growing young

No one tears a piece from a new cloak to put it on an old cloak;
if you do, not only will you have torn the new one,
but the piece taken from the new will not match the old.
Luke 5

There is a cemetery in Milan Italy that I have visited on several occasions. Each visit has become a bit of a retreat-time for me, a stepping back from all that is superficial and fleeting in my little earthly life, and an engagement with what is real and lasting.

When I pass through the entrance gates of Monumentale I’m always a bit nervous wondering how this visit will change me, what priorities will shift for me, and what that I possess as I walk into this remarkable graveyard will, in the hour that I spend wandering between the graves, be revealed as an unnecessary obstacle to real living.

Once I’m at the gates I am drawn inside and the life-changing pilgrimage begins again.

Visiting this cemetery is a very in-your-face experience. The great city of Milan is an international centre of fashion in every form, but a stroll through this cemetery reveals that too often our earthly life is reduced to a tiring and fickle programme of maintaining appearances and avoiding realities.

It’s inevitable that we understand life as an earthly pilgrimage from birth to the grave. In this world-view, after a couple of decades at the peak of our powers we begin to lose our speed and agility and other signs of decline shake us about a bit.

While we might joke about forgetting something when we are 30, the same forgetting when we are 70 is not as funny. A routine surgery in our 30’s might slow us down for a few weeks, but the 80-year-old knows the road to recovery from the same operation will be longer and more demanding.

Many of the tombs in Monumentale carry life-size works of art depicting some aspect of the earthly experience of the one who is buried beneath. A farmer might be ploughing his field, the businessman at his desk and the young father playing with his children. I often think of these images during the eulogies at a funeral when the details of a life are shared. Most funerals only look back focussing on the life of the person before their death.

While this sharing of the earthly memories is good and necessary, if this is the only focus the implication is that this life of the one we love is now ended. However a funeral that gives hope will also look forward and many of the powerful Monumentale sculptures do this, portraying not only the tangible human reality of the one who has died, but also presenting some indication that the earthly life of the one who has died has now entered a new realm, a greater dimension, a life that is abundant and complete.

Yes, many of the Monumentale monuments depict grieving family and friends, but in the eternal abundant reign of God “every tear will be wiped away”.

These powerful works of art remind us that the death we experience at the end of our earthly life is the same kind of transition as the baby’s departure from the womb, a move from a confinement to a more abundant life.

Perhaps a lot of our earthly difficulty comes when we see suffering and death as a problem instead of as inevitable realities that are transformed by Christ whose suffering and cruel death became (by the power of God) the pathway to the fulness of life.

Our sufferings and illnesses on earth are are a wake-up call enabling us to see that the life we seek on earth is not to be lived in escape from earthly difficulties and fears, but a life to be embraced in every moment, even in serious sickness, insecurity and vulnerability, as a reminder that we are made for much more.

With this perspective we appreciate that even as we experience human frailty and vulnerability, we are (as we reflected last week) experiencing the growing pains of one who is growing not away from abundant life but into life.

In this eternal perspective we find an abundance of earthly health and happiness and freedom, even as we experience the sufferings that would otherwise overwhelm us.

These are the growing pains of one who is growing young.

 

An Invitation:

  • What part of the above reflection spoke to you most deeply? Why?  Perhaps this thought might be a helpful mantra or touch-stone for you today.
  • The video below offers a one-hour visit to Monumentale cemetery.
  • Speaking of old and new things, there is an old prayer (below) that I found recently. You might find it helpful.
  • As many of us continue these days as a retreat-in-daily-life, this simple morning and evening reflection might be helpful. Try it on waking in the morning before getting out of bed, or last thing at night after turning out the light.

 

  • Email john@fff.org.nz with your initials to join those taking these few days as a simple retreat-in-daily-life, and to invite others to keep you in prayer. Click the image to enlarge.

 

 

 

7 Responses to "growing young"
  1. This morning I started a thought in my head
    Today I begin the adventure into old age, fearing not, even though it ends in the grave.My body may fail, but the journey will see, the release of my spirit, that will set me free, for ever to be.

  2. Thank you Father , such inspiring thoughts this morning.
    I hope that I can master technology and copy it and place in my sons birthday card.
    I have already started the card with a copy of today’s page from God’s Word 2020.
    His name is also Luke and his middle name is also used in the Psalm acclamation.
    Today’s rosary meditates on the sorrowful mysteries but remember we have Sunday’s to look forward to. Birthdays are such special meals
    Thanks again Father getting each day off to good start.

  3. Thankyou Fr John for today’s reflection, very powerful, what an amazing cemetery to visit ,I shall take a walk in the sunshine to meditate on your words ,you have such an ability, gift, which touches ones depth of thinking and making that connection with the Holy Spirit!

  4. Our parish Mass this morning was an Anointing Mass, as is traditional here on the first Friday of the month. Very appropriate following your reflection this morning. I find the following prayer helpful:

    Bear Me Away (Teilhard de Chardin SJ)
    When the signs of age begin to mark my body
    (and still more when they touch my mind);
    when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off
    strikes me from without or is born within me;
    when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken
    to the fact that I am ill or growing old;
    and above all at that last moment
    when I feel I am losing hold of myself
    and I am absolutely passive within the hands
    of the great unknown forces that have formed me,
    in all those dark moments, O God,
    grant that I may understand that it is you
    (provided only that my faith is strong enough)
    who are painfully parting the fibres of my being
    in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance
    and bear me away within yourself.

  5. Thank you for sharing the video of the Monumentale cemetery. It was totally mesmerising after the rain. It captures grief and transcendence, beauty, truth, love in such tender forms. They force the wanderer to exist in timeless space and to ponder meanings of being lost and found. What a special place for you to visit.

  6. Thank you Father John. Thank you for sharing the light and Hope the Spirit has blessed you with. As I greet this day awaiting a biopsy, I reflect upon the effect of the image of a baby passing from the mother’s womb…yes, abundant life does await those who believe and refuse to lose Hope…
    Thank you, be well, be safe, be grateful…

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