Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pascal death-The Highway to Radical New Living

This week we are celebrating the greatest mystery in the greatest week of the Christian calendar. It is the week we call Holy. In our understanding of the events and Liturgical celebrations of this week, we are empowered to journey into the Pascal Mystery. This is a mystery we experience every day of our lives. Our participation enables us and empowers us to journey into a mystery which is part and parcal of our everyday lives. This mystery is hidden and revealed in every moment of every day enabling us to participate in the life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Most importantly, the final event we celebrate is the descent of the Holy Spirit. For some of us it will be an orderly celebration. For others because of today's life experience it will be about the possibility rather than the reality of resurrection. The Liturgical calendar says we can journey from suffering death to burial and resurrection in three days of celebration. In the reality of life, this does not happen in nice 24 hour increments, which is Kronos time. When we see ourselves participating in the reality of the Pascal Mystery, we are in the realm of God's time, which is called Kairos. There are no measuring instruments when it comes to God's time. There is nothing about God that can be boxed, controlled or measured in time and space. In the spiritual life there is no time, there is no space.

The Pascal Mystery is first and foremost a mystery. This mystery teaches that with every beginning there is an ending and with every ending there is a new beginning. It is a mystery dealing with the deepest working of God's grace. A mystery dealing with death, burial and new life. A spiritual mystery such as this cannot be explained, it can only be entered into and treated with reverence. I would like to suggest this year, more than ever, we need to open ourselves up to what this week offers in the way of hope, consolation and the promise of radical new life. This will come to us through the power of honesty, honesty about our everyday experience. There can be no spiritual growth unless we are developing a progressive honesty which is about embracing what is real. Where there is no honesty, there is no reality. So, there is no God. When we want to get a grip on reality and the Pascal Mystery within us, here are a number of words you and I cannot have in our vocabulary, the following are many words which have no connection with reality:
could, would, should, what if, if, if only, when, ought, try, interesting, or any similar words used to deny our real feelings and our real emotions.

On the otherhand, here are six words that help us to face our reality and they are:
yes, no, I did, I didn't, I will, I will not. In these words, the REAL which is God will be revealed to us. Resurrection is not just "an intellectual promise or an historical event, but a daily experience by the person who knows that his/her faith might not be in remembering but in living here and now". Eugene Kennedy. We must get out of our fantasy world, our fantasy world of denial, the world of illusions, so we can encounter the living God. So we can encounter the Pascal Mystery as it occurs in our everyday reality. This makes every moment of everyday Holy, a place of encounter and hopefully an everdeepening encounter with both the suffering Christ and the Risen Christ.

A number of years ago, I read a book by Fr. Ronald Holheiser which enabled me to enter into a new and better life-giving understanding of what the Pascal Mystery is all about. In his book, The Holy Longing, he explains the difference between terminal death and Pascal death. "Terminal death is a death that ends life and then possibility. Pascal death, like terminal death, is real, however, Pascal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens a person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life. The image of the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying so as to produce new life is an image of Pascal death. Then resurrected life...is the reception of a radically new life... The Pascal Mystery is about Pascal death and resurrected life."

Continuing on, in the same chapter entitled "The Spirituality of the Pascal Mystery", we read the following:

The Pascal Mystery might be diagramed as follows:
1) Good Friday...The loss of life-real death
2) Easter Sunday..."the reception of new life"
3) The Forty Days..."a time for readjustment to the new, and grieving the old"
4) Ascension..."letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to claim"
5) Pentecost..."the reception of new spirit, for the new life that one is already living"

Put into a more colloquial language and stated as personal Pascal challenge for each one of us, one might recap this diagram this way:
1) "Name of your death"
2) "Claim your birth"
3) "Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality"
4) "Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing"
5) "Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living"

This cycle is not something we must undergo just once...It is rather something we must undergo daily, in every aspect of our lives. Christ spoke of many deaths, of daily deaths and of many risings and various Pentecosts. The Pascal Mystery is the secret to life. Ultimately, our happiness depends upon properly undergoing it... Unless we die in infancy, we will have many deaths in our lives and within each one of these we must receive new life and new spirit. Daily we must undergo the Pascal Mystery.

We all know what BFFs are...and the drama that occurs when BFFs become enemies rather than the best friends. I would like to suggest that what we think are our greatest enemies are in reality God's BFFs. That is the secret. That is a paradox we have to encounter and deal with on our spiritual journey.

God's three BFFs and our worst nightmares, which are failure, rejection and nakedness. Fr. Richard Roar uses those three to describe what the cross is for each one of us. Each one of us on our journey into the resurrected life will have to deal with what it means to fail, what it means to be rejected and deal with who we are without any the many masks we wear to hide who we really are. Honesty is not only necessary but is is essential for us to journey through the reality of the Pascal Mystery so we can not only claim but enjoy the new life that is ours because of the journey we are on right now. For those who are in Twelve Step programs, they know that recovery is dependant on honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. Where there is no honesty there is no recovery. To sum up, honesty makes it possible for us to journey from death to new life.

The celebrations of Holy Thursday are rich with outward signs of celebration. Good Friday, the atmosphere is an atmosphere of the startk reality [no bells and whistles]. Then we come to the time between Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This is a time of an emptiness, devoid of any movement. This time can be called "tomb-time" or "womb-time" and is also called 'in-between time". There is something happening in the womb of the tomb which is going to result in an explosion of new life. The only thing that we have to do is what most of us are very poor at doing, is to wait. We have to wait for the new birth that is going to come from the death that has taken place. A seed does not germinate quickly in the darkness of the earth (human), it is a slow process which must be endured. We, too, must enter into the darkness which comes to us from being human and patiently await the slow transformation and transfiguration which will occur through the power of God's grace. The resurrection is all about transformation, transfiguration and the birthing of new life. We believe the same God who raised Jesus from the dead is the same God who is present in all of our dying, in all of our deaths, and is slowly and uniquely bringing us to a new level of living, to a new level of being, a freedom as his beloved sons and daughters. We believe as it happened to His Beloved Son, our brother Jesus Christ, so too, will it happen to us who are loved with the same love. Whatever has happened to The Beloved will also happen to each one of us. The tomb-time, the womb-time is called by Fr. Richard Rohr "liminal time", it is the in-between time. The time that between that death we have experienced and what has not yet appeared to take the place of what we have lost.

For myself, I find it a very difficult and anxious place to be in. We have said goodbye to something or someone that was a part and partial of our everyday life. We must enter a new way of living not knowing what is going to occupy that place and space. How many millions of people have lost their jobs and are now searching for new ones. For others it is even more difficult because their search is not being rewarded so they have to live in a deeper darkness. How many people have seen their IRAs, bank accounts, college funds, not only take a deep hit, but in some cases disappear? What is the future holding for them? The families and love ones who have had to deal with sudden disasters are in their womb-time, tomb-time, Holy Saturday time. We see this as a time of true darkness. There seems to be no felt-sense of God. Our sense of God somehow dried up and disappeared. We are now being forced to see a God that is beyond our feelings, our thoughts, our imagination. To again quote Fr. Rolheiser, "when you feel agnostic, even atheistic, because we can no longer imagine the existence of God. God seems non-existence, absent, dead, an fantasy of wishful thinking'.....when we get to this reality, we are in deepest faith. Faith begins exactly where atheism assumes it ends."

For those of us who have endured the desert of Lent, the journey is almost over. We are ending the journey into the depths ourselves where the demons were encountered, where the limitations of our humanity were experienced. This resulted in a cry for help out of the depths of our emptiness and nothingness. Easter Sunday is a time of celebration, it is a time when we rejoice and celebrate in the felt-presence of God, who is revealed to us as loving, caring and faithful. Because of His faithful care and compassion, we are led to the acceptance of His gifts of Light, Life and Love. Light enables us to journey out of the prison of the guilt and shame into the freedom of being Beloved daughter/Beloved son. God's Life enables us to journey from being at war with ourselves and others to a place of peace and serenity. God's love enables us to journey from our Pascal death to resurrection and to a radical new life lived in real freedom. That is the ideal. Reality is altogether different. I expect many will come on Easter Sunday only to be brought to the understanding that in reality they are still in the fear and anxiety of Gesemane or the abandonment of Calvary or in the darkness of the in-between time in the tomb. What we pray for is that by this participation in the celebration in Easter Sunday, they are awakened to what is their destiny.

Again in her book, Little Pieces of Light, Sister Joyce has this to say, "Being able to let go and let God take over one's life demands a tremendous amount of trust in this Devine Companion. Thomas Merton writes that, 'True love and prayer are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone'. It is in within the hour of our greatest darkness that we discovered that we are never really alone. It is a time when we learn to trust as Gods love is much more than we ever imagined." This gives us the great freedom to be able to sing our Halleluahs with real gusto. Death has turned into life. Christ is risen and is alive within you and me.

"O happy fault of Adam that has revealed to us such a God."


  1. Wonderful. I can hear your accent as I read :)

  2. I haven't been to church in a long while. The past two days (Good Friday and today Holy Saturday) I have felt like I am in a place exactly as you describe....a time of emptiness, devoid of any movement. Today I have found myself asking questions about my faith and asking God to fill my heart and mind and walk next to me,guide me. I felt like going to Holy Saturday mass so I went to the St. Andrew website for a start time. I found the link to your blog and I am just blown away by your words. They were exactly what I needed to hear at exactly this moment. Thank you Fr. Joe for your words.
    Peace be with you....Amy