There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia novel The Magician’s Nephew in which Aslan, the lion who represents Christ, sings Narnia and all the universe around it into existence. His voice seems to thunder from every direction, shaking the very air.
Perhaps that is an apt allegory for the creation of the universe. Yet the universe is also re-created at every moment, in that its continued existence depends upon God’s continuing to sustain it.
What impresses me is that the voice that holds all things in existence is not the voice of thunder that Lewis imagines. It is, rather, a still, small voice, like the voice that spoke to Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19:12). It is the voice I heard at Mass today, when Jesus, through a priest, spoke the words that brought his Body back to earth from heaven; it is the voice I hear in the words of consecration at every Mass.
A Protestant denomination some years ago had a slogan designed to highlight its “creative” approach to worship: “God is still speaking.” In a manner in which that denomination would not dare to acknowledge, that statement is literally true. God is still speaking the world into existence; He is still speaking His own very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity onto every Catholic church’s altar. And He is doing it in the words of consecration, the words that he spoke nearly two thousand years ago, in a voice that transcends time, an unbroken chain passed from generation to generation by the laying on of hands.
Have you seen how the entire world all but disappears for a split second at the consecration of the Host at Mass? It happens very quickly, and if you blink you will miss it. Everything in the created universe is revealed to be hanging as though suspended, as though the fabric of reality were as fragile as a bubble dangling from a leaf. The only thing that is fully real, fully true, fully grounded, is the elevated Host and the words pouring from the priest’s lips that telescope time and space to the Last Supper.
Benedict XVI in his Christmas 2006 homily spoke of how the Church Fathers found in the Greek Old Testament a phrase expressing how, in the Incarnation, “God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.” The words they found were in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 9:23: “God made his Word short, he abbreviated it.”
I thought about how God’s voice, making itself small to meet our smallness, sustains our fragile existence when I made my weekly visit this past Sunday to the Georgetown Jesuit Cemetery to pray for the Holy Souls.
The previous Sunday, I had left red and purple Alstroemeria at the grave of Br. Francis C. Schroen, S.J., the holy lay brother who spent himself beautifying Jesuit churches and campuses with stunning original artworks, and who passed away 89 years ago that week. (You’ll find a bit about his remarkable life in this article.) Here it was now, one week later, and the flowers were impossibly more beautiful than I had left them, despite 90-degree temperatures and weather so dry that it had turned the grass brown.
I snapped the photo you see at left. Only the voice of God, working through His gifts of nature, can sustain such fragile beauty in a hostile environment.
Entering the cemetery that day, before reaching Brother Francis’s grave, I had encountered a stunning large spider web hanging from a weeping evergreen. It was the most beautiful web I have ever seen in my life.
The web was visible only because I was approaching it from the west, and so the mid-afternoon sun was shining brightly on it from that direction. When I passed by it and looked back, it was all but invisible except for a very slight sparkle in the air.
At Brother Francis’s grave, as I prayed and marveled at the Alstroemeria’s tenacity, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly flew in from the west, fluttering directly over Brother Francis’s headstone. I turned to see it continue flying east, going over the cemetery and then curving sharply upward. It went towards the top of the adjacent performing-arts center (about fifty feet up) before it disappeared from sight.
Later that day, I had a tour of a Melkite Catholic church, and the subdeacon leading the tour talked about how the icons on the ceiling ran from west to east. The East represents Eden and, by extension, heaven, he explained, while the west represented distance from God—i.e. judgment and condemnation.
The images on the western side of the church’s ceiling included John the Baptist and other saints pointing toward the eastern side—prophets seeking to turn the viewer away from condemnation, and towards the vision of God. Hearing this confirmed for me the beautiful symbolism that I had intuited of the butterfly, as a traditional symbol of resurrection, flying from the west over Brother Francis’s grave and up towards the east and heaven.
I thought too about how the spider web was visible when I was walking east, but not when I was walking west. It is as if to say that only if I follow that butterfly flying east toward heaven, keeping my eyes on God, will I recognize snares. I will fail to see them if I walk in the opposite direction.
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Brother Francis Schroen is a special “patron saint” to me because he was a late vocation; he entered religious life at age forty-one. While praying for his repose, I also ask his intercession for my own vocation, since (as I mention at the end of this interview and this talk), I hope to be called to a vocation of lay consecration (that is, consecration in the world) under my diocesan bishop. I ask your prayers for that intention as well.
One thing I do know about my vocation is that, at present, I am called to study. So things will be quiet here at Feast of Eden at least until mid-May, when I hope to receive the last prerequisite degree that I need (a sacred-theology licentiate) before being able to officially begin my candidacy for a sacred-theology doctorate. I will continue to post news about my speaking appearances and occasional “Life in Eden” updates on my personal-stuff blog, The Dawn Patrol.
Today is my forty-fifth birthday, and I will pray, as I do every day, for everyone who has read my writings or heard me speak. I am very grateful to you for helping me, through your support and encouragement, to discern how God is calling me to live the mystery of spiritual motherhood. It is a mystery I have experienced more deeply through speaking to underserved populations— including inmates and prostituted women—about the message of my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.
My hope is that the concentration and focus I put into obtaining a sacred-theology licentiate and doctorate will enable me to grow in service to the Mystical Body of Christ. Thank you for supporting my journey. Blessed be God in His angels and in His saints.