What is true life? It is a fresh and constant revelation of God. The life of every true person is a special revelation of some unknown or some necessary truth, but one despised in one’s own time. Such was Saint Francis’ life in regard to his time and the greatness of poverty. Until his time, no one had so evidently demonstrated the truth of our Lord in regard to the paternal care of God and the blessings of poverty. It was Saint Alphonsus (Liguori) who called the lives of the saints “living gospels.”
Life is an earnest, great and momentous business. Its secrets we shall not clearly understand until after death. It depends on whether an angel or a demon leaves our bodies at death. Every action tends to transform us into angels or demonize our immortal souls. The angel lies buried within us like the butterfly in the worm; we shall only come to the true and full consciousness of ourselves after the death of our bodies. The angel sleeps but is only awakened into life by the pure excitement of divine grace.
A true Christian life is therefore the beginning of our true and complete consciousness. The saints alone have regained, more or less, their original position and the possession of their dormant powers. Their life in relation to ours is what ours is to ordinary sleep. There is no truth in life except in living for eternity. The saints became saints because eternity and death were ever present realities to their minds. They were awake while most of us are in a deep sleep and the best of us still slumber.
RESPONSE: FR. PAUL ROBICHAUD, CSP
There is life and then there is “true life,” according to Father Hecker. True life is “the great and momentous business“ that lies within the ordinariness of our days. Deep within our being is our soul; that eternal part of us which is evolving and growing. Like a fetus in the process of birth, it is being nurtured by grace or sadly, it is being misshaped by sin. The problem is that most of us are not very conscious of this momentous business going on within us. Unlike the saints who live with an awareness of things eternal and things deadly, this same awareness is often dormant within us as Christians. Most of us, according to Hecker, find it difficult to stay awake – to live with this consciousness of good and evil - and even the best of us doze off. True life has consequences while we slumber, because our souls are in the process of transformation towards God or away from God based on our response to grace.
Falling asleep as a form of spiritual death is found throughout the New Testament. In the Gospel (Mk.13:35), Jesus warns his disciples against falling asleep. Jesus also tells the story of the foolish bridesmaids (Mat.25:5) who fall asleep before the bridegroom arrives and are consequently locked out of the wedding banquet. In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples cannot watch with Jesus (Mat. 26:40-45) and as he struggles in prayer to the Father. In this season of Easter, Father Hecker’s reflection makes me think of the hymn in Ephesians (5:14): “Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Fr. Paul Robichaud is Postulator of the Cause for Canonization of Isaac Hecker.