What Do You See?
by Fr. Jack McArdle
The word 'Mystic' is defined as 'one who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain union with, or absorption into the Deity, or who believes in spiritual apprehension of truths beyond the understanding'. Among many others, St Padre Pio and St. Teresa of Avila are our best known mystics. A mystic is someone who stares relentlessly at reality, and comes to see what is REALLY there.
As an ordinary human being, I am 'boxed in' by my humanity, and the limitations of my physical abilities. I can see what is there before my eyes, and I can hear what is within my hearing reach(with, or without my hearing aids!). There are people in those houses across the road, but I cannot see them. There are people speaking to each other down at the end of the road, but I cannot hear them. I can hear cars in the distance, but I cannot see them. Like St. Paul, 'I am a prisoner in this body', and my body determines the extent of my bodily senses.
The mystic is not imprisoned within such boundaries. The mystic sees what's REALLY there, whether you or I can see that or not. The soul does not take up space, as the body does. Therefore, when someone dies, the body is left behind (which took up space), and the spirit (which does not require space) moves on to a STATE of being, whether that be heaven, hell, or Purgatory. The deceased person goes AHEAD, but does not go AWAY. We are surrounded by spirits on every side.
Padre Pio, from a very early age, always saw his Guardian Angel, but he never told anybody, because he thought everybody else did! I am now an incarnate, which means that I live in a body. The body is not ME; I'm only living in it for a certain length of time. There will come a time when the fabric and functions of the body will begin to break down, and it will be no longer habitable. It is then I will have to vacate the body, change residence, and go to live elsewhere. The barriers and walls of the body will be broken, and I will be set free from this cage.
Try to visualise the following scene. A young lad is placed standing in a box which is so much higher than he is, and he is given a set of ear muffs which blocks out all sound. The box is placed in the middle of a large room, and the lad cannot see or hear a thing. The room is beautifully decorated, with very expensive drapes, furniture and chandeliers. The room is filled with people of all ages, races, and dress code. Suddenly the magician clicks his fingers, and the sides of the box fall away. Watch the look of amazement on the face of the young lad as he looks around the room. He had no idea of all the wonders and people that surrounded him. We are laughing, because WE knew all the time what that room was like.
That's what it'll be like at the moment of death. As the eyes of the body close, so the eyes of the soul open to endless vision, to clearly see all that was there all the time, but which was beyond the power of human vision. Part of that new 'seeing' will be that I will see myself clearly in relation to God, to others, and to life.
There is a 'mini-mystic' within each of us, and it is important that we develop that 'sense' of the Other. Just because I cannot see something doesn't mean that it's not there. The physically blind have a very heightened level of 'seeing', because they have to develop other sensitivities to make up for what the eyes cannot see. Their sense of touch, and of hearing, becomes very acute, and, even without the white cane, they could probably sense that there is an object in their path.
I learned to pray by praying, and I learned to walk by walking. I can learn to sit in the company of the Others by doing so from time to time. I can do this at any hour of the day or night. I can do so sitting in my car, in a chair in my bedroom, or sitting on a rock overlooking the sea. I can bring my Companions with me, wherever I go. I should never feel alone, because I am NEVER alone. Some people naturally enjoy their own company, and others require people around them at all times.
What I am suggesting now can become a real life-giving experience. In the first chapter, I suggested that we should not wait till we die to openly stand in the presence of God. The same thing applies to this present suggestion. If I hope to spend my eternity with Them, I should become familiar with their company. There is nothing I will get when I die that I'm not offered now. The only difference then is that I will see clearly, and comprehend a bit better. Even in heaven, I don't expect to be able to understand God, or have a full comprehension of his infinity. However, I will join all the choirs, human and angelic, in adoring and praising him for all eternity, with a sense of wonder and gratitude that will require an eternity to express.
Nowhere can we be more certain of the heavenly hosts being around us, than when we gather around the table of the Lord to celebrate Eucharist. Jesus tells us that where two or three of us are gathered in his name, he is there in the midst of us. If Jesus is present, then, you can be certain that ALL of heaven is there as well. When Jesus speaks of him making his home within us, he says that 'WE', the Father, Son, and Spirit will make their home in us.
I spent a week with a community of Cistercian monks for their annual Retreat at the end of last year. A few days before the Retreat began, two of the monks were called home suddenly by the Lord. Naturally, the rest of the community was deeply effected by this(and not just because they believe that they die in 'threes'!). During my time with them, I thought long and hard about the lesson to be learned from their sudden passing. One of the strongest awareness I had was how they must look back now, and see clearly just what an extraordinary occasion it was to stand at the altar for Eucharist. I felt certain that they looked back in awe at what really happened on such occasions, or how the whole of heaven was in attendance.
I mentioned earlier about practising this inner disposition, and becoming more and more open to all the possibilities. Nowhere should this be easier than during the celebration of Eucharist. I should think long and hard before I enter the church door, and I should have my antennae fully stretched during the time I'm there.
It can help concentrate the mind if I remember that ALL my deceased relatives and friends are present, whether already in heaven, or being purified prior to entry into the Beatific Vision. I can be sure that they are very conscious of my presence. What a shame that I should ignore them, or fail to be aware of them. "The Communion of Saints" is the bond that exists within Christ's Body, the Church. There is the Church Triumphant(heaven), the Church Suffering (purgatory), and the Church Militant (on earth). When I am present at Eucharist, I am there as part of that Church. Sometimes, today, we hear people bemoaning the fact that we have 'empty churches'. I don't think so!
It is important that we think and know of this as a REALITY, not as some sort of fantasy. We all have memories of playing 'Blind man's buff' as kids. For someone who is looking on, it can be hilarious. One of the people sits absolutely still, and the person with the blindfold is reaching in all directions, and is often within inches of the person's face before turning to search in another direction. So near and yet so far!
One time, when I was in hospital, I was having a completely sleepless night. I was twisting and turning, and there was no sense of drowsiness, and there was no hope of sleep. All chairs had been moved out on the corridor, as is usual at night. There was no sign of a nurse, so I sneaked out, grabbed a chair, placed it by my bed, and I asked Mary my Mother to sit on it and lull me to sleep! I was totally conscious of her being there, as I relaxed more and more…and I remember no more! It's as simple as that.
"Happy are they who have not seen and yet believe". "Reach out and touch the Lord as he goes by." We are surrounded on every side by the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering. It is called "The Communion of Saints". There is a certain order in this journey of discovery. If I could see them, there would be no thanks to me, and there wouldn't be much merit in my belief.
If, on the other hand, I accept and believe, I will become more and more conscious of their presence, and this will become so real that it will be the same as if I could actually see with my eyes. There are other ways of seeing besides eyesight, and the eyes of the soul can see deeper, and much more distinctly. It is not possible to exaggerate the richness that comes from being aware of living in such company. There is never an empty or lonely moment in my day or night, and I have a constant sense of joy from living in the presence of heaven.
Please remember that we are speaking of real living beings here. Living beings who can see us, who know us, and who really care for us. Apart from the Trinity, Mary, and the choirs of heaven, I am surrounded by relatives, friends, and former neighbours. The Souls in Purgatory should receive my special attention. When it comes to pray for the departed in the Mass, I digress a little, raise up the paten and chalice, and pray this prayer "Heavenly Father, we offer you these gifts on behalf of the Souls in Purgatory. We ask you to pour out upon them now the fullness of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation merited for them by Jesus on Calvary, so that many of them may NOW come into the Kingdom of heaven."
I happen to believe that, through that prayer, there are souls in heaven at the end of the Mass that were not there when Mass began. What a privilege is ours! As time goes on in this process, I can identify more and more of those who surround me. When someone belongs to me dies, we feel we have lost them, and it takes a while to find them again. Don't forget your favourite saints. What a privilege to be able to spend time with Therese of Lisieux, Faustina, Padre Pio, or John XXIII.
You'll be absolutely amazed to discover that, in no time at all, you're sitting in the company of one of these, and listening to them speak about The Little Way, The Divine Mercy, the Power of Eucharist, or Renewal in the Church. Your creative imagination comes into play, and you become like the little girl who spends hours playing with 'her friends'. It is an extraordinary privilege to be able to make friends with all those with whom I will spend an eternity. Hurry up, and catch up with those who have gone ahead of you (and, by that, I don't mean that you should die!). Nothing can separate God's children from each other, because they are closely bound in the embrace of his love.
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