The liturgical calendar is filled with events in the earthly life of Christ. The one time in the year when nothing seems to happen, when chronology is a vacuum, is that space between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. But the Creed does not admit of such an interpretation. When the Lord seemed to have become still, he was “harrowing Hell.”
The point is this: his disappearances are as significant as his appearances. If you assemble the post-Resurrection appearances, including those after the Ascension, namely to Stephen being martyred, to Paul on the Damascus road, and to John on Patmos, there are fifteen particular appearances. But that also means there were that many disappearances. Each time he vanished, he was doing something unseen. We may not know until we enter eternity what all that involved, but at least it explains why he said before the Ascension that he had to leave us in order to be with us, and why he said that he was going to prepare a place for us.
In the detective story “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes told the Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Gregory, that the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time” was precisely that the dog did nothing. The silence was as revealing as any sound. This is to be remembered when God seems absent from current events, or distant from us in our daily perplexities. He who never lied said that he would be with us until the end of time.
Rather than despair when God seems absent, the solution is to try to figure out why he is hidden. “Seek the Lord and his strength. Seek his face always” (Psalm 105:4). To want him to be near is already to be near him. “Take comfort; you would not be looking for me if you had not already found me” (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 553: Le mystère de Jésus).
The saints have understood Solomon’s transporting love poem, the “Song of Songs,” to be more than an allegory of the love of a man for his beloved: it is a parable of Christ’s love for his bride the Church. Saint Bernard understood it also as Christ’s love for each soul. As Christ came into the world to seek us, so “there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice” (Song of Songs 2:9). But there are times when he acts furtively, vanishing from view, intangible, enticing the soul to long for him: “I looked for him but did not find him” (Song of Songs 3:2).
What seems an absence is a dynamic presence, apprehended by faith as “evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1), influencing events and lives with a power not of this world. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
- Father George W. Rutler
- 08 May 16