Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere

Part of the way through the Easter Vigil Mass I realized something I had subconsciously believed even as I intellectually knew it wasn’t true. I realized that COVID-19 wasn’t confined to Lent. The absence of public Masses wasn’t just a wild Lenten penance. It was a reality that was going to endure for who-knows-how-long. In the midst of a time of penance and sacrifice, it was somewhat understandable to accept and embrace this unasked for restriction. Yet in the time of Easter joy, how did one continue to embrace this cross, even while gesturing toward the empty tomb?

Intellectually, I was fully aware that this was an enduring thing. Yet after passing into the Easter season, I have been pondering this odd cross-section of joy and sacrifice. Of course, it is possible to be joyful in the midst of sacrifice. Love, nearly by definition, involves sacrificing ourselves for the good of the beloved. Yet long, protracted sacrifice in the middle of a liturgical season set aside for rejoicing, feasting, and innumerable alleluias being uttered? How does one do that?

I don’t exactly know, but I am trying.

It helps that I try to often remind my students that we are in the Easter season and should do something special to celebrate this time. At times, I find myself recording videos for them and thinking I need to do this, too.

It has surprised me how I can sometimes enter into prayer when I am praying “remotely.” Like when Pope Francis had some time of adoration during the Urbi et Orbi blessing a few weeks ago. Sitting on my couch in front of my computer and adoring Jesus in Rome seemed kind of silly. Yet as I prayed alone yet communally, I found that I was able to enter into prayer. It wasn’t a perfect scenario, but it worked in that moment. This was a moment of joy, to find myself with Jesus even as I was separated from His Eucharistic presence.

So here we are, fully into the Easter season, steadily working our way through the Easter Octave, filled with joy and yet still experiencing sacrifice. But I guess that makes it a bit like that first Easter Sunday when St. Mary Magdalene encountered Christ at the tomb. In her desire to keep him near, we see Jesus saying to not hold onto Him. Wasn’t this miraculous triumph over death the fullness of joy?

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The Wedding Feast of the Lamb

The day was cool with a hint of coming winter in the breeze that ruffled my hair and made me grateful for tights and boots.  Winding roads meandered through the sylvan surroundings and we followed them at sometimes dizzying speeds.  Arriving at a church to which we had never been, we soon occupied a special pew reserved near the front.  It was the day of my sister’s wedding but there was none of the pre-wedding frenzy that accompanies the typical wedding.  Bows were fastened to the end of each pew, programs were passed out, and a video was rolling.  Other than that, very little would lead one to believe that a wedding would soon take place.

I glanced around hoping to see my sister, wondering if she would be tucked away or kneeling in a pew silently praying.  Music began to issue forth from a keyboard and the bridal procession began.  It was a lengthy procession, including guests from far and wide.  Nearly a dozen priests and a bishop were numbered in that group.  My sister was there, too.  Her veil was fastened securely on her head and her simple wedding gown did not quickly attract the eye, except perhaps as an oddity to the random stranger that would stumble upon this blessed affair.  For those of us present and invited, it was no surprise.  Her hands were secured around an unlit candle and her face was serious but serene. 

My sister’s veil was black and her gown was a simple brown dress fastened with a rough cord.  The cord was adorned with three knots.  Poverty.  Chastity.  Obedience.  A firm denial of all that the world offers as important and desirable.  She was armed with a wooden rosary, hanging from her cord.  They would not later produce flowers with which to ornament themselves.  Rather my sister prayed her vows and was then given her crown.  It was a crown of thorns.  And it was striking. 

Very little do weddings typically speak of the crosses that are to come in the marriage.  It may be alluded to, perhaps said outright, but often the joy and happiness of the day are the primary focus.  There is a definite goodness in that.  Here, though, the cross was very evident.  Yet they did not run from it.  Rather they embraced it and clung to it.

She laid on the floor and stretched her arms out in a cruciform.  It was the beauty of the marital embrace in a form that is seen too little.  Her Spouse bound her to Himself and asked her to become one with Him.  He beckoned her, called her name, and delighted in receiving the fullness of her heart.  The gift He gives is that of the cross but not without the hope of the resurrection and the nourishment of the Eucharist. 

The wedding unfolded in a beautiful way and before long we were watching them process out, priests, sisters, and bishop.  A typically long post-nuptial reception line was formed.  There was remarkable joy.  It was not women being oppressed or women surrendering their hope for marriage or women wondering what point life had.  Instead it was the picture of women who know who they are, women who know their purpose, and women aware of the radical love the Author of Life has for them.  There was peace and there was beauty.

At this unusual wedding I realized something that I want at my wedding.  Barring any dramatic revelations from the Lord, I intend to someday get married and raise a family.  Yet this wedding, in its very nature, pointed to the Person who should always be central in such a life transforming moment.  There was no conceivable way to misunderstand who was the central focus.  From beginning to end, God was being worshiped and praised.  It was His love that was being celebrated, along with the love my sister bears.  Many weddings often focus too much on the couple and not enough on the Lord.  At this wedding I realized that I want my guests to leave my wedding with the clear idea that God was the center of it all.  Yes, I want a gorgeous dress and I want to have beautiful pictures of the day.  Of course I want a well-executed reception and lovely music to delight our ears.  Primarily, though, I want the guests to leave the Mass thinking, “Our Lord came to us in the Eucharist…and this couple promised to strive to reflect the love of Christ and the Church.” 

I’ve been to weddings where I could sense something was lacking, a depth or a sincerity.  It was evident that they loved each other but perhaps a little less evident that they loved the Lord.  Yet I’ve also been to weddings where I was moved by the witness of the couple and grasped the beauty and gravity of the sacrament they were entering into.

She cut the cake, she posed for pictures, she laughed, and she cried.  It was a day of graces and a day of some sorrow.  My heart lurched and broke and healed.  This was the Wedding Feast of the Lamb being lived out on Earth.  I spoke rather few words to her, hugged her several times, and sometimes just watched her with love as she spoke.  There is an ache in my heart and perhaps there is this ache residing within every living person.  It is an intense longing, a feeling that there must be something far greater, far more lasting than this fragile life here.  An ache for union that can never be fully lived in this world and yet my little heart so greatly desires it.  It is an ache in me that desires this exact type of wedding yet also reminds me that I long for marriage and family with an earthly husband.  This is the longing for Heaven, for Our Lord, and for a life completely surrendered to Him.

There is a breaking within me that cannot be articulated and cannot be measured.  This is a place where sorrow and joy blend into a beautiful, ineffable disposition.  It is not mere emotion or a passing feeling.  Life is sorrow and joy and beauty and, eventually, eternal.  In these days before eternity there is searing pain that cuts through hearts and severely strains and changes relationships as we know them.  Yet in the midst of this sorrow there is an abiding peace and joy that reassures us that all of this is worth it.  It convinces us that tonight will pass and morning will spring eternally in our souls.  This temporary separation will give way to a communion that is beyond comprehension.  My heart must be re-created to endure this deep communion lest is burst of happiness.  That is the process it is undergoing now.  The chambers are being widened, the heart is being enlarged, and the desires are being purified.  Yet it will all be worth it.  We shall be gathered in from off the streets and ushered into the banquet of the Lamb.  He will rise, take us by the hand, slip a ring on our finger, place sandals on our feet and wrap a robe around us, and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.”