“For one week he shall make a firm compact with the many; half the week he shall abolish sacrifice and oblation…” (Daniel 9:27)
The traditional interpretation of “one week” in the prophet Daniel's writing points to Holy Week. And the “half the week” is an allusion to the Triduum of the Lord. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is when Jesus established his New Covenant the people of God. The last three days of Holy Week- considered to be the holiest three days of the liturgical calendar -is when the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of our Lord are celebrated by the Catholic Church.
After Jesus Christ passed through the Gates of Death, God raised up the body of Jesus so that He could give testimony that the fullness of life is ours for the taking after we pass through those same gates. In fact, Christians who meditate on that life of promise beyond the grave gradually, by the grace of God, lose their natural fear of death. The New Testament says as much:
“Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” (Hebrews 2: 14-15) To be a slave to this fear of death involves the despair of never seeing deceased loved one again and the belief that all good things comes to an end upon our death. As one priest said, “To avoid the confrontation with death is a refusal to live life to the full.” Indeed our view of death determines how we live life. If we are burdened with the handicap of unbelief then this life and all of its goods will be slavishly sought after and clung to.
Bishop Sheen once said that if you tell a boy that he is to be given one ball and one ball only, then he will be afraid to play with it. But if the little boy knows he is getting another ball, he will play with the ball with a carefree spirit and get the most out of it. And if he is feeling generous, he might even be inspired to give it to another boy or girl knowing that he will soon get a better one. To use the words of our Lord: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” But if this is the only life we have, such generosity and love is unintelligible.
If truth be told, worldly people constantly give witness to their anxiety when they hurry to accumulate as much pleasures and as many material goods as possible. They are always in a hurry...racing against time. Furthermore, the anxiety over the possibility of losing their life or material belongings magnifies their misfortune. When the hazards of life press up against them, they overcompensate by invoking the State for protection. As such, elected officials then create layers of laws and regulations to give their constituents the illusion of security. Perhaps, in part, this is what the Letter to the Hebrews was referring to when it stated that “those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.”
But death is not the end of life. Christ revealed to us in the Holy Triduum that not only does death follow life, but that life- a higher and fuller life -follows death. However, for centuries since the beginning of time, God has been tutoring us about the mysteries of the Triduum through analogies of his creation. “The great truth,” Pope Leo XIII said, “which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation - that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live.”
Perhaps this is why the sun sets only to rise again; or why a person sleeps at night taking on the semblance of death only to wake up the next morning; or why a preborn baby knows only darkness until it is born to a world of light and color. Father Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, gave a wonderful sermon to Pope Benedict XVI a few years back called, The Christian Response to Secularism. In it he said, “Between the life of faith in time and eternal life there is a relationship similar to that which exists between the life of the embryo in the maternal womb and that of the baby, once he has come to the light.”
The pontifical preacher goes on to elaborate on this illustration with a story. In fact, he related the following story to Pope Benedict XVI and the faithful gathered at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome:
“There were two twins, a boy and a girl, so intelligent and precocious that, still in the mother's womb, already spoke to one another. The girl asked her brother: 'According to you, will there be a life after birth?' He answered: 'Don't be ridiculous. What makes you think that there is something outside of this narrow and dark space in which we find ourselves?' The girl, gaining courage, insisted: 'Perhaps a mother exists, someone who has put us here, and who will take care of us.' And he answered: 'Do you, perhaps, see a mother anywhere? What you see is all that is.' She replied: 'But don't you feel at times a pressure on the chest that increases day by day and pushes us forward?' 'To tell the truth,' he answered, 'it's true: I feel it all the time.' 'See,' concluded his sister triumphantly, 'this pain cannot be for nothing. I think it is preparing us for something greater than this small space.'”
In 1917, when Our Lady appeared to Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, she brought heaven to this “small space” of ours; that is, to a world that was growing darker by the decade. After each of the Blessed Virgin's appearances, the children were supremely happy and could not wait to see her again! Even little Lucia caught a glimpse of heaven while gazing upon the beautiful Lady from Heaven. She told her parents, “Heaven was so pretty…there were many wild ponies.” Lucia would later say that “before the Divine Presence we felt exaltation and joy.” To be sure, one lasting effect of the Blessed Virgin's visitations was that the three children lost their natural fear of death. It could be said of them that they eagerly looked forward to heaven. For them- as with the twins in the mother's womb -death was no longer deemed to be the end of life but the labor pains through which they attain eternal happiness.
Such supernatural interventions are rare for most people. And during the Catholic liturgical calendar the Church only celebrates the Triduum once a year. However, the Lord, in his goodness, gives us many reminders of death and resurrection through his creation. As St. Paul said, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:20) Not only is God's existence understood and perceived in what he has made, but his creation is also a harbinger that there is life beyond the grave! We are daily reminded of this every time the sun shines its light on us after the dark of night.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.