After nearly two years of “caution to the point of exhaustion,” people are finally taking their first, tentative steps toward re-establishing the bonds of friendship. Even then, one feels a twinge of…something. Is it the danger of acquiring—or worse, passing on—an illness? Or is it guilt at having fun when so many are ill, or locked in, or under the crush of financial/work-related burdens? Or perhaps embarrassment at the idea of frivolity, when there are so many more “important” (that is, practical) things vying for our attention? Within the past two weeks, I’ve had the blessing of several long-delayed visits with dear, close friends that at any other time would have been routine. One was with a priest friend who lives at a home run by religious sisters, whose care and competence are so keen that a virus wouldn’t have the guts to cross the threshold! Another was with college friends who gathered on a brisk evening for an outdoor Oktoberfest; we rejoiced over the newest additions to our crew: two little guys (grandchildren, that is) born since last we saw each other. One new grandfather drew gentle laughter from the group, while our hostess pointed to the way the tiny flecks of ash danced through the night air like stars in the heavens.
Sad to say, our culture has been conditioned, more or less reasonably, to avoid such events. But we need Irish humor (and German, and Italian) to fortify the soul, just as vaccines protect the body. Here at St. Mary’s, countless family and friends gathered to thank God for faithful parishioners who have returned to him after lives of loving service and holy example: Dolores O’Hara, Tommy McCormack, and Russell Liotta. Waves of love swept through the Church as the parish family commended these beautiful souls to the Lord.
Our only mistake, I believe, would be to dismiss any of these gatherings as “trivial” compared to the “real” world of toil and labor. Indeed, the opposite is true. There is a long tradition in Catholic spirituality to suggest that what makes God’s activity so awesome is that, strictly speaking, none of it is “necessary.” Meaningful? Yes. Supernatural? Yes. But essentially, God does not punch a time clock or make something to order. Rather, God creates and sustains the world as a free act of joy and love. As for the Christian, says Hugo Rahner:
(Through) a certain neatness and graceful nimbleness of mind and movement…man participates in the divine, and recovers…the original unity he once had with the One and the Good. The Church, grace, and liturgical action become for him no more than a prelude to that final carefree gaiety of the heart which he will experience one day in the everlasting game of the Beatific Vision.
Today’s artwork is Andrea del Sarto’s 1528 painting of the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist. As the adults look on, the older boy passes to his divine playmate what seems like a ball: actually, an orb (the globe). Think of it: Jesus plays with us. When we play, we attest to the loving protection of God. So rejoice!