Spring is springing. Bees are buzzing. Flowers are blooming. All of creation is proclaiming the message of Easter – new life! If God is speaking to us through the natural world, then it’s clear that one of his favorite subjects, especially this time of year, is mating and fertility, coupling and life-givingness. One has to be blind not to recognize this unending song of love and life everywhere.
If what I’m saying sounds crazy, “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you” (Job 12:7-8). Listen, and you will hear all of nature singing its own version of the Song of Songs, that biblical “ode to eros” that whispers the secrets of divine love … and the secrets of Easter!
This weekend we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. In the second reading, St. Peter tells us that God “in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” When we read Scripture with spousal lenses, verses like this leap out at us. One of the Hebrew words often translated into English as “compassion” or “mercy” originally referred to a woman’s womb. We are given new birth through God’s mercy precisely through the waters of baptism. And baptism, St. John Paul II tells us, is “the expression of spousal love” (TOB 91:7). When Christ’s spousal love is poured out in the sacrament of Baptism, his Church-Bride “brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life” (CCC 507). This is a virginal birth, of course, by grace. Nonetheless, there is a certain analogy between the two orders (nature and grace). Since grace builds on nature, the natural way of conception and birth serves in some way as the model of supernatural conception and birth. How are we naturally begotten? Through the union of man and woman. How are we supernaturally begotten? Through the union of Christ and the Church. This new inheritance grants us the salvation that, as St. Peter tells us, is the goal of our faith!
Is there more “mad eros” than that which led Christ to die for us on the Cross? This is a question posed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Lenten Message of 2007, which I quoted in last week’s blog. “On the Cross, God’s eros for us is made manifest,” he proclaimed. “Eros is indeed … that force which ‘does not allow the lover to remain in himself but moves him to become one with the beloved.’”
The more we allow the brilliant rays of Christ’s “mad eros” to illuminate our vision, the more we come to understand, as the Catechism observes, how the “entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery” (CCC 1617). Here “the ‘imperishable seed’ of the Word of God produces its life-giving effect” (CCC 1228). The “imperishable seed” is given by Christ as Bridegroom and received by the Church as Bride. And through these glorious virginal nuptials, the Church brings forth sons and daughters “to a new and immortal life” (CCC 507).
Still, as glorious as Baptism is, it’s only our entry into the Christian life, not its summit. Baptism opens the way to the sacrament of sacraments, the mystery of mysteries; Baptism “is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). This is what Holy Thursday is all about, so let’s see how Christ’s “mad eros” illuminates what happened at the Last Supper.
In Easter Sunday’s Gospel reading, John mentions that both he and Peter “saw the burial cloths” in the tomb. Recall that when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, someone had to untie Lazarus from his burial cloths. But Christ’s resurrection takes the human body to a realm beyond the resurrection of Lazarus, who later died again. As the Catechism teaches, the fact that Christ’s burial cloths were left behind signiﬁes that “Christ’s body had escaped the bonds of death and corruption” (CCC 657). Astounding! Perhaps we’ve heard it too many times for it to impact us. Ask for new ears to hear this proclamation: Christ’s body has escaped the bonds of death and corruption! And here’s the good part for us – we have been invited into the same glory of life beyond death! As Paul says in this weekend’s second reading: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” Lord, help us enter in!
Icon of Christ the Bridegroom. (Creative Commons)
Welcome to “The Week of the Bridegroom”! This, as I mentioned in my previous blog, is what the Byzantine Church calls Holy Week. On the one hand, it should strike us deeply that the holiest time of the year is described in such vivid nuptial terms. On the other hand, if we are familiar with the central theme of Scripture (God’s desire to marry us) and what happens during Holy Week (the consummation of the marriage), this shouldn’t surprise us at all.