There’s a book entitled, “On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.” It was written by St. Maximus the Confessor way back in the 6th century. It seems that St. Maximus had a very interesting mind because in this book there is a very curious Easter analogy. Fishermen, I think will like this. In this Easter analogy Maximus sees Satan as a great slimy fish; I picture a snake like eel. Now this fish swims in the deep dark abyss of the sea. He terrorizes the ocean bottom. In this analogy St. Maximus sees Jesus as the bait on the end of a very sharp hook. This hook attached to a line on a fishing rod is tossed into the deep. Satan takes the bait and swallows and begins to dive down into the abyss of death. He thinks he’s won; our Lord, within the tomb of this fish’s belly is in the abyss of death. But God the Divine Fisherman has the last laugh. He gives the line a fierce tug and the hook bites deep into the fish’s stomach. And with another divine tug Satan the slimy fish is hauled up to the shore. Satan is conquered, sin is conquered, and death is conquered. Jesus on the end of the hook has been raised from the abyss of death, He lives once again. And finally, very importantly because of our Lord’s resurrection Heaven has been opened up to us.
Until his resurrection Heaven had been closed to all men and women. In the preface just before the Holy, Holy, Holy, we’ll hear these words, “Through Him the children of light will rise to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful; for his Death is our ransom from death, and in his rising the life of all has risen.” And with heaven open we all have the opportunity to become a saint. When we get to heaven we are a saint. Sometimes the Church, after much scrutiny, canonizes some of those saints, canonizes certain men and women to hold them up as examples of holiness. Seven years ago I went to Rome to witness the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. These two men like all the other canonized were infallibly declared to be in Heaven, adoring and praising God and praying for us.
These two men are very different from each other. Yet both exhibited heroic virtue and holiness. St. John Paul was born into a middle class Polish family being the youngest of three. While St. John was born into a poor share-cropping Italian family being born the fourth of fourteen. St. John Paul was a globe-trotting pope while St. John tended to stay put. St. John opened the second Vatican Council from which we are still learning. St. John Paul played a major role in ending communist rule in Europe. There is no one pattern of holiness, no one way to be a saint.
When we look at the saints in all their diversity it’s very difficult to find one pattern of holiness. There is St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellectual, and St. John Vianney who barely made it through the seminary. There is St. Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city, and there is St. Antony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert. There is St. Bernard kneeling on the hard stones of Clairvaux in penance for his sins, and there St. Hildegard of Bingen singing and throwing flowers, madly in love with God. There is St. Joan of Arc, leading armies into war, and there is St. Francis of Assisi, the peacenik. There is the grave and serious St. Jerome, and there is St. Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter.
They say that God is an artist and that the saints are his masterpieces and like any artist he likes to change his style, painting his saints in different colors, different styles, and different compositions. Each saint reflects some aspect of the divine reality. So what does that mean for us? It means we should find that specific color, style, and composition of sanctity that God wants to bear through us. As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “If we become what God has in mind for us we will set the world on fire.”
At the beginning I spoke of God as the Divine Fisherman. And with us too he fishes. Some spiritual writers will say that there is an invisible line with an unseen hook set within our hearts. And with a gentle tug of this line our Lord calls us to himself. Now we can respond to this tug on our heart or not, it’s up to us, we have free will. Do we always respond to that tug, do we always respond to that inspiration to do good, do we always respond to that inspiration to pray, do we always respond to that inspiration to visit someone who needs help. Our Lord has a plan of sanctity for each one of us. And nothing can interfere with that plan as long as we respond to those tugs on our hearts. We are free to respond or not. Those tugs invite us to let Jesus help us to trust more, to love more, to hope more, and to begin again quickly if we fall.
The Easter Resurrection means an elevation of this life to a new heavenly level, a new heavenly perfection, and a new heavenly beauty, a newness that we can’t even begin to imagine. St. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him.”
I have one more fishing story, this time you are the fish, swimming in a murky cloudy dark pond. Then imagine being hooked by a fisherman and being pulled up out of the water and for one moment you see a world of light and color, light and color that you never imagined possible. You then wriggle off the hook and fall back into the pond. You tell your fish friends, “I saw the world up there, a world which I never knew existed. Yet now compared to that, this ordinary world seems like nothing to me.”
Because of the Easter Resurrection of our Lord, the glory of an unimagined heaven awaits us. My prayer for us today is that we always respond quickly to those divine tugs on our heart. If we let Him our Risen Lord will make us a saint and lead us to the glory of Heaven.
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley