Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Glory!

As we limp our way through the COVID-19 virus, separated from each other for nearly a month now, it does us well to celebrate Easter and to be reminded of the resurrection that it promises for us all. 

On my morning walk yesterday, I had occasion to listen to C.S. Lewis' "The Weight of Glory,"  a sermon he gave in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England, on June 8, 1941. 

It is important to remember the context. After the Nazis brutally steamrolled continental Europe and defeated France, they used France as a launch point to wage war on Britain, their last substantial European enemy. The “Battle of Britain” began with relentless bombing of the Luftwaffe on English cities and strategic military positions in August of 1940, all as a precursor to a planned invasion across the English Channel. The Royal Air Force  defended Great Britain admirably, and though we know in hindsight the German invasion never happened,  it was a terrifying, uncertain time for Brits, whose life consisted of rationing, air raids, death of loved ones, and fear for their country's survival.

An address about heaven, delivered by a university professor, even one of Lewis’ reputation, might have seemed ridiculously out of touch given these exigencies, and I guessing some of his critics said as much. But for those in the Church that night, Lewis' inspired vision of the glory that awaits us in heaven, and the “weight” on each of us to lead our neighbor to this glory, likely proved to be the opposite: a stirring commission that reminded those present of their noble purpose and ultimate end, giving them serenity and conviction to endure. 

As for me, trivially inconvenienced by "social distancing" some eighty years later, it stopped me in my tracks.

Here's how he finishes:

We now come to the second meaning of glory. The Bible says we are to shine as the sun (cf. Matt. 13:43) and to receive the morning star (Rev. 2:28).

Of course we can already view the morning star if we get up early enough in the morning to observe it. But we want more than to merely observe beauty—in an almost indescribable way, we want to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

Someday we will put on the glory of creation, or rather that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.

This is not the heathen idea of being absorbed into Nature (after all, nature is mortal while we are immortal). But Nature is the image or symbol Scripture invites us to see. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects. And in there, in beyond Nature, we shall eat of the tree of life (Rev. 2:7).

At present, if we are reborn in Christ, the spirit in us lives directly on God. The mind, however, and still more the body, receives life from God at a thousand removes—through our ancestors, through our food, through the elements.

What we now call “physical pleasures” are the faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when he made the worlds. Even so they are filtered, being too much for our present management.

What would it be to taste at the fountain-head that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating?

But that is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy. As St. Augustine said, the rapture of the saved soul will “flow over” into the glorified body. In the light of our present specialized and depraved appetites we cannot imagine this violent torrent. We must not even try. But we must mention it, or we will have even more misleading thoughts (like what is saved is a mere ghost, or the risen body lives in numb insensibility). The body was made for the Lord, and these dismal fancies are wide of the mark.

It may be possible for us to think too much of our own potential glory in the afterlife. However, it is impossible to think too often or too deeply about the potential glory of our neighbor.

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses—to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal—they are immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

This does not mean we must always be solemn.

The greatest form of merriment exists between people who take each other seriously, without flippancy, superiority, or presumption.

And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ truly hides—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory himself, is truly hidden.

Wow.

Happy Easter, everyone! 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

We'll Get Through This!

I told our students that one of the GOOD things about the Coronavirus is that we're being asked to surrender a little bit of our freedom for the sake of others--to "socially distance" ourselves as a way of protecting the health of the more vulnerable members of our community, especially the elderly.  Yes,  it's a little inconvenient for most of us. For those losing their jobs, it's something far more than inconvenient! But perhaps, in our shared sacrifice, we'll be a stronger, less divided country as a result. 

Very few of us living today have been asked to truly sacrifice for the sake of the common good: Military families, yes. First responders, yes. But most of us live pretty comfortably, without fear of a loved one dying, without being asked to fundamentally change our habits for the sake of others.  

As a country, we’ve been through worse.  Mrs. Donna Paintin Blanchard,  a mother of one of our teachers here, recently reminded us of that, sharing her memories growing up in Mobile, AL as a young girl at the time of World War II. With her permission, I am reposting Mrs. Blanchard's reflections here:

“We went to the Saenger Theater for a Sunday afternoon movie.  They announced the Pearl Harbor bombing.  I remember being in the backseat on the way home— Daddy was talking very low and seriously. I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but I remember being scared.   I was 9.  

I remember listening to President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech.  I remember how upset Mama and Daddy were when they received notice that we had to move so the ship builders could move into our house.  And I remember looking at our new house on Houston Street house at night, with a flashlight.  Not sure I have these things in the proper order, just memories rolling around loose.  

I remember rationing and the stamps: red for meat and blue for other rationed things, like pineapple.  We had meat three times a week, and “meat substitutes” the rest of the time.  The rationed things were kept in a blocked off part of the store, and you had to have your stamps. You had to be careful with them.   Anything made of metal was next to impossible to get: hair pins, zippers, cars, anything.  Tires couldn’t be found.  I think I remember not having erasers on pencils.  Shoes became hard to get.  

My parents rented out the front bedroom to an Air Force couple,Bob and Phyllis Jolly.  I loved them.  Mama let them use the kitchen on Sunday mornings.  I was in the third grade—we had over 40 in the class.  There was always soldiers thumbing rides. 

Car headlights had to be painted black halfway down from the top to cut down sky shine.  Every neighborhood had its own Air Raid Warden.  They wore a helmet and a belt over their shoulder.   We had air raid practices—sirens would go off, all lights had to be OFF, no exceptions.  The wardens patrolled to check, and when the all clear sounded, people would talk about someday it might be real.   

Once I stepped in some black tar or heavy oil on the beach at the Gulf.  The story was that it was from  a German sub that had come almost up to the Bay.  It was said they were trying to meet with the German community in Elberta to get fresh food.  We watched the planes from Pensacola practice dive bombing targets at the east end of Lake Shelby when we were on vacation in the cabins.  Remnants of those targets were there for many years.  All windows that faced the Gulf had to be painted black.  

When we (kids) went to the Saturday movies to see our serial, we would stand up and cheer any time we saw our flag, or an American soldier fighting a Japanese soldier or a German soldier.   The Japanese were especially despised.   When war news came on the radio, everyone sat in the living room and listened to every word. 

Gas was rationed, so there was no such thing as going for a ride.  I remember going to the little Delchamps store and trying to buy 3 Cokes for Mama.  Rationed!  I think it was because of the sugar, which was scarce.  Once  a week, 3 cokes!   And no chewing gum. 

I remember our cousin William was the first to go in our family.  His convoy sailed out of New York and had to turn back because of German subs.  He sailed on to Africa, fought Rommel’s army, crossed the Mediterranean to Sicily, then to Italy, and up the peninsula to somewhere near Rome, and then home.  

I remember going to my friend Mit’s house.  Her cousin had come home after being freed from  a German prison camp.  I sat next to him at the picnic..he could barely talk, and his hands shook.  I can’t remember his name.   I never saw him again.  I was maybe 12-13."

I think it's likely  that the impact of the coronavirus will get worse before it gets better.  But I find it comforting to be reminded that we've endured much worse in our history, and we got through it, together. Thank you, Mrs. Blanchard! 

May God bless our doctors, nurses and those on the “front lines” as they care for the sick and combat this virus. And may God give our country faith, peace and forbearance as we face this pandemic ”one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all."