For Holy Week, two thoughts on what we call today Catholic imagination, or what is also called a sacramental or eucharistic worldview. The first comes from Saint Augustine (Doctor of the Church, d. 430 AD), in an exploration of the ascetical meaning of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel (emphasis added):
Here we have the very heart of the earthly city. Its God (or gods) is he or they who will help the city to victory after victory and to a reign of earthy peace; and this city worships, not because it has any love for service, but because its passion is for domination. This, in fact, is the difference between good men and bad men, that the former make use of the world in order to enjoy God, whereas the latter would like to make use of God in order to enjoy the world. (City of God, XIV.7)
“Make use of the world in order to enjoy God.” This is another way of expressing a core insight from Saint Thomas Aquinas: that we can only know God through creatures, through our sensory perception of them. To think otherwise risks denying the immense particularity of the Cross: the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, nailed to the hard wood, dying.
With profound humility and reverence, this Holy Week we are invited to ask: What did that wood, those nails, feel like? From the beginning, the Church has taught that its very material—that Cross at that time in history—discloses profound, even incomprehensible mystery. In our corporate prayer, may we ask God to reveal His love for us still more through our meditation and contemplation in this week of Palm Sunday and the Holy Triduum. By God’s grace may we be able to “make use” of the wrenching scriptural drama this week, to “enjoy God”—that is, embrace, absorb, find eucharistic joy within and with others.
The second meditation comes from Richard Hooker (Anglican theologian, d. 1600), in an exploration of what it means to speak of a “personal presence of Christ”:
Impossible it is that God should withdraw his presence from any thing, because the very substance [i.e., being] of God is infinite. He filleth heaven and heart, although he take up no room in either, because his substance is immaterial, pure, and of us in this world so incomprehensible, that albeit no part of us be ever absent from him who is present whole unto every particular thing, yet his presence with us we no way discern farther than only that God is present, which partly by reason and more perfectly by faith we know to be firm and certain. (Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.51.iii)
Hooker is emphasizing that it is against the nature of Reality itself for creatures and material things to be unable to reveal, or point to, or disclose, the presence of God. The true fulfillment, or perfection, of all creatures is our triune God. Particular creatures and material things might not reveal God at a given moment in any significant way, to be sure. Our sinfulness can, and often does, impede our ability to find God in the ordinary and even the difficult. Also God’s Providence may be at a given moment to be seemingly “far away from us,” just as the Gospels tell us that Jesus often separated Himself from the disciples to go off and pray.
But the point is that nothing created—human or otherwise—is by definition and nature inanimate of God’s presence. This is the doctrine of Creation, emphasized throughout the traditions of the Church. A major factor in spiritual growth in a community and in a person is opening ourselves, day after day, to that fact and its possibilities for prayer. This Holy Week, with all our senses may we approach the Cross that recapitulates all material creation, and reform our likeness still more into the ever-flowing Love of Jesus, our Savior.