"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Shadow and light

The Church's liturgy for the morning of Holy Saturday is called Tenebrae, meaning "shadows." A shadow is a patch of darkness made by a body's blocking of a light that is present and effulgent. That is why this day is my favorite of the liturgical year.

Holy Saturday begins with the apparent defeat of God by the Devil: the burial of Jesus' ravaged, bloody corpse; his rocky tomb guarded by soldiers; the women weeping nearby for him; the utter dismay and despondency of the scattered Apostles; the body of Jesus' well-paid betrayer hanging from a noose made by his own hand. Holy Saturday ends with the bursting forth of a supernal light driving away the darkness, conquering death and fear with eternal life and boundless love. In between are the shadows thrown by our flawed selves in that light, selves destined to be broken and remade in glory. By taking our flesh and letting his body be killed, in the most humiliating way possible, Jesus empowered us to transcend the limits the flesh holds for us under the thralldom of sin. Someday, many of us will have transcended it, thus becoming what we are re-created to be. Some, having apparently fallen asleep, have done so already. Some, preferring the hell made by their own pride to the heaven made by humble submission to God, might never do so. But in the meantime, so many of us stand between light and darkness, throwing shadows we take for reality.

We are not so enslaved by sin as to believe that the darkness alone is reality. But neither do we love God enough to believe that the shadows are insubstantial, that they would disappear if only we surrendered ourselves enough to become beacons of light ourselves. So much of life consists of sufferings to which we are led by the shadows we remain content to throw. That, one must admit, is inevitable in a world still warped by the Fall. But as the Pope said on Maundy Thursday, evil does not have the last word. The great restoration, the apocatastasis, has begun with what we shall celebrate tonight: Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

Let us not be like the Apostles, who had to have the Good News announced to them by a faithful woman not given their office—and even then would not believe until they had seen for themselves what she was talking about. Let us be like that faithful woman, eager to believe what God reveals to us of little faith. In the meantime let us repent of being throwers of shadows.
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