The wrappings of a soul….

wrappingsThere are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (emphasis mine)

I was in line for confession one Saturday when he entered.  He was bent at almost a 90 degree angle, slowly pushing his walker over to the the long line of waiting penitents, who quickly made space for him at the front..

His hair was snow white, and I thought he must be at least 90 years old, or close to it.  As I watched him shuffle into the reconciliation room, I marveled at such a sight.  I couldn’t help but imagine that a most beautiful soul was “wrapped up” in that very broken and frail body.  Here he was, making such a valiant effort to confess his sins.  I was humbled by this man’s act, which made him so beautiful to me, in spite of his outward appearance.

I often ponder the “wrappings” of souls.  There was a time when I simply imagined that a soul filled one’s body.  But of course, a soul is a spirit and takes up no space.  It does not have a location in the body, but in some mysterious way, inhabits it, or rather is united to it in forming one being.

God is much more interested in the soul, than in the body, and He has many ways of wrapping up these precious souls which bear His Own Image and Likeness.

We, more often than not, first look at the wrapping.  Some souls are wrapped beautifully, but others are plain or even revolting.  The worldly quickly fall in love with the beautiful wrappings while often ignoring what lies beneath.

Every person we see is a mystery, a gift, an immortal being.  Each one is so loved by God that He thirsts for them as if their were no others.  Jesus would have died for only you….or me.  If we want to measure the worth of a soul, we need only to look at a crucifix.

I love the quote above by C.S. Lewis.  I am delighted to look around a crowd of people and realize that I am among immortal beings infinitely loved by God.  I do not know who is the greater or the lesser in His eyes.  The wrappings don’t tell.  I only know that I am called to love and cherish each one of them, because He loves them so.

It is a terrible thing to hurt another human being:  to inflict the pain of a cruel remark, to ignore them, reject them, take them for granted.  The world is full of wounded people because we can be so careless, so mean.  As Lewis says above, these are “possible gods and goddesses.”  And it is so true.  They are already the children of God, so beloved by Him.

I confess that it helps me to love others when I see them in this light.  I am moved to respect them more when I realize that they are indeed immortal beings, destined for greatness, for Heaven, for a participation in God’s Own Life.

You are all beautiful!  You are all possessed of great dignity!  You are all worthy of respect, love, and kindness. You will live forever.  

No matter how God has wrapped us, one day we will be unveiled and our true beauty will be revealed, and that beauty will reflect only one thing:  how much we have loved.  And immortal beings that we are, we shall wear that wrapping….the one love wove for us for all eternity,.

My dear friends, if God loved us so much, we too should love each other.  No one has ever seen God, but as long as we love each other God remains in us and his love comes to its perfection in us.  (I John 4:11-12)

Uncle Johnny’s lesson….

I didn’t know Uncle Johnny very well.  He had a stroke before I was born, and lost his capacity to speak.  He lived in the garage apartment on his sister’s property, and she lovingly cared for him.

To my sisters and me he was a curiosity, and we used to sit on the garage steps and watch him roll tobacco into white papers, making his own cigarettes, and sometimes his eyes would smile kindly at us.  That, and the fact that he dragged his right leg when he walked are really all I remember about him….except for his funeral.

I was about ten when he died, and his funeral was the first one I had ever attended.  I can still remember that it was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies.  I was struck by the contrast of nature’s beauty and the sorrow of my aunt .  I gathered with my family, and the few others in attendance and stood around the grave, covered with a green tarp, while the priest said prayers and sprinkled holy water.

My mind wandered off, trying to grasp that Uncle Johnny was gone forever from the earth.  I thought of how the rest of us would go on with our lives, but he wouldn’t be there anymore.  It seemed so impossible to my young mind.  How could someone I had always known really be gone?

It was my first encounter with the reality of death, and I have never forgotten it.  People die; life goes on.  Then, most people forget about you, and sooner or later, everyone does.

The year after Uncle Johnny died, Aunt Anna died of leukemia at age twenty-seven.  She left behind a husband and two babies.  They buried her in her wedding dress, and everyone cried.  But life went on.  Her husband remarried a few years later; her children couldn’t even remember her.

I often return to these thoughts when someone “important” dies.  Celebrity, accomplishments, power, wealth, all remain behind.  Death is the great equalizer.

God tells us as much:   What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  James 4:14

When Steve Jobs and Christopher Hitchens recently died within months of each other, I found myself pondering their lives….and their deaths.  Jobs was an agnostic, and Hitchens, a militant atheist.  Does anything else really matter now?
The media has long since moved on to more timely matters.  The accolades of friends and admirers have descended to a whisper.  Jobs and Hitchens, like Uncle Johnny, have left our world.
Where are they now?  That is all that really matters for any of us.
This life we have been given….it is such a gift, such a grace, such an opportunity from Our Heavenly Father through Our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have only this infinitesimal moment in time to love and thank Him on earth, to help others to know and love Him, to fall on our knees in prayer and worship, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to dry the tears of our neighbor, to give them food for their body or their soul, to offer a hand or a hug.  Simply to love….God first, and then everyone without exception.
All of life can be reduced to that moment at life’s end, when God will gaze deeply into our souls and He Who is Truth will see us as we really are….and there will be no place to hide.
And who we have been in the world and what we have accomplished or the power and wealth we have accumulated will only serve to make us even more accountable for having used these gifts for loving God and neighbor.
Eternal Father, grant me the grace of cherishing every moment of my life as a gift to return to You, filled with whatever will most please Your Divine Heart.  Let me not waste the precious gift of time this life on earth is.  Draw me into Your Loving Gaze that I may always be united to You, always lost in You, even when my poor mind must be occupied with other duties.  Call to me when the gleam of this world’s distractions captures my eye. Shelter me within Your Very Being until that day when nothing can ever separate me from You again.  Grant that I may love you forever…
Uncle Johnny wasn’t rich or powerful, and hardly anyone knew him.  But I wonder what God thought about smiling eyes and Uncle Johnny’s lesson.