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I used to be able to walk rather great distances without even thinking about it. Now every venture has to be more carefully planned. One thing for sure, I’m not going to go as far as I once did! And so, I content myself with a walk from Madonna House to St. Mary’s, and then around the grounds down there.
That means I pass by two cemeteries on my little outing: the parish cemetery of Holy Canadian Martyrs church and the Madonna House cemetery located in a secluded spot on the property surrounding St. Mary’s.
Admittedly, that might not seem like a very exciting walk. But I like doing it all the same, because I know quite a few people buried there (all of the ones in our cemetery), and I remember them with much gratitude and also offer a prayer or two for their eternal salvation.
I’ve been joking lately about what I want engraved on my cross when my turn comes. I tell people I only want three words as follows (pardon the quirky spelling): UnMayed; DisMayed; ReMayed.
UnMayed, because of the radical work God has done on me to remove the illusion that I can create myself.
DisMayed, because that has been my usual reaction to this purifying work of God in my life.
ReMayed, because the goal of all of this purification is to make me to be truly the person I am meant to be in the eyes of God. I would note that this last stage is still incomplete and in process. Come to think of it, so are the other two.
I could even make the claim that these three words are what life is all about, and not only for those with the last name of May.
Wherever we live, whoever we are, if we follow Christ, there is a radical work of re-creation that he does in us in order for us to be his disciples.
Scriptures are full of this kind of story. You have only to look at the life of St. Paul or of St. Peter, not to mention all the saints who followed in their footsteps, to see how true this is.
Some of this work we take on ourselves in the choices we make to follow the Lord more faithfully. But most of it is something that happens to us as we live out our vocation.
We have such a small vision of who we are meant to be, or even what it really means to be a disciple.
I’ve concluded that I have little to no idea, really, of what it means to be either unmade or remade. I’m good at being dismayed, but the other two elude my grasp.
If I try to unmake myself in order to remake myself, I end up being neither unmade nor remade, but only end up with more of the same old. It’s, well, dismaying! Very frustrating.
But the frustration is meant to lead me to turn back to Christ, who alone knows what the new creation is all about.
And that brings me back to the issue of visiting cemeteries. Cemeteries are about the limits of this creation, the old order that resulted from Original Sin. They also are about the hope that one day, we all shall rise again, that there will be a new creation, the one that the risen Lord and his mother Mary live in even now.
In the new creation there will be no more tears, suffering, sickness, or sorrow, but only the joy of eternal life, life fulfilled, life radiant with the glory of God.
At the same time, it will be our life, that is to say, our human life, the fullness of who we really are—the image of God.
Of course, I should add that one need not hope for such a thing at all. One can live one’s life in total self-centredness, in greed and bitterness and despair. We are free to choose, but what I’m focusing on here is the choice to follow the Lord through this vale of tears into the tomb and ultimately into the new creation.
There is a strong tendency in our world today, at least the Western world, to despair of anything beyond what this world has to offer.
To think of something beyond this world, to think that our life goes on eternally and joyfully, completely sustained by a loving God for his creatures, this is not something that so many people are thinking about on an average day.
We live in a culture of death in many ways, and it takes many forms: from the lack of worship in our lives, to abortion, to wars in various countries, to infidelity in marriage, to greed and a life of lust, and so forth. Only the gift of faith can save us from all this.
It was on a November day 50 years ago that I arrived in Madonna House looking for a renewal of that gift of faith, hoping that I could find it, wondering if it still could be found.
But I thank God that I did find it anew here at Madonna House, partly through prayer and in great measure through the faith of other people, many of whom now rest in one or the other of these two cemeteries here.
I am grateful for their faith, their struggle and their perseverance to the end.
For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5: 3-5)
This is exactly what people of faith have taught me—that faith in Christ alone, he who is the same yesterday, today and forever—can conquer both my own heart’s ambivalences towards truth and send principalities and powers running away in terror.
Not a bad reflection for a little walk on a rather darkish November morning, with the sun struggling to climb from the horizon, and where low grey clouds, almost immobile, hung like old musty curtains. Come, Lord, set this world—and my heart!—aflame with your ardor for the kingdom of your Father and ours!