Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Solstice

Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Ioannes. Hic venit ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine, parare Domino plebem perfectam.
“He came to bear witness to the light…”
Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri visitavit nos Oriens ex alto.
“…the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”

I was forty years old before I discovered that there were parts of the Catholic World (St. Bede’s hymn for First Vespers of the Birth of the Baptist; Poland) which celebrate a connection between St. John the Baptist’s Birth and the Summer Solstice. I still don’t quite know what to make of it, because the secularizing (New Age) forces in the Western World seem to be evacuating that connection faster than one generation can pass on the wealth to another. Northerners end up faced once again with a recovery operation under the general heading of evangelization of culture.
Then again, it truly is a “northern thing”. Here in the islands where sun abounds it’d be hard to talk about the importance of a June day some minutes longer than a December day. Such talk can’t be for even the most Catholic and connected of folks down South any more than an academic debate, “yes” or “no”?
Even so, the quotes from the Entrance and Communion Antiphons of today’s Solemnity point out very clearly that the “light connection” is more than just a matter of Germanic or Slavic popular devotion. The son of Zechariah and Elisabeth bears witness to the Light coming into the world, the longest day points to the Day from on high, to the Sun which never sets, Jesus Christ Our Lord. In this case, I suspect that Gospel (the Prologue to John’s Gospel above all else) probably turned meditative hearts to another level of reflection concerning St. John the Baptist as Precursor. In the light of the Summer Solstice, his birthday, its date fixed very clearly from the words of the Archangel Gabriel in Luke’s Gospel to the Virgin Mary “and she who was thought to be barren is now in her sixth month” (March to June makes St. John a baby come to full term!), took on new importance in the lives of people with solar calendar connections and an awareness of their immediate surroundings going beyond air-conditioning and electric lighting.
Perhaps it would be enough just to keep these dates in mind and thereby be better connected to the Good News of our Salvation. Then again, why retreat from the field and leave this beautiful time of year to Stone Hedge pilgrims and mediaeval jousting and juggling acts? Christ’s victory announced by the greatest of all men born of woman (though least in the Kingdom) is more than a moral victory. Jesus leads our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with them the just of all times into everlasting light. Let there be Light in our neon world as well! Let John the Baptist and his solstice connection lead us to the Light Who is Christ!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Into the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity

I suppose there was a time when a perfect stranger would dare not have asked personal questions of a young man concerning his marital status and what sort of girl he hoped to marry some day. They certainly would not have done it on TV, but then again the young man would dare not have responded so publicly either. He also would not dare limit his choice of girl, pronouncing himself only on the basis of height, weight, hair and eye color. But it happens now, as I have seen time and again in interviews on TV. I guess one could say, "well, that's TV. In real life, normal people are more reserved about such things and in his heart of heart, even today, a young man is looking not for a blond or brunette with a certain type of bone structure but for a friend and lover, a good mother for his children." Would that it were so.
Although I'd like to believe in the thoughtfulness and purpose of youth, just like I'd like to believe that there's a silent majority out there somewhere which respects life and loves God, the point is that this sad little TV interview I mentioned is not far from where many folks are, both young and not so young. I can remember some years ago a childhood friend called me to tell me that her husband of over 15 years had walked out the door on her for a younger woman. When she asked him why, he responded with a very criptic "You're no fun any more." Sad but true: I suspect there are more folks out there shopping for a marriage partner on the basis of eye color than we'd like to believe. No doubt I'd be kidding myself too if I were to insist that the so-called pars sanior (the healthier part) of society is the greater part. There's lots of good out there, but there's also lots that needs to heal and grow. For all the progress our world may boast about, we need to talk today, perhaps more than ever, about where truth is to be found and what really makes life better, what makes things right in the world. The sad little orphan in the Broadway musical Oliver sings and asks the question in his loneliness, "Where is love?" Where indeed is love? Who is truly happy and why?
An important part of the effort which should characterize our reflection on this day of rest called Trinity Sunday is that theological dimension of the whole doctrine of who God is in His very self. Our effort today is about coming to grips in our individual lives as Christians with the beautiful truth of the threeness of persons in one being. God is one and three. This Sunday, above all others, invites preachers to be: teachers and affirmers of the greatness of our God.
On the other hand, what does the message of Trinity Sunday have to do with confronting what we might label "the life of empty show"? Much in every way, I would say, in that immersed within the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity - in God - is where we ultimately want to be or should want to be. The grass whithers, the flower fades, blonds and brunettes all eventually gray, and at certain age, a man has to look into the mirror and see that he's not "cute" anymore. The truth about what it means to live life to the full is not to be found in that "travel channel show" about the Caribbean vacation, eating raw shellfish and dancing until dawn under the coconut palms. As you may have suspected, the boring parts were edited out to give room for the commercials. The fullness of life is Christ in God. Life is as it is perfectly within the Trinity. God-like oneness, the treasuring of the other, the recognition of the other as seen in God's eyes is our goal, our life's project. To the extent that I, as a temple of divine life, can do God's work of renewing the face of the earth by allowing His Light, Life and Love to fill the lives of others, to that extent really I am accomplishing the purpose for which I was created.

The Dewey decimal system put the categories of sports and arts together and rightly so. Youth, health, and appearance are not the be-all and end-all of human existence, however. There are those who achieve on the sports flied or on the stage, in the concert hall, but otherwise live the life of empty show and there are those who are intrigued by them and in some way wish they could or hadn't in some way fallen short of that lifestyle because they didn't practice the flute or haven't the credit line they needed for the plastic surgery and the personal trainer to make it all possible. We would do better if we were to choose God as the light of our lives.

In the lives of some of the saints it is recounted that at the moment of death the scars of their suffering and illness disappeared and the room where they died was filled with a wonderful fragrance. In other words, it is in death that people recognized the beauty and purpose of a life of self-sacrifice and suffering. One of the dimensions of the Feast of the Visitation is recognizing the sanctity of the Blessed Mother in her generosity as a young woman, not dwelling on Gabriel's message for her, but responding to the angel's prompting and hurrying off to be of service to her older cousin Elizabeth. Ultimately, generosity welling up from within us because of the life of God within us should be what we hope and strive for. Both the celibate life and the married life take wings and fly to the extent that they are bound up intimately with the life of the Most Holy Trinity.
Our place really then is hidden and radiant in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The flood lights of the stage, the arena or the movie set cast a pale light by comparison with the radiance on the face of Christ shining forth in our daily lives.