Looking at Death

One of the problems with our perishability is that it forces us to look in a particular direction. In many ways we are like an ancient sailor always with one eye to the edge of the ocean, whose mind cannot fully take in the beauty of the night sky without worrying about falling off of the earth. And we look, not towards something but sadly, towards nothing at all. For though our death will come at a particular moment it will actually be the end of our moments, our mutability and our memory making. We will exist, not as we are, but in parts, scattered to be found by the God who loves us.

Before perishability became our problem though, our gaze was of an entirely different kind. For though we experienced change in the garden (e.g. day and night, one visit of God from another) our mutability had us always looking up. You see, we knew that time had found a special place among things. We knew that life moved forward. We knew that God somehow walked among us and yet remained the immutable One. On the whole then change was good, for it brought us closer to the next encounter with the Lord, and we looked up because that is usually where He can be found.

“…and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:62

Death, however, has put an end to all of that. For now, whenever time enters our minds it is not to playfully position ourselves in order to better take in the sky, not at all. Rather, time reminds us that we and everything around us are changing, moving even, toward the end.

Death then has become the great distraction as well as the final evil. It is our monster brought about through a Frankenstein-like experiment, one which we both fear and are captivated by. And God, who did not make, sanction or bless the death of our first parents and every human being since, has become less and less the focal point of our lives.

“…because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Wisdom 1:13

Yet again, here is the irony. To survive our end we must trust the One who remembers us even as we lose focus. We must look forward to a present where we will behold God’s face once again. We must embrace change, because it was never about death anyway.

When You Just Can’t Raise the Dead

Having worked at my computer for what seemed like many hours, I came upstairs expecting a breather. What I heard though could have easily taken my breath away.

“She’s dead,” my little five year old Jonah told me with much seriousness, “but don’t worry, she’ll come back again.”

Standing over his little sister (who did indeed looked dead), Jonah stretched out his arms and then said with much confidence, “Sophia get up.” You see, Jonah was having a busy morning. Up to that point I was told, he had cast out many demons, he had preached many sermons on many mountains of pillows, and yes, he had even been known to raise a brother or two from the dead.

But now as I watched, this little girl of very few pounds seemed more difficult to raise than anything an apostle had ever had to deal with.

Closing her eyes even tighter at his words, and stiffening her body all the more, my three year old had decided that sometimes death is to be preferred to the joys of life. In the meantime Jonah was becoming quite agitated.

“Sophia, get up!” Jonah now said with much annoyance.
“Not yet,” came the equally annoyed and determined reply.

It was then that I believe Jonah had come to a realization, one that you and I have had many times: sometimes people want to stay dead.

No amount of preaching. No amount of fasting. No action on love’s behalf can take away the freedom of the other to choose. And if some people really do want to remain dead in sin, there is only one thing you can do. Give them over to God and let go of the guilt, you have done your part. In the hands of the divine physician, there is hope for them yet; after all, resurrection is His specialty.

Creation and Separation

As the people of God, we are used to trying to imitate our Lord in all things. We strive to love as He loves; we try to teach as He teaches; to live where He lives and so much more. For the most part this is good and even required, but when it comes to creating we must act decidedly unlike God.

For God, the Father of all, Creator of heaven and earth, creates by separating one thing from another. By distinguishing light from darkness, sea from sky, male from female, God the Father actually creates something whole and unique in the world of things. And this new object, even if it is at the same time a subject, must be catalogued.

The Lord God “…brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” Genesis 2:19

Our act of creation is then a discovery, a naming, a building and even combining, but when we try to play God by separating we walk a dangerous path, for the result is hardly ever something new and certainly not whole. The separation of man from his wife; the separation of the unative and procreative aspects of marriage; the separation in our minds of one’s body from one’s gender, and of course, our first decision to separate morality from God’s ways in the Garden of Eden (which brought about that painful separation known as death). All of it is a potent reminder that we have the uncanny ability to destroy what we could have never brought together in the first place.

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Mark 10:9

We learned that from the enemy didn’t we? The devil or diabolos, whose very name means to ‘throw apart,’ has from our first encounter with him made this his mission. If he was a carpenter you might expect him to favour the wedge. If he was a designer you would see him favour the partition. He neither likes whole things nor the God who joined them together. And if you are to be hated by the devil too then you must be one who is like God by acting unlike God. You must keep yourself together and stick to the plan.

Confession and a Holy Life

After much reflection, we have at my house decided to put up a fence, you know, to keep the right things out and the right things in. And because I live in the cold north, good building practice insists that I dig holes for the posts no less than three feet deep.

Over the first few days however I have noticed an unusual setback. For while it is incumbant on me to dig several of these holes, no one took the time to tell me that if I take too long, I might just find myself digging each hole more than once.

You see, the problem with holes is that they always get filled with the wrong thing. So while I would like to begin pouring the concrete to make the wood sturdy and strong, I actually need to spend more time removing everything and anything that made its way into the wrong place.

Confession does much the same thing you know. Removing the dirt and soot, and garbage from the depths of who we are leaves us with a hole that needs attention. But if we are too slow to fill it with the Scriptures, the Sacraments, with holy friendships that build us up and make us sturdy, then slowly and sometimes far too quickly our previous work re-presents itself.

Remember, the Sacrament of Confession frees you but it doesn’t fill you. It cleans the wound but it doesn’t heal the scar. To do that you will need the Eucharist, you will need deep and meaningful prayer, you will need penance and a whole lot of mercy flowing through you; in short, you will need to establish a practice of life that keeps the wrong things out and the right things in.

The Catholic Church wants to help you to do this. Don’t be a fool. If we are going to dig three feet down into things we never wanted to uncover then we need all the help we can get.

Look Beyond the Happy Talk

“Grandpa’s got a boo-boo,” little 3 year old Sophia said as she saw him approaching. “No,” I replied, he’s had that scar for years.”

“Nope,” she countered full of smiles,“it’s still a boo-boo.”

You know she’s right.

Sometimes we treat our wounds as if they don’t exist because they happened a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t real.

All around us people are moving through life wounded by the sins of others and those of their own choosing,

…and to our surprise,

…they seem to be doing well.

Look beyond the practiced grin and the happy talk.

People are struggling.

Perhaps we can show them some mercy.

Here’s When a Husband Should Die

The problem with man is that he always prefers to die at the end of his life, as if this was somehow the way God had intended it to be from the beginning. But the beginning of man, like yours and mine, necessitated that he die when that great abomination known as death was nowhere to be seen.

He had all of the Garden except for one fruit. He had all of the harmony and peace you and I strive for (within and without). And he had Eve, someone bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, a helpmate and quite simply his love.

And yet, when the devil appeared clothed as a terrible serpent, walking upright and spewing lies, the man curiously chose to remain hidden – to be silent – rather than choose what all love requires.

“Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies…” John 12:24

The Adam should have chosen death at the hand of the serpent to save his bride; like a seed he should have fallen to the ground to save the mother of all the living. He should have preferred to die long before a life fulfilled under God could have come to completion; and if he would have done that, his story and ours (his children) would have been different.

In like manner, how many husbands refuse to lay down their lives for the woman God gave them? As the world attacks their femininity, their genius, their motherhood and promotes them as tools for other men to use, the men of our time (like the men of every time since Adam) choose to die at the end of their lives and therefore wrongly.

Notice that Jesus, the real man, died for his bride, the Church precisely at an age when lesser men choose to count their coins and accolades. He chose her splendour, her sanctity and her purity over a long and safe life. And if the world is to be sane again then real men – even if only few men – need to show others another way.

Do remember that the world was never meant to be without Eve, and that the myth of Lilith is a farce. Life is worth dying for; not later, when our faculties are waning and the end of our lives have come, but today.

Zombies Don’t Need Jesus

Nothing is more penitential than wearing another man’s glasses, but the discomfort is all the worse when what we see is not what we expect it to be.

Take the zombie for instance. The fright of this fictional creature is in the fact that we have before our eyes a human body with no human soul. It is grotesque not simply because the artist always seems to entertain us with some vile liquid or puss flowing from this hole or that, but because we know that we are not seeing what we should.

It is a half human, a partial creature, an incomplete piece of work; and it bothers us because such things should never walk the earth.

Ghosts too have always been the stuff of nightmares, not because of what they say or what they do (although an object flying across the room is quite rattling) but simply because they have lost themselves. It is a spirit with no body. It is an aberration, a disaster, a sign which points nowhere; a human we think and yet the result of something completely wrong.

For what is the human being? Not a sailer standing on his ship; not a prisoner inside his own personal prison; not a worker with a tool he has picked up. A human being is none of those things because we do not come in parts. Instead the body and soul make the man.

And when that man dies (as you and I will) I do not scourn the body and sing for the soul because the person has gone elsewhere – not at all. I mourn because the man is no more. He has become (as we all will) something he was never inteded to be, seperate things, individual parts, a puzzle scattered in such a way that we cannot even pretend to start making it whole again. So if we sing it is for the hope of something to come, and this is precisely why I do not like their spectacles.

You see, many people have it wrong. We do not live on after death because the parts exist somewhere and in some way. We live on because our God remembers us. He who began creation ex nihilo chooses in the last days to gather us from wherever we have gone. Not to be zombies or ghosts, half men, the progeny of death, but to be what He made us to be. It is the reunification with self, the whole man, the real person, the authentic me that I lose in death and it is the God-man Jesus who brings me back.

But these are not the lenses of this culture. We are transitioning to a period where the zombie, the ghost, the vampire, the mommy, the monster; all of them do not remind us of our death but of a misunderstood minority, a mysterious other just waiting to be included and considered. While we, perhaps the most mysterious thing on earth, are left to observe our own deaths as a part of life, an unfortunate albeit sometimes preferable end to a story.

With such spectacles there is no need for a Saviour, there is no need for a memory larger than our own. We have accepted that we are all really monsters anyway and death is just another step in that direction.

Christians however have never believed this. Christians never will believe this. We have our own pair of glasses, and through them, we see quite clearly.

Catholics Don’t Like to Argue

It is not that today’s Catholic does not like to argue, it is that he rarely ever decides to argue like a Catholic. And this is strange, for when he discusses sport he almost always wears the hat of a coach or athlete, and when he discusses politics it is almost always as if he were there on the cabinet floor. Direct the conversation towards religion however and our dear contemporary will still argue, he will still have opinions, but he will make them the same way a lighthouse looks at boats, as something far from his experience and yet still in need of his guidance.

Inadmissable Data

Add to this his strange list of inadmissasble data and one might conclude that he is not discussing religion but his own imagination, his stream of fanciful thoughts, upon which no one can encroach.

For example, if you try to cite Scripture to advance a point about the sanctity of marriage, you will not be met with a Scriptural response but with an accusation, that you have become judgemental and dangerously close to playing God.

If you try to point out that historically the Crusades had more to do with recovering the Holy Land than with establishing an economically viable trading post in the east, then you will not be met with primary or even secondary documents to the contrary, but with a scowl and sheer disgust that you should defend the event at all.

Judaism as well, that beloved precursor to the arrival of our blessed Messiah, is for many Catholics a topic not to be discussed; unless of course it is to drive a wedge. Just try to show another the illuminating and oh so helpful details found in the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Aramaic Targums, and you will not be met with interest but with suspicion, as apparently Catholics should stick to their own religion and leave others’ alone.

And not surprisingly I suppose, even the teaching of the Church, that pilar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), is anathema to today’s Catholic. Not because what it teaches is senseless or unthoughtful or unproven, but simply because it does not originate from the mind of the Catholic himself.

This is just the point isn’t it?

Our contemporaries have difficultly discussing religion because they themselves do not believe in the rules of engagement. They are like those who want to talk hockey without in the least believing that pucks are possible. They are like those who want to talk democracy without for a second believing that the president is not a monarch.

Yes, they are Catholics and they do like to argue, but not about religion.

Remain with Us

To understand the Eucharist we need to go to one of my favourite passages from the Gospels, the journey of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24.

You know the story very well.

While the two are walking along they encounter a stranger (who we know is Jesus). But what captures me, what captivates me, is the request they finally make of Jesus, at the end of their time with him.

“Remain with us,” they say.

Bubbling Over

Now up and down the New Testament if you’ve heard a request given to Jesus you know one thing. He doesn’t just answer the request; he doesn’t just give you exactly what you have asked for, no he bubbles over for you.

What it basically means is that when you ask God of something; when you make a request of God, He gives you more than you can handle. He gives you an abundance. He gives you up unto the everlasting.

The Woman at the Well

Think of the woman of Samaria for example. She is at the well simply drawing water, and Jesus who she encounters, makes a strange statement: “if you knew who it was who was asking for a drink then you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

Now that’s interesting for two reasons. The first is because ‘living water,’ moving water, is much desired in the time and place where Jesus encounters her. But second, and more important still is that ‘living water’ is a symbol in the New Testament for life everlasting but in particular the Holy Spirit. (See for example Jeremiah 17:13, Zechariah 14:8)

The Wedding at Cana

Think of another one, think of the wedding at Cana.

At the wedding at Cana, Mary makes a request disguised as a statement: “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)

And what does Jesus do? Does he take a head-count of how many want their cups filled? Does he ask, ‘are you almost there, are you almost full?’ No. He just makes so much more than expected.

This is what he does. He fills up your cup and he let’s it bubble over. It is just as that medieval maxim says: Love is diffusive of itself. It gives and gives and gives; why because it has to? No, because that is what love does.

And so we see here in Luke 24 this request, stay with us, and it makes sense from their perspective. It is getting dark, stay with us. But I think from God’s perspective it is exactly the kind of request He has been waiting for since the beginning.

Now why do I say that? Well sure Jesus goes inside and he remains with them. He goes to table and breaks bread. But is it possible that Jesus finds a way to remain with them for much longer?

I think so. And this is what caught me.

Juxtaposition

We have this simple literary technique that we use all the time and have been using for as long as we know, it is called juxtaposition.

If I want you to make a close association of two things I hold them up side by side and I say, ‘look, when you see this there’s the other thing.’ It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog. Ring the bell, put out food, the dog salivates. Do it enough times and you can ring the bell without the presence of food and the dog will still salivate.

Now look at what Jesus is doing here. When you see the bread and you see me…when you see the bread and you see me… Well, once you get the association Jesus can disappear from our sight. You see, that’s it, that’s the key.

And that’s exactly what happens in Emmaus. They sit down at table with him, their hearts start to burn, and when they get it, he dissappears from their sight.

A Foolish Action

Picture this. They make the association; he dissappears and what do they want to do? They get up that very hour against fatigue (they have been walking all day), against night, against all common sense (it’s dangerous to travel past sundown) and they head back straight away to Jerusalem.

I always imagine them kicking down the door conveying a matter of great seriousness to the other disciples, and what do they say? They don’t say, ‘we saw him and he left,’ they don’t say ‘we saw him and he went on his way when it was time,’ no they tell the others that they saw himJesus in the breaking of the break. (Luke 24:35)

That’s important. They saw something that they previously had not seen.

Losing the Ability to See

One of my favourite philosophers of the last century, Josef Pieper, had this great insight. “Our generation he said, is losing the ability to see. There exists something like a visual noise.” I think that’s so true.

So what is it that they had finally come to see, and it really took the resurrected Christ to show them? Well I think it was this. They had already had a symbolic presence of God in bread, the lechem hapanim (the bread of the presence).

But finally, because there was a request, God is able to bubble over for them; God is able to remain with all of us in a way never thought possible before.

I think of the literary artist, Alexandre Dumas. Remember he wrote The Three Muskateers and some others; he has this great line in one of his texts: “Alas it is all over, I have failed to give myself to book, a child or a flower.” Now to that Jesus says, ‘au contraire, I have found a way.’ In the appearance of bread, under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus can remain with us.

Why is that important?

It is so important because it means no matter what, outside of when two or three are gathered in his name (which is a presence). Outside of the Scriptures which is also a presence. Outside of the person of the priest who is in persona Christi during the Mass, outside of all of those things; in a real, substantial way, Jesus is present in the Eucharist.

I Want to See

Now, that is difficult for some of us; that is not easy. But to really get it I have to share a story of something my son taught me; my eldest Gabriel.

We were in Church one day and as all parents do we try to calm our children down so that we can catch some of homily. So I came up with this little thing which I thought was really quite brilliant. I started pointing things out to him, ‘what’s that?’ ‘Oh that’s the chalice.’ ‘What’s that?’ And so on. So he had all of these quiet scavenger hunts throughout the Mass.

Well I thought one day that I really needed some time to talk to God so I really wanted to give him a difficult question. He had already learned by the age of four that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist. But like I said I wanted to be kind of mean. So I said, “Gabriel, if Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, how come not everyone can see him?” And I thought, hah, smart dad here. Real theology; he’s going to be stuck for a while, you know this kind of thing. Well not even a minute went by and I felt a little tug on my trousers. I leaned down and said, ‘Yes Gabriel, what is it?’ And these were his words: ‘Dad, I think not everyone can see Jesus in the Eucharist because Jesus wants only those who love him to find him.’

Did you catch that? That’s brilliant. It made me see the Mass again differently. It made me think of the two at Emmaus. And it made me want to cry out with Bartimaeus, ‘I want to see!’ I do, I want to see.

And I think that is something we all have to ask ourselves. If we really do want to see Jesus in the Eucharist, we need to ask if our hearts are burning for him. And if they are, do not worry, the request has already been made. He is already bubbling over for you.

Yup, They’re Sick

I tend not to believe my boys when they tell me that they’re sick. Maybe it is because they fall unusually ill whenever homework needs to get done, or when some particular task is expected that might take them away from their play time.

But when the evidence is in front of you, sometimes you just need to accept things as they are.

Have you ever considered this? That the people in your life are not actively avoiding the Gospel but are in fact dealing with a spiritual sickness that you are not aware of?

And if this is true then perhaps a different approach is necessary. Jesus told us that some spiritual woes can only be rid of through prayer and fasting. Maybe that’s what is needed from you right now. And maybe, that is how they will in God’s time receive the Good News.