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Growing into the mystery of faith -- Part VII


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The Welsh priest, R.S. Thomas, had a gift. He was a poet. And in his poem entitled “The Last Judgment,” he presents himself in the light of the divine mirror. Building upon the Psalmist’s insight, “In Your light we see light,” and also Matthew’s scene of the Last Judgment (Mt. 25), he begins to catalogue his faults and sins -- especially sins of omission:

“In health, happy,

Careless of the claim

the world’s sick

or the world’s poor.”

In a deep plea, he asks the Lord to breathe upon the mirror, evaporating what he sees there. His plea, of course, is in vain. Then there is one final sad and lamentable plea:

“Let me go back

On my two knees

Slowly to undo

The knot of life

That was tied there.”

As we know, he could not go back to undo what should not have been done. It was too late.

I have highlighted the poem because it reminds us once again of the importance of God’s gift of time. It is always filled with redemptive possibilities. And in these possibilities, we are even now capable of reflecting the Lord’s glory, as we shall see. It is part of our vocation to refract His glory in our lives.

We might begin with Christ’s own description of His coming in glory as recorded in Matthew 25. It is in this passage that Christ mystically but realistically identifies Himself with the poor and suffering of all time. And He emphasizes that we work out our salvation by recognizing and responding to Him as He comes to us in disguise.

But hidden in this scene is another truth--a truth which is important for our spiritual development. Through His resurrection and ascension, Christ displayed that He is no longer bound by categories of space and time. Because the stone in front of the tomb has been removed, He is available and approachable to all men and women of all time.

At the very beginning of his Gospel, the evangelist John notes “...we saw His (i.e. the Son’s) glory” (Jn 1:14). One might say that the rest of his Gospel is a commentary about how this glory was concretized: His gentle approach to the Samaritan woman and His ability to develop her potential so that mysteriously she led others to the Lord; the cure of the royal official’s son (Jn 4: 46); the feeding of the hungry and His teaching (Jn 6); His reaching out in forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8); and His paradoxical manifestation of Himself as Light of the World to the man born blind (Jn 9).

In many ways, we have the opportunity to reflect the Lord’s glory by our own acts of forgiveness; by our reaching out to others in care and compassion especially to the hurting world; by our acts of affirmation. It is by such acts that we anticipate and reflect the Lord’s glory.

There is one miracle, however, which I have omitted--namely the miracle of the changing of the water into wine at Cana. We should recall how John the Evangelist highlights this miracle: “Jesus did this as the beginning of His signs at Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and His disciples began to believe in Him”(Jn 2:11).

When one considers this miracle in the context of the whole Gospel, especially the raising of Lazarus and His own Resurrection, the physical changing of water into wine pales into insignificance. Moreover, in the light of the needs of the time -- numbers of blind people, or hearing-impaired or paralytics -- we wonder why exactly John highlights this not only as the first of Jesus’ signs but also as a sign through which He revealed not only His power but His glory.

In the beautiful poetic description coined by George Herbert, “quick-eyed love” noticed a need and concern. On the surface it may have appeared miniscule and insignificant. But it certainly was not to the bride and bridegroom. Consequently, it was not to Christ. And this is another dimension of His glory. He makes our own concerns His. He is willing to involve Himself in every aspect of our lives. Out of love and concern, He is truly “God with us.”

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.

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