned to an unspeakably painful, humiliating, and dehumanizing public death, and call it anything but horrible, right?

As always, context is important. Let’s look at two examinations conducted alongside Christ’s Passion. Herod's Temple“Jerus-n4i” by Juan R. Cuadra – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jerus-n4i.jpg#/media/File:Jerus-n4i.jpg

The first occurred in the Jerusalem Temple. It was the Feast of Passover, and the priests were examining the sacrificial lamb to ensure that it was “without blemish,” as Mosaic Law required (cf. Ex. 12:5). What-is-truth02“What-is-truth02″ by Nikolai Ge – http://www.picture.art-catalog.ru/picture.php?id_picture=7515. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:What-is-truth02.jpg#/media/File:What-is-truth02.jpg

Meanwhile, Pontius Pilate carefully interrogated Christ, and found no guilt in Him. Though he did not know it, Pilate was performing a similar function to that of the Temple priests: He was examining the true Lamb, and was to find Him truly without fault; the latter made Him fit for sacrifice on the Cross, even while His innocence made Him undeserving of death.

What do we see in the bloody animal sacrifices of the Old Testament? Essentially, we see the ugliness of sin and the painful, difficult work required for our redemption. And in the Mystery of the Passion and Death of Our Lord, which fulfills all sacrifices, we see the ugliness of sin and the pain of redemption in the most brutally unadulterated light…right alongside the unfathomable depth of Divine Mercy.

On Good Friday, God Himself entered personally into the heart of our darkness and dysfunction, bringing light even into the darkest of places and, as the Liturgy tells us, “fashioning a remedy out of death itself.” Rather than orchestrating our salvation from a safe distance, He entered into our pain and sorrows right along with us, and even bore the burden of our guilt upon His innocent shoulders so that we might be justified.

That is what’s so good about Good Friday. Holy Saturday

“Cristo yacente Gregorio Fernandez”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 es via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cristo_yacente_Gregorio_Fernandez.jpg#/media/File:Cristo_yacente_Gregorio_Fernandez.jpg

Holy Saturday

Okay – now we get to a more timely reflection. Today, we commemorate the day on which Jesus Christ rested in the tomb. He was laid in the tomb immediately after the crucifixion, and remained there all the next day.

That “next day” was the Sabbath, and according to Scripture it “was a solemn one” (John 19:31).

Though separated from His human soul, Christ’s body (along with His soul) remained united to His Divine Person. Therefore, it can truly be said that God Himself rested in the earth; and therefore, in turn, it can also truly be said that He rested in His creation on the Sabbath (cf. Gen. 2: 2-3).

Hence we have the definitive fulfillment of the Sabbath Rest of the first creation.

And while those still on earth had to wait another day, Christ came as deliverer to the souls of the righteous who had gone before Him. Going into Abraham’s Bosom in His human soul, he delivered all those great souls who had awaited His Coming for years, decades, centuries, and even millennia. It only makes sense that they should receive the benefits of the redemption first, even while Christ’s victory remained hidden from the world. Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700

“Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700″ by Noël Coypel – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Noel-Coypel/The-Resurrection-Of-Christ,-1700.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg#/media/File:Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700.jpg

Easter Sunday

Now we come to the day of the great Victory, the day on which Christ was raised from the dead in the fullness of His Divinity and humanity, having definitively conquered death. Not only was He raised from the dead, but He was raised to immortality.

That is why today we observe the Lord’s Day on Sunday (the first day of the week) rather than on Saturday (the last day of the week). With the Resurrection, Christ inaugurated the new creation. Since the Resurrection, the Kingdom of God has been gradually breaking into history, into the world of time and space.

Easter Sunday (that is, the first one) was truly the greatest day in history, and that by far. Let that fact not be lost on us. Just as we should always be careful not to lose sight of the proverbial forest for the trees, on Easter we should take great care not to lose sight of the Resurrection for the Easter eggs.

And that’s all I have to say. Happy Easter, all!

Images from Wikipedia

St. Teresa of Avila“Peter Paul Rubens 138″ by Peter Paul Rubens – [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_138.jpg#/media/File:Peter_Paul_Rubens_138.jpg

Let nothing disturb you.

Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

The Bookmark of St. Teresa of Avila

Image and text from Wikipedia

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