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Receive the ‘mystical kiss of Christ’

 

by Deacon Mark Plaiss

 

       Suppose you play basketball. What is the object of the game? What is its goal (no pun intended)? Is not the goal of the game of basketball to score more points than the opposing team by dropping the basketball through the hoop more often than your opponent does in a prescribed amount of time?

       What is the goal of the acorn? Is it not to grow into an oak tree?

       How about marriage? What is its goal? Well, the unity of husband and wife in love and fidelity and the begetting of children and raising them in the faith.

       Everything has a goal or a telos. Everything has an end to which it naturally gravitates. This month we celebrate the goal, the telos, of Christianity, which is eternal life with God.

       Easter is the telos of Christianity. St. Paul puts it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17)  But the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty. Peter and the boys, on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, ate fish with Jesus soon after Jesus’ resurrection. (John 21:1-14)

       But this telos of Christianity, this goal, has to be experienced, or else it won’t be believed. You know this. I can talk until I’m blue in the face how great riding the Millennium Force (a roller coaster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio) is, but until you actually ride it, you won’t really know what I’m talking about.

       The same goes for experiencing the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

       You can read the Passion narratives and the Resurrection narratives in the Gospels until your eyes bleed, but until you experience the risen Christ, all that is just an academic exercise.

       Doubt that? Ask Thomas the Apostle. (John 20:19-29)

       But that begs the question: How does one in 21st century America experience the risen Christ? Answer? The same way one experiences the risen Christ in the 1st, 15th or 20th century; through a gift from God.

       Only God can give one an experience of God. Since only God can provide that experience, your job, and my job, is to maneuver people into a position and state of mind that will make them open to receiving an experience from God.

       It’s like I tell my students. I’m not here to convert you; I couldn’t convert you if I tried. Only God can convert. My job, I continue telling my students, is to help you get ready to experience God. Then? Well, then it’s up to you and God.

       The very first verse of the Song of Songs in the Old Testament says this: “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth.” (Sg 1:1) Notice what the verse does notsay. It does not say, “Let me describe to you what the kiss of God feels like.”

       As nearly everyone can attest, a big sloppy kiss on the mouth is far preferable to a description of said kiss.

Same goes for God.

       St. Bernard of Clairvaux riffs on this idea as follows: “But anyone who has received this mystical kiss from the mouth of Christ at least once, seeks again that intimate experience, and eagerly looks for its frequent renewal. I think that nobody can grasp what it is except the one who receives it. For it is ‘a hidden manna,’ and only he who eats it still hungers for more.” (“On the Song of Songs,” sermon 3.1)

       Easter is the sloppy kiss of Christianity. So here is my attempt at positioning you in a spot where you can receive this kiss, this experience, from God.

       Ready?

       Attend the Easter Vigil.

       “But it’s too long!” you say.

       Tell me, do you want that sloppy kiss from your spouse to last an instant or do you want it to be a long slow number that hopefully leads to other things? Well, think of the Easter Vigil like that.

       The Easter Vigil has it all: fire, water, oil, bread, wine, smoke, words - lots of words - along with music, light, darkness and even a parade; people getting baptized; people getting confirmed, and one huge candle. You can’t beat that! I tell people, if you go to only one Mass a year, make it the Easter Vigil.

       You can read all you want about the spiritual life, but that won’t satisfy you; it won’t impress you. It won’t make an impression on you unless you experiencewhat you are reading. The Benedictine monk Jean Leclercq put it this way: “There is no spiritual literature without spiritual experience.” (“The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, p. 264)

       St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Jean Leclercq. Both monks. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: never pooh-pooh the monks, people.

       Happy Easter, Church of Gary!

 

       Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

   

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