Thursday, November 14, 2013

No Man is an Island

Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse.

So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.

In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
Spe Salvi 48

Reflection – Well, I’m back, and very grateful for a week of vacation in which I did nothing whatsoever of any importance. Perfected my impersonation of a lump on a log, basically. So now, back to blogging.

Before I went on vacation I had done the first half of this paragraph of Spe Salvi, in light of it being November, the month when we commemorate the faithful departed in a particular way. Half way through the month, it is good to be reminded that we are to pray for our brothers and sisters with particular intensity and focus at this time.

Pope Benedict brings up some very profound points here, in the context of this prayer and this focus. First there is the rejection of this terrible individualism that is still very much a bane of our times. The idea that we are atomized units essentially separated from one another is not a Christian one. We are not, on the other extreme, melted down into one gestalticized mass, as in some of the pantheistic religions or Star Trek’s Borg; we are indeed individuals. In a sense pantheism and the Borg is a veiled form of individualism, as the only way to overcome separation seen in those systems is to become one giant individual.

No – we are people, subjects, ourselves, and will remain such for eternity. But in that, we are called to communion; to be an individual subject is precisely to be made to enter into relationship, into communion, and this is essential to our humanity made in the image of the Trinity.

So the very fact of intercessory prayer, and especially prayer for those who have otherwise completely gone out of our ability to help or share life with, reveals something very important and wonderful about our humanity. When we pray ‘eternal rest grant unto him (her, them) O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,’ we actually are present and involved and active in this person’s life and encounter with God and purification.

The communitarian and other-directed nature of our faith is so important. We are never—even in the depths of our intimate prayer life with God—just in it for ourselves and what we can get out of it. The very nature of our humanity in its original creation, and the perfection of our humanity in its Christian redemption, is directed towards charity, towards community, towards others.

Love of God and love of neighbor can indeed be distinguished, and indeed logically must be—we cannot simply say that we love God only and exclusively by loving our neighbor. That being said, there is a necessary and vital connection between the two, and we cannot truly have either without the other. 

The whole divine life we are called to deepen in calls us out of ourselves and into the dance of God and humanity, and in that dance, we are called to a deep and sincere love and compassion for all people, which indeed is the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shared with us by the grace of Jesus Christ.

So… let’s pray for our departed ones and all the faithful departed, and in that, know ourselves to be sharers in God’s love and God’s mercy for the world. Not a bad deal, considering that our own hope for salvation lies in nothing else but that mercy for ourselves, too.

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