A Door to the Sacred: From Death to Life.
In the past week the Church has reflected extensively upon death. “All Souls” has an ability to focus us on mortality in ways that are slightly different than our Lenten focus. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser has a few things to say about “death” and “life” in the following reflection.
It’s hard to say something consoling in the face of death, even when the person who died lived a full life and died in the best of circumstances. It’s especially hard when the one who’s died is a young person, still in need of nurturing and care in this life, and when that young person dies in less-than-ideal circumstances.
What, more precisely, is the image? Few images are as primal, and as tender, as that of a mother holding and cradling her newborn baby. Indeed the words of the most-renowned Christmas carol of all time, Silent Night, were inspired by precisely this image. Joseph Mohr, a young priest in Germany, had gone out to a cottage in the woods on the afternoon of Christmas Eve to baptize a newborn baby. As he left the cottage, the baby was asleep in its mother’s lap. He was so taken with that image, with the depth and peace it incarnated, that, immediately upon returning to his rectory, he penned the famous lines of Silent Night. His choir director, Franz Gruber, put some guitar chords to those words and froze them in our minds forever. The ultimate archetypal image of peace, safety, and security is that of a newborn sleeping in its mother’s arms. Moreover, when a baby is born, it’s not just the mother who’s eager to hold and cradle it. Most everyone else is too.
However, consoling as that may be, it doesn’t take away the sting of losing a loved one to death. Nothing takes that away because nothing is meant to. Death is meant to indelibly scar our hearts because love is meant to wound us in that way. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it: “Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. … It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain. … The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves.”
Whether we’re mourning the loss of a loved one, the loss of a veteran pastor, a change in welcoming a new pastor, the ending of Masses at one Whiting parish or a change in Mass times at another, Jesus invites us to be thankful for what we had and blessed for what now have, which includes our past. We are the sum of our experiences and our experiences have the potential to disclose something of the holy to those daring to see it. That’s why all of our experiences are inherently sacramental – infused with the goodness of God! Even death.
Fr. Kevin Scalf, C.PP.S.