In A Rumor of Angels, Peter Berger argues there are “signals of transcendence” embedded in the human condition.* An example is when time seems to “stand still.” Berger illustrates this with a scene of little girls playing hopscotch:
“They are completely intent on their game, closed to the world outside it, happy in their concentration. Time has stood still for them…The outside world has, for the duration of the game, ceased to exist. And, by implication (since the little girls may not be very conscious of this), pain and death, which are the law of that world, have also ceased to exist.”
Berger goes on to describe how an adult observer of that scene, who is all too conscious of pain and death, filled with worries about the future, might be momentarily drawn into that “beatific immunity.”
That experience of “time standing still” can give a small glimpse into the resurrection. The event happened in history. Jesus was crucified on a specific date and he rose “on the third day.” By his resurrection Jesus transcends time itself. He is as present to us as he was to the Apostles. How this happens I will explain in moment. But first I must give a warning.
Children often experience those beautiful moments when time stands still. However, when we adults attempt to create them for ourselves, disaster can follow. I know a guy who works with one goal in mind - to earn enough for a trip to Las Vegas. When he enters the casino, he becomes so immersed in the games that he loses track of time. He doesn't stop till he has spent his final quarter. Once he emerged from the casino thinking it was nighttime. However, the sun was blazing and it was over 100 degrees. The blast of hot air almost caused him to faint.
Other people use pornography to create a similar experience. While in their fantasy world, they can forget about ugly realities like pain, death – and responsibility. Some get addicted to romance, not because they really love someone else, but because that feeling of “being in love” makes time seem to stand still.
These impulses, while they can bring terrible destruction, are not evil in themselves. The problem comes because we fail to recognize there really is someone who can fulfill our deepest desires.
This Sunday two very fortunate disciples had the experience of their hearts burning within them. (Lk 24:32) They wanted the stranger who caused that sensation to stay with them. But, when he broke the bread, he disappeared.
Jesus makes it clear how he continues his presence among us – in the “breaking of the bread.” Sometimes Protestants ask why we Catholics “multiply” the Sacrifice of Christ. But in reality there is only one Mass. The Risen Lord, who led the evening meal in Emmaus, is the Celebrant here at Holy Family – and in every Catholic church throughout the centuries. He alone makes possible what each of us most deeply desires.
*For a fascinating discussion of Peter Berger's book, I invite you to read The Truth of Catholicism by George Weigel.
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