Friday, January 23, 2015

Fr. Bede Jarrett on the Communion of Saints

It seems like a strange vision of the Apocalypse to conceive that vast intercommunion of living and dead, such as this Catholic doctrine proclaims. To unite in one single body the living that follow the teaching of Christ, and that vast crowd of dead that in Heaven or in Purgatory follow for ever the Lamb, is an idea that is overwhelming in its very extent. That all these should have one common bond seems beyond the power of man to imagine and of God to invent. The dwellers over all the earth, different and even antagonistic, in language and climate and culture; and those suffering souls, bodyless, expectant of release, glad in the midst of all their woe, longing for the end of their exile; and that throng who praise God unceasingly and look down with brotherly compassion on the repentance of sinners on earth how or in what are these to be established in unity? To construct a vast empire is a perilous undertaking, which, for the most part, achieves its success only so long as there are sufficient enemies against it to give it solidarity. But here there is the far greater ideal of uniting into one whole, not only the several members of a single kingdom, but every kingdom of the world; to knit together into a perfect whole the armies of nations drawn up against each other in a far-flung battle-line; to supply a common code of communication between the fleets on every sea, and despite war and its rank fury, despite commercial competition in every form, despite racial differences, despite the conflicting aims of life, despite the very brazen portals of death, despite even the high-reaching battlements of heaven to leave no nook or cranny in all creation which could be so great or so small as to escape from the wonderful net enclosing within meshes of gold every soul in all the world.

Where shall we find this common bond? It is not in faith, for in heaven faith has passed into knowledge, and the Church has no jurisdiction beyond the grave. It is not in hope, for there can be no hope where the higher gift of possession has been obtained. It can be only in love expressed by prayer. It is, indeed, by prayer that all these are made one. This conception under which we view the world is really marvelous; it gives an entirely new outlook upon life, for we see how between heaven and earth are passing ceaselessly great streams of prayer, petitions from wearied and anxious souls rising upwards, borne along by the hands of angels, strong cries and tears from hearts in anguish that beg for courage to bear their cross or for the chalice to pass, the grateful thanks of those whose voices have been heard and their favors granted them, and those whose words are no more than a great paean of praise at the marvels wrought by the mercy and majesty of God, and a conscious acknowledgement that God is wonderful in His saints. So, too, from earth and heaven steal up to the throne of Omnipotence the prayers of sinners and saints for their dear dead: there are hands uplifted in worship, hearts afire with friendship, sufferings of mortal life gladly borne for the hastening of their loved ones' release. Nor is the intercommunion of prayer and love a mere cry of asking or thanking; there is also the gladness that comes to the soul when it is in the presence of its friends; there is, that is to say, the wonderful pleasure that springs from a silence that is more intimate than any speech. To feel in the company of the saints, to feel our oneness in Christ with all Christians, to be sure that death does not sever or part, is indeed consoling to man, whose greatest fear is the dread of loneliness.

Surely, then, it will bring courage to my heart to be certain that with me and by my side marches the following of Christ. If I stand upon a hill and overlook a city, I know that by faith I can see the angels passing up and down from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth, mounting with cries of sorrow and anguish, descending with mercy and consolation. I can see the brightness of their trailing glory, and almost hear the beating of their wings. The long rows of dreary houses, the crawling smoke, the sounds of manufacture and transit, are made alive with a new significance. They are the sounds of earth; but they awake echoes in heaven. Over all the world that is split into different languages, there is still one common tongue to every Christian. Here, then, surely I shall get to feel that there can be no real loneliness; that I am not solitary in any sense, for about me always are there prayers of the saints, whether here on earth or there in heaven. I am not left alone to fight out my battle, for there are countless hosts who watch me, interested in my welfare and applauding my efforts. There are the well-wishes of my fellows in the Christian Church who pray daily, as I pray for the whole Church. Day by day my steps have been kept from slipping through the intercession of saint and sinner, of souls I have known and loved or released, or to whom I bear an especial devotion. Not merely is there help and comfort but dignity also in the idea. I consider myself now, not as one who is of no value in life, of no consequence for my fellows, for I am, indeed, part of a vast band, and my prayers, too, have a place in this great harmonious chorus. While earth sleeps or wakes, through the busy day and the long watches of the night, this wonderful commerce goes on through the medium of endless prayer.


Source: Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP, Meditations for Layfolk (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1915), 54–55.

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