“My Master,” he says, “has forewarned me. Daily He announces more distinctly, – ‘Surely I come quickly!’ and hourly I more eagerly respond, – ‘Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus!'”
Thus concludes Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and it’s one of those endings to a novel that makes me fall in love with reading all over again. The Lord continues to woo me through that spark of His perfect mind that resides in the written word. In Jane Eyre, it’s the realization that beauty is made from literal ashes, that the human person can go through countless struggles and finally encounter happiness. Through that book, I am also reminded that our ultimate happiness lies in the next world and it is a happiness which we need to courageously prepare for while we labor through this vale of tears.
Tomorrow marks the final page of the novel that is the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. For the last several weeks, the Church has been preparing us for Christ’s Second Coming through Scripture that speaks of the end times and our need to be prepared for those days. This is the real reason why I’m not ready to pull out the Christmas decorations quite yet. There’s something about this season that has captivated my heart for the last several years and provided me with deep peace even in turmoil. And I owe that to Jane Eyre.
But it’s not just Jane Eyre. It’s every experience that I’ve had with beauty. I should be afraid of the Last Judgment. And I’m fully aware of the gravity of that moment. I’ve had the gift of chanting the Dies Irae, or Day of Wrath with my home parish’s sacred choir. It’s a sequence from the old Requiem Mass:
|That day of wrath, that dreadful day,|
shall heaven and earth in ashes lay,
as David and the Sybil say.
|What horror must invade the mind|
when the approaching Judge shall find
and sift the deeds of all mankind!
But while those words are indeed horror-provoking, here’s the thing: I’ve also heard the music that accompanies those words. From the austere yet indulgent lean and pull of the chant, to the overpowering grandeur and triumph of Mozart’s rendition, this very song has been a conduit of beauty into my soul.
When I fell in love with Jesus in a new and overwhelming way just before my freshman year of high school, it was in a large part due to my family’s vacation out west. I remember gazing into the Milky Way that was visible over Yellowstone National Park. As I stared into the swirl of light overshadowing the night-blackened trees, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that if this was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, the One who placed those stars in the sky had to be far more beautiful.
When I look back on dancing the Grand Pas de Deux from Nutcracker, it was the beauty of dance, storytelling, and music all converging into one that made that such a vital experience. Ballet has been a vessel of the Lord’s love poured out to me as I am invited to not only watch, but co-create beauty.
Why am I not afraid of the end of the world? Because of the sunset that I witness every night. Because of those deep pinks and reds that form a palisade of streaks around the golden clouds. Because of the promise that when night falls, beauty rises. One day, there will be a final sunset and from those clouds will descend the Source of all Beauty. It is Beauty who will judge mankind.
And I should tremble at that prospect. But I’ve seen the Source of all Beauty before. I see Him every Sunday when He descends from heaven and is lifted up from the earth in the hands of a priest. I see Him still and silent in the golden monstrance that is exposed in the chapel day and night. By all means we must fight sin and be alert and ready for that moment when we meet our Maker upon death. But I also believe that the Eucharist exists so that we can meet our Maker now, so that we come close to Him in His littleness and vulnerability and so that He can show us our own littleness and vulnerability. In the Eucharist, we are invited to Eden where we are spiritually naked and yet unashamed. We are invited to drink deeply of Beauty Himself, to allow Beauty to flow through our veins and be breathed out to the whole world.
The Saints repeatedly exhort us to to remember that the only thing to fear in life and death is sin. As you reflect on Christ’s Second Coming this weekend and throughout Advent, examine your conscience. Find a time to go to Confession. But as you examine yourself and see your abject failure, rejoice in the One whose perfect love casts out fear. Allow yourself to be overpowered by the reality that the day of wrath will also be the day of beauty, or in Latin, dies pulchrae.
That balletic line, that imagery in Rosetti’s poetry, that ritardando in E’en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come (my favorite piece I ever sang in choir), is merely a foretaste of the wonder that awaits us. The One who has created that beauty is coming soon. May His imminent embrace inspire hope in these dark days.