The Second Phase of Holiness: The Cloud

Cloud-of-Glory

This week we continue our journey with St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Three Ways of Holiness.  Last week we joined Moses before the burning bush as he was illumined, made aware of his identity in relationship with God.  Now, we ascend with him up the mountain into the cloud of God’s holy presence.  The cloud is a great place to be because we know we are with God… but it’s also hard.  The cloud is dark.  It obscures our sight.  We may become frightened, unsure of our footing.

Why this cloud?  St. John of the Cross called the cloud, “the dark night of the senses.” (Note: St. John also speaks of a dark night of the soul, which is slightly different and which we won’t be covering here.) Having entered God’s presence in phase one… and having begun to experience his goodness perhaps even as a matter of habit/second-nature something happens.  The world of sensory perception begins to go stale.  It’s not that the good and beautiful things, relationships, experiences that provided those burning bush moments are any less good, but we perceive their limits, and our hearts yearn for more.  They want the invisible God behind the visible signs.  The sensory world that relies so heavily on our mortal selves doesn’t satisfy the way it used to and this becomes a kind of darkness.

How do we go forward? To begin with, this Sunday we learn that we are not alone.  Christ himself had a deep relationship with the Father.  At the Baptism in the Jordan he heard the Father’s voice, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:22).  Well, someone forgot to tell the people of Nazareth, because when Jesus gave them the Good News (as we hear this week) they tried to throw him off a cliff!  On his journey, Jesus too enters the cloud which obscures not only the way forward, but sometimes even our sensory perception of the Father’s love.  In the cloud we are tempted to say, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?!”  

How do we function in this cloud?  The first two readings give us a clue: we dive into those gifts of God which define our humanity:  We recall with our intellect that God, as Jeremiah reveals, made us and that we are wonderfully made!  With intellectual conviction springing from both our own history and his revelation we make an act of the will, “I will go on confident that God never abandons his creation!”  Intellect and Rational Will… the two things that distinguish us from all the other animals on earth allow us to persevere in the cloud.  Related to these is a particular act of the will – noted in the second reading – LOVE.

Love (a.k.a. charity – caritas), as enunciated by Josef Pieper, is a virtue by which we affirm the life of another through self-sacrifice.  Love/charity is a choice we make.  Trained in the ways of charity (cf. I Peter 1, esp. verse 22) we get better and better at forging forward in the cloud.  Love takes on a deeper form than it did in Phase I.  Before, it was desire, before it was affection… it was easily sustained by the senses.  Now, love takes on a new character as it becomes an act of rationally chosen suffering sacrifice.  It matures from the “mother’s milk” of St. Paul’s first preaching to solid food that requires a more mature effort (cf I Cor 3:2 and I Pt. 2:2).  This understanding of love as something rationally chosen even to the point of self-sacrifice helps us understand why Love is the most human thing anyone can do… and thus the best way to fulfill our God-given identity…and thus move closer to heaven.

Where does this darkness/obscurity come from?  Sometimes it’s an honest test from God who allows us to be challenged in order to strengthen our faith.  History is replete with examples, most especially Job. There is another reason for the obscurity of the cloud.  Just as the bright side of our humanity helps us move forward, the darker sides hinder us. The limits of sensory perception, and human understanding are both forms of darkness.  Sin, likewise, obscures our view of the way forward; sometimes our own sins, sometimes the effects of others’.  Even here though, by tenaciously holding on to Jeremiah’s truth about our origins… and by choosing love, we move forward… so that, with Christ, we can pass through the midst of troubles and continue on the path laid out for us by the Father.

When in doubt return to the sacraments

Just a quick Saturday note before we move on to the Second Phase of Holiness Sunday…

In the illuminative phase we’ve meditated a lot on different types of sensory perception that foster “burning bush” moments in which we perceive God’s love direction us:

Direct interventions by God (e.g. St. Paul o the Damascus Road)
Relationships (e.g. Sts. Timothy and Titus)
The power of art to foster the good.

There is one more very primordial sensory experience that is critical to the illuminative way: the Sacraments.  Radical experiences of revelation are infrequent.  Relationships, as we all know, can go well or badly, and art… well it’s in rare a supply nowadays.  These fonts are all too often unsure… but the sacraments are not.

When I prepare couples here on Captiol Hill for marriage one of the first homework assignments I give them is to secure their baptism certificates.  At first it seems like a hoop to jump through… a bit of ecclesiastical bureaucracy… but, as I remind the couples, the documentation gives us confidence.  It reminds us of an objective historical fact: “I was baptized”… and therefore “I am Christian.”  No matter how one may feel at a given moment… no matter how our friendships are going or how inspired we may be by art or the weather or anything else, when the water hit your head and the priest said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you became a Christian.  That sensory experience establishes a cosmic truth… a rock you can stand on.  And if over the course of a lifetime we obscure that truth by making bad choices (i.e. committing sins), there is another sensory experience available to us, which restores us: Confession.  In that quiet space talking with our Father in Heaven we hear his words, “I absolve you of all your sins.  Go in peace!” It actually happened.  For more on the nature of the sacraments, consult the Catechism.

The point is this: when a sacrament is achieved it has a reality independent of us.  Our own insecurities don’t affect the fact that the sacrament has happened; God has touched us.  On that solid rock, we stand, assured that God is providing burning bush moments for us in the family of the Church giving all of us a chance at holiness!  So when in doubt turn to the Sacraments as a great starting point for your journey.

Art and the Illuminative Way

The Madonna and Child w/ Saints (Beato Fra Angelico)
The Madonna and Child w/ Saints (Beato Fra Angelico)

Thus far, meditating on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s First Phase of Holiness we’ve touched on some significant themes: 

  • That the first stage is illuminative, a burning bush moment when God reaches into our existence to lead us by a better more meaningful way.
  • That the first stage is ethical, inviting our humanity to grow and exercise itself for the sake of virtue
  • That the first stage is sensory, lived our preeminently through relationships of deep friendship (i.e. Sts. Paul, Timothy and Titus)

Today we consider another sensory dimension of the Illuminative Phase: ART

The reflection could not be more timely.  Just yesterday President Rouhani of Iran visited Rome.  Italians were shocked to find that their own Capitoline Museum had literally boxed off nude statues in deference to the Iranian president’s religious concerns during his tour.  Personal aside: As a lover of Roman/Art and a former resident of the Eternal City, I was deeply hurt by this decision on the part of the Italian authorities.  Perhaps if Italian President Mattarella ever visits Iran, the authorities their will consider our religious/cultural beliefs by unveiling their female citizens and serving a pork roast with a robust chianti for the state dinner.

Covered Nudes in the Capitoline Museum 1/26/16 (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP) ITALY OUT
Covered Nudes in the Capitoline Museum 1/26/16 (Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP) 
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Greek Bronze Bust currently on view at the NGA’s “Power and Pathos” Exhibit

Art has been an illuminative part of human history from the beginning.  Our earliest ancestors recorded… and in some ways extended… the reach of their lives in cave paintings (for example).  Classical Western civilization had a love affair with art, to be sure.  Evidence of this is currently on display at the National Gallery’s exquisite exhibit of Greek bronzes, “Power and Pathos”   And of course Christian civilization inherited and extended this appreciation for art as God became visible entering into his own Creation, the revealed, incarnate image of the Father.  Art illumines the way to God and can play a significant role in the first stage of holiness.

The Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, DC
The Cathedral of St. Matthew, Washington, DC

All that said, the relationship between the West and art has not been without its critics.  Recognizing arts power for good and for evil, Plato recommended banishing certain artists from his ideal Republic.  The Byzantine Empire once tried to destroy all Christian art, latching on to the idea that art was idolatrous.  This iconoclasm was ended by the Church, which, without denying that one could sin by making an idol out of art, discerned that the holy goods that art could inspire were well worth the risk.  Later, proponents of the protestant reformation banished art from many of their communities for similar reasons.

How can we concisely describe the incredible illuminative power of art?  Regarding ethics (again, part of the illuminative way): what is it’s relationship with art?  Donald Beebe, in an insightful exploration of Florentine aesthetics at the time of the reformation had this to say,

“Art functions properly when it leads the beholder to worship and to emulate correct behavior.  It functions inappropriately when it exists for its own sake, when its didactic message goes unheeded or is the occasion of heterodoxy or sin.”  Beebe goes on, “As God’s creation, nature is the artist’s teacher.  In the same way, a sudden learns to draw by copying drawings produced by the master’s intellect.  Little by little, the student learns the style of the master, as the master learned to cry creation that in turn originated by the ingenio of God.”
(-Beebe, Donald.  Savonarolan Aesthetics and their Implementation in the Graphic Arts.  In: In No
Strange Land
, By: Jonathan Robinson, CO.  Angelico Press, 2015. pg.115)

Whether or not one subscribes to such an ethically-oriented sense of art is another conversation, but for our purposes, exploring the illuminative way, I think Beebe’s words are a great guide.  Along those lines, as a very practical resource, I highly recommend reading The Beauty of Holiness: Sacred Art and the New Evangelization by Jem Sullivan, PhD.  A local DC luminary in her own right, Dr. Sullivan offers a great review of the role art can play in spirituality, especially in terms of using art as a source of meditation (lectio divina).  It’s a useful essay to have in mind as you walk the streets of DC admiring our public art and architecture, hopefully drawing from it an inspiration to holiness.

For further rumination on the role of art as it inspires ethics and illumination, consider two secular reflections:

PBS’ American Experience: The Rise and Fall of Penn Station
and
Cinque Henderson’s article posted this morning on The New Yorker, “Anthem of Freedom: How Whitney Houston remade ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ ” 

 

The Illuminative Way In Detail: God Holds Our Hand

Sts. Paul Timothy and Titus
Sts. Paul Timothy and Titus

This first week of our “retreat in daily life” is dedicated to the first phase of holiness according to St. Gregory of Nyssa (see post below).  On Sunday we heard about three burning bush moments outlined in the readings (see Sunday homily).  Monday and Tuesday have, providentially, given us a holy trio ideal to this week’s meditation: Paul, Timothy and Titus.

On Monday Paul experiences his own burning bush moment when the Lord knocks him over with a blinding flash of light.  Paul’s spiritual blindness is manifest in his now physical blindness before the light… and yet “In your light we see light.” (cf Ps. 36:9).  Speaking with Jesus, Paul realizes the error of his way and accepts Christ as Messiah and Lord.  Baptized at Damascus, Paul’s conversion is complete and his sight is restored.  As we know, he goes on to a life of tremendous graces which allow him to undergo great trials even to the point of martyrdom.

The illuminative phase is a sensory thing.  Jesus reaches into our experiences and touches us.  Speaking to us through the human senses, it’s very comfortable… what Paul himself refers to as the “mother’s milk” of spirituality (I Cor. 3:2).  This is also why it’s associated with the pursuit of the virtues: things we can see and do, at first by following clear instructions then as a matter of habit.  One gets a sense of Paul passing this phase of holiness on to his disciples,  Timothy and Titus… Listen to these context phrases from the readings for their feast (today):

I yearn to see you again, recalling your tears,
so that I may be filled with joy, 
as I recall your sincere faith
that first lived in your grandmother Lois
and in your mother Eunice
and that I am confident lives also in you.
For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. (cf. II Timothy 1:1-8)

and

…to Titus, my true child in our common faith:
grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.
For this reason I left you in Crete
so that you might set right what remains to be done
and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you. (cf. Titus 1:1-5)

There’s a clear bond of trust… a familial connection even to Timothy’s mother and grandmother… These men met and knew Paul as students and eventually close co-workers, ordained by the apostle (“the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” and “appoint presbyters”).  They were led by the hand of Paul their mentor who revealed to them all he himself had discovered in that first blinding flash of light.  Taught by the master, they went on to become saints themselves.

A reasonable comparison in our time might be college students in campus ministry.  When faith is (re)awakened during college it’s an exciting time.  Everything seems joyous.  There’s friends everywhere you look and easy opportunities to learn about prayer and service from college chaplains and their co-workers.  It’s a burning bush moment familiar to many here in DC.

A question for the day: Who has been a burning bush in my life?  How has that encounter encouraged/enticed me to pursue virtue?

Preview: Tomorrow we’ll visit another sensory dimension of the first phase: ART, it’s privileges and perils!

 

Starting a spiritual journey

(Check out the Homily Page (menu above) for this week’s homily on starting a spiritual journey)

Preparing For Lent (Ash Wed., Feb. 10) we do well to put ourselves in the mood for a pilgrimage.  Lent is after all a pilgrimage with our Jewish ancestors in the Sinai, learning anew how to worship in sincerity and truth.  It’s a journey with our Lord who fasted, prayed and did combat with the devil before embarking on his own public ministry.  So we do well to know something about pilgrimage.

gregory-of-nyssa
St. Gregory of Nyssa

Countless authors have compared Christian life to a spiritual journey; one of them is St. Gregory of Nyssa who gives us three phases to watch for as we understand our own journey.  When speaking of phases, though, it’s important to recall that rarely do they occur in linear fashion (A,B,C).  Usually they’re all sort of happening at once depending on what part of life we’re examining.  Also, just because we move past point A doesn’t mean we won’t at some point revisit it.  Those caveats in mind, what is St. Gregory’s phase I? 

First, the illuminative: God breaks into our day revealing something special about our relationship with him.  Gregory uses the example of Moses who, encountering the burning bush (Exodus 3), begins a dialog with God that will bring light and definition to his life.

Likewise, this Sunday’s readings offer us three moments of light.  Nehemiah and Ezra, after reconstructing the Temple, re-read the Mosaic Law God’s People.  This Revelation reminds them how they are to live, but also reminds them how much they are loved by the God who has saved them.  They are not alone!  Second, St. Paul reveals to us the beautiful truth that we are one body in Christ.  Our unity is a blessing unto itself, but even more so because it is a unity in the Son of God… a union of adoption that elevates us, makes us recipients of his paternal Love.  What a gift to be in Christ’s body, the Church!  Finally there is the Gospel, in which Christ reveals to us that a day of great joy has dawned.  The Messiah has come to give a New Law of Grace… like Moses… to incorporate us no longer as the chosen Israel, but as part of his very Self.  This is truly Good News!

What is the goal of this phase?  In the light of God’s revelation we want – essentially – to get to know him and the workings of his light as it illumines our path.  We want that ‘lighting’ process to become habitual.  We do this by practicing virtuous living until discernment and acting on his promptings becomes second nature.  We call this goal habituated grace.  Because this goal is achieved by practicing virtue this first phase is also identified with the ethical life.

Some Questions for meditation this week: How aware am I of the Father’s Love for me? Can I list some concrete examples?  Where is he opening up a path before me?  In terms of vocation?  In terms of day-to-day getting by?  Where has he opened such paths, where has he been lighting my way in the past?

An exercise: Scan your personal history for such illuminative moments… scan your present experience for such moments… and just enjoy them!  Get to know them.  What you’re getting to know is the way God loves you in particular… and the way that he guides you uniquely among all human beings.  The more familiar we get with the illuminative way, the easier it is to discern it each day.  This keeps us moving on the path to greater holiness and happiness… and ultimately to heaven.  And that gives us hope!

Stay tuned for Phase II, next week: the way in the dark (it’s not as scary as it sounds!), and Phase III, the way of Love the week after.

 

The Turks say, “Yes.” – On the evangelical quality of sacred music


musico

This year our parish began the Advent/Christmas season with an evening of sacred music and readings in honor of Our Lady.  Last night we closed out the season with a similar concert in honor of our Lord’s Epiphany.  It was a sublime way to bookend such a sacred and joyous time.  Listening to the music and the readings from some of Christianity’s greatest writers last night, I did not forget all my troubles… but I was lifted to a place where I could see them for what they were, mere distractions from the Love of God for me.  Prayer has often been defined as “a lifting of the soul to God.”  No other medium does this in the way that music does.  That’s why in all the teaching of the Church, music is considered an integral part of Christian life… and sacred music, in particular, is not only integral but constitutive of the the Holy Mass.


For more on this concept I highly recommend reading the teachings of recent Popes and of the Second Vatican Council:

St. Pius X, “Tra le sollicitudini,
Vatican II (Bl. Paul VI) – “Musicam sacram,” and
St. John Paul II – “Chirograph on Sacred Music
My own reflection will be somewhat limited (Sunday mornings are pretty busy around here).


 

Last night, as people walked in off the street to listen to their fellow parishioners and neighbors singing great works of the western musical canon, I was reminded of a true story from one of our teacher in Rome.  Father Marcato was our professor of New Testament scripture.  A Dominican, he had spent a significant amount of time visiting holy sites from the first century in Asia Minor, especially Ephesus.  While in a Dominican priory in Turkey, he met local Christians and was amazed to discover that many were recent converts from Islam.  Turkey, while technically a secular state, doesn’t make conversion easy for its citizens, certainly Turkish civil society has little time for those who want to leave Islam.  I only mention that to highlight Fr. Marcato’s surprise at his confrere’s success in baptizing Muslim Turks.  My professor asked the local Prior, “How do you find a safe space to speak with these people about the Gospel.”  The answer: “We leave the doors open at Vespers.”  Like so many religious communities, the Dominicans in Turkey chant the psalms at Eveing Prayer, according to the customs of the Church.  Western music is infinitely more melodic than anything the local Turks experience at their mosques and so people would just walk into the Church attracted and elevated by the music.  There, in the privacy of the cloister, they could ask all the questions they wanted about this thing called Christianity, ultimately asking for Baptism.

logopic

In American parishes our musical development has been largely stunted these last several decades.  The reasons are many, too many to examine here.


**For more, consider reading Thomas Day’s excellent book, “Why Catholic’s Can’t Sing,” and its follow up by Jeffrey Tucker, “Sing Like a Catholic.”  (the second book is slightly polemical expressing the author’s heartfelt concern for the spread of the Gospel and the quality of music, but it’s points are well-made and researched)


Among the many reasons given I can anecdotally relate one: We need to make Church more accessible.  Access is good, all people should be able to access the Truths of the Gospel, but all too often our imperfect human nature slides from “accessible” music to “comfortable” music, and then to music which is purely of this earth… and by definition then, “secular.”  What begins as a well-intentioned desire to give people access to the saving truths of the Gospel too often ends in parish music programs that trap people in earthly categories.

Last night’s concert (and really all the music our choir presents at Mass) reminded me once again that “hard” and “challenging” are not the same as “bad.”  …that humbling ourselves before the musical patrimony of the Church can be a new, even an uncomfortable experience at first, but that it ultimately rewards us with tasting heaven on earth… and that gives HOPE.  To use a family analogy, it’s like  giving yourself over to a grandmother’s hug.  When you’re a kid, it’s often awkward, even embarrassing to be smothered in the love of an older relative… but when you get over it, you realize, there’s nothing more affirming or elevating that the warm (if sometimes choking) embrace of family.  If more of our parishes embraced people with sublime sacred music, might we win more converts?  The Turks would say yes.

clerics

The Baptism of the Son, The Blessing of the Father

My parish (St. Peter on Capitol Hill) is a city parish.  It’s literally at the geographic heart of Washington DC.  Unlike many city parishes though, it’s almost entirely residential.  As Washington continues to renew itself our parish becomes more and more a parish of families with small children.  Looking out over the crowd on Sunday it’s a joy to see couples whose lives have been defined in this place.  Often one or both spouses have converted to Catholicism in this parish… then married… then baptized their kids in this parish… all in just the last few years.  So, this coming Sunday’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a very beautiful time for us.  There’s a moment in the baptism of the Lord that we don’t always think about, “…a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'” (cf Lk 3:15-22)  It’s impossible to celebrate baptism as part of Jesus’ life… as part of our lives… without celebrating the voice of a Father blessing his child.  Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of the Father… Likewise children are the revelation of their fathers.  Like Abraham handing on his legacy to Isaac, the Father hands on his very self to Jesus… and Catholic dad’s are invited to hand on their very selves to their kids in the moment of baptism.  But the legacy we leave our children will depend largely on how we live our lives.

Over the last several weeks we’ve focused a lot (and rightly so) on the contributions made by Jesus’ mother, Mary.  So it takes nothing away from the honor of mothers if this Sunday wet think a bit about the contributions of Jesus’ Father, THE Father… and likewise our dads here on earth.  Gentleman, just as Mary plays a unique, irreplaceable role, in the life of Jesus, so too the Father in his life and you in  your kids’ lives.  Do not surrender that role!  Do not surrender time and care spent with your kids… do not surrender it to pornography or career or drink, or comfort.  Do not surrender a future with your kids to the limits placed on you by anything that may have happened in the past.  It is the past.  It is over.  How do we unshackle ourselves from past sins, past appetites, past inclinations?  Take advantage of this year of mercy.  Spend it talking with the men of your parish, with your parish priest, with your Father in heaven.  Go to confession.  Use this time of special graces to renew yourself and so renew the gift you leave to your children.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, I HIGHLY recommend a letter written by Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, AZ.  As the father of his diocese he has penned a beautiful and encouraging exhortation to the men of his local church.  I hope you find it as edifying as I have.  For a taste of it, check out the youtube video above.

Macbeth and the Oxymoron of Christian Tragedy

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Later today, as part of my day off, I’m going to see one of my favorite Shakespearean plays take life on the big screen: Macbeth.  It’s playing at one of DC’s “artsy” theaters, the Landmark E Street Cinema.  Macbeth… sometimes known in the theater as, “the Scottish Play,” due to a myth that the play is cursed… is the story of a man who wanted too much.  At the instigation of his own appetites, egged on by his iconic wife -the infamous Lady Macbeth- the main character seizes the throne of Scotland, only to be overthrown by his fellow nobles.  In the end everyone dies, completing one Shakespeare’s most tragic tragedies.  That’s one mark of a tragedy, everyone dies.  Another is that you’re usually rooting for the (anti)hero by the end of the play, opera, film, what have you.  Villainous as he is, you almost want Macbeth to win, if only because he’s worked so hard for it.  Likewise, my favorite movie trilogy of all time, The Godfather.  In Mario Puzo’s legendary drama, Michael Corleone strives mightily to protect his family, albeit by criminal means.  The tragic irony is that in the end his crimeskill the very family he so wanted to save.

Why is tragedy an enduring and appealing part of the western tradition?  I think, because of empathy.  To various degrees all of us have seen our best efforts come to failure, our brightest intentions soiled in the execution.  Our hearts are moved with pity for those characters in whom we see something of ourselves… even if the thing we see is the sad working of our fallen nature.  Christ’s heart was likewise, “moved with pity,” as he saw us as “sheep without a shepherd.” (cf Mt. 9:36).  In his humanity, Jesus is totally able to empathize with us, just as we do with our favorite literary characters.  In his divinity, Christ does what we can never do; he saves us.  We’ll come back to this…

Also appealing about tragedy is this: in the end, the slates are wiped totally clean; everybody dies… except one or two lesser characters who remain to tell the tale and [hopefully] learn from it (think Fortinbras in Hamlet, Henry Richmond in Richard III).  While this leaves us sad, it is also – in a sense – symmetrical… the totality of destruction means a new beginning.

This raises an interesting question: Is there such a thing as Christian tragedy?  Or is it an oxymoron? In tragedy, everyone dies and the slate is wiped clean… but in Christian understanding Christ can save a justified soul, even in death.  Everyone can die, and yet, not die.  Consider Jean Anouilh’s play, Becket (famously brought to life in the 1964 film of the same title).  Thomas Becket, virtuous archbishop of Canterbury is martyred by his once-friend, King Henry II who, though he remains king has damned himself.  But thanks to Christ, Becket becomes a martyr-saint… and Henry has a chance to do penance to redeem himself.  Christ snatches triumph from tragedy… there’s a new slate, but it’s filled with life not death.  So, is there such a thing as Christian tragedy?

Insofar as refusing the mercy of God is the only unforgivable sin (cf. Mk 3:29), I suppose so, but for the most part that’s it… an author has to divorce his/her characters from all substantial contact with God in order to guarantee real tragedy.  Again, think of our friend Michael Corleone: In the much maligned Godfather III he goes to confession but refuses to change… and just to hammer the point home, the archbishop says, “your sins could be forgiven, but I know you don’t believe this.”  The only way for the saga to end in real tragedy is for him to overtly deny the possibility of his own salvation in Christ.

It makes sense, really… not just Biblically, but from a literary point of view.  Tragedy comes to us from the pagan Greeks.  It is renewed in the western canon by renaissance authors who – though Christian – were conscientiously resuscitating Greco-Roman culture.  The only way to really kill EVERYONE is to distance them from Christian thought.

What’s the upshot of all of this?  In this  year of mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, we see the absolute beauty of the Church’s Christian faith… that as long as we hold on to Christ, real tragedy is banished by him who conquers death for us.  Look at tragedy through eyes of faith and you’ll realize the magnitude of the gift Christ gives his faithful each and every day.