2006-04-02 One of the most redundant expressions

April 2, 2006

One of the most redundant expressions in common use is “a living saint.” There are no dead saints, though they pass through death. Saints living in our midst are just in the first stage of that process. Their liveliness is not just a spectacle to admire but a model to follow.

In Holy Week, the Church follows our Lord along the path he walked in history. The saints follow him as their Saviour from sin and death. When he healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, he warned him: “See, you are made well. Sin no more, so that something worse does not happen to you” (John 5:14). What could be worse than being paralyzed thirty-eight years like that man? Worse than physical sickness is sickness of soul. Christ cures that in baptism and confession. A quadriplegic with a pure soul can attain eternal glory, when even an Olympic runner without divine grace cannot.

After he had healed the man, Jesus went into hiding, for he had not come to cure the flesh, but to cure the fatal contagion of mortality itself. In Passiontide, by an old tradition, the crucifix is veiled as a sign of this and statues of the saints are covered too, because Christ’s followers do not walk abroad while he is in the shadows. This is not fanciful stage acting. It is the living history of which all of us are part. Formerly, many scholars like the cynical Alfred Loisy thought St. John’s description of the pool of Bethesda might have been inaccurate or misinterpreted, but very recently arche­ologists uncovered the full splendor of the pool of Bethesda just as the Beloved Apostle described it. Beth Chesda is Hebrew for “House of Grace” and that grace was real and effective, not by the water in the pool but by the will of Christ whose simple command cured a man.

The liturgical re-living of the Passion is different from nostalgia. A wit said that nostalgia is history after a few drinks. The solemn liturgies walk through the events that open the gates to eternal life, and this aperture into eternity is as real as the Golden Gate that opened on the first Palm Sunday and the tombstone that rolled away on the first Easter. Passion Sunday this year is the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II at 9:27 pm in the Apostolic Palace. The Vatican is still there, and John Paul’s successor is there serenely leading the flock as the newest successor of Peter. John Paul is no less alive now that he has gone, as he prayed, to the “House of the Father.” In these days the Church prays for the catechumens about to enter the Church in the Easter Vigil, that they and all of us may give thanks for such great mysteries.

Fr. George W. Rutler

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