Saint Daniel's going is a painful mystery

Easter Sunday is a time of rejoicing. How deeply is your experience of it conditioned by the quasi-angelic passage in the midst of your family, for barely three months, of your great nephew Daniel?

For the first time in my life, I did not dare to utter the words that flocked into my mind when it happened. I thought I could hear Daniel saying two things to his parents.

The first was: "Thank you for bringing me into existence. Had you not done so, I would not be here in the fullness of God's light. You were brave and kind enough to want and love me before you could have even had an idea of what I was to be like. Your love was the condition that made it possible for me to come out of nothing into eternal life."

The second was: "But I have in addition to my thanks, also to ask you to forgive me for my premature departure. I am blessed in the presence of love itself, but I know that I have left you without the joy of communication by voice and touch with your offspring. I am not to blame for it, but I know the sorrow that it has caused you.

My coming and going as in a flash is bound to remain a painful mystery for you till the end of your life, like the cross of Good Friday. Its meaning will only become clear when we meet again in the only companionship that lasts forever".

I was unable to say these words aloud. I could only mutter something about how the brief contact I had made with Daniel at his baptism was enough for his unique face and personality to have become involved as a golden thread in my life and in that of all the family and of humankind.

We could only show how our love of Daniel endured through the love which we showed to those who were still near and dear to his heart.

Are you saying that Easter for you has not been overshadowed but that its light has revealed a new colour?

Indeed, I saw several things in a new light. For instance, curious episodes in St Mark's account of the arrest of Jesus, of "a young man" who escapes from the authorities trying to seize him along with Jesus, by letting the linen cloth he was wrapped in drop, and departing naked.

Later on, the women who go to the tomb of Jesus find, "sitting at the right", there "a young man" fully clothed in a white robe (like the martyrs "who overcome the world through death"). The first young man clearly symbolises "saving life and losing it", the second "losing life to save it".

I also recalled Michelangelo's Pietà at St Peter's in Rome. Mary holds the dead body of Christ in her lap, but her age and holding gesture are those of when she held him as a child. The Word has returned to being flesh, and the flesh has returned to its mother, and the mother herself has been turned into marble, the matter from which we have all come.

It is a picture in reverse of the evolutionary history of salvation. It highlights the fragility of all earthly existence, including our most fibre-strong language.

I understood also more deeply why Christian tradition has associated angels of different kinds with both the birth of Christ, annunciation and nativity, and with his death, agony in the garden and empty sepulchre, and why they are presented as our guardians in our life and as key role players in the Last Judgment. I found it easier to imagine the angels as the celestial companions of our earthly adventures, even more than the saints.

Does not your having baptised Daniel in the very area where you celebrated his overt passage to eternal life a reminder that the most characteristic rite of Easter night is the re-enactment of baptism as sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ?

St Paul undoubtedly presents baptism as the true transition from mortal life to sharing in God's own existence as the fullness of love. That is why he speaks of the baptised as "the saints". But we know that, in spite of our baptism, as long as we live on earth, there is always grave danger of falling short of sainthood.

Daniel is past that danger. United in his love and sure that he is forever one of our family, we will confront the danger ourselves with as much confidence as we can muster in our grief.

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Miriam Vincenti.


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