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Easter 2019: Some Personal Reflections


As we sat in the sanctuary on Passion Sunday, my daughter of seven asked me again what was the meaning of all the purple shrouds about the altar. Why would we cover everything that was most beautiful? "What am I supposed to look at?" It was one of those penetrating questions children ask, simple in its innocence but hard to answer, when you come to the point. I stumbled through a quick explanation that her face told me was not very helpful. It was something both too complicated and too pat, about remembering the time Jesus lay in the tomb, and the importance of faithful prayer.

Nothing else came to me until she started fidgeting, as she always does, with her little pearl-colored mantilla. Already that morning she had asked, why should she wear it? I had replied that we always veil the things that are truly sacred, and reminded her of the tabernacle. Again, this had not seemed to satisfy, but it did inspire me to consider more deeply the significance of the season at hand.

These little exchanges are more helpful to me than to my children, of course. (They also serve as a regular reminder that I like to think of myself as a child of God, not as a child of God.) Anyway, for the whole of Passiontide I was persecuted by this question--what are we supposed to look at? Because it seemed to me that in this question, and in the season of Passiontide itself, there is something bitter and poignant for contemporary traditionalists. We are living through an extended Passiontide, a time when all that is most lovely and most sacred is either willfully despoiled, or subjected to total erasure.

Needless to say, my usual melancholy was not much alleviated by the thought, and the answer I had given to my daughter felt, not to put too fine a point on it, lame. It is no aspersion on the singular importance of inward prayer to recognize that, in the whole history of Man and in the appreciation of every civilization, we are confronted with the ineradicable human need to connect with what is directly visible, in order to transcend it. This is basic, although like everything else that is basic, it is also angrily contested in this age of pitiless iconoclasm.

Then came the great fire at the Cathedral de Notre Dame. In that hour of incalculable loss, there were the usual stories of heroism that arise out of such calamities. I was overwhelmed by pathos upon seeing the Catholic faithful of Paris, kneeling in prayer under the sinister glow of those consuming flames, with faces both horror-stricken and--it seemed to me--strangely placid. The symbolism was noticed by many conservative writers, of course, and no small number of their most malicious antagonists. Still, one can't help feeling these things are directed at himself personally at such times, and as the nihilistic Vandals of the Western intellectual class began plotting the profanation of that incomparable structure, and complaining of the Intolerable Burden of Meaning from which it must finally be liberated, the moment was more and more suspiciously well-suited to the helplessness and yearning that had taken hold of me during Lent.

And then...well, then nothing in particular happened. Holy Week, the Triduum, a little girl's birthday party, Easter morning.

I should say rather that nothing apparently extraordinary occurred. No burst of insight, only a serene recognition arose as I listened on Good Friday to the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

"Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not." Is. (53:3)

The Sacred Liturgy was exquisite, and at the eposition of the Blessed Sacrament I was overwhelmed again, as I had been in the days of my youthful zeal.

Another daughter painted eggs, taking the same delight in her art as had her great grandfather before.

A little garden sprouted its shoots in appreciation of the spring rains, to the excitement of all.

God's just wrath is withheld for another day, and His Church, even where it dwindles, goes on erecting its tiny monuments to His glory.

And so, today I return to that little girl's question, "What am I supposed to look at?" And the answer is, not just at everything, but at Everything. Today we have joy because we incorrigible Thomases look with the eyes of faith, scorning to dwell only on the terrible wounds that are visible upon the Body of Christ. In this passage on to Eastertide we recognize (literally, re-cognize) something vital: that in order to see truly, sometimes we must close our eyes. Then only, we see Him among the living, and in all the wondrous things of this present dusk.

Six years ago, my father, who was dearer to me than words suffice to tell, died during the first week of Easter. I was astonished to find that suddenly, when I had swallowed my cup of grief to its dregs, I understood the joy of Pentecost for the first time, and no longer was confounded by the Lord's assurance that, "It is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." (Jn. 16:7) In the quiet of morning prayer and the stillness of my heart, there was my father, and I could speak to him as one who is always beside me. And I could find fathomless gratitude in knowing that in the blackness of the tomb, the just Patriarchs and the Prophets--and my father, and my children, too--were freed from the dark that seems to envelop us on earth, we who can see only the veil beyond the days of our death and the veil behind the days of our childhood.

Where once was only fear of that veil, which comes not from God but from the tyranny of the Serpent, there can now be great gladness at the beauty and mystery of that invisible realm, that yet manifests itself daily in all the goods of this world.

Rejoice, brethren, for on this day, the Lord is Risen.

Comments (2)

Thank you.

Thank you, Sage.

It's true: Those of us of a more melancholy disposition are especially susceptible to the devil's lie that the evil in the world, and the loss and tragedy, "offset" or "cancel out" the beauty and the goodness. There are so many things for us to look at--the buds on the trees, the new green of the grass, the child playing outside. But if we are especially oppressed by some sadness or worry, we are all too inclined to say, "Yes, but..." to all of that. As though, if it is not exactly a cheat, it is at least not quite "for us." But not so. Jesus' resurrection means that all the joy in the world is "for us."

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