Rising Isn’t Optional

Lindsay Williams (ND ’10, ’12)

Coordinator of Youth Ministry

St. Patrick Church, Lake Forest, IL

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On Saturday, November 17, I watched the last Notre Dame home football game of the season like any other loyal alum would do. As I watched the students’ Irish eyes a-smilin’, I thought of my own undergraduate friends and all of the memories we made in that stadium: the time we snuck marshmallows into our Senior game, the times we hoped to catch the attention of the boys a few rows behind us, the times we cheered, booed, and held our tongues for the sake of young fans behind us, and the times in which I pounded my fist with one hand, and prayed a Rosary with the other. During the 2009 USC game, I’m pretty sure I prayed at least three full Rosaries. We came pretty close to winning that one.

As is typical of any other alum, I watched Saturday’s game with a bittersweet heart, remembering what once was with longing and gratitude. Atypical of most alumni, however, one thought crossed my mind as I clenched my fists at each fourth down: Did the Apostles miss Jesus in this same way?

I can never again visit campus just like any other fan, much less as a tourist. Every building holds a memory. South Dining Hall is where my friends and I sat and talked for hours while reading assignments loomed in the backs of our minds. The Lyons Arch is where I unexpectedly ran into a dear friend at three o’clock in the morning, and then proceeded to have a three-hour “heart-to-heart.” Alumni Hall was where I attended Sunday Mass with the first Notre Dame boy I had a crush on. The Grotto is where I prayed for my grandma during her battle with cancer. Every place holds a memory, whether it be good or worthy of a trip to Reconciliation. Every place now has its own, unique charm and is an echo of voices, sights, smells, and feelings from the past. Even on a crowded football Saturday, Notre Dame, to me, is now a ghost town of the life I once lived as a student.

Is this how Jesus’ friends felt after He ascended into Heaven? Did they ever visit the old room in Jerusalem, just to remember what it was like to share their last meal with their dear friend? Did they ever go back to the wedding hall in Cana just to recall where it all began? Were any of them tempted to remove Jesus’ burial cloths from the tomb and keep them, as something to remember Him by?

We know Christ as our Lord, Brother, King, Savior, Redeemer, Teacher, Friend, Emmanuel. We know him in our hearts, our minds, and our souls.  The Apostles, however, knew Him with their eyes. They saw how His eyebrows furrowed while He prayed. They saw the look of joy and compassion in His eyes as He reached out to the children. They knew whether His ear lobes were free or connected. They witnessed at first hand the very distinctive and human characteristics of the Word-made-flesh. We know only the mystery, and even what we know of the mystery is but a drop in the ocean. We know the stories as recorded in the Gospels; the Apostles knew them from their own memories.

So it goes for Notre Dame students. Zealous fans, visiting high school seniors, and parents come to the school and they see only the mystery. They don’t know at first hand just how many people can fit in a Sorin quint on a Friday night, how bitterly cold a February walk down South Quad can be, or which priests give the best homilies. To them, Notre Dame is a mystery: the Catholic, Midwestern dream where students pray hard and play hard and where the “Main Title” track to Rudy can always be heard in the distance. Students and alumni know the real stories – for better or for worse.

In the Gospel of John, we read:
“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes” (Jn 24:1-10).

What did Peter and the beloved disciple think when they saw “the linen cloths lying” and the napkin “rolled up in a place by itself”? A dear friend of mine has suggested that perhaps they were speechless to see that Jesus left the cloths as He always left His bed linens. Perhaps Jesus always made his bed very neatly (hospital corners and all), and these linens were folded with a signature precision. Perhaps Jesus was too busy ministering too worry about how He folded His linens. Maybe He usually just rolled everything up into a ball, and these linens were no exception. Perhaps the Apostles could tell by the very way in which these linens and napkins were left that their Lord was here, not as a lifeless corpse, but as the friend whom they had always known.

I imagine how I would feel if I could unexpectedly see my closest college friends again. Like the beloved disciple, I would outrun anyone else just to see them again. It is often commented that little kids seldom walk anywhere; they run. To their toys. To Mom and Dad. Away from the changing table. As an adult, the only times I run are when I’m about to miss the bus. That childlike excitement has faded. But, if a loved one had come back into my life, nothing could stop me from a full sprint.

Perhaps this was the Jesus whom they missed after He ascended into Heaven. The Jesus whose eyes lit up with kindness as He asked followers, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Mt 9:28). The Jesus who knew their inside jokes, often smelled like sawdust, and spoke with a thick Nazorean accent.

We cannot miss that Jesus, because we have not walked hand-in-hand with Him. We long for Him, we wait for His second coming, and we hope to see Him in Heaven. Perhaps, our hearts might even feel an unnamed loneliness because we are not yet in perfect Communion with Him. On that day when we do arrive in Heaven and our eyes gaze upon Him whom we have waited for, we will echo the words of the disciples as we proclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us” (Lk 24:32) while He talked to us on the earthly road to Heaven? Indeed, we will find in Christ the home that we longed to return to throughout our earthly sojourn. Every moment of loneliness and longing will finally make sense and be fulfilled.

Until then, we, like the Apostles, cherish the things of the past. The friends who lived only a five-minute walk away, but are now a plane ride’s distance. The loved ones whose memories are so fresh in our minds even though they are no longer with us. We expect that life will change as people grow and venture out independently. What we don’t always expect, however, is the accompanying loneliness.

The Apostles knew this loneliness. Why else would so much attention have been given to how fast they ran toward Jesus’ grave? Perhaps, this was one of the reasons why they remained in the upper room for nine days after His ascension: they were afraid to go on without their friend. And yet, the bitter truth remained. They could not go back, for the past, well, “it is finished” (Jn 19:30).

This is the same lesson that anyone forced into an unwelcome life change must face, be it the senior on graduation day, or the widower visiting his beloved’s grave. We cannot go back, and yet we must force ourselves to move forward. Like the Apostles, who, although they grieved their friend, carried forth His mission to go “and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), so also must we go forth to take the gifts we have received and let them be more than just a memory. The friendships and love that we have received are not ours to bury. Christ had to rise from the dead. It wasn’t an option. Who are we to assume that the life we once lived can stay dead, too?

The mission to rise again is not a lonely one. Christ tells us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), and He is. The very things that hallmarked His earthly ministry – water, hand gestures, bread and wine – continue His presence through the sacraments. Though His earthly sojourn happened 2,000 years ago, He continues to transcend even death to be physically present to us. The memories of people and places we once loved need not remain in the past, either. Indeed, do we not still carry that burning love in our hearts? My Grandma may be gone and I can’t express my gratitude in the same way, but I still live by her example. My college roommate may be miles away on a completely new adventure, but I still cherish her friendship. The people and things we loved are not gone; we just have to learn to love them differently.

Likewise, we love Christ differently than the Apostles did. We may not look into His eyes or feel His calluses, but His love changes our lives just as it did for the Apostles. The manner in which we know and love Christ might appear different, but the grace remains ever efficacious. And so where does this leave us, those who feel change thrust upon them in the most inconvenient and unwelcomed manner? It leaves us with a reminder of our healthy need for intimate friendships, and with a holy longing for the Christ who was, is, and is to come.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 4

Rev. Daniel Scheidt

Pastor, Queen of Peace Parish

Mishawaka, IN

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This is the fourth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3

“Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”

“Mary’s virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord’s death
escaped the notice of the prince of this world:
these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God’s silence.”
Ad Eph 19,1; Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) §498

St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote this confession of faith to the Christians of the Church in Ephesus as he was being taken by armed guard to Rome in the first years of the second century to face his martyrdom. Although sorely harassed and literally surrounded by evil forces in the grip of the “prince of this world,” he drew consolation and confidence from the silent power of the Incarnation. St. Ignatius understood his life to be so informed by the divine life of Christ that he described himself as a “bearer of God” or even as “borne by God.”

As we proclaim in this article of the Creed the same truth of the Incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ, we too bow before “the mystery of the wonderful union of the divine and human natures in the one person of the Word” (CCC §483). And in so doing we join with St. Ignatius in acknowledging the height and breadth, length and depth of what can be “accomplished in God’s silence.”

If we trace the simple arc of earthly time between Jesus Christ being “conceived by the Holy Spirit” and “born of the Virgin Mary,” we enter the confines of the ordinary time of a pregnancy.  This first period of any child’s life is one of virtual hiddenness and silence.

In the liturgical rhythms of the Church, too, the solemnities of the Annunciation (March 25) and Christmas (December 25) span exactly nine months. By this logic of the Incarnation, we can discern a certain Marian pattern to our own spiritual lives, namely that even before we can see Him or fully recognize His voice, Christ is silently present and active in us in innumerable hidden ways through the generations of the family of the Church.

Our subjective feelings toward this fact, of course, may range variously across those of any expectant mother: joy and hope, fear and anguish (perhaps accompanied by nausea!). But the fact remains that the Word has become flesh (Jn 1:14) and dwells among us, promising to be with us always until the end of the age (Mt 28:20).

Indeed, because Jesus Christ in the Incarnation has committed Himself so completely and irrevocably for us (“pro nobis”), we can, like St. Paul, be “convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

This conviction most certainly comes at a price: The Lord’s redemptive Death is the final mysterious silence of God mentioned by St. Ignatius. The Mother of Jesus receives the eternal life-giving Holy Spirit as the dying breath of her Son (cf. Jn 19:25-30). Facing his own death, the wise Bishop of Antioch knew with Mary’s faith that the One who came forth from her virgin womb did so ultimately to emerge more triumphantly alive from the “new tomb” (cf. Jn 19:41), which had threatened the muteness of death’s finality.

The surprising “last word” of the Incarnation is therefore thankfully the Risen life of Christ and our participation in it. All that descends into the Lord’s humanity will ascend into His divinity:  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4).

No one knows better than Our Blessed Lady that the “hidden life of Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life,” including those which involve facing the inevitable prospect of dying (cf. CCC  §533). This pregnant silence of faith always proclaims in time the “greatness of the Lord” (cf. Lk 1:46). It is the hidden power of every Christian’s radical public witness in the arena of the world, even amidst the murderous roar of crowds and beasts.

We rejoice with the saints of every age that Christ allows canonical Creeds, venerable letters (and perhaps even a homemade poem like the one below) to bear something of the Marian mystery of His Incarnation, by which we are all borne:

Our Lady did respond gratefully in beatitude,
beyond our dumb-flummoxed, asinine ingratitude:

She vowed that the unspeakable Word in the beginning
be allowed as the unspeaking Flesh of our thanksgiving.

Translated pro nobis fresh upon quiet mangered sod,
silence remains—even late proclaimed—the first language of God.

Inklings of a New Evangelization: Escape and the Good Catastrophe

Miriam Marston

Assistant Director of Theology Programs, Theological Institute for the New Evangelization

St. John’s Seminary, Boston, MA

Contact Author

Other columns in series:
The Beacons Are Lit

Of Myths and Maps

Inside the Song

A Word on Wonder

A Word on Tooks
Secondary Worlds and Primary Truths

In my last post, I discussed fantasy and recovery by way of Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories.”  Here, I will wrap up this brief exploration of his essay, even though “wrapping up” is an inadequate way of saying that it’s merely the beginning of more discussion.

 “You shouldn’t read all that fantasy stuff…you’re just trying to escape from real life.”

I have heard this criticism lobbed a number of times at readers of the fantasy genre.  Now, I will certainly *not* claim that fantasy is never used to dodge reality and responsibilities.  It can be – and has been – used to that end.  But Tolkien makes the important distinction between “The Escape of the Prisoner” and “The Flight of the Deserter.” “Why,” Tolkien asks, “should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”  And if “real life” has become the four walls of a dim and clammy prison, there is no shame in reading stories as one might read a map – to help him navigate uncertain and unfriendly lands.

To take Tolkien’s ideas a little further, the prisoner is more focused on running towards, while the deserter is more fixated on running away.  If there is to be any running in the Christian life, it should always be towards holiness: “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:1-2).

Tolkien notes that we cannot ignore what he calls “the Great Escape.”  It is the thing that most of us worry about or fear above all else: death.  The escape from death is as common a storybook feature as true love’s kiss or the quest to defeat that pesky neighborhood dragon.  To pick a contemporary example which might help illustrate this point: the arch-villain of the Harry Potter series is named “Voldemort.”  If we look at the name more closely, we can read vol / de / mort, which is French for “flight from death” or even “stealing” from death.  His very name points to his obsession with cheating death.  He believes himself the most powerful wizard in the world, but he is in fact weakest where it matters most.  He is so determined not to die that he fails miserably when it comes to living.

But just as Tolkien is talking about these solemn matters, he brings to the forefront the governing principle and purpose behind his bothering to put any ink to paper to begin with, bringing the entire essay “On Fairy-Stories” to a sublime point.  And here, the reader steps onto holy ground.  For this is the culmination of every good story we have ever read, which has made our hearts race and our imaginations run wild with sacred marvels and miracles.  This is where real life truly becomes *real*.  It is no mere escapism.  It is the “Consolation of the Happy Ending.”  And we’ve heard it so many times, we might forget that it means anything at all:  “and they lived happily ever after.”  These six words have far more significance than, say, a king and queen living in a kind of sleepy harmony, surrounded by puppies, butterflies and perpetual rainbows traced across the sky.

Tolkien suggests that the highest form of drama is Tragedy, and that the opposite would be true of the fairy story.  But what is the opposite of Tragedy?  It’s not quite comedy.  Tolkien, being a philologist after all, coined his own term, which he thought suitably captured the essence of a well-ordered fantasy:  Eucatastrophe.  It comes down to those two little letters of the Greek prefix “eu” transforming disaster into a good catastrophe.  It does not, Tolkien insists,

“deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure…it [does deny] universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Tolkien is an honest writer, and is unafraid to include suffering and death in his own works.  To avoid the familiar grim-ness of life would be to diminish the pure delight which comes with beholding how the radiance of goodness disperses the shadows.  No one will believe a world where it is always day; we are a people closely acquainted with the night, which is why our songs and poetry can speak so well – and so often – about the dawn.

And Tolkien is drawn to one dawn in particular:  that of Easter morning.  For the Resurrection is the greatest and most complete eucatastrophe of all time: the God who dies and rises from the dead.  Not just for His own sake (God is not “showing off”), but for the sake of every single person who has ever and will ever live.  Even when taken at face value, without considering the far-reaching effects of such an event, this mysterious and splendid overturning of death and sin has all the makings of a fantastic story.

For remember that Tolkien firmly believed that a good fairy story could give the reader a glimpse into an underlying reality or truth…for example, a hideous hag unexpectedly changing into a golden-haired princess, which gently reminds us that externals do not tell us everything there is to know about a person.  Now imagine discovering a beautiful and moving story that wasn’t simply borrowing elements from the primary world in order to create a compelling secondary world.  Imagine your reaction upon learning that such a narrative wasn’t just pointing or nudging towards to the truth – what if it actually was true?  All of it, mind you…not just bits and pieces, here and there. The Gospel reaches into the very depths of the world, answering all the innermost questions, fulfilling every aching desire.  Not even the best of stories and most convincing of secondary worlds could accomplish such things and convert so many stubborn hearts.  And this is what the Gloria is, according to Tolkien: the Christian joy at the turn of history, when all seemed darkest and hope itself appeared to have been buried deep in the ground.  But no tomb could hold Love captive, nor would the Enemy enjoy the last word – indeed, I highly doubt he knows how to properly enjoy anything at all.

If, as we have just noted, the greatest story of all time has already been written, then what (you might be wondering) is the point of writing any more stories at all?  Won’t they all seem ostensibly trivial before the majesty of divine revelation?  Won’t the characters all seem minor and petty and the scenery washed out and dull?   While there is no doubt that Christ is the final revelation of God, that doesn’t mean we should stop giving it any thought.  Indeed, we can serve as instruments assisting in the continuous unveiling of this revelation to the world, as there are still so many people who have heard scarcely more than a whisper of the true name of Christ.  And there is no need to worry about originality, either (“ah, well, he says it better than I ever could, so I won’t bother trying…”).  There is plenty of room for everyone in this Story.  Lewis wrote his Chronicles of Narnia, but someone could always pen the Chronicles of Main Street.  From parallel worlds with talking animals to grocery stores with long lines of silent customers, it all fits into the Story which tells how Love sprung up from the grave, unlocked the gates of heaven, and has never since stopped inviting and drawing us in.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 3

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

This is the third in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous article in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord…

What would Jesus do? This question, perhaps innocent enough, reveals a problem in American Christianity. Simply, we tend to treat Jesus solely as a model of human behavior, an example to be followed, a privileged teacher of moral truths and social action. While indeed we are to configure our lives according to the example of Jesus, to love the one who first loved us, we fail to understand the radical nature of this baptismal vocation unless we first understand who Jesus is.

Ironically, the name Jesus itself points toward the folly of perceiving Christ solely as an exemplar of human action. “Jesus means in Hebrew: ‘God saves’” (CCC §430). In Jesus, the Father offers the definitive gift of salvation. God, already involved in human history, dwells ever more intimately among us in the person of His Son, Jesus. Thus, Jesus’ preaching, His healing, His time spent with His disciples and sinners alike, and His self-giving love upon the Cross and subsequent Resurrection is the salvific work of the Triune God. To speak the name of Jesus is to already evoke the saving power of God among us, to offer a sacrifice of love from the depths of the heart.

Jesus is the Christ. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. Rather, it is the Greek word for anointed one, a translation of the Hebrew word “messiah.” In the first century, the messiah was expected as a powerful king, who would restore the splendor to the Temple cult and return a powerful monarchy to Israel; who would enact God’s definitive and absolute reign in history. In Jesus, the true nature of messiahship, of history itself, is revealed. The Messiah is the one who comes to rule not upon the throne but upon the wood of the Cross. History is not the domain of the powerful, the strong, but of the God who loves unto the end. And through Jesus’ messianic rule, all are invited into the Kingdom of God. A kingdom where divine power is revealed in weakness, in self-gift, even death itself. To proclaim Jesus as Christ is to confess that history is not made by those who grab power and prestige at any cost. Real history is made by those who in freedom give themselves over to the Father through Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God’s politics is not our own but is carried out by those who take up their cross and follow Jesus.

Jesus is the only Son of God. Again, the title is important. Kings, prophets, Israel itself are known as “sons of God.” Yet, Jesus’ sonship is unique. He is the “only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages” (Nicene Creed). Before there was time, before there was space, before history itself, the Father out of love begot the Son. The Son has received everything from the Father, and out of the depths of love, the Son gives Himself back in an offering of Eucharistic love. Jesus is the Son of God, because He manifests this love for us. He invites us into this love in Baptism, such that we are taken up into this divine sonship, becoming children of the living God.

Jesus is our Lord. He is not like other lords: the lord of mammon, of sexual manipulation, of conspicuous consumption, of political violence. He is the Lord of the cosmos. He is the Lord, who enters into our history and transfigures it, bestowing upon it a meaning we could never have found ourselves, a meaning that is love. He is the Lord who enters into our memories through rumination upon the Gospels. He is the Lord who comes to us in the breaking of the bread and in deeds of Eucharistic love.

So what would Jesus do? He would invite us to enter into His very life, to become sons and daughters transfigured by the gift of divine life.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 2

John C. Cavadini, Ph.D.

McGrath-Cavadini Director, Institute for Church Life
Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

 

This is the second in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

Previous article in this series:
Reflecting on the Creed: Part 1

The Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth

If “I believe in a “ God,” who is “Almighty,” who is “Creator of Heaven and Earth,” not an impersonal force but “Father,” then why is there evil? All of us armchair Creators suspect we could have done better than God. We aren’t exactly sure how — after all, isn’t that God’s problem? But we feel we could have, if we were God.

Let’s ask the question another way. What kind of world is it in which love can exist? It would have to be a world in which there was the possibility — not the necessity, but the possibility — of evil, because there is no love without freedom. A universe without freedom is a universe without love. A universe without the genuine possibility of evil is a universe without love, and that eliminates not only human love, but even the Creator’s love, since only an unloving Creator would begrudge His creatures His own greatest glory, that is, love.

But all love has a cost, even, in some mysterious way, for God. God shows us in the Cross what love cost Him. Where is His Almighty power on the Cross? “Only faith can discern it when it is made perfect in weakness” (CCC §268, cf. 2 Cor 12:9). If the Cross is the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:18) and Christ the “power and wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24), then our contemplation of Creation must really begin as a contemplation of Christ, who, though He had amazing power, worked no miracle on the Cross. The miracles show us that He could have come down from the Cross. But it would have been a very cheap love if God Incarnate had suffered only until He thought it convenient, and then dazzled us by His miraculous descent. Evil would have triumphed, for it is ever the devil’s contention that there is no such thing as true love. True love gives everything. How “foolish” of God, the devil was thinking … but “the foolishness of God is wiser” (1 Cor 1:25). In the moment that Jesus died, persisting in love, the spell of evil was broken and the devil conquered, because God Himself revealed the perfection and depth of His own love. It really does exist!

The answer to the problem of evil is not to keep staring at evil, or any particular evil. Evil only paralyzes. Evil only tempts us to believe that all good things, love especially, are futile and will come to nothing. Believing otherwise is simply “stupid” or “foolish” — just like God! So speaks the Tempter. Even you could have created a better world, he says to our hearts, one in which the stupidity of love was kept out. But wouldn’t that be the ultimate horror? The world must be a place, then, where love is possible, and this means a universe that is free to be itself, to “journey” towards its own perfection, rather than having that perfection imposed, a place where even the disfigurement of creation caused by sin must be allowed.

But the resurrection of Christ means that the Love revealed on the Cross is alive and triumphant, using every evil towards a higher good, just as it used the murder of the Incarnate Word, a free human choice, towards a good that far surpassed the evil intended. The solution to the problem of evil is to believe the story that the Creed tells us, and to follow in faith, contemplating the “foolishness” of God’s love. Little by little we will see “power and wisdom” where we had thought only to replace it with our own.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 1

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

This is the first in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff to republish them here.

I believe in God …

Each Sunday, we stand and profess our faith in the Creed. Such a profession of faith when compared with the Scriptures seems devoid of drama. Yet, the Creed is not simply a rehearsal of abstract propositions. It is a proclamation of the wondrous deeds carried out by the Triune God, who is love. The Creed enacts the drama of the God who became flesh and dwelt among us, inviting us into the divine life handed on by the Church.

What does it mean to believe? In general, to believe is to commit oneself to a truth that exists beyond the visible or tangible alone. But belief in general is not necessarily a wise decision. To believe that Notre Dame is imminently poised to win a national championship may in fact go against reasonable expectation. Christians don’t believe in general. We believe in a personal God, a God who is self-giving love, a God known through the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church.

In American religion, we tend to perceive God as a cosmic therapist. God exists somewhere above us, generally cares about our lives, desires for us to be decent citizens, and gives us what we need to be happy. In fact, this is not the God we profess in the Creed (to the shock of my undergraduate students in particular).

The God we profess in the Creed is indeed all-knowing, all-powerful, existing beyond the contours of time and space. Yet, this super transcendent God bent down in love and created the world as pure gift, inviting human beings to have a share in divine life. This God did not give up on human beings, even after Adam and Eve violently rejected this gift of love, clothing them in garments of flesh and promised redemption. This God called Abraham and Sarah out of their native land and promised them descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens, transforming their barrenness into fruitful joy. This is the God who saved his people through Joseph’s sojourn into Egypt; who revealed His name to Moses in the burning bush, who liberated them from the slavery of the Egyptians, and tenderly fed them with manna in the desert; who bestowed the law as a sign of the covenant, and then remained patient as the people broke the law; who dwelt with Israel as they were exiled from the land; who promised the prophets a new law implanted in the human heart.

And who in the fullness of time revealed Himself in His Son; the Word that created heaven and earth reduced to the babbling speech of infancy. For in the Son, we come to know the depths of the Father’s love, a divine love that gives itself even unto death. And such self-giving love is ultimately unconquerable. For on the third day, the Son is resurrected from the dead — manifesting to humanity that violence and death are not the meaning of life. Love alone is.

And this very same love abides in the life of the Church, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. So when we stand up and profess, “I believe in God,” we proclaim for the whole world to hear that God is love. And this very love, this logic of self-gift, is the fundamental reality of the universe. Such love, such self-gift transforms our lives.

So then, what a drama it is for us to say, “I believe in God.” For we believe in nothing less than the transformation of our entire humanity through Christ. In professing our faith, we join with Mary, the very icon of the Church’s faith, and proclaim “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). Let all of my life, my joys, my sorrows, be taken up into the very life of God and become an offering of love for the world.

Stronger than Death: The Hope of All Souls Day

Leonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

I once had a very dissatisfying experience at a funeral.  While I do not consider myself the sort of person who typically seeks satisfaction at funerals, what was lacking in this one made me intuitively aware of what I desired by contrast.

I had just seen my grandfather a few weeks prior to his death.  He was in the hospital and, in accordance with the directives of his living will, the feeding tubes had been removed.  He was unable to speak and mostly unable to move, but it was clear that he knew when my brother and I walked into the room.  I was the last one to leave his hospital room that night, staying behind to say goodbye and to whisper a prayer over him, tracing the Sign of the Cross on his forehead.  It was the first time I had ever prayed with (or over) Louis DeLorenzo.

Upon his death on April 20, my wife and I made arrangements to fly out to New Jersey two days later for the funeral that weekend.  With the rest of my family already in town, I was the last to arrive and, by that time, all the arrangements were in place.  There was nothing for me to do but show up at the funeral parlor and walk into a predictably hideously wallpapered room filled with Italian-Americans from such diverse places as northern New Jersey and southern New York.

When it was time for the service to begin, a very pleasant older gentleman stood up in the front with a Bible in hand.  When my aunt had called the Catholic parish in town to inquire about a funeral for my grandfather, she apparently met some resistance because he had not been an active parishioner.  Rather than push in any way, she hung up the phone and called the people at the funeral home, who offered to find another minister to lead the service there.

He began with a reading from Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul…

At the end of the Psalm, he closed his Bible and shared a little bit about Lou DeLorenzo.  Having never met him personally, he recited the facts: he had been a Nutley firefighter for 37 years while also working as a carpenter.  He married Dorothy in 1946 and they raised their two children—Nora and Leonard—in Nutley before moving to Chadwick Beach and retiring in Palm Harbor, Florida.  They had four grandchildren.  Lou liked to fish and loved to golf.  This final bit of biographical information provided the launching point for the short sermon:

“And now Lou is in those green pastures we heard about in our reading.  His green pastures are beautiful fairways and perfect greens, where every putt goes in.”

The genial minister went on for a minute longer, saying much of the same—that Lou was now looking down on us between holes, smiling the whole time.  He closed with a brief prayer, and that was that.

Recalling this event now, it seems somewhat peaceful, even quaint.  I still, however, feel much of the same sensation now as I did then: at one and the same time I want to both scream and plead.  Have we really acknowledged the fact that this man—my granddaddy—has died?  What hope do we have for him?  Is it really just fairways and greens that he has to look forward to?  Is that what we want for him?  Is that who he was?

This minister meant no harm.  Furthermore, I am not sure how many of the people in that room accepted this as a fitting end to Louis DeLorenzo’s life, or how many felt like I did that there was a significant deficiency in what we had just experienced.  To my ears, my grandfather was represented as a thin caricature of himself, sent forth as a glossed-over figure for whom we were not beckoned to pray and on behalf of whom we were not trusted to hope.  He seemed to have just breezily slipped away to another place, as if this life had been but a dream.

From my vantage point now—some seven years later—I am can better discern what exactly was so dissatisfying about that late April funeral service:

  • First, the well-intentioned minister disregarded the most obvious, unavoidable fact of the whole engagement: Louis DeLorenzo had just died.  He died.  He was dead, not golfing. |
  • Second, we were left without a challenge to hope.  I cannot speak for the other people in that room, but I know that I still feel this oversight even now.  It might have been precisely because we were collectively ignoring the fact that he was really dead that the real necessity of hope was not revealed.
  • Third, the picture we were invited to take up—albeit based off of Psalm 23—did not lead us to cling to the Body of Christ.  The brief sermon felt like one of those times when you are told that what you have lost, or the job you did not get, or the relationship that just ended was not all that terrible of a thing to lose anyway.  It is tempting to try to believe that, but the fact of the matter is that the loss is real, it does hurt, and it actually was important.  In this case, my grandfather was important and his loss was real.  What I was most deeply looking for that day—along with others that gathered in that room—was something real to cling to, not pious wishes.

I have been to other funerals and memorial services since my grandfather’s, and some of these have resembled his in one way or another.  Even so, my grandfather’s still strikes me raw to this day because the dissatisfaction was so keen, while the desire for hope and prayer was so great.

I think this desire requires some examination.  What was I looking for?  What was missing?  As I ponder my desire, the three missing dimensions enumerated above—lacks that gave me such deep dissatisfaction—need to be explored in further detail: the seriousness of death, the significance of hope, and the silence of Christ.  It is all too appropriate to make this attempt now, as the Church once again turns in prayer to God for the souls of all the faithful departed.

The Seriousness of Death
I looked at death with my grandfather once before his own death, five years earlier.  It was the first and only time I saw him cry.  Our family gathered at another funeral parlor, this time in Florida, to view my grandmother’s body for the last time before cremation.  My youngest cousin and I at first refused to go in to the room to see her body lying in the cardboard coffin (she was frugal to the end!).  I didn’t want to see her because I thought it wasn’t her.  But it was.  She was dead.  She both was and was not her body.  Whatever and whoever she was, she died.  There lay the body of the woman we knew and loved, the woman who knew and loved us.  Her body was the remnant of the life she had lived with and among us, but that life was now silent.

When I walked outside of the mortuary on a characteristically warm and rainy afternoon, I found my grandfather standing there by himself.  He had just kissed the forehead of the woman who had been his wife for more than 50 years.  He was sobbing.  The proudest, most stubborn, most old-school man I have ever known was crying like a child in the rain.  He had just confronted the utter end of life in the person he loved most.  I put my arm around my uncharacteristically vulnerable grandfather and I felt his loss.  Even at the end of a long and loving life, that loss was a tragedy.

My grandfather lived five years after his wife’s death, but his life was never the same.  A good part of him died when his lips touched her lifeless forehead that last time.  My father told me that he sometimes heard him crying softly in his bed at night.  There was a hole in his life that neither pious thoughts nor shimmering wishes could fill.  I am not sure that hole was meant to be filled.

As far as I know, my grandfather never attempted to explain where his beloved went after death.  It would have certainly been comforting to imagine her having slipped out of the confines of this life into a better, happier place.  The thought of her immediate bliss may have been a consolation to his grieving heart.  There was a certain discipline and authenticity to the way he thought about her after death.  Instead of trying to make her right for his own sake, he allowed himself to be wounded for love of her.  He had been tied to her so deeply for so long that he couldn’t replace her with a thought or a wish about where or how she was now.  Her life had been too important for that—she had been too important to him.  It is not that he somehow failed to accept her death, but rather that he refused to allow her death to be any less serious than it really was.  She was gone and that made a difference to him.

The Significance of Hope
It is hard, if not impossible, to give an account of exactly how someone has affected you.  Not only am I unable to explain what my grandmother meant to my grandfather, but it is also difficult for me to explain what she meant to me.  If I sat still long enough, I could conjure up countless memories of her: some that would cause me to chuckle, others that would frustrate me, others still that would perhaps leave me with tinges of regret, and many that would fill me with gratitude.  Of all those memories, though, I find it curious which memory usually comes to mind first.

What I remember first about my grandmother—in a vivid snapshot memory—is her sitting at the kitchen table in the slowly intensifying light of the early morning.  The house is silent.  Her elbow is resting on the table, one hand pinching the skin above her brow, the other fingering a rosary dangling near her knees.  Her eyes are closed tight and she has the look of intense, almost painful concentration on her face while her lips mutter prayers into the stillness of the morning.  I can’t remember if I only saw this scene once or if it occurred multiple times for my viewing, but nevertheless, this is the first thing I usually remember about her.  Something of what she meant to me is wrapped up in that memory, though I cannot wrap my mind around that meaning.

I do not have that memory of faith for my grandfather.  I tend to remember his childlike laugh when he teased my little brother, whom he loved with a special kind of devotion.  I remember his voice rising above its normal volume to correct or to command.  I remember the picture of him clad in an orange hunting suit, smiling next to the carcass of the deer he strung up at the end of the day.  He never came to Mass with us when I visited my grandparents for weeks and weeks every summer when I was younger. I cannot recall a time when I saw him pray.  He was relentlessly disciplined and principled, though he certainly was not what one would recognize as a person of faith.

I loved both of my grandparents, and because of that love I feel their loss even today.  I do not feel that loss as greatly or regularly as I should, but I do feel it.  My love for them also springs forward in hope.  Even though they are no longer here with me, I still strangely want what is good for them.  I want them to live in some way even though they have died and I feel their death.

The difference between them for me, though, is that I don’t have the same kind of memory of my grandfather that I have of my grandmother: a memory that can anchor my hope.  When I return to my faith and seek to entrust my grandmother to the love of God, I can move from what I myself have seen toward what I imagine God sees when he looks at her, even now.  I can hope that God’s first memory of grandma is something like my own—or that mine is something like God’s, as it were.  I hope that He sees her sitting at the table in the early morning, moving beads between her fingers, praying alone before the tasks of the day.  Maybe that is who she truly was, beneath all the other memories.

For my grandfather, I just don’t know what I hope that God sees.  Does He see the delight of that childlike laugh?  Does He hear that voice ascending over the humdrum of home-life?  Does He rejoice at a successful hunt?  What I do know is that it is against the darkness and unknowing of death that I search for hope in place of hope that my grandfather lives anew in the God in whom I seek to entrust my own life.  The man whom I last saw fading into death when the feeding tubes had been removed in that lightly lit, modestly comfortable hospital room more than seven years ago is the same man whom I know entered into the abyss of death and was no more.  Into that abyss, I cast my hope—inchoate as my hope may be.  Perhaps this is the deepest essence of hope: to believe without assurance, without any fully explicable reason, that life may be called out of loss.

The Silence of Christ    
It can certainly feel as if hope of this sort goes out into nothing but empty space.  I have yet to receive a vision like St. Perpetua’s of my loved one’s thirst finally slaked.  There seems to be no response to my hope, and yet still I hope.  To whom does this hope go?  Who receives it in the silence?

There is no answer, only faith.  By faith, I place my trust beyond any and all explanation into the hands of the one whom I believe—at the core of my being—came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  I have based my life on the belief that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried is the same Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages.  I am gripped by the belief that this One—the Son of God, the love of the Father come down to us—came down so far that He descended into hell.  In that shadowy place of death, in the stillness following the Cross, in that tomb sealed and guarded, with all the isolated souls of those who live no more, the Lord Jesus receives the hope that leads me to pray for my grandfather.  My hope does go out into the silence, but by faith I believe that the Word of Life assumes the silence and makes it His own.  In Him, I hope.

My hope for my grandfather is not just a hope for him, but a hope for all of us.  I hope that no matter how unworthy he or I or any of us may be, no matter how negligible our faith may become, the descending Love of God will reach us and lead us out of the grave.  I hope that the Lord, the giver of life will seal our one baptism for the forgiveness of sins forming us into one communion of saints unto the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.   My hope is that, in the end, my life doesn’t stop with me, that my grandfather’s life didn’t stop with him.  Somehow, mysteriously, our lives were joined together when I was born into his family, and especially when I passed through the waters into which he had previously been baptized.  I hope that even now, when I remain and he has gone, that the life that we shared can be made stronger than that which seems to separate us: the chasm of death.

The Body of Christ         
Part of the reason I was so dissatisfied at my grandfather’s funeral is because in a non-egotistical way, that funeral was about me, too.  It was about what I hope makes me who I am: the efficacy of my baptism, the nourishment of the Eucharist, the seal of my confirmation, the healing of each confession, the bond of my marriage.  It is the hope that I am mystically living in the Body of Christ.  That is, ultimately, what I hope for my grandfather, too.  It is also what I hope my grandmother was expressing in the early morning at the kitchen table.  It is what I hope my father accepted when he went to 6:30am Mass every weekday morning as he was raising two young boys by himself.  It is what I hope my dearest friends have professed in their vows before the altar, and what I hope we have all plunged our children into at our parishes’ baptismal founts.  This is my hope—it is the hope of all the Church—that all the faithful departed live in his Body forever.  It is the hope of All Souls Day, a hope that is stronger than death.

More and more, the memory that recurs when I think of my grandfather is of our last moment together in that hospital room.  Part of me is still surprised that I had the audacity to trace the Sign of the Cross on his forehead and pray over him.  Perhaps the meaning of who he was to me is mysteriously wrapped up in that memory, even though I can’t quite grasp what that meaning is.  It is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

Note: This author has another reflection entitled “What Saints Sound Likeposted earlier this week on the Notre Dame Vision blog, Full of Grace.

“Let Perpetual Light Shine on Them”: The Beauty of a Happy Death

Katharine Mahon

Doctoral Student, Liturgical Studies

University of Notre Dame

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Last year Timothy O’Malley wrote about All Souls’ Day and celebrating the hope-filled doctrine of purgatory.  It cannot be denied that our celebration of All Souls’ Day is forever connected to our belief in purgatory and the beauty and comfort of God’s endless mercy promised in that doctrine.  In my discussion of All Souls’ Day this year, however, I would like instead to turn our attention to the idea of celebrating death—even consider the possibility of celebrating a happy death—and reflect upon the hope to be found in a Christian approach to death if we are willing to look for it.  I will share the story of my grandfather passing away and how his dying has forever affected my spirituality.

Death is, without question, a difficult topic to discuss.  Virtually all of us have dealt with the death of a loved one and experienced the feelings of loss, fear, and hopelessness that often result; these are not pleasant topics of discussion.  Even more uncomfortable to reflect upon is the fact that we are each of us, at this very moment, in the process of dying; each heartbeat and each breath bring us closer to that moment when our lungs will no longer function and our hearts will cease to beat.  I do not mean to meditate on these facts for the sake of morbid obsession, but to make my starting point for this reflection abundantly clear: death is an absolute certainty for each and every one of us.  This is a truth that no amount of denial, success, science, love, or faith can prevent.  Our only choice in the matter is how we will approach death: with abject terror or with a peaceful heart, with all anxiety or with all hope?  Death is a natural and necessary part of life—it is in fact the culmination of all life—and the Christian tradition does not avoid the reality of death.  Countless Masses have been said for the dead, countless prayers prayed for the repose of souls, and for some time death was a major part of Christian liturgical life.  It was not all sorrow and memorial, however, as one of the most popular genres of spiritual writing and personal devotion in the Middle Ages was the preparation for or guide to Christian death; a common blessing, in fact, was wishing someone a happy death.  We might see this as a morbid thought today, but having experienced a happy death within my own family, I can think of no kinder blessing to wish for someone.

My maternal grandfather was one of the most thoughtful, warm-hearted, pragmatic, and faith-filled people I have ever known.  He was a farmer and a Korean War veteran, a father of six, a loving husband, and would become a grandfather of over a dozen grandchildren, most of whom he would never meet.  A two-time cancer survivor, my grandfather was struck by his final bout of cancer when I, his oldest grandchild, was nine; through the invaluable work of the hospice program he was given the gift of spending his final days at home.  He died surrounded by his children and my grandmother, having said his goodbyes to us grandchildren a few weeks earlier.  My grandfather’s faith was integrated throughout all that he did—from his farming to his parenting—and his death was no different.  Just as the cycle of plowing, planting, harvesting, and winter snows defined his livelihood, so the cycle of birth, growth, waning, and death defines our lives: each stage inescapable, each stage necessarily complimenting the others.  Our beloved parish priest, Father Paul, worked with him and all of us as a family, guiding us through the process of approaching his coming death.  He received the sacraments, he was not in pain, he was surrounded by loving family, and he was at home; neither we nor he could have asked for more.

And yet there was more.  As the weeks and then the years passed, my mother, aunts and uncles, and my grandmother began to relate the story of my grandfather’s final days to me.  About a week before he died, as he lay in his hospice bed in the living room, my grandfather noticed the strangest thing.  Fully conscious, in very little pain, not filled with pain medicine and not in the final moments of his life, he calmly explained to those gathered in the room that there, across the room, he could see circles of light and one brighter light.  Did they not also see them?  No, his children and wife replied, but they encouraged him to describe what he saw.  The lights appeared from time to time over the next few days, he’d tell them, and it was as if he saw a closed gate just beyond them.  Soon the circles became peoples’ silhouettes, too far away to be discernable, but still present.  The gateway, too, became clearer: his face lit up as he described it as the edge of heaven, a place of incredible beauty, warmth, and welcome.  “They’ll be okay. Let me go,” he said some time later, and the gate opened before him.  The next night those lights that had lingered for days made themselves known—love and joy radiated from him as he greeted his beloved and long-passed sister, his parents, and his lifelong friend as though they were standing beside him.  Some time later, there on his farm, surrounded by the living and the dead who loved him, with the light of heaven shining on him and peace filling his heart, my grandfather passed away.

My grandfather is profoundly missed; he was incredibly sorry to leave us and to not have more time with all of us.  He was not scared, however, having reunited with those who he had himself missed for so long, and he wanted to make clear to us that we will have nothing to fear, either, when our time comes, and that he will be there when it does.  One thing that I cannot ever deny, which I know down to my very core, I know because of the incredible experience and witness of my grandfather’s happy and holy death, and all of my prayers and each instance of worship for me is simply trying to remember this truth.  This truth is that we are loved.  We are loved beyond imagining.  We were each of us loved into existence by our Creator, we are loved by family and friends here on earth, they continue to love us even after they pass away, and we ourselves will continue to love others even after we pass.  We are loved, we are tenderly cared for, we are watched over, and the core hope of the Christian faith is to one day return in love to the God who so loved us that he became human like us, died like us, and was resurrected so that we might always live in his love.  Each celebration of the Eucharist here on earth, through which we sacramentally join in loving communion with God and one another, is but a foretaste of the communion of love awaiting us.

The story of my grandfather’s death still brings such joy, wonder, and hope to me even today, nearly two decades later, that it has become a central truth of my spirituality and even my very being.  When I celebrate All Souls’ Day this year, remembering with love all of my friends and family members who have passed, I will remember them in light of my grandfather’s death, and comforted by the fact that they, too, were welcomed into God’s loving presence by their departed loved ones and with the hope they will one day welcome me into the light of God’s face.

 

The Mosaic of Christ: A Reflection on All Saints Day

Ben Wilson

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

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Today we celebrate those whom Jesus calls blessed, those whose reward is great in heaven, those who are called children of God.

If you look closely at the image above, you will see an image of these blessed ones, of the saints whom the Church celebrates today.  Similar to the way the Beatitudes spell out what makes for blessedness, this icon depicts the heart of what a saint is.

See how Christ is at the focal point with the saints radiating out from Him.  There is a darkness surrounding Christ; there is something hidden about Him.  The saints, arrayed around Him in their countless shining colors, reflect the luminosity of Christ.  The saints provide the Church with a sort of kaleidoscope through which we can see Christ’s splendor from a thousand different angles.

In reflecting on the saints, author Clare Boothe Luce wrote: “The portrait of a saint is only a fragment of a great and still uncompleted mosaic—the portrait of Jesus.”  It isn’t that Jesus is incomplete, but our vision of Him is incomplete.  We can’t possibly take in His fullness—we just catch more and more glimpses of Him.  Remember what St. Paul said to the Colossians — “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Col 1:24)  St. Paul’s words apply to what all the saints do—they fill up, they flesh out, they express in ever-new ways the inexhaustible fullness of the person of Jesus Christ.

I’ve often wondered about Jesus’ laughter.  We don’t see Him laugh in the Gospels.  Like the icon, there’s something hidden from us about Christ’s humor.  I think Christ’s humor is revealed bit by bit through the saints.  St. Philip Neri, for instance, is called “The Humorous Saint.” Over his door there was a sign that read “The House of Christian Mirth.”  Scores of people were attracted by St. Philip Neri’s light-heartedness which they knew to be a sign of Christ’s presence.

Christ wasn’t a mother in his earthly life.  St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, by her persistent prayers for her son shows us something of Christ the Good Shepherd’s attentive care to the lost sheep.  You might say that St. Monica shows us something of how Christ would have been a mother.

Christ wasn’t chronically ill or disabled. St. Anna Schäffer, one of the seven saints recently canonized by Pope Benedict, was sick and confined to bed for most of her life.  St. Anna shows us something of Christ’s patience and long-suffering, His willingness to endure suffering gladly.

It isn’t that Christ is insufficient; He took on all that was human in becoming human.  The saints, in a thousand bursts of color, refract some part of Christ’s infinitely brilliant light in their own time and place.  The saints help to make known the Christ who has been revealed and yet remains in part hidden.

The invitation for us, the Christian vocation, is to reflect a bit of Christ’s immeasurable light in our unique hue.  What is it in us that helps to make something of Christ visible here and now?  Christ in His earthly life was not from South Bend; He wasn’t a schoolteacher or a banker; He didn’t have sisters or brothers; He wasn’t an artist or an engineer; He wasn’t elderly.  In each of our own unique circumstances, different from the details of Jesus’ own earthly life, how does Christ’s light shine through?

We don’t reflect Christ by our effort, by just being the best brother or baker or businessman that we can be.  Rather, our resemblance to Christ is a family resemblance. In baptism, we become children of God.  As we hear in the second reading for today from the first letter of St. John, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” (1 Jn 3:1)  What love God has of us that He would call us His children, and allow us to be reflections of His only Son.

The concluding lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Kingfisher” come true most vividly in the lives of the saints:

“Christ plays in ten thousand places,           
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his   
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

The Solemnity of All Saints celebrated today signifies the  Church’s recognition of Christ in the diverse and colorful features of the thousands of saints before us.  And the saints give us the courage to believe that Christ’s inexhaustible light will be reflected in some new color in us.