“May this Saturday, a day of transition between the agony of Friday and the glory of the Resurrection, be a day of prayer and recollection near the lifeless body of Jesus; let us open wide our heart and purify it in His Blood, so that renewed in love and purity, it can vie with the “new sepulcher” in offering the beloved Master’s a place of peace and rest.”
Pietà, art by Gustave Moreau (1876)
When Dante and Virgil reach the deepest pit of hell, located at the center of the earth, they begin to climb upwards because gravity has been reversed. This image symbolizes many truths. One is that when a great reversal takes place in our lives, we are not immediately aware of it. Dante and Virgil are still groping in the darkness, but they have reversed their course and are heading toward the light.
Holy Saturday represents those times when a great change has taken place in our lives but we are not yet aware of it. For example, after a deflating blow, often it takes our egos days, months and even years to begin to experience the deep peace of humility that the shattering event has caused. At first we feel only the death throes of what we have called our life — numbness, anger, anxiety, depression. But once the waves have subsided, there emerges the indescribable serenity of the Real Self.
Holy Saturday, is like a seed that has broken open in the ground but has not yet broken through to the surface. The growth that lies in darkness has not yet reached the light of consciousness. And when it finally breaks through to the surface, the effect is often so gentle that we don’t even recognize its presence. This is true regarding various transformations in our lives. C.S. Lewis, for example, compares his experience of coming to believe in Jesus Christ as “when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Surprised by joy 237). Lewis had spent many years reading, thinking, inwardly wrestling with and outwardly debating the existence of God and the claims of Christianity, but when the gift of faith finally arrived, he was not engaged in thinking about God nor did he feel deep emotion. Suddenly, he was conscious that faith had been given to him. The moment of transformation comes not with a thunderclap but as a gentle rain falling upon our parched, wearied, and wounded souls — unannounced. Carl Jung once said that when healing arrives, only one word can express its epiphany — miraculous. One moment, something struggled with for years is torturing a person, and the next moment is gone. Psychiatrist Theodore I. Rubin relates how a great personal failure threw him into a pit of depression and self-hate. He could not turn off the self-hating machinery of his mind and spent sleepless hours of self-torturing ruminations. He sought professional help and struggled with his demons to no avail, until one night before going to sleep he decided with his heart, “Leave it all be… That night I slept peacefully. In the morning my depression was gone” (4-5). We experience such miraculous healings in many other ways. For example, one day we discover that certain people or situations that had imprisoned us for years no longer provoke us to fear or rage. Or we respond with joyous alacrity to requests that we had previously done so grudgingly. At such times, we don’t know how the change has taken place or even when it came about. All we know is that the whole inner atmosphere of our soul has been changed. As Saint Teresa once said, often we receive the fruits of our labors all at once.
Holy Saturday, writes Karl Rahner, “is a symbol of everyday life” (24). It expresses the growth that accrues hidden in the darkness of our souls and resurrects in God’s time.
~ A Meditation by Fr. Marc Foley, O.C.D.