Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Wounds

“They Shall Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced” (Zachariah 12, 10; Jn. 19, 37

Benedict XVI offers this text as the theme of this Lent 2007 because the absence of God that characterizes the present moment demands an experience of God by the whole man spirit and body. He wants to connect the liturgy and the heart, the latter as preparation for the former, and both to be lived out as Christ walking the way of the Cross in the secular street of ordinary work.

In a work on the Sacred Heart, Benedict asks, “Is it not superfluous to contemplate with the emotions the Easter mystery in a devotional image instead of actualizing it where it is really present in mysterio, which is to say in the sacraments and in the liturgy of the Church? Is it not, after all, devotional empathy – the re-presentation of the Easter mystery on the basis of feeling – a secondary form of Christian piety, a secondary mode of mysticism over against the primary mysticism of the mysterium itself, which is to say the liturgy? Can we not even say that Sacred Heart devotion derived from the fat that this primary mysticism was no longer recognized or understood on account of the rigidity of the old liturgy? Does not such devotion become dispensable as soon as this liturgy itself comes to life again?

“Such questions have led to the opinion that everything affirmed before the liturgical reform has now become obsolete. And, in fact, the result has been a widespread disappearance of Sacred Heart devotion."

The Theology of Corporeality

After 400 years of Enlightenment philosophy where the body is considered “thing” or machine, it is important is to revisit the meaning of the human body, particularly that of Jesus Christ, as “the self-expression and ‘image’ of the spirit.” 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” ("Paschal Mystery as Core and foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart," Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius [1985] 149)

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 on e 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!’" [2]

St. Josemaria Escriva and “The Wound in the Right Hand”

“Burgos, June 6, 1938
+ May Jesus safeguard you, for himself.

Dear Juanito,

This morning, on my way to Las Huelgas, where I went to do my prayer, I discovered a new world: the Most Holy Wound of our Lord’s right hand. I was there all day long, kissing and adoring. How truly lovable is the sacred humanity of our God! Pray that he give me that real love of his and with it completely purify all my other affections. It’s not enough to say, `Heart on the cross!’ Because if one of Christ’s wounds cleans, heals, soothes, strengthens, enkindles, and enraptures, what wouldn’t the five do as they lie open on the cross? Heart on the cross! O my Jesus, what more could I ask for? I realize that if I continue contemplating in this way (Saint Joseph, my father and lord, is the one who led me there, after I asked him to enkindle me), I’ll end up crazier than ever. Try it yourself!...

“I’m quite jealous of those on the battlefronts, in spite of everything. It has occurred to me that, if my path were not so clearly marked out, it would be wonderful to outdo Father Doyle. But… that would suit me quite well, since doing penance has never been very hard for me. That, I’m sure, is the reason I’m being led by another path: Love. And the fact is it suits me even better. If only I weren’t such a donkey!

“Take care, my son. Dominus sit in corde tuo!

Much love. From the Wound of the right hand, your Father blesses you.


Eulogy For a Living Wound of Christ: Elie Gilges

Elie Gilges was born September 3, 1993 and died March 11, 2004. She was born with a massive brain tumor that never permitted her to awaken. Her father, Kent Gilges - not a Christian -wrote not long after her birth: At times, I have sensed in other people the belief that it would be better for Liz (the mother) and me if Elie were to die soon. They feel she is a hardship, that it would make our lives easier, or more steady if she were gone, that it would strengthen our marriage by giving us more time together, less stress.”

Forthrightly he continued, “I think these people are fools. I was right when I was a boy. Suffering is a gift.” Previously, he had remarked: “When I was young, I used to wish only that my life would never become mundane. Not having experienced great hardship or suffering, I romanticized the ideal of life as a series of peaks and valleys. The greater one fell into sadness and suffering, the higher one could rise to see (and create) beauty. It was a bohemian view of life.” Now he quotes Thoreau: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and goes on: “Not because they suffer from loss or grief, but precisely because they are afraid to suffer and so fear to try anything. Suffering wakes us from the torpor that leads to desperation. Pain makes us aware so that we can experience beauty and joy.”

Kent concludes: Elie is the greatest gift we have ever been given. She makes our lives far richer, more contemplative, and full of joy than they ever would have been without her. She is a beloved – even essential – addition to our home and will be as long as she is with us. Elie has given us an awareness of suffering’s noble beauty.

“As I recall my boyhood prayer, I realize that it was answered. Others may think we are foolish to bless the gift of suffering, but having never been through it they are simply ignorant. In my stubborn optimism toward life, I am reminded of lines from a favorite Frost poem:

'…I do not see why I should e’re turn back
Or those should not set forth upon my track
To overtake me, who should miss me here
And long to know if still I held them dear.
They would not find me changed from him they knew –
Only more sure of all I thought was true.'

On March 11, 2004, Elie died. Hovering on the brink of death, she seemed to delay the final moment until everyone of the family had assembled from different parts of the country. When all had arrived, she died.

On that occasion, Kent wrote a eulogy for Elie, parts of which I recount here.

“I find myself often wondering how to answer the question from my oldest son, Alexander. He asked with the poignant innocence borne of not really understanding the permanence behind the question: ‘Dad, why did Elie have to die?’

“The question may have no good answer, but it troubles me mainly because if there is an answer, it is hidden in the antipode: ‘Why did Elie live?’

* * * * * * * * * *

Private Thoughts:

This is a moment for which I have prepared hundreds of times, which I have rehearsed, which I have spoken to myself over ten years and in many different ways. I have delivered my daughter’s eulogy hundreds of times. I have imagined her gone as much as I have realized she is still here.

“This daydream comes upon me unexpectedly; imagination is uncontrollable. I find myself thinking about Elie, living without Elie, mostly when I am alone. I have lived many times what it will be like never again to kiss her cheek or smell her sweet skin, to buy my face in her neck, to stroke her hair as she lies on my lap.

“I have spoken this eulogy in cars, in the woods, in a boat. I have spoken it mainly when I was alone, out loud with the tears streaming down my face. But I have also prepared it in my head at a party or as I sat with a crowd of friends at dinner, my thoughts drifting far beyond the conversation until I have had to stop my train of thought because I knew that within moments I would choke up and start crying and nobody would have any idea why.

“I have delivered the words with love, with pathos, with anger. I have looked for hope. I have spoken of despair.

“God has, at various times, been a merciful God who gave me my child for longer than He had originally planned. At others, I have complained about God snatching away my first child’s promise.

“I have spoken words like these so many times that it should come easily. But it doesn’t. It has never come easily – how could it. I have always realized the finality of this moment. That is when my heart begins to tear. The desolation of finality follows. Her death is final. It is monstrous. And it is desolate.

“I’ve often laughed that Elie had three goals in life. One was to remain my little baby girl forever. One was to avoid the pain of teething. And the last was never to be put down, to be held by someone continuously through life.

“She has done quite well except for the teeth. She has always been our little baby. Even when we had a baby who was smaller by far, Elie was the baby.

“It amazes me that so many people have touched her, held her, rocked her. So much family. Dozens of the most caring nurses we could hope for. Many priests have held her and all have prayed for her continuously since her illness. She has been comforted and loved by more people in her few short years than many of us in a lifetime. And being held, being touched, has been her way of touching others in turn. We touched her physically. She touched us spiritually.

“We hold in greatest honor those who have cared for her on a daily basis. Let their names spoken offer them the honor and gratitude they deserve.

Bob and Donna Smith
Laurie Lewis
Jean Steiner
Marilyn Miraglia
Srs. David Ragonesi and Gregory Liptak, whom we recognize with particular distinctioh for their compassion and commitment
Mary Pat Hutchins
Linda Gavigan
Theresa Kimball
Christine Kennedy
Father William Delaney
Beth Ygeal
Carrie Barry
Dr. Bernd Holler
Sue Potasak
Margaret Burroughs
Father Michal Stebeer

“Her greatest caregiver, of course, I hold in greatest honor. Her mother, Liz, who single-handedly kept Elie with us for 10 years purely through a devoted mother’s love and fierce tenacity.

“And we release her.

“Of her death, what good can be said: It was short and merciful. It only lasted ten years.

“Of her life, what good can be said: I feel I could write a book about it [he just has], and yet it is like the whisper of wind on a single blade in the tall grass prairie.

“I cannot point to many things that I have done which were wholly good, but caring for Elie is one. She was a burden, yes, but she was also a gift.

“And it is my great hope that if I ever make it to heaven and stand before God, I will be greeted there by a little gift with blond hair and a sweet smile who welcomes me and introduces me to God. And God will laugh and say, ‘Don’t worry. It wasn’t ever really as close a call as you thought. Anyone who cared for Elie got a free pass.”

“Goodbye my beautiful girl. God’s speed.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Paschal Mystery as Core and Foundation of Devotion to the Sacred Heart,” Towards a Civilization of Love Ignatius (1985) 148.
[2] St. Bonaventure, vol. 8, Chap. 3, 163b; Haurietis aquas, p. 337.
[3] Andres Vazquez de Prada, “The founder of Opus Dei” Vol. II: God and Daring,” Scepter (2002) 214

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