So I was talking with my buddies Paul and Matt the other day, and Paul was all,
Where, O death, is your sting?
Oh man. You have no idea how hard it was for me to not sarcastically retort, "It's in my heart, Paul, where do you think it is?"
Well, okay, so I was listening to Matt Maher's Christ is Risen, which references Paul's 1 Corinthians 15.54-55 taunt at the wages of sin:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
That's not always an easy verse to hear, especially this time of year. Today was hard, being of course the second feast of St. Gabey Tables. The anniversary of Gabriel's death is hard for the obvious reasons, as well as the hidden ones. I miss the 2 year old. I miss not being able to introduce my sons "Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael," without explanation that brings sorrow even when I speak from joy. I miss the struggle that Mass should have been today with a 6 year old, 4 year old, 2 year old, and 5 month old, and it was already a struggle.
I miss him. I miss the hole he has left in our lives, and in our hearts.
And so I say that I struggle, because I want to answer Paul by saying that the sting of death is in my heart, which is still broken.
And I struggle because in that brokenheartedness there is a temptation to despair, a temptation to dive into the abyss I talked about 2 years ago.
I grow angry at myself, for in claiming that death's sting has pierced my heart, I am failing to live of Christian Hope.
Or am I?
Hope, real Hope, is a virtue. A theological one at that - both its source and its end are God, it is a life-preserver which God casts out to us to draw us to Himself. It is not simply "optimism" or "wishful thinking," as the dictionary claims. Rather, the catechism tells in paragraph 1817 that:
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, as the catechism goes on to explain, Hope works on natural happiness, but Hope also sees us through times of abandonment, times when we are discouraged. It opens us up to relationship with God, and to rely on Him and union with Him as our ultimate source of happiness.
Temptation to despair is not the same as despair. In fact this spiritual desert - which is fitting this time of year, and felt by so many people - is the fertile plain where Hope may blossom abundantly, as it did in the lives of Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
About a week ago, I was going through our family's now 7 year anthology of themed Halloween costumes, making a collage of them. It's a really awesome collection, I am continually amazed by Erin's creativity in coming up with these ideas (or working the ideas out with the kids), and figuring out how we can make significant components of them ourselves.
Our familial cleverness has even been featured on Mommy Short's annual Halloween Costume awards, winning the "Parental Genius Award" in 2013 and "Most Likely To Sit Out Trick Or Treating To Play Minecraft In The Basement" in 2015. This year we reprised our first family them of Star Wars, which turned out awesomely.
And as happy as I was putting this together, I just couldn't get over that jump between years 5 and 6. 5 Martyrs. 4 Minecrafters.
There is a profound sense of being out of control found in staring at those two pictures.
Have I mentioned how much I hate this time of year?
I just needed to talk to someone about this, about this pain that tries to cut through this happiness. I reached out to my friend who is wise beyond words and years. I had already talked to Erin, and she gets it (duh, of course she does), but sometimes when you're processing grief, you just need to talk to someone who's not also processing that grief, someone who's not already bearing that load. What follows is an edit of what he wrote to me, which inspired this post as a vessel to share these words if nothing else.
I think all your little army of Saints above would want you to struggle, and to struggle so as to draw closer to them. They say, "mourn for us, yes; mourn for us because we passed so soon; but mourn for yourself, because you know not our victory, and you know only the Vale of Tears. So, yes; mourn."
We remember that we are dust. We also remember -- and I think this is the harder thing to remember -- that everyone around us is dust.
We are all dust, and to dust everyone will return. Erin; You; Me; everyone. And your Saints above cry out, proclaiming the fragility of our time here.
Gabriel reminds you this world is futile, and that therein lies extreme pain.
But amidst that pain you are still called to be a father; to beget Heaven for your son who is now being Purified.
And so I think we cry from sorrow, we cry from rage, and we cry in battle during this time of year.
And I think the only healthy way to go about doing that is to be transparent with it; to understand that this is the purpose of these last few weeks of the Liturgical Year; and that therefore God wants that rage from us; Purgatory needs that rage from us; and we must be willing to show that rage to each other here among the Church Militant.
The world was subjected to futility
But, not without hope.
I may doubt my own personal goodness, I may fear that I may lose my heavenly reward, but man can I pick a great friend.
This anger, this pain, even this rage, may indeed be a temptation to despair. But that just means it is an opportunity to Hope.
That feeling of helplessness, or being out of control, is a reminder to rely on the providence of God, and the people He has put in my way.
That sting of death, buried in my heart, is the foolishness of the grave defeating itself, for "Our Broken Hearts are Full of Joy," and as the U2 song goes, "A heart that is broken is a heart that is open," and Matt Maher reminds us that "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death."
O death, where is thy sting?
It is here, in my heart, reminding me that this world is futile, but that the son whose death I mourn today waits for me beyond this veil and vale of tears.
It is here, in the space left by an absent two-year-old, reminding me of my little Saints who intercede for their mother and me, for their siblings, interceding our way into heaven.
It is here, futile, defeated, and overwhelmed by the Hope of the resurrection.
O what shall I, so guilty plead?
and who for me will intercede?
when even Saints shall comfort need?
O King of dreadful majesty!
grace and mercy You grant free;
as Fount of Kindness, save me!
Recall, dear Jesus, for my sake
you did our suffering nature take
then do not now my soul forsake!
In weariness You sought for me,
and suffering upon the tree!
let not in vain such labor be.