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I love it when I get to let visual media do the talking for me, so here we go 🙂

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Note: For part one of this series, click here.

Gundestrup_C

In part one, I expressed an interest in exploring the “seeds of the Word” in the Irish culture that St. Patrick encountered.  Without neglecting this, I would like to broaden my scope to include Celtic culture in general, not just Ireland.

The Celtic pagans — unlike their Germanic and Scandinavian neighbors, whose cosmologies were more or less mapped out so that different realms could be seen in their spatial relation to “Midgard,” or earth — believed in the interweaving of the natural and supernatural worlds.  Otherworldly realms of gods and spirits — including the realm (or realms) of the dead — were believed to have interacted with and even “touched” the everyday natural world, much as the ghostly mists of Ireland and Britain crept through the trees, cliffs, hills, and fields.

Samhain

Many are familiar with the fact that the spirits of the dead were thought to have reentered the world every year on the night of October 31, during the festival of Samhain (an “ancestor” of the modern day Halloween).

Mabinogion

And then you have stories of heroes such as Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed in Wales, which exemplify the “commerce” believed to be possible between our world and the otherworld (in the Welsh epic “The Mabinogion,” a hunting expedition into the woods brings Pwyll to the otherworldly realm of Annwn and back).

Finally, various supernatural entities (leprechauns, for example) were thought to have made their homes beneath the surfaces of streams, rocks, trees, hills, etc.  How’s that for eyeball-to-eyeball?

All this makes for fantastic storytelling.  But beyond that, for what might it have been paving the way?

Noel-coypel-the-resurrection-of-christ-1700

Like all other “seeds of the Word,” this points to the Word Himself, Jesus Christ.  By dying and then rising from the dead, He reunited God and man, heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material.  And in Him the faithful are united with one another not only across space and culture, but also across time and death itself.

Some of the great mystics of the Christian tradition have experienced this reality in a particularly profound way.  St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who died just before the outbreak of World War II, wrote in her world-renowned diary (“Divine Mercy in My Soul”) about meeting the souls of deceased friends, the Blesséd Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ Himself in convent hallways on the way to performing her routine daily tasks…usually because they had requested a prayer or act on her part.

It must be noted that few people are granted experiences like this; they are indeed very, very rare — even, from what I understand, among saints.  But they are merely intensifications of a reality that is true for all the faithful: The Communion of Saints.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are united with our brothers and sisters in the glory of heaven and in the purification of Purgatory.  In Christ, we are united to the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, all the saints, the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, and the great multitude of the redeemed from the beginning of the world up to the present.  We are surrounded not only by them, but also by all the choirs of angels, from the lowest choirs that are nearest to us all the way up to the fiery seraphim who minister to the immediate presence of God.  We are reminded of this reality every time we go into church and are surrounded by sacred images in stained glass windows, statues, etc.

Let me quickly mention two more components of the Christian life on which this “otherworldly” reality comes to bear:

1. Prayer

PrayerWhen we offer to God sincere prayer — that is, when we take the time to commune with the Thrice-Holy God, leaving our worldly baggage behind as much as we can in order to approach the holy mountain — we are in a certain sense bringing heaven down to earth.

2. The Mass

Mass_at_Lourdes

Last but not least, there is the Mass, which is quite literally where heaven and earth meet.  When we participate in Mass, we join the heavenly liturgy in which all the saints and angels praise God (for more on this, I’d recommend Scott Hahn’s book “The Lamb’s Supper”).

Five more days until St. Patrick’s Day.  Until then, I do have a few more items I want to talk about.  Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

Image of “The Mabinogion” from www.amazon.com; remaining images from Wikipedia

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