Wrote this post on Sunday:
This one will be short because I just got back from celebrating my husband's 42nd birthday, which we did by -- for the first time -- leaving all the kids at home, under the oldest's supervision, including the napping baby, and heading to a neighborhood bar to drink fizzy drinks and eat deviled eggs. I had a second glass of cheap bubbly, and I am now sleepy. It is Sunday, though, so resting is not only a good idea, but mandatory. Hurray for feast days! And for Sunday dinners of cheese and crackers and cut veggies and dip, which mean that I don't have to cook (unless you count the four and a half pounds of sweet potatoes that I plan to peel and dice right before bed so I can take them to H's in the morning and make them for dinner tomorrow).
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The fourth sermon in the book of Lenten sermons that I am working my way through is, happily, a sermon that was given on the second Sunday of Lent in 1622. We, of course, got the Transfiguration today; Indeed, so did St. Francis. His sermon began by riffing of the twelfth chapter of Second Corinthians, in which St. Paul speaks obliquely of himself:
I know a man in Christ -- whether he was in or outside the body I do not know, God knows -- who was snatched up to the third heaven... and heard secret words, words which it is not granted to man to utter. 2 Cor 12:2-4
St Francis comments,
Now, if he who saw [wonders in Paradise] cannot speak of them -- if even after having been snatched up even to the third heaven, he dares not say a word of what he witnessed -- much less should we presume to do so...
But then he goes on to explain that Matthew's story of the Transfiguration "treats of eternal happiness." He begins with a parable from St. Gregory the Great, in which a mother must bring up her child from birth in a windowless prison. She teaches him about the sun and the stars, about hills and fruit trees; she shows him samples of leaves and of fruit, but he cannot comprehend what his mother wants to teach him because "all that she shows is nothing compared to the reality itself."
The limitations are the same, my dear souls, with all that we can say of the grandeur of eternal happiness... But be that as it may, and we may be certain that we can say nothing in comparison to the reality; still we ought to say something about it.
The saint then goes on to discuss three "difficulties" which people have in attempting to comprehend the goodness of eternal life, all of which have to do with the idea that, in heaven, the soul will be somehow more limited in its powers. These are:
- wondering how the blessed can use their minds and senses while they are separated from their bodies;
- supposing that the blessed are so "inebriated" with happiness that they are unable to act; and
- thinking as if in eternal glory we will be "subject to distractions."
For the first, St. Francis relates a story from St. Augustine:
[A] physician told him that when young he began to doubt whether the soul, separated from the body, can see, hear, or understand anything. One day, while in this error, he fell asleep. Suddenly, a handsome young man appeared to him in his sleep and said, "Follow me." The physician did so, and his guide led him to a large and spacious field where on one side he showed him incomparable beauties, and on the other allowed him to hear a concert of delightful music. Then the physician awoke.
Some time after, the same young man again appeared to him in sleep and asked, "Do you recognize me?... But how can you see and recognize me?... Where are your eyes?... And where is your body?... And are your eyes open or closed?
"If they are closed, they can see nothing. Admit, then, since you see me even with your eyes closed, recognize me distinctly, and have heard the music even though your senses slept, that the functions of the mind do not depend on the corporal senses, and that the soul, even when separated from the body, can nevertheless see, hear, consider, and understand." Then the sacred dream ended and the youth left the physician, who never after doubted this truth.
As to the second, Francis says that happiness "will not render the soul less capable of seeing, considering, understanding, and performing the various activities which the love of her Beloved will suggest to her."
For the third (distractions), Francis again insists that the powers of the soul will be expanded:
We must never again allow this "difficulty" entrance into our minds, namely, whether our souls... will have full and absolute liberty to perform their functions and activities. For then our understanding will see, consider, and understand not only one thing at a time, but several together; we shall be able to give our attention to several things at one time without one of them displacing any other.
There you have it, folks: without the fetters of this mortal coil, our souls will be perfect multitaskers.
Rather, each [act] will perfect the other. The many subjects we will have in our understanding, the many recollections in our memory, or the many desires of our will will not interfere with each other, nor will one be better understood than any other. Why is this? For the simple reason... that all is perfected and brought to perfection in the eternal beatitude of Heaven.
What would you expect from the patron saint of to-do lists?
The saint goes on to explain that all the blessed will know one another by name, again pointing to the Transfiguration ("The three disciples recognized Moses and Elias even though they had never seen them before"), and imagines the conversation we will have, with the other blesseds, with the great saints, with the angels, and with God himself, whom we will see face to face; to St. Francis, the Beatific Vision is also a participation in a conversation:
In this vision and clear knowledge consists the essence of felicity. There we will understand and participate in those adorable conversations and divine colloquies which take place between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We shall listen to how melodiously the Son will intone the praises due to His heavenly Father, and how he will offer to him on behalf of all people the obedience that He gave to Him all during His earthly life. In exchange we shall also hear the Eternal Father, in a thunderous but incomparably harmonious voice, pronounce the divine words which the Apostles heard on the day of the Transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And the Father and the Son, speaking of the Holy Spirit, will say: "This is Our Spirit, in whom, proceeding One from the Other, We have placed all Our Love."
Ever the intellectual, St. Francis imagines a Vision as something participatory for all the senses, senses which are not more fettered, but more free.