Most people of Irish heritage have a lovely way of speaking euphemistically in polite company. To refresh your memory, a euphemism is a word or an expression that one may use to “dial down” a topic or event that could be considered in poor taste or embarrassing. When visitors come to my house, I often ask if they would like to “wash their hands” before we sit down to visit. “Wash their hands” is a euphemism for using the “rest room,” a euphemism for the toilet.
Now, you might be wondering what I’m driving at here. Our topic for this month is death. We don’t talk about death (or its cotangent topics of heaven, hell, reward or punishment) much anymore and I find it a little annoying. Like many things in our “dumbed down” society, we have changed a reality into something easy to deal with. Death is difficult for many people, so we speak more and more euphemistically about it: “He passed …” “She left us …” “We lost her …” etc. I recently heard a commercial where a mother is trying to explain the death of her husband, the father of her children, to those children, by telling them their father had become an angel. As a Catholic, this euphemism goes beyond trying to be polite or courteous—it’s an outright lie. God made us. Male and female He created us. Male and female we shall be brought home to heaven or, by our actions (judged by Almighty God at the time of our deaths), male and female we shall go to hell for all eternity. We do not, under any circumstances, stop being human beings, men and women, made by God in His image.
This leads me to the centerpiece of our reflection. God made us for Himself. The breathtaking miracle of the Incarnation—the incomprehensible fact that the only begotten Son of God—has become one in our flesh—with us! There are no words to describe it adequately, because we could never think it up—only God could have even conceived such a love that the creature could become part of the Creator!
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:10)
Read about this in Psalm 8. God created us “a little less than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor.” Why do you think there are devils? Why is there such hate in the world? Why such evil? It is—quite simply—the envy of Satan, the jealousy of the Evil One. Satan never has nor ever will forgive God for becoming a human being. The greatest act of Divine Love became a trigger for Satan’s hatred of God—an unquenchable, fierce, irrational, hatred of God—the embodiment of evil. This evil is unleashed against humanity to deceive, trick, confuse, mislead and move us away from God—the same way the serpent did to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Pope Francis has invited us to think about this mystery of God’s love for us in a concept he has recently brought forth called “accompaniment.” This is a concept that is very basic. God walks with us and we walk with God. This accompaniment is an eternal companionship. We are made by God for God. His love for us is eternal and unconditional. He asks only that we receive His love and love Him in return.
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis adds several phrases to the growing vocabulary and vision of the New Evangelization—a vision to which each pope has contributed since the Second Vatican Council.
One of these phrases is “the art of accompaniment”:
The Church will have to initiate everyone—priests, religious and laity—into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). (Evangelii Gaudium, 169)
A wonderful, but rather schmaltzy short opera written by Sigmund Romberg in the early 1950s was called The Student Prince. The title character was sung by Mario Lanza. It is, in short, a story about a young prince who falls in love with a lovely young woman (Ann Blythe) at the university in Heidelberg. She is a bar matron. He, of course, is an only son and destined for the throne. The story works through its romantic twists and turns with bright and rousing music until the prince discovers that he may not marry a commoner. His father dies and the decision must be made. The final scene of the drama is the prince standing alone and stalwart in the cathedral next to his father’s flag-covered coffin. He sings—in phenomenal Mario Lanza style—the closing song: “I’ll Walk with God.” He accepts the inevitability of his future and its authority from a Higher Source—God Himself. He accepts the true authority and love from God as the gift of how he will be true to himself, his father and his country, because he will walk with God.
Accompaniment—walking with God—begins truly in the reality of knowing the truth and allowing the truth to set you free. To be free certainly opens one’s mind and heart to the authority of love. God’s love allows one to be open and faithful to the One whose authority is beyond the easy and fast. One must live with resolution and purpose. The more these gifts are cultivated and truly cultivated in the Light of Faith, the more one discovers authentic gratitude and companionship with God. Life begins to unfold into the fullness of eternity and a happiness that only God can provide. We walk with God and discover, through days of discovery beyond mere curiosity, a sacramental and holy deep relationship with Jesus, Himself. Longing to be with Jesus in this world through prayer and thought certainly leads day by day to a companionship that awaits His friends in heaven.
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the November 2021 Issue of Catholic Life Magazine