Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Being Alone Together

God in Christ went to the place of the loneliest sinner in order to communicate with him in dereliction by God. – Hans Urs von Balthasar
Simon Weil once observed that Christians could go to their martyrdom singing, but Christ could not. In the same way, I suppose, Christians tend to console the forlorn with a compassionate embrace, bringing to them the warmth of human charity, whereas what Christ brings them is companionship in Godforsakenness distinguishable from their own only in its greater degree of ignominy and reprobation. Of the two, the former is more materially consoling, while the latter offers a form of communion that is the true bedrock of human solidarity.

Every morning I attend Lauds and Mass at a Trappist monastery in the company of a tiny handful of other communicants, most of whom I know only from the greeting of peace we share during Mass. If we happen to leave the Abbey church after Mass at the same time, hardly a word ever passes between us. What we share each morning is all the more deeply shared inasmuch as it is suffused with solitude. Don’t get me wrong: I am always happy to meet new friends and get to know them. Indeed, I miss my old friends very much. But were those I see at morning Mass to go out for breakfast after Mass and chat about what's happening in the world and about our plans for the day, we might end up knowing each other in a much more superficial way than we do now.

For almost 25 years, I went to daily Mass at St. Francis Solano parish in Sonoma, California, accompanied by a couple of dozen parishioners. St. Francis was not my home parish, and I knew only two or thee of the daily communicants, even though I saw them every day and felt a deep connection with them. Whenever I return to Sonoma, I go to Mass at St. Francis parish and often see some of the people with whom I shared daily Eucharist for so many years. We nod, smile, and perhaps give a little wave. To me it is a foretaste of heaven.
Communion is established on Good Friday, after the cry of dereliction, and before the tomb is burst open: in the wordless silence, beyond speech, of being together in the alone. – Hans Urs von Balthasar

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