I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us...For in hope we were saved. - Romans 8
In hope, man reaches “with restless heart”, with confidence and patient expectation, toward the arduous “not yet” of fulfillment, whether natural or supernatural. – Josef Pieper
The above painting is a famous rendition of the "Noli me tangere", or "Don't touch me". The scene is taken from the gospel of John; a heart wrenching scene after the resurrection wherein Jesus does not allow Mary Magdalene to embrace him, though she desires it most fervently. Her great Good is present, but unable to be grasped.
Here is the passage: Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-bo'ni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Mary Mag'dalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
The post-resurrection scene is a fitting image of the tension of the Christian life. Mary Magdalene already tasting the "first fruits" of salvation, but not yet possessing God comprehensively as she will in heaven. The Risen Christ is there, but just out of her reach...drawing her onward and upward by the glory of his goodness, yet not in a way that negates her need to walk. And so it is for all Christians; the presence of God in our lives is as marked as his absence, the fullness of vision and embrace must be awaited.
Today, I had the occasion of speaking to our senior class during their Desert Day retreat. The theme of my remarks was hope. Real hope. Not the naive optimism fed to many of them since their youth that "everything's okay" and "everything will work out". People, who speak this way mean well. I've spoken this way. I still speak this way! But I try to speak thus less and less; and certainly not when something truly evil befalls someone. If this kind of talk is not founded solidly on the reality of God, then it is only a well-wishing prescription for cynicism and despair because one good look around our world will tell an honest person that contrariwise to the "it'll all work out attitude" the seeming reality is that things don't necessarily work out, that something is quite fundamentally wrong with the world. Karma is no real answer...
In order set the stage for them, I told them the story about my mother's hired dishwasher from a poor country in Africa. His story is quite incredible. What a joy Girard is! Upon being hired, he would thank my mother in broken English multiple times a day for his job. He brought a little more class to the back of the house by dressing in slacks and a button down shirt everyday. And most of all, he would sing, sing, sing, all day as he washed the dishes. One day my mother asked him what he was singing. The psalms he answered. Girard, mind you, is running for his life. He has experienced tragedies of the greatest kind from his youth. And yet, joy would radiate from him. Clearly this man was a bright light warming and illuminating the all-too-often dreariness of daily work. One day Girard stopped singing. He received news that his brother and sister were beaten to death back home because they were Christian. He stopped singing. Josef Pieper rightly pointed out that only the lover sings; I think it is true, whether the song is a dirge or hymn of praise. Girard stopped singing because, I think, silence is our response in the face of evil not yet processed.
Girard, like all of us who take the time to examine the real state of affairs in our lives, did not need platitudes about "seeing the cup half full" or some other rubbish in order to find a reason to forge ahead in the pursuit of happiness. His reason to forge ahead contains a cruciform God. We don't need naive optimism. We need hope; a hope that according to St. Paul saves us. This is precisely the hope that I tried to communicate to our students today. Christ is our only hope, because in him the omnipotence of God has become the ready succour offered to the sinful lot of humanity trying to forge ahead through a life marked by doubt, death, and difficulties of all kinds. The good news is that Girard has recently started singing again. The hopeful dirge can be heard quietly under the din of the clashing plates and knives today.
It seems that Girard would readily attest to the truth of this quote by an ancient Christian writer...
Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him.
The best gifts are the givers. - Fr. James Schall, SJ
There are few things quite so pleasing than fishing with a friend on a nice day. The fishing by itself is for many people worthwhile, but fishing with a friend is a different thing. It is a richer experience because it is shared with a friend. St. Thomas Aquinas even wondered to himself "if anyone could live without friends"? Our Lord himself came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. I think that our understanding of what he actually meant by the abundant life is revealed by friendship, or better yet within friendship.
If we pay attention to the farewell discourse of our Lord in the gospel of John, we notice that at precisely the time in which he wanted to share with his disciples what was most important to him, Jesus revealed a new relationship between God and his beloved human family. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." This divine friendship...this relationship by which God has befriended us through sharing himself with us is the greatest gift we can hope for in our lives and the lives of our students. Indeed, Fr. Schall's quote is eminently true when considered in light of Christ's gift of himself to us in the offer of friendship.
Those of us who are blessed enough to have one or two people in our lives we can call true friends might have intuited that God's offer of friendship to us in his Son is not the only friendship in which he is involved. We might have thought to ourselves, "Thank you Lord for giving me this person as a friend!" C.S. Lewis has a wonderful quote that supports such thoughts. He says: "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
What a beautiful way to understand the people God has placed in our lives. Lewis points out that in God's Providence he provides for us the gift of other people as a sign of his love for us and more importantly as a way of growing in our friendship with him through virtuous human friendships that lead us to God. In this way fishing with a true friend can be one of the most important ways that God prepares us and sustains us in divine friendship.
As Fr. Schall says, "We often talk of 'making new friends'. This is precisely what we do not do. We discover others already "there", already "made", as it were, not products of our own fashioning, even though we influence our friends and they us. But this 'influence' or 'love' we bear to our friends ought to make them what they are, not more what we are or want them to be. Friends are in the nature of gifts, not artifacts. Friends are the highest realization of the notion that to us all things are gifts. The concept of gift... stands close to the essence of the highest things."
It is my hope that these reflections on friendship were as helpful to the sophomore students on their Desert Day as they have been to me. I too, wonder with St. Thomas how one could live without friends. In your vocation as parents, I encourage you to ponder the importance of friendship in the life of your child or children. It is much more important than serving the purpose of socialization or fun. It is not about being in the in-crowd. It is not even something that comes and goes with the changing of time and tastes. Rather, friendship is one of the most profound ways that God desires to draw us to himself, who offers to us divine friendship in Christ. Be aware of who your children hang out with and what they do. Provide for them guidance in their friendships by your advice, your example, and above all your own friendship with our Lord. Teach them to respect and reverence their friends. For truly a friend is a gift, and in it we find that the best gifts are the givers themselves.