Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Glory of the Human Person as Memory of the Earth

Yesterday I attended a funeral Mass of a woman named Joann who, after a long life of illness, succumbed to death at the age of 78. She had been married for 58 years and was a devoted wife to her husband and a loving mother to her seven children. She also had a real verve for life despite all her many physical hardships. Joann loved a good glass of wine, good food, friends, family, beauty and ballet. The funeral Mass was quite beautifully done. For the responsorial psalm, the cantors sang the following refrain, "restless is the heart.....until it comes to rest in you. All the Earth, All the Earth will remember, and return to our God."

This refrain got me thinking about Joann's return to God and how it wasn't empty-handed! She brought with her many memories of her life and all the many and varied ways in which she loved and loved so well. On a larger scale, I began to reflect on the glory of the human person as memory of the Earth. This past week the Church selected a number of readings from the book of Genesis. These readings focused on the creation of the world and, more specifically, the creation of the human person. One of the readings spoke about how God decided to create the human person in his own image and likeness. When we reflect on the glory of what it means to be human, we generally start with God's image. However, what I'd like to suggest is that in doing so we may be putting the cart before the horse!

In the second story of creation found in the second chapter of Genesis, God forms the human person from the clay of the Earth and breathes his breath into the person's nostrils, animating the person with life. It needs to be emphasized that the person was formed from the Earth. What this implies is that the glory of being human is not only being the image of God but also being the image of the Earth! Unfortunately, this fact is very often overlooked in Christian spirituality. We forget that to be fully human means "imaging" all of the beauty, history, grandeur, glory, hopes, travail, longing, sorrow, and even tragedy of the Earth. Out of all the creatures on the face of the Earth and all abiotic and biotic life, the human person alone has the sacred vocation of historical consciousness and biographical memory. This isn't only for the sake of remembering human affairs, but being cognizant and attuned to the affairs of the Earth community, which has a history that is destined for Eternal Life as well. In Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelations, we are told, "what we await is a new heavens and a new Earth." The beautiful memories that Joann took with her to God, and the memories that we take, are not simply our own, they are also part and parcel of the storehouse of the memories of the Earth, which will also make a sacred "return to God." Pat, TOR