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Remembering Earl

A story rises up in me tonight, needing to be told. I am not sure why but I must follow the inner prompting.

Late last week, I was heading into Walgreen’s to pick up a prescription when I met him. I had just left church, my heart still warmed by Eucharist.

It had been a while since I had encountered anyone on my way into the pharmacy and I had wondered if they were cracking down on the panhandlers. Part of me secretly hoped they were. Another part (a better part, I hope) wondered where the poor were going during the pandemic.

Are there no places left to beg?

In any event, on this cool evening, I saw a young man lingering by the door. I braced myself, both knowing and not knowing what was to come.

As I reached the entrance, he apologized for stopping me and said that he wasn’t going to ask me for money. “Could you just buy me something to eat? I’m so hungry. I already have a dollar.”

“My name is Earl.”

This last part surprised me. Usually I am the one to initiate the introductions.

When I didn’t immediately say no, he continued, “I’ll wait until you take care of your business inside. I don’t care how long it takes.” Looking over his shoulder, he added, “I shouldn’t be standing here.”

Apparently they were cracking down. Undoubtedly people had complained at regularly being accosted by the poor.

Having agreed to help him, I was not surprised to find him waiting when I emerged ten minutes later.

Part of me just wanted to give him some money and be on my way. But I knew that was not what I was called to do. It would be easier – but not right.

It was not quite dark and the street was well lit. Normally it is a busy street but for many weeks it has been largely torn up in perpetual construction. I assessed the risks.

He chose a carry out pizza place within view and we set off walking, giving us an opportunity to talk.

“Pull up your face mask,” I repeatedly chided him, though clearly the mask had seen better days. “For your protection.”

He grumbled and complied.

I asked him how he came to be asking strangers to buy him food.

“My mother won’t have me anymore,” he replied without rancor. “I’m on probation.”

The charge had been assault. He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask him to. When I asked his age, I was surprised to learn that he was 27. I would have believed him if he had said 17.

He appeared so young, so thin, so lost.

His eyes were bloodshot. From drugs? Or perhaps from the exhaustion of living on the street? It didn’t really matter. He was hungry.

He didn’t have much body to hold up his pants and he tugged at them as they slipped.

“I don’t have a gun,” he assured me. “My pants just won’t stay up.”

We arrived at the shop where pizzas were basking under warming lights, waiting for someone to claim them.

Earl asked for a small cheese pizza. The worker, who also needed to pull his mask up, produced the pizza and looked a bit puzzled when it was time for money to be produced.

“I’m buying,” I filled the awkward moment, as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

Earl momentarily looked alarmed when tax was added, thinking perhaps it was going to cost more than I would pay. I assured him and paid it. (Probably a “tip” for the worker given that carryout food is not taxable in Ohio.)

Sniffing and caressing the box, Earl seemed to relax for a moment, anticipating relief.

As we left the pizza place, Earl paused. Inwardly sighing, I sensed what was coming next.

“Could I have $3 to pay this guy so I can stay at his house tonight? It’s going to be cold tonight.”

He was right. The temperature was predicted to drop into the 40’s. His clothes were thin. Two or three dollars seems to be the going rate for a night on someone’s couch.

I thought of how many things I buy that I don’t really need.

I gave him ten and we parted ways.

But he lingers in my memory. How will he ever survive?

+++

I know I’m a fool. You don’t have to tell me.

All the things that could have happened to me.

How he probably used the money for drugs or alcohol.

That I’m reinforcing panhandling.

Yes, I know.

But, having just received Christ our Savior into my heart, could I possibly have said no? Can I claim communion with the Lord but ignor His lost child?

I cannot help but call to mind the passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, often cited as “evidence” that there is a hell, a place of eternal damnation.

Whether one accepts this notion or the more merciful universalism I have previously defended, the utter gravity of the Lord’s warning cannot be ignored.

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.

Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?

He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.

St. Matthew (25: 31-45)

I cannot fail to note that our Savior only issues this dire warning once in all of Scripture. He does not address this warning to those who have abortions or are homosexual, much less those who lie or steal or covet or murder.

It is not that He condones these disordered behaviors.

Rather, He is making it abundantly clear that we cannot claim righteousness before Him by simply keeping the Law.

In the end, it is not the Law that truly matters. We are broken and it is not the Law that saves us.

We are saved only by the love that pours forth from the heart of Christ – a love that not only keeps the Law but fulfills it in self-emptying sacrifice.

We who believe know that Jesus was not merely a wise man who lived 2000+ years ago. He is the anointed One, the eternal Son of the Father.

In His eternity, He is not gone from our midst.

He walks the streets. He is hungry. He is sick. He is naked. He is in prison.

Indeed, I am a fool. I do not write this to justify myself but to condemn myself.

I did not do nearly enough.

Forgive me, Earl.

May God in His mercy walk with you and guide you and protect you.

Amen.

Dangerous times

I have wrestled with whether to write this piece. I do not want to seem to be using my blog, a place that I have considered a sacred space, as a political tool. I begin writing now with the prayer of discernment that I often offer at such times: speak through me – or make it not work out so that I will know that it is not Your will.

I have chosen to write because I consider these highly dangerous times. Those of you who know me know that I am anything but a conspiracy theorist. Hence, I do not sound the alarm casually. However, when I see disaster on the horizon, I cannot not remain silent. It is not that I believe my voice has any real power in the world but I still must make it clear which side I am on when the battle gets fierce.

There are many dangerous things going on in our world today. There is a pandemic that is resulting in suffering and death for hundreds of thousands around the world. There are signs of great disturbances in the health of our planet, as each year we see not only increasingly devastating hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires, but we receive dire reports of habitats permanently changing as a result of human activity.

Beginning in our country, we see widespread outrage over racial inequalities and brutality against people who are different by race, gender, orientation, status, etc. While the protests were triggered by a brutal act by police in Minnesota, around the world there are too many outrageous acts to keep track of. I just read yesterday how a woman of lower caste in India died after being gang raped by men of a (so-called) higher caste.

I could go on. But the danger I wish to write about rests not so much in these events but in the spiritual warfare that underlies them. I have written about spiritual warfare before and there is nothing new about the fierce battle between good and evil that plagues our planet. But I sense that we are on the brink of something different, a turning point in the battle from which, if we ignore it, there may be no turning back. That our nation, indeed our world, is so polarized is but a sign that we are reaching a critical juncture.

I am not about to claim that one political party in the upcoming election is good and the other is evil. We are all corrupted by evil, even when we believe we are behind the “right” cause. But I must say that I see many signs that Donald Trump is a dangerous man. While this sounds like it cannot be anything but a political comment, please bear with me. Please know that I regularly pray for his redemption. I do not hate him – but I believe that, knowingly or not, he has become a tool of the evil one.

While many people may have voted for him in 2016 because they believed he would represent conservative values or defend the right to life of the unborn, he brought with him considerable spiritual baggage that should have been alarming to people of faith. It is not my place to list or judge his sins – the media has done that job thoroughly. But it is very concerning that he has developed what seems to be a cult-like following of people who say they will support him no matter what he does. Indeed, he has even bragged of this – that he could shoot someone point blank in public and not lose a voter.

This is dangerous. He speaks of himself in superlatives, while denying all of the dangers around us – denying the seriousness of the pandemic, of climate change, of racial oppression. Publicly given a direct invitation, he failed to distance himself from white supremacists who support him. A good many of his supporters speak of him as though he were the messiah, sent by God to preserve Christianity in our nation. It seems to not matter that so much of his personal and political behavior stands in direct opposition to Christian values. Need I point out that it has been said that the antichrist will present himself in this way?

I am not suggesting that Mr. Trump is THE antichrist. I would have no way of knowing who that is or when that figure will appear. But it is not hard, looking at the evidence, to hypothesize whose side he fights for. It is not the Lord’s.

But many will argue: but what about abortion? Of all of the prominent politicians (i.e. those who have a chance of winning an election), he has taken the strongest stance against this evil. Because the respect for life is such a core value among many Christians, this value seems to supersede all others. Some feel they have no choice but to vote for Mr. Trump because of this issue, despite the many warning signs of deep corruption in his soul.

And respect for life should be our core value. Life is God’s gift to us and when we stop respecting it, we separate ourselves from the God who is the source of all Life and Love.

So what are we do to?

First, we must consider what it means to respect life. Simply being opposed to legal abortion does not mean a person respects life. Case in point: under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, abortion was outlawed in the Soviet Union after having been legal, with Stalin proclaiming that “giving birth was a great and honorable duty” and “not a private affair but one of great social importance.” Yet I cannot imagine anyone looking back on Stalin’s regime claiming that he respected life, given that he was responsible for 6 million noncombatant deaths, many his own countrymen.

So clearly respecting life is a more complex matter than simply opposing abortion.

A second point to consider: can sin save us from sin? Certainly not. Obviously, anyone we elect to public office is going to be a sinner. But there is a difference between one who arrogantly flaunts their sinfulness and one who attempts repentance, even if imperfectly. In just one example, Mr. Trump bragged about how he could grab women’s genitals because he was famous. I use this example, not because it is the most egregious of his misdeeds, but because he publicly bragged about this sinful behavior. One who publicly brags of their sins and lies day after day with no expression of regret cannot be trusted to do the Lord’s work. One does not hire an enemy to lead the battle against the enemy.

Having made these points, I recognize that some cannot bring themselves to vote for a candidate who is tolerant of legal abortion. I myself find it distasteful, even if that candidate shows more respect for life on virtually every other social issue. Some may argue that I am doing the very thing that I argue against: proposing to vote for a sinner – one who publicly accepts legal abortion, while personally opposing it – a stance unacceptable to the Church. Am I not also engaging the enemy to do the Lord’s work?

Mr. Trump’s most prominent opponent is a Catholic by faith and by baptism. He has suffered many tragedies in his life and he has publicly spoken of how important his faith has been to him. Yet he is regarded by some as “not in good standing” because of his political stance on abortion – and that is a valid point. He too is a sinner and, based on his public platform, it could be argued that he is not a fully repentant one either. He is compromising his spiritual values, very likely because of political pressure.

Must I vote? Must I choose one sinner over another?

We are at war. I cannot stand by and do nothing.

If Stalin were running for president, would I do nothing, say nothing, refuse to vote in an attempt to defeat him?

God forbid that I say nothing.

And so I speak out, here and now, against evil. Abortion is evil and it stems from a deeper evil festering in the post-modern soul. Capital punishment is evil, depriving a sinner of the opportunity to repent. Turning away the homeless and hungry who flee from violence is evil, as is separating families and putting children in cages. Destroying the environment, recklessly removing efforts to protect it, endangering all generations to come is a grave evil. Lying to the people about a deadly virus, pretending it is harmless while knowing that it is not, discouraging people from protecting themselves from this scourge – this too is a great evil.

I eschew it all.

But in the end, I must vote. I must take a stand.

Will I choose the arrogant and dangerous sinner with messianic fantasies and little regard for the suffering of others? Or will I choose the weak sinner who compromises his values in hopes of still accomplishing some good?

I will vote for the sinner who is most like me – the one who is weak, who compromises, but who still speaks out against injustice and has compassion for the poor and suffering.

May God have mercy on us all.

Hope for the world

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. Today, we also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

I have often wondered whether those planning the mission of the Enola Gay over Japan had any awareness that they had chosen to carry out this act of mass destruction on the Feast of the Transfiguration. I cannot imagine that they did.

There is an irony here.

The Transfiguration, much like the Feast of our Lord’s baptism (Theophany), is a feast of revelation. To my knowledge, these are the only two occasions recorded in the New Testament in which ordinary people heard the voice of the Father.

The Father thus “reveals” Himself in order to reveal Jesus as His Son, the One with whom He is pleased, the One we should listen to.

The question has been raised as to whether Jesus Himself changed in appearance on Mt. Tabor – or whether Peter, James and John were simply allowed for a moment to see what already was. I suspect, as in most things genuinely spiritual, it was a synergy – a synergy of God’s revealing and humanity’s seeking.

Few people have been permitted to see the Uncreated Light. Some have been saints; others not. But it somehow serves the Divine Purpose that the fullness of light, brighter than the human eye can normally see, is manifest on rare occasions.

It is as though the curtain that separates our side from the Other side has grown thin and tears, creating a rift in the fabric so the Light shines through. Not only does it not kill, despite the Old Testament fears that man would die if he saw God’s face, but it promises Life gloriously beyond life as we know it.

Herein, of course, lies the irony: that on August 6, 1945, a light too bright for human eyes appeared in our world by the will of man. It was a created light so bright that one who did not know better might mistake it for the Uncreated.

Approximately 80,000 people died instantly and the brightness of the light caused temporary or permanent blindness in some of the survivors. Countless numbers of people died from the radiation exposure in the years that followed and there are some still living who continue to suffer from the impact of the radiation.

The fullness of evil, the anti-Christ, revealed on the feast of the fullness of Christ.

Many have argued that the atomic bomb was the only way to bring an end to the horrors of World War II. Historians may analyze this as much as they want but I will never believe that sin saves us from sin.

There is only one Savior, the Sinless One, the God-man, Christ the Lord.

+++

The times we are living in now are so frightening that it can be hard to feel hope.

A pandemic rages around us, killing hundreds of thousands around the world. As I previously wrote (here), I believe that such lethal viruses are the work of the evil one.

We are in an election year and the incumbent promotes an agenda of denial, so lacking in compassion that he can only say of the pandemic death rate, “it is what it is”.

Subgroups in the population, here and abroad, have returned to racial hatred and violence as a means of silencing protest.

So much that is so wrong has been allowed to continue with impunity that we no longer recognize the country we live in. The checks and balances designed to protect us have failed miserably.

Is there any hope?

It is hard to feel hope. Yet still I am hopeful.

+++

When I share with you what brings me hope, you will likely think me foolish. That’s okay. Perhaps being a fool for God is the only option left.

One would think that the Scriptures, the eye witness accounts of the Transfiguration, the Father’s voice, the Resurrection, would be enough.

And, of course, they are – they always have been and always will be.

But sometimes I need something revealed to me, something so perfect and so personal that I cannot remain blind. I need an encounter that forces my eyes open to the hope inherent in a creation that could only emerge from an all-powerful and all-loving God.

This has happened before, many times, in fact. But, while memories persist, the sense of Wonder fades with time and the trials of life.

But today was a day of revealing, of transforming.

I was blessed to be able to participate in the Eucharist today for this holy Feast. Not only that, but I was permitted to proclaim God’s word.

During this time when I have sometimes felt half-dead inside, I suddenly felt fully alive again when proclaiming the Word.

It is completely different from reading Scripture privately or listening to a recording of it.

I pray for a moment before I do it because I know that I am nothing. Only if the Spirit is in me can I proclaim Him.

And so it was.

But that is not all.

It was a warm and sunny day and camera had come along for the ride, resting in my car’s trunk while my soul was being renewed.

We have had very few excursions this year. Retreats at the hermitage: not allowed. Trips to California or Minnesota, too risky. Even the garden has seemed strangely empty of its usual pollinating visitors.

But, in a tiny act of hope, I brought camera along, knowing that there just might be signs of life in an overgrown patch of land at the far end of the church parking lot.

At first, I saw nothing.

But I remembered that hope requires patience – as does the sighting of butterflies.

Soon I saw little flutterings. Skippers – o sweet skippers. Thank you, God.

I walked and waited some more and, from the corner of my eye, I saw something larger sailing past in the distance. A black swallowtail. I have never seen one in this location before – and it was so far away… could we receive its image at such a distance? (We could!)

I was preparing to leave when it occurred to me to check the milkweed growing in this untended land. A modest amount of common milkweed but always worth checking.

A leaf with a hole in it. Hmm… someone must be eating it. There are a number of insects who feed on milkweed. Could it be? They were so tiny they almost escaped my notice.

(Camera really outdid himself today, didn’t he?)

+++

So I see a couple of butterflies and caterpillars and I’m ready to proclaim hope for the world?

I can only say with St. Paul, “accept me as a fool” (2 Corinthians, 11:16) 🙂

I admit it was the Monarch caterpillars that really put me over the top, that “something so perfect and so personal”, a revealing that unblinds me to what has always been.

It is not just that I have a soft spot for the Monarch butterfly, though we all know that I do. It is the “why” behind that soft spot.

It is their reality amidst all improbability, even apart from the toxic influence of humanity, that proclaims hope, that reminds me that there is a God so very real that nothing is too small for His love.

How can it be that the caterpillars of this one type of butterfly can only feed on one type of plant – and that their mothers manage to find just the right plant while gliding over vast expanses of overgrown land?

How is it that these tiny, soft, squishy little caterpillars ever live long enough (about 13 days) to eat enough to make it to the next stage (about 2000% increase in size)?

How does the mature caterpillar know how and when to create its own chrysalis, the chamber in which its metamorphosis occurs?

And how does that metamorphosis occur, such that the caterpillar’s body parts break down into undifferentiated cells that then re-shape themselves into a creature of totally different form and color than the one that formed the chrysalis?

Emerging at precisely the time of maturity, the new butterfly cannot fly for a couple of hours as its wings dry.

So many things could and sometimes do go wrong. How do they ever survive to adulthood?

And this does not even begin to consider the mystery of their migration. A tiny fragile creature flying over a thousand miles ending up exactly where it is supposed to go as winter approaches.

Such extravagant beauty. Such unnecessary grace. So perfectly planned.

Planned?

Yes, fool that I am, I must say that it was all planned.

But couldn’t this little creature have just evolved, cells knocking into each other for billions of years, the fittest surviving, and so on?

One might question what survival advantage there could possibly be in such a demanding and precarious life cycle for a creature whose span of days is typically measured in weeks (though months for the south-bound migrators).

But, even more compelling is David Bentley Hart’s observation that chaos cannot create order unassisted.

And today, I was given a glimpse of the very orderly unfolding of a few very tiny lives among billions and billions of lives, large and small, all very much planned down to the last detail.

The hope lies not only in this beauty but in something even more mystical: that something (Someone) made me look – directing me to see what I needed to see in that moment.

Something so perfect and so personal that, in that moment, I could not deny Him. I drowned in His love.

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August 6: the Uncreated Light juxtaposed with man’s created light, everlasting life juxtaposed with destruction and death.

One offers us living hope. The other extinguishes it.

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

Listen… the Word is all around us.

So great a cloud of witnesses…

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

As I indicated in my last post, part of my repentance for the sins of racism, my own and that of my people, is to learn more about Black Catholic saints and to pray for their intercession. I will share here some of what I learn, providing links to full stories when possible. (Rather than posting many new posts, I will edit this article to add new saints as I discover them – so please come back to check them out!)

A cloud of witnesses

6.2.2020 Today, I learned about St. Benedict the African who was born to parents who were slaves, captured in Africa and brought to Italy. Despite being a Black man in 16th century Italy, uneducated and illiterate, he became a Franciscan, occupying roles ranging from cook to Master of the Friary. His story may be found here.

St. Benedict of Africa, please pray for us that we might develop the humility to seek and find holiness in every person we encounter. May we come to cherish the great gifts God has given the Church through the people of Africa. Amen.

6.3.2020 Today is the feast day of St. Charles Lwanga and companions, a group of 19th century young African men who were martyred in what is now Uganda. Charles was but 26 when he was burned alive at the order of the king of his country. He had been baptized less than a year earlier and yet protected other young men aspiring to the Faith from the ritual sexual abuse the king wanted to inflict on them. (I have chosen to direct you to Wikipedia for his story. Sadly, too many Catholic sites make it sound like Charles was protecting their “chastity” which I think is misleading.) His story may be found here.

Pray for us, O holy Martyrs of Africa, led by Charles Lwanga, that we might have the courage to stand up for what is right and to protect the vulnerable from mistreatment, regardless of the cost to ourselves. You freely followed the way of our Savior in sacrificing yourself out of love for God and your brothers. May we learn from you what it truly means to be a Christian, a follower of Christ. Amen.

6.10.2020 I am currently reading a biography of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of Sudan and survivors of human trafficking. She was born in Darfur around 1869 and was kidnapped by Arab slave traders when still a very young child. She experienced great cruelty at the hands of a number of owners and was forcibly converted to Islam. She no longer knew her own given name or native language. She ended up in Italy and, while “temporarily” staying with the Canossian Sisters, she learned of Christianity, embracing the faith and later becoming a member of their community. Those who knew her withnessed her holiness and she was known for her gentleness and calm demeanor. More details of her story may be found here

St. Bakhita, pray for us that we might learn the way of peace, never losing faith in the midst of hardship. Strengthen our resolve to eliminate all that enslaves our brothers and sisters throughout the world, as well as all that enslaves us from within. May our lives reflect the peace that can only come from God. Amen.

 

 

 

Step down, Mr. Trump

Black lives matter.

First and foremost, I must say this. Yes, all lives matter but not all lives have been denied their human dignity in America the way Blacks lives have been.

Starting with the enslavement of Africans by our ancestors to the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, Black lives have born such denigration, insult and disregard that the rage can no longer be contained. Our society is literally exploding before our eyes.

It has been a long time coming.

However, the 2016 Presidential election was a turning point. To all outward appearances, many people were disappointed about the results as always happens with elections. But many of us, of all racial hues, knew in our hearts that something very serious had happened when Donald Trump was deemed the winner of the 2016 election.

We went from having a Black president who was a calm, intelligent and articulate leader to having an openly racist and sexist White man who has no idea how to lead a nation during peaceful times, muchless during times of crisis.

It wasn’t just about whether we had a Democrat or a Republican in the White House. It was a referendum of sorts, a green light to disrespect and degrade people of color with impunity. (Women too, of course, but that is another article).

And it was clear that he had a substantial base of supporters who didn’t simply tolerate this but liked this about him. Humiliated by four years of leadership by an African American president, there was bound to be a backlash.

But it wasn’t just the obvious racists, the skinheads, the KKK, the white supremacy groups that wanted to see white rule restored, but, sadly, a substantial proportion of the Christian community commonly known as the “religious right”.

While many may argue the religious right was drawn to Mr. Trump for other reasons, e.g. his supposed “pro-life” stance, one did not have to look hard to see that candidate Trump did not talk about, much less live, the Christian message about the sanctity of human life.

If not for a conscious or unconscious desire to restore white rule, how could Christians of good faith decide to turn a blind eye to Mr. Trump’s unapologetically sinful ways?

I know that I am chancing offending some of my already small readership by make such a political statement on an otherwise spiritually oriented blog. But I simply cannot remain silent.

Black lives matter.

It is going to take a great deal of change on multiple levels of society to address all of the attitudes, injustices and violence against people of color. It will take even longer for any trust to be rebuilt between people of color and the white people who truly respect and value the diversity of the races.

I am taking three actions now, small actions because I am but one person with little power or influence.

  1. I just took the first step and sent a message online to Mr. Trump, telling him to step down. (Of course, I don’t believe that he will heed my counsel, but that is no reason to remain silent.)
  2. Tonight I am posting the following sign on my front door to make it clear where I stand:

  1. I am going to pray. I am going to research the Black saints of the Church, especially those who were former slaves, and ask them to pray for us – to pray that, through their intercession and the mercy of Christ our Savior, we might learn to truly repent of our sins against people of color and come to love and respect the goodness inherent in every human life.

Black lives matter.

May God have mercy on us all.

At the tomb…

Although I am posting this late – I had to wait for the paint to dry –  the Eastern Church celebrates today the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women.

In this image, we have (from l. to r.), Mary Magdalene, Johanna and Mary, the holy Mother of God. And then, of course, the angel showing them the empty tomb with the burial cloths that once wrapped the Savior’s body.

You may wonder how I know the names of the women in the icon. I wonder too. I simply recognize them by the expressions of their faces. As I have often not known that I was going to write something, so have I been surprised at times by what my paint brush leaves behind.

Some may also wonder about the presence of the Virgin at the tomb. The western (Catholic) perspective has generally been that we do not know whether Jesus appeared to His mother after the Resurrection but a pious belief is held by some that He appeared to her first.

However, an alternate view is that the Theotokos was indeed at the tomb with the other women who brought spices to finish the burial process. After all, why would she not have gone? Given that Scripture tells us that she stood at the foot of the Cross, we know that there was no physical impediment to her being with the others.

Again the pious notion might be considered that she knew in her heart that death had no power over Him and therefore there was no further need to tend to His body. She did not need to see the empty tomb to believe. If she was there, would not Scripture have told us?

Some have explained this omission by pointing out that the evangelists’ intent was to make known the existence of eyewitnesses to the empty tomb and the testimony of a mother might be regarded with suspicion.

There are many other hypotheses that have been debated through the ages but none of them really interest me.

As I am drawn further into iconography, I am increasingly aware that the truth an icon conveys is not the historicity that preoccupies our world today. Instead, it proclaims a mystical truth, a truth that is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Whether or not the Theotokos went to the tomb is not the point. The point is that she, like the other faithful women, knew. She knew and believed that her Son was the Christ, the Anointed One, risen from the dead.

The icon proclaims this with her presence. At the same time, her face portrays her humanity. Tired and worn, she was still a mother who witnessed the brutal execution of her Son.

She is one of us. She knows suffering, she knows death. Her heart is pierced with a sorrow beyond telling.

At the same time, having joined her suffering to that of her Son, she is transformed with Him to know what it means to be fully human, to share in the divine life.

Our world is broken and suffering, now on a scale larger than many of us ever imagined we would see.

Let us stand with our Mother, bringing all of our sorrows and fears.

Together, let us gaze at the empty tomb and believe.

He is risen.

He is risen indeed!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!