The passion pattern17 Feb 2021
It is joy and fun that connects us to God and each other.
2020 has been an annus horribilis with sickness, death, loss of business and dislocation occurring on a grand scale.
Bearing in mind the Gospel message that the grain of wheat must die if it is to produce new growth (John 12:24), we Christians believe there is a passion pattern threading its way through all of life.
Despite the myriad difficulties that Covid has presented, we have seen it produce new life in so many ways too – in teaching, communicating, and celebrating the Sacraments. Some would say that the Church and its practices will never be the same again!
There are many ways to express this passion pattern in our lives. In Bette Midler’s beautiful song ‘The Rose’ we hear the lyrics:
‘When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only, for the lucky and the strong.
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow,
lies the seed that, with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.’
A Tunisian proverb captures the passion pattern this way: ‘How lovely is the sun after rain, and how lovely is laughter after sorrow.’
I recall that, during a conference I was attending several years ago in Sydney, a woman from the Philippines remarked: ‘The stars shine most brightly, when the night is darkest.’
To a reporter who wondered how Rose Kennedy, the matriarch of the Kennedy clan in America, could continue enduring so much family tragedy, she replied: ‘Birds sing after a storm’.
German philosopher and non-believer Friedrich Nietzsche, once observed famously about Christianity: ‘If you want me to believe in your redeemer, then you’ve got to look a lot more redeemed.’ Some who profess to be Christians believe, mistakenly and sadly, that there is no place for fun or joy in religion.
So steeped in their attachment to sin are these unfortunates that they overlook religion as our connection to God and others. Joy/fun connects us. Sin disconnects. It’s the wrong focus and it shows in their demeanour.
Instead of coming to Communion to partake joyfully in the hospitality of God the Host, the faces of some reveal the sort of misery and gloom that envelops constant watchers of television news. They have forgotten that Christians are meant to be people of the Resurrection, incurable hopers who keep on believing, trusting, hoping, and working for the possibility of change.
The joy of the Resurrection means, as Sebastian Moore states (in Jesus the Liberator of Desire, p.57), that ‘life is no longer lived under the shadow of death, it is in the light with death behind us.’
‘The virus of eternity has entered our bloodstream for ever’ – W. Barry SJ, Now Choose Life, p.98
German Jesuit Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of last century, once wrote the following reflection on Shrove Tuesday, immediately before Lent:
‘A praising of God is what laughter is, because it lets a human being be human.
‘Laughter is a praise of God, because it lets a human being be a loving person.
‘Laughter is praise of God because it is a gentle echo of God’s laughter, of the laughter that pronounces judgment on all history.
‘Laughter is praise of God because it foretells the eternal praise of God at the end of time, when those who must weep here on earth shall laugh.
‘The laughter of unbelief, of despair, and of scorn, and the laughter of believing happiness are here uncannily juxtaposed, so that before the fulfilment of the promise, one hardly knows whether belief or unbelief is laughing.
‘God gave us laughter – we should admit this and laugh.’
I can remember historian Manning Clark writing in his autobiography that there were two types of teachers at his grammar school in Melbourne.
There were the life enlargers who gave their students real perspective, who helped them see the big picture in life. In Ignatian terms they helped students see God in all things and all things in God, so that nothing in the universe is merely secular or profane. Sadly, according to Clark, these life enlargers were in the minority.
On the other hand, the majority of teachers he deemed to be ‘life straiteners’ – narrow people, with little imagination or creativity, people whose teaching remained closely confined to the curriculum, without daring to stray into the detours on which good education can thrive.
In brief, Christians are called to be people of the Resurrection, people who are joyful, and aspire to be life enlargers, ready to spread their joy wherever life takes them.
This article first appeared in Madonna magazine Autumn 2021 edition.