Monday, February 2, 2015

On Eagle's Wings: The universal call to holiness, Part II

No comments :
 They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Ten years ago, I chose St. John the Evangelist to be my patron saint.  St. John was Jesus’ youngest apostle, as well as the only apostle who was not martyred.  This is because Christ gives the keeping of His Holy Mother, Mary, to John at the foot of the cross in the following exchange: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). 

St. John is referred to multiple times throughout Scripture as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  He was entrusted with the protection of Mary and was persecuted under the Roman emperor Domitian, who exiled him to the island of Patmos, where it is believed he wrote the final book of the Bible, Revelation.  In approximately 99 AD, St. John died a natural death of old age as the author of the fourth Gospel, Revelation, and three epistles.

St. John’s Gospel is unique from the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and contains stories, parables, and language that are absent from the other three gospels.  Each of the evangelists is given a symbol to represent his Gospel.  St. Matthew is the winged man because his text focuses on Christ’s humanity.  St. Mark is the lion because he writes of Christ’s kingship.  St. Luke is the ox because his gospel portrays the deliberate labor and intentionality of Christ’s mission.   St. John’s symbol is the eagle because he emphasizes Christ’s divinity.  St. John’s Gospel opens with identifying Jesus as the Logos, the Divine Word of Love that the Father speaks to humanity, which takes 33 years to pronounce: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1. 

Koshy Koshy's "Palla's Fish Eagle" is licensed under CC by 2.0.
            Because the eagle is St. John’s symbol, eagles have become a sort of sacred animal for me.  Throughout cultures, eagles represent freedom, the flight of the soul from the body, the boundless potential of the spiritual realm, and the power of divinity.  In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the great eagles exist as a race of sentient beings whose majesty and nobility cause them to assist Gandalf and the Hobbits multiple times.  In the United States, of course, the eagle exists as a symbol of liberty and justice for all.  From a theological perspective, we not only associate the eagle with Christ’s divinity and John’s Gospel, but we understand it in large part to represent the flight of the soul back to God. 
I suppose eagles have been on my mind because this past October, my grandfather passed away.  This was a sudden and devastating event for my entire family, but especially for my sisters and I because my grandfather had been more of a second father to us than a grandfather.  The family gathered for a beautiful funeral and burial remembering and celebrating his life, but each day is still a challenge to discover how to live in a world that he no longer occupies.  I find it is these moments in life—births, deaths, marriages, funerals—which bring home to us the necessity and reality of our faith with blazing clarity. Our faith carries us through these monumental human events, giving meaning and purpose to events otherwise too mysterious, tragic, or awesome to comprehend.   
My grandfather was a man of profound, steady, and enduring faith who prayed every day of his life.  His last words, in fact, were praying the chaplet of Divine Mercy with us.  He understood himself to be a simple man; he was a carpenter who fought in the Korean War, married his childhood sweetheart, and fathered three children.  He was the patriarch of our family, which grew to include his seven granddaughters and great grandson.  He was a family man, a stable, abiding, and quiet presence in all of our lives that guided and encouraged when we were being less than what we should.  He lived the practical reality of his faith as a steward of the land, working with his hands on his farm until the day his body no longer allowed him to work.  His every action and word demonstrated his quiet integrity, his infinite patience, his fidelity to his faith, his wife, his children, and his home.  In short, when I think of what it means to be a “good man,” I think of my grandfather.

There exists somewhat of a mental hiccup when we, as lay people, use the word “holy” to describe another lay person.  There’s always a touch of reservation when applying, or hearing that word applied, to a person who is not a member of a religious order.  It seems difficult for us to remember that all people, of all vocations, are called to be holy. 

In the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations), this universal call to holiness is proclaimed: “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5).  In short, every human person who chooses to follow Christ has a mission and a calling to holiness.  Whether through the sacrament of marriage, as a member of a religious order, or simply as a celibate single, we are all called to the type of holiness that strengthens and renews the Church with its purity of purpose. 

My grandfather was a holy man.  He was not a priest, brother, monk, or deacon, but simply a man who lived out his vocation as husband and father to the fullest.  He guided his family in faith through his words and actions.  He believed, he educated, he lived, and he died practicing the truth of his faith.  And I think this is a type of holiness to which those of us who are married are called—a life of beautiful, profound simplicity, in which faith and family are both the anchor and the horizon.  Whatever our gifts, whatever our burdens, we are called to live out Christ’s love for the Church, through vocation, regardless of financial situation or status.  And as we grow in holiness, we watch this holiness take root and blossom in our families and friends.   
My grandfather inspired my entire family to the type of holiness that he lived out every day of his life.  Still, if you used that word to describe him, he would have been embarrassed and denied it unequivocally.  I think that type of humility belongs to holiness like warmth belongs to fire.    And though most days holiness may seem like an unachievable goal or unrealistic expectation for most of us, we need to center ourselves on the reality that we are called, regardless of our weaknesses, to give that holiness to our families and the world at large. 

I pray that my grandfather is in heaven, or very soon will be.  I find myself praying to St. John in special intercession for my grandfather, who, out of everyone I’ve ever known, most earned the word “holy” in his lifetime.  I like to visualize the eagle of St. John during these prayers and hope that my grandfather was carried, on eagle’s wings, straight into the arms of the Father. 

May you rest there, Grandy, until we meet again.  

No comments :

Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you! Please keep comments respectful and relevant to the topic at hand.