Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
Not too long ago, the father of a priest friend of mine died. In our conversations about his death, he spoke of the hole that was left in him by the death of his dad. This hole, he said, was necessary: it marked the place in him where their relationship had been. What has stuck with me about this image is now clearly it spoke to me of my own experience at the death of my parents – there are now holes in me, when once they were. I don’t see these as problematic, but somewhat comforting: they continue to have a place in my life.
Every loving relationship is unique: it holds it own place in our lives. The love we have and share with another person has its own life and meaning. When such a relationship ends, it rightly should be felt as a permanent gap in us – a hole, an absence, where once there was the person we loved.
Not surprisingly, we often try to fill in such holes. The pain of loss can be a great burden. But what was unique cannot be identically replaced. So, there is a lesson to be learnt here: the hole of absence is not meant to be filled in. A filled-in hole might relieve some of the pain of an ended relationship – but it will also obliterate the very shape of love that the relationship has left behind within us. The pain of loss is a reminder of the lingering shape of love. To fill in the absence is to cover up the ongoing loving presence: we do so to our own diminishment.
We probably most often approach this feast of Jesus’ ascension into heaven from our own perspective: what did his going leave as a benefit for us. But perhaps we can also learn something by looking at the ascension from God’s perspective. The truly great mystery of our Christian faith is that God gave us his only Son even to the point of his death. The Father suffered the loss of his Son – experienced the aching pain of his death – and a gaping hole was opened up in the heart of God, a hole whose shape was formed from their love for one another. So, in the same moment that absence happened, a real presence was created.
When Jesus returned to his Father, that unique hole of divine love was not filled in or covered over. God is love – including the pain of love. So, God did not obliterate the giving up of his Son. Instead, the Son returned with a human body shaped by the puncture marks of crucifixion. A different set of holes became a part of God – holes of love and forgiveness moulded by the wounds of our human sinfulness. So, two sets of love-formed holes continue to exist in God – the holes of giving up his divine Son to us and the holes of his Son giving up his humanity for us. The shape of both divine and human love is held forever in the one heart of God.
When we experience the pain of an absent love, it is the shape of God’s abiding presence that we feel. To attempt to fill in our holes of absence is to attempt to obliterate God from our lives. Out of love, Jesus gave up his life so that in his love we might shape our lives.