Considering Consecrated Life “The Tomorrow of God”
“For [Mary] the tomorrow of God is the dawn of Easter morning, the dawn of the first day of the week. It would do us good to think, in contemplation, of the embrace of mother and son. The single lamp lit at the tomb of Jesus is the hope of the mother, which in that moment is the hope of all humanity. I ask myself and I ask you: is this lamp still alight in monasteries? In your monasteries are you waiting for God’s tomorrow?” (Pope Francis, Rejoice: A Letter to Consecrated Men and Women, 02Feb14, §12)
I wish that I had written that paragraph.
Most of us could recount immediately and with considerable confidence five encounters of the earliest Christians with the post-Resurrection Jesus: Mary Magdalene at the tomb, the disciples gathered together without Thomas and then later with Thomas, the pair of followers on the road to Emmaus, and the apostles along the shore of Galilee. With a little thought, some of us would recall an appearance to the larger group of women and Jesus’ words to the community before the Ascension; the mention of other sightings by Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred disciples comes most clearly through Paul with little detail. Luke also suggests other meetings with the Lord (Acts 1:3). Never mentioned, however, is any visit to Mary! Pope Francis invites a reflection on that possibility in the passage quoted above (“the embrace of mother and son”). The thought of Mary and Jesus holding each other once again seems almost unbearably beautiful after the memory captured in the Pieta. The Holy Father chooses that intimate moment of meeting to envelop the meaning of the “tomorrow of God.”
The portrayals of Mary at the foot of the cross will bring throes to the stoutest of hearts. Did Jesus’ greatest suffering lie in the agony of the crucifixion, or in the sight of his mother and her grief? The story of Jesus raising up the only son of the widowed mother (Lk 7:11-17) suggests his sensitivity to that reality. (V.13, “When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”) Is it possible that at his resurrection, a loving son did not hurry to his mother’s side with words of comfort and life?
In the evening of Good Friday, through the day of Holy Saturday, what thoughts filled Mary’s mind? No human solution presented itself to soften her grief and loss. She could not imagine how God could act to repair her core. But, that is not the same as saying that she did not hope—Francis again offers a wonderful turn of phrase: “The single lamp lit at the tomb of Jesus is the hope of the mother”. “Hoping against hope” (Rom 4:18), Mary trusted that God would act with inconceivable power and wisdom. Gabriel reminded her of this truth for just such a situation, “For nothing is impossible for God” (Lk 1:37).
The “tomorrow of God” suggests the absolute trust which one puts in God and God’s ways. We do not know what another day brings, how a problem may be solved, who might arrive. The range of these possibilities lies outside of mortal reason and analysis. They are not, however, beyond God. The future belongs to God. To trust in that truth is to always have hope, even when everything seems impossible, and not only impossible but unimaginable. The ultimate tomorrow belongs to God, but so, too, do the proximate ones.
Vincent encourages us to hope in God’s plan:
“[E]ven if the whole world should rise up to destroy us, nothing will happen except what God, in whom we have put our hope, will allow.” (VdP, CCD 4, L.1506, p. 287)
To “put our hope” in God places it somewhere secure and beyond our control. It flows from the belief that God really does care and does pay attention. The working out of the divine will can be very mysterious—very mysterious—but always part of a larger whole and tending towards a greater good. Not only do I believe this, I need to believe this. Accepting the sorrows and failures of the day-by-day and still acting with fidelity can only be done with the firm and consistent belief that God reigns and will act.
To serve the Vincentian mission, to be consecrated persons, we need to be people of hope. The anchor as a symbol of hope is no accident. Hope keeps us steady in rough waters and prevents us from drifting aimlessly. Hope keeps us rooted in the essentials. Our hope trusts in the Reign of God. We accept the truth that God rules and whatever happens has its place in the plan and way of God for people of good will. Tomorrow shines bright with unknown possibilities.
Using the image of the single lamp at the tomb of Jesus as representative of the hope of Mary intends to capture our imagination as well as our resolve. The Pope asks himself and he asks us in our Vincentian Family about this lamp in our homes and communities: “In your monasteries are you waiting for God’s tomorrow?”