Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Thin Veil Between Heaven and Earth

This will be my last posting of 2012 – a year that saw me travel to Ireland for Notre Dame on several occasions, a year that saw my eldest get married, a year for me and my wife to make the pilgrimage of a lifetime, a year when I heard my grandson say "Papa" for the first time. I'll not rank these in order of importance; wonder should not need to concern itself with rankings.

But I write today from yet another remarkable place: Vail, Colorado. Michele and I, along with Father Peter Rocca, c.s.c., came out here several days ago to provide liturgical support and sacred song for a wedding celebration – the daughter of our dear friends John and Mary Rosenthal. It has been more than forty years since I was here, and walking through this village, bedecked with sparkling lights in fir trees and skiers flying down the slopes, provided an aura of holiday joy to the events of the weekend.

A couple of days before the wedding, I wrote to the father of the bride, and being great friends with him, offered up a little advice: delegate well! And along with this, offered an observation which has long been felt in my heart. "At a wedding," I wrote, "the veil between heaven and earth is stretched very thin. It is the closest we might come to heaven on this side."

Watching the events of the weekend – the joyous gathering of the clans, the way the cousins (yay, Bax sisters!) threw themselves into the singing of solos and psalms, the feast of sumptuous food that was lavishly placed before us, the overflowing tears of joy and happiness, the crazy dancing late into the night (close your eyes right now and hear Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline... so good! so good! so good!) – all these things seemed to me to be one amazing foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where love is continually overflowing, where the holy mountain witnesses a feast that never ends.

But along with all these holy and blessed things, I would reverentially add the tears of a father who walks his daughter down the aisle. Few things in life, I think come close to the power of such a thing. It is not a long moment: depending on the length of the church nave, it could only amount to about a minute in the span of life. But in those sixty seconds, an entire lifetime comes into perspective: your daughter's first mastering of a two-wheeled bicycle; her first communion day; her first report card; her first date, first prom; driving her off to college for the first time. All of these moments and many, many more, all crowding into those steps down the aisle. It is astounding that the human heart could hold such extraordinary memories.

But hold them we do. And they make our lives worth living. And at the end of the year, when memories and looking back and looking forward come into all-too-clear focus, it is this that fills my heart tonight – the ability of our souls to hold all memories dear, even to the point where our very beings overflow and tears are the result.

I am not concerned with resolutions. Let the tabloids have their time with those. My New Year's Eve thoughts are with memories themselves: how they shape us, how we choose to love, how we let go of faults and failings, how we choose to go on from here.

This weekend's wedding gave me much to celebrate, much to ponder, and more than enough spiritual fodder to keep this pilgrim's pen occupied. And my hope for all of you, as we head into 2013: attend a wedding or two. And delight in the thin veil between heaven and earth.