Cells live and die and new cells are born. Species go extinct and other species emerge. Stars fade away, and galaxies, and from their matter and their energy new stars are formed and new planets take shape. New galaxies. This is happening all the time. If we in our own small moment are caught up in this larger cycle of life and death, let us give thanks. Let us give thanks that we are being made more aware of the larger forces that shape our lives, the vast cycles. Because these cycles are meaningful. They’re not random, however random and indifferent they might seem. They’re going somewhere, they’re spiraling up higher and higher, they’re moving towards an ever-increasing love, an ever-increasing tenderness. There are seven trillion cells in my body, Peter said as he was dying, and I’m really curious to find out where they’re going. And now he knows. They’re going towards love. They’re going towards joy. They’re going towards Christ.
I wonder if I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. If I’ve had a false image in my mind all this time. Maybe I don’t have to be roasted on a spit or kneel all day in a shaft of light. Maybe I don’t have to stop being human and stop living my life. Maybe I do get to live my life, but slowly. Quietly. Maybe to surrender to God means to walk in the woods with a clear mind. Maybe to surrender to God means to walk in the woods with awareness. To feel the road beneath my feet. To hear the woodpecker drumming in the top of a tree. Maybe to surrender to God—to say, Your grace and Your love are wealth enough for me; give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more—maybe that means, Lord, give me this moment. Lord, help me slow down. Lord, help me be myself. Fully myself. God created all these things in Christ, God loves all these things in Christ, all these things continue in being in Christ. I continue in being in Christ. Do I really think that He cares less about me than He cares about anything else? That’s blasphemy! There is no place where Christ is not, even in me, right now. I am walking down a gravel road. I glimpse the valley in the distance, then the mountains. My dog bounds away in front of me. I am surrendering myself to Christ. Christ has given me His grace and His love. He has given me the day. He has given me my life. I ask for nothing more.
Though we were all expecting it, I was still shocked when I got the archbishop’s email cancelling all public masses until after Easter. I still can’t quite believe it.
It makes me realize how much I love the Eucharist. How much I need the Eucharist.
It makes me think of the Jesuit scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin, how there were times in his life when he wasn’t able to celebrate the mass—when he was a soldier in the French army during World War I, in the middle of battle—or later, when he was leading scientific expeditions, often by mule train, into the remote deserts of Western China.
What he celebrated then is what he later came to call the “Mass of the World”:
Since today, Lord, I your Priest have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I shall spread my hands over the whole universe and take its immensity as the matter of my sacrifice. Let creation repeat to itself again today, and tomorrow, and until the end of time, the divine saying: “This is my body.”
What moves me here is Chardin’s sense of unity with the natural world, and also with all of humanity. In fact, it was exactly in the trenches, in the midst of the horror of war, that he first felt this faith and this joy welling up in him, this solidarity with his fellow soldiers and this confidence that Christ is in all things. Even in the midst of war. Even as the shells were flying.
It’s very much the faith at the heart of what the Church has always called “Spiritual Communion” and that the archbishop has recommended for all us, until we can come together again. “I love You above all things,” we pray in part, “and I desire to receive You into my soul.”
And this communion happens, it truly happens, if we pray for it sincerely.
We will be in communion with Christ. We will be in communion with each other.
Maybe in our hunger for the Eucharist in the next few weeks and months we can come to better understand its depth and breadth and scope. Maybe in our hunger for the Eucharist we can come to understand the way that the Risen Christ is continually transforming all of matter into spirit, drawing all things to Himself. Maybe when we finally return from our exile, when we are finally standing together at the Eucharistic Prayer, we can feel more powerfully than before what really happens then–that when the priest elevates the host, when he holds the Body of Christ in the air before us, he is holding the world. He is holding the universe.
A day or two ago, after a sleepless night, I looked out the window and saw the moon shining through a gap in the clouds. Still the moon, coming through the bare branches of the trees. Everything was quiet. Beautiful.
The moon, a symbol of Mary, reflecting the light of Christ.
I think of all the saints we know and all the saints we don’t, serving in famines and serving in wars and serving in plagues. The courage that comes from faith, and the calm. I think of Our Lord on the cross, and Our Lord in the tomb, and the joy of Mary Magdalene when he calls out her name.
Even during the total eclipse last year, when the moon blotted out the sun, all that happened was the coming of the prettiest violet light. A few soft stars. It was like a quiet summer evening. We sat in our lawn chairs in the front yard drinking our second cup of coffee.
And then it was morning again. An ordinary summer morning. The dishes to do. The lawn to mow.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing. Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers. What has come into being in him is life, and the life is the light of all people, and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
There’s a beautiful line in the psalm today that I haven’t noticed before: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy / and your faces may not blush with shame.” I like that. It’s nicely balanced. It’s almost a kind of pun.
My wife is a redhead and she blushes easily, and I blush easily, too. The blood just rises up into my face when I’m angry or embarrassed. I can feel it happening, and everyone can see it.
What the psalm tells me is that my face should be glowing with joy. My face should be turned towards God, reflecting his light.
We all know a few people like this, people with faces that seem to shine, who seem to radiate something healthy and good. They’re persuasive not because of what they say but because of who they are. We all know people, many more people, with faces full of worry or anger or shame. People with drawn faces. Tight faces. Or I think of my students, who are good kids but who after growing up with smart phones don’t have the same expressions I’m used to, don’t have faces I know how to read anymore. When they’re not looking down, their faces are often blank.
This Lent let’s look at ourselves in the mirror, and if we can’t see that joy, let’s reflect on why not. Let’s connect again with our only true source. And when we do, let’s show it. Why are we such “sourpusses?” as Pope Francis asks. We’re at mass–we’re in the presence of the Eucharist—Christ is giving himself to us!
Think of the difference it makes when someone smiles at us. It lifts us.
At one point in the Paradiso, as Dante and Beatrice are flying up into the light of heaven, Beatrice even has to turn away from Dante, her smile is so radiant. If Dante saw it, he’d be burned to ash.
It all depends on what we’re looking at. That’s what our faces reflect.
Are we looking at God—at what’s healthy and right and good?
If we’re not, what are we looking at? What have allowed to capture our gaze?