Friday, March 23, 2007

Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges as "Wound of Christ"

“Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges died on March 11, 2004 on my lap, cradled between Liz and me.

“She died quietly, peacefully. As she breathed her last few breaths, Liz said a Hail Mary and cried out, “Jesus come!’ I whispered in her small ear, ‘Elie, Go, beautiful. Go to God. Go.’ She took a half breath, shuddered once almost imperceptibly as if her body held very lightly now to her soul, took another half breath, and then she breathed no more.

“We bathed her, combed out her hair, dressed her in a blue Easter dress that Liz’s brother had bought for her, and placed her in the coffin which we as a family had make.

“It was built of ash, painted white with a black inlaid cross on the cover. The inside was lined with white satin. The children each placed tow hand prints in bright colors on the side of the coffin and wrote underneath in black marker, ‘I love you, Elie,’ and their name.

“In the morning, Liz’s mother and her sister bought a tiara made of yellow and blue flowers and we placed it on her forehead before the wake. Never have I seen anything more beautiful than her face in the dim twilight of her room.

“Requiem in Pace. Is Elie resting in peace? I guess I hope not. I hope that for the first time, a little girl who was never able to walk finally has the use of her legs and is running through fields filled with the yellow and blue flowers that adorned her pale brow as she lay in her coffin.

“That night Elie died, we tried to explain to our children again what death meant. They all listened solemnly. When we were done with our explanation, there were a few moments of quiet, then four year-old Hannah asked us: ‘Mom, can Elie do a cartwheel now?’”

“God Has Taken From Me…”

“No, God is not the one who takes. He is the Father, he gives. He loves us first. He is source of life and of joy. He enjoys gratifying us with his gifts. He only reveals himself to us through his blessings, and his glory is that we find his work good.

“He likes only to give. But by dint of gifts, he teaches us how to give. If God had done nothing but give, he would have given nothing of himself. God is gift, God is love. He does not reveal himself to him who only knows how to receive. But to him whom he cherishes most, to him to whom he wants to communicate himself completely, he gives the capacity of becoming a father, he gives the capacity of being gift in his turn. He wanted so much to communicate himself, to make himself known, that he invited us to share his most intimated joy: he gave us the taste for giving in order that we might know the taste of the joy of God.

“If God calls us to sacrifice, let us not force ourselves, let us not cut by ourselves the ties which hurt us so much. Let us open ourselves to God, let us let God fill us, let us let God become God in us. Let us remain before him in silence until, by dint of gift and love, he uplifts us to give and love in our turn.”[1]

For Elie’s Father

“Do you know what it is to be a Father?
“To be a Father is precisely to suffer; to become a father is to become vulnerable. As long as one is young, one is hard, selfish, protected. No doubt, one has terrible blues, emotions, melancholies, but one holds one’s own pretty well, one withdraws easily, one suffers only for oneself. Our compassion for others is gratuitous, generous, superfluous.
“But when one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail, being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart. Oh, we really depend on people who depend on us! The strong person who loves a weak person has put his happiness at his mercy. He depends on him henceforth. He is without any defense against him. To love a person is inevitably to depend on him, to give him power over us. God loved us freely; God have us power over him. God wanted to have need of us. The passion is the revelation of our terrible power over God. He surrendered himself to us, we had him at our disposal, we did with him what we wanted. On a plaque in Normandy one can read this cruel sentence: ‘It is always the one who loves the least who is the strongest.’ It is always he who is least in love who gets his way with the other, who keeps a cool head and stays in control of the situation. God, in regard to us, will always be the weakest, for he loves. God can be denied, forgotten; he cannot deny us, forget us. We can be without God. God cannot be without men.[2] We can stop being sons; he cannot stop being a Father. ‘Man in revolt against God is like the bird in the storm which dashes itself against the cliff. But God, in his mercy, became flesh so that the violence of the impact might be endured by him and not by us.’ Thus, God will always be the weakest against us for he loves us. We are of Jacob’s race, we are the true Israel, he who fought against the angel all night and who deserved his name: ‘mighty against God.’”[3]


“One of Liz’s closest friends was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of mouth cancer this year. She is tall, young, and beautiful with a lovely, optimistic view of life, and she has three girls about the same age as our own children, including twins, which is how we met.
“After surgery, which removed much of her palette, and radiation that essentially burned her mouth and throat in the hopes of killing remaining cancer cells, Mary was in a lot of pain. She could not swallow, her mouth was always dry because her saliva glands were destroyed, the prosthesis which was constructed to replace her palette caused its own pain. Mary was on tube feeding and had lost nearly 20% of her weight because she could not handle any food. She was tired and spent much of every day lying in bed with no energy to move.
“Before the surgery, Mary had such a zest for life. After, there were times when she showed little interest in living. Her energy was gone. Her waking hours were dominated by lethargy and disinterest. She found little pleasure in anything.
“Liz was one of the people that took Mary to her radiation appointments at the hospital and, though Mary has a spirit that is irrepressible, each evening Liz would come home sad because one of her very best friends was enduring so much. I often heard Liz praying for Mary when she sat with Elie on her lap in the evenings, and Elie would d lie on Liz’s lap with here eyes wide open, smacking her lips together as she often did.
“The radiation treatments ended in February, but the pain in Mary’s mouth increased to the point that May had real difficulty taking out the prosthesis even to clean it as she was supposed to do twice a day. We were concerned that Mary had become so thin and that, if she were to ge sick with something as little as a cold or the flu, it could be fatal. Liz drove to Mary’s house a couple of times to help her with the tube feedings since it was second nature to us, but could easily be scary for someone not used to it.
“And then Elie became ill, and the illness was diagnosed as a septic infection of her bowels, and we realized with a jolt that Elie would only be with us for a few days. Our time and care was taken with Elie’s final hours and making her comfortable until her death, which happened on a Thursday.
“After the Saturday funeral and most of our family had left to return home, Mary called Liz. They talked for a long time about a range of things. After they hung up, Liz found me in the living room, reading a book. She was smiling and her eyes were filled with tears.
‘You’re not going to believe this,’ she said.
I put down my book as Liz spoke. ‘Mary began eating food yesterday evening… by mouth. She ate a full meal. The pain in her mouth is completely gone. Liz beamed radiantly at me.
‘Completely gone? I asked.
‘That’s great,’ I said.
Liz stared at me. ‘It’s Ellie,’ Liz said…”[4]

Experience Christ Suffering in the Wounds of His Mystical Body

“There is at this moment, in the world, at the back of some forsaken church, or even in an ordinary house, or at the turning of a deserted path, a poor man who joins his hands and from the depth of his misery, without very well knowing what he is saying, or without saying anything, thanks the good Lord for having made him free, for having made him capable of loving. There is somewhere else, I do not know where, a mother who hides her face for the last time in the follow of a little breast which well beat no more, a mother next to her dead child who offers to God the groan of an exhausted resignation, as if the Voice which has thrown the suns into space as a hand throws grain, the Voice which makes the worlds tremble, had just murmured gently into her ear, ‘Pardon me. One day you will know, you will understand, you will give me thanks. But now, what I am looking for from you is your pardon. Pardon.’ These – this harassed woman, this pr man – are at the heart of the mystery, at the heart of the universal creation and in the very secret of God. What can I say of it? Language is at the service of the intelligence. And what these people have understood, they have understood by a faculty superior to the intelligence although not in the least in contradiction with it – or rather, by a profound and irresistible movement of the soul which engaged all the faculties at once, which engaged to the depth their entire nature… Yes, at the moment that this man, this woman, accepted their destiny, accepted themselves, humbly – the mystery of the creation was being accomplished in them. While they were thus, without knowing it, running the entire risk of their human conduct, becoming themselves, according to the words of St. Paul, other Christs. In short, they were saints (Georges Bernanos).[5]

Benedict XVI on the Meaning of the Human Body

Recall that after the Resurrection, Christ appeared in the upper room saying to the eleven: “Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24, 39). Notice that it is the divine “I” that is calling to be felt and seen through the body. Benedict says: “the body is not just ‘there,’ having a merely external relationship to the sprit; rather, the body is the self-expression and ‘image’ of the spirit. In the human being, what constitutes biological life also constitutes the person. The person actualizes itself in the body and the body is, therefore, its expression. In the body we may see what is invisible as spirit. Because the body is the person become visible, and the person is an image of God, the body, taken in its full network of relationships, is also the space where the divine becomes imaged, expressed, seen. This is why, from the very beginning, the Bible portrays the mystery of God in images of the body and of the world that is ordered to that body. In so doing, the Bible is not creating external images for God; rather, if it can use corporeal things as images and if it can talk about God in parables, it is because these things truly are images. Thus, by the use of such analogous language the Bible does not alienate the corporeal world but rather names the most real thing about that world, the core of what it is. By interpreting the world as a storehouse of images for the story of God with man, the Bible points to the world’s true nature and makes God visible in that place where he really expresses himself.”

Benedict goes on: “The Incarnation is founded on the fact that God in his paradoxical love, transcends himself and assumes flesh and thus enters the very passion of being human. But in this self-transcendence of God what really comes to the forefront is, contrariwise, that interior self-transcendence of the whole creation which the Creator had woven into its very fabric: the body is a movement of self-transcendence that tends to spirit, and spirit is a movement of self-transcendence that tends to God. Seeing the invisible in the visible is a paschal event, and the encyclical.
Benedict then rounds to his point: “Here, the doubting Thomas, who needs to see and to touch in order to believe, puts his hand into the Lord’s open side, and, as he touches it, he recognizes the Untouchable while nevertheless touching it, and he sees the Invisible while nevertheless really seeing it: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20, 28). The encyclical (Haurietis aquas) illustrates this with the wonderful passage from St. Bonaventure’s Mystical Vine which remains one of the classical statements of devotion to the Sacred Heart: ‘The wound of the body thus points to the spiritual wound… Let us, through the visible wound, gaze at love’s invisible wound!’"[6]
[1] Louis Evely, “Suffering” Herder and Herder.
[2] This refers to God’s Erotic Love that is one with His Agape. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Caritas Est,” #9-11. God’s Love not only gives Self but desires (spousally) to receive free love from created human persons.
[3] Louis Evely, “Suffering” op. cit.
[4] Kent Gilges, “The Gift of Life,” Unpublished Manuscript.
[5] Louis Evely, “Suffering” Herder and Herder (1971)
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius (1985) 148.

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