Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Easter Light: The Promises of a Faithful Father Kept

The Easter Light is upon us today. It has been a day since the wonderful liturgy of the Easter Vigil has passed into the night, as it were. And the blessings continue to flow with the Light of the new day. And in keeping with the promises He has bestowed on us, I now have kept one promise given to a friend—to finish a book lent in earnest. And my, the spiritual gifts of the book.

And yet, as grace would have it, that was not the first. But I must work my way back to unravel the graces bestowed to me in most serendipitous ways. First we must start with the Easter Light we celebrate that today. As I have heard on television this morning upon waking and have read in the book this evening before writing at this late hour, St. Augustine aptly pointed out that the New Covenant is concealed in the Old, while the Old is revealed in the New. And in the New is Jesus Christ, our Easter Light. There are no coincidences. And this is where I begin for I am a man called to action in Word and, now, in deed.

For some months I have been wrestling with my place in the future ahead. The storms have started once more, and darkness had set in. And this is where I started reading Scott Hahn's A Father Who Keeps His Promises at the behest of a gentle friend. I will unveil the wrestling in due time, but here I will speak of the action the Lord calls me to. It is through this book that I have found the Call reaffirmed.

First, I must admit I go looking for affirmation, sometimes in the wrong places, but I more often than not rest in areas where the affirmation is pure and luminous as day. This book is one of those. While it begins slowly, recounting Israel's long Biblical history with many asides, it warms to the heart of the matter starting with Moses through the desert and especially with Chapter Ten: "Choose This Day Whom You Will Serve!": From Conquest to Kingdom. It the start of the chapter that jumps out to me:
Every parent knows the feeling. Your beautiful little baby is growing and learning how to talk. Then suddenly he discovers the word that changes everything: NO! - pg. 191

It is here that I began to connect this analogy with something I saw last night at the Vigil Mass in the balcony. As we began the Mass, filling the pews of the whole church from top to bottom, I sat down behind a young family—husband and wife with their baby daughter—with the whole church aglow with the Easter light on each of our candles, making the church a sea of candlelight. The baby's eyes were filled with awe and amazement at the light and could not help but be captivated with the candles, her eyes large drinking in the light from all of the darkness of the Sanctuary. I, in turn, could not take my eyes from this scene.

I was drawn to remain there viewing this calm child, eyes full of wonder. It was a drastic change from Friday and Thursday when the older children were almost a terror of complaints, even though they had light to its fullest. But here was the child content with light's simplicity, mere candlelight in a church. Alas, it was not to remain. Upon completing the first part of the Easter Vigil, the Service of Light, the candles are extinguished and the next component of the Vigil, the Liturgy of the Word, begins. It is here that seven readings of the Old Testament are read, an Epistle reading, and then the Gospel reading. It is a full recount of Salvation History. And, in it, we are plunged into darkness with the readings of the Old Testament. It is here the once content child went into a crying fit that drew the family to the antechamber to the bathroom at the back—and never back to their seats in the pews that evening. Very much like the children at each of these stages, we too are with God and His plan. Yes, the fullness of God's light will again appear—in even greater glory—and the whole church will be filled with the fullness of Light as we sing our Glory of God and then hear the words "He has been risen!" with the readings of the New Testament. But we grow confused at times and throw up our voices in terrorized cries.

And so I was with that child at the Vigil in spirit. I have felt as though I was lost in the darkness of the moment and unable to realize that the Light was coming very soon. I will not forget this moment of revelation and enlightened meaning. It is true; we will falter away from the Lord at times. We will not be true to our own word. But the Lord God will always be true to His Word. He will never fail to raise His Word to new heights for the salvation of all, if we only know what to ask of Him in His infinite mercy. We are given the opportunity to be His children with Christ in the fulfillment of the Old. And in this fulfillment there is great promise!

And here I am now, called to action. I am still wrestling with the darkness at times, but the candlelight has returned. The flicker of light dances before my eyes, and my eyes can do nothing but drink in this light day by day.

The Vigil and its images and my completion of the reading of Scott Hahn's A Father Who Keeps His Promises do much to keep that flickering light before me now. And in that I find the Quenchless Light I poetically wrote about last April. It is a Quenchless Light for all nations. It is not dispelled by the night. No, it grows even brighter in the darkness. It displaces the night and it transforms the day, too. It is this Light that Scott Hahn speaks to in Chapter Twelve: "It Is Finished!": The Son Fulfills the Father's Promises.

It is here that Hahn does a masterful job of weaving the tapestry's loose ends together to point to the shining moment of Jesus' salvific role in all of Creation and does a magnificent job explaining the Triduum, from Holy Thursday to the end of Holy Saturday in the Easter Vigil. And the connections could not be ignored by me after experiencing the Jewish Passover on Wednesday night. Hahn's four points in this chapter nail the case shut for the seamless sacrifice from Holy Thursday to Good Friday when Jesus would, as He said, "drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25).

His words, "It is finished!" are in fact the closing of the Jewish Passover performed, with Him as both Sacrifice and High Priest, for as Hahn stated:
For example, when Jesus stood before Pilate (see John 18:33-37), John notes this seemingly unrelated fact: "Now it was the day of preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour." Surely, John knew that the sixth hour was the time when the priests were to begin slaughtering the lambs for Passover. - pg. 228

What magnificent connection! It was something I was pondering with another friend last week who accompanied me to the Jewish Seder meal. It was that Wednesday evening, the start of the Jewish Passover, that we put that question to task, scouring ourselves to the placement of the mention of Passover in the Gospels. It was one of the ones least reticent but at the same time the most, too. Again, there is no coincidence, no passing chance in Scripture.

As Hahn correctly relates the Passover Haggadah to the "once and for all time" perpetual sacrifice found in "the perfection and perpetuity of [Jesus'] self-offering." As Hahn continues, "It can be represented upon our altars through the Eucharist, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that 'through him [we] continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God' (Heb 13:15)" (pg. 239).

And it is pointing out the connections that this convert to Catholicism has enlightened me this Easter. And in the last chapter Hahn even hints to John Paul II's Theology of the Body connections within Paul's two metaphors of the Church being part of the Body of Christ and at the same time the Bride for the Bridegroom Jesus Christ. It is in and through the irony of the Gospel of John that Hahn magnifies the mysteries of the Church as Bride and Body of Christ. These two metaphors are not disconnected but very connected with the wedding feast brought to fore in the Gospel of John and again in the Book of Revelation.

And yet it is here in the thirteen and last chapter that I find some of the greatest spiritual gold from Hahn that echoes John Paul II's words, too. Hahn writes:
[...] We desire intimacy, sexual union. We find it in other persons. But that desire points to a deeper desire, which only union with God can meet; and union with God proves to be deep intimacy, unimaginable ecstasy, infinite fulfillment of the desire to love and be loved, to give and receive totally, to become one with the other.

This is truth that only the mystic can really understand; but then, mystics are lovers. And God wants us to be lovers.
- pg. 256

And yet, I still feel very much like David described by Hahn in Chapter Eleven: "Thou Art the Man!": From Kingdom to Exile and also at the close of Chapter Ten, too. It should be no surprise though, as I even share part of my name with him. I have identified a great deal with David, even from youth. And especially over the past few years I have now identified with him for his passion of "vignettes of agony and ecstasy, hate and love, despair and victory, scorn and praise [that] capture this man's unusually sensitive nature as well as his gift with words and music" (pg. 215).

I feel a connection with David's strain of humility during his encounter with Goliath where he wasn't fearless but stood on principle to be the instrument of God's will. As Hahn states, "God has always been and still is looking for people who see themselves as lowly, who are humble before the Lord and fear the Creator more than their fellow creatures" (pg. 213).

And yet David's own passionate flaws are with me, too. As they are with all of humanity. It's that longing I have already quoted from Hahn. But here it speaks directly to David's lustful heart. How do we deal with the lust that enters into our hearts? We must take assessment of it as it comes and redirect the thoughts. And yet, with repentant hearts, then move forward. The same flaws can be—and ought to be—redeemed through Christ. For as David bears the wounds of his sins of adultery and still lives, so Christ bears all our sins and retains the wounds redeemed in resurrection. And there is what we should ask for—redemption of our wounded selves through Christ's death and resurrection.

And still there was more that spoke to me, for long have I reflected on my vocation. And long have I pondered the plans the Lord has for my heart. And I have had many who press me to continue to consider my vocation as if I need to either make a decision at this moment or put it off for what might seem like eternity. But there is a third road, one of embracing the current state of singleness.

I am embracing this third way, but I cannot help but to feel the unveiling of the vocation the Lord has planted on my heart.

This decision that I have encountered buried deep within my heart is that towards marriage. The little moments point to that. The dreams follow the path. The singular desire to concentrate my gift of love is present. The yearning to pass on the Word is there. A patient teaching heart is there also. The tender concern is enkindled and burns within, but I am yet without another to tend the home fires. It is acceptable and right, as I know from prayer and reflection, to still be waiting and biding my time in the Father's bliss. I have still a great deal of time before I too advance in "wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Luke 2:52). I have much still to learn as I go down this vocational road accepting the promises of a Faithful Father.

Neither is it a blessing nor a curse. It is a transitory period in the Lord's calling to my heart. And still I have uncovered a decision in the midst of this current transitory period that is at times marked with darkness. I will go on further in another post on this process in greater detail, but—suffice to say for the present late hour—it is of great joy. And still it is not full of consolation, but Joy encompasses both consolation and desolation. Joy fills the voids between the two and is in each two. For Joy can be both bitter and sweet and fill the hearts and call us to speak. And it is in this Easter Joy that I have been graced to speak this evening, to speak from the heart. It has been a most gracious day of enlightenment of the heart.

The closing of Hahn's book speaks to me like a love letter from the Lord, a call to my vocational search:
The crisis of the Church is not reducible to the lack of good catechists, liturgies, theologians and so forth. It's a crisis of saints. But it's a crisis that our Father can be trusted to handle, especially if we allow him to keep his promises to us. "I am sure that he who began a good work within you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:6). So with Pope John Paul II, I urge you, "Make yourselves saints, and do so quickly!" - pg. 262

His mercy endures forever. Trust in Him, for his mercy endures forever. His mercy endures forever. Alleluia!

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