‘A Sacred Moment At the Shot Tower,’ by Jude Child

‘A Sacred Moment At the Shot Tower’ is a guest post – unfortunately, I’m not skilled enough in the art of WordPress to remove the ‘by Whitefrozen,’ line in the title; the purpose of this blurb is to make clear that this is a guest contribution and not my own work. Hopefully I can figure out how to remove the misleading byline in the near future.

This is the first contribution post – here’s to many more.

A Sacred Moment At the Shot Tower

By Jude Child

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The Meeting

            Last week, I had a problem.  Although theology interests me greatly, I consider myself more of a philosopher right now.  Despite that, I feel there is no topic in theology as underappreciated as “tempus sanctus” – Sacred Time.  As I sat to write a treatise on this topic, though, I realized my mind was in revolt and I could think of nothing clever and original that would do the topic honor.  I was rescued from this dilemma by a call from my friend, St. Dominic Savio.  I casually mentioned my problem, and he said he knew just the thing: “I’ll get a couple of my friends together, and you can talk Sacred Time with them.”

I was very pleased with this news, and so I asked where we should meet them.  “The usual place” my friend responded.  “Pick me up at seven.”

And so at 6:55, I pulled into the parking lot of the now-unused St. Mary’s Church in Dubuque.  Dominic was waiting for me (naturally, the Church is where Heaven meets Earth).  He climbed in, commenting “you’ve got a new car!”  I replied that he hopefully didn’t mind imports.  He laughed, “I’m Italian; what do I care?  Hey,” he continued, gesturing to St. Mary’s, “did you know that this church is modeled on Salzburg Cathedral?”  I had to admit that I hadn’t known that, and asked if that was something you just knew when you’re in Heaven.  “No,” he replied. “I read the brochure while I was waiting.”

I was about to start driving when Dominic continued “do you know how many bricks there are in this church?”  I was curious why they would put that in a brochure.  My friend smiled and mused “they didn’t.  That’s something you just know when you’re in Heaven.”

As we drove off for the Shot Tower Pizza – where we always met our guests – I got around to asking my haloed friend exactly who the people we’d be meeting were.  “Oh no,” Dominic smirked.  “You know I never tell you until they get there.”  Knowing how fruitless it would be to try and change the mind of a now-timeless creature, I settled for that answer and maneuvered my way through the maze of downtown Dubuque.

We were a little early when we got to Dubuque’s finest pizzeria, so Dominic and I stood in the lobby and chatted as we waited for our guests to arrive.  “You probably should have worn a tie, you know,” Dominic mused as he straightened his own bow tie.  I never understood why that little kid always wears a bow tie.

The host smiled and asked who I was waiting for.  “Ask Dominic” I replied sarcastically.

“Who?”

Drat.  I’d forgotten that my friend’s apparition appears only to those he’s supposed to interact with.  I began to reply when the host’s eyes shot open.  “Holy… Father!” he stuttered.

Walking through the establishment’s door at that moment was Pope Benedict XVI, followed closely by a tall Jewish gentleman that I reconized immediately as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

After the necessary reverences were made by Dominic and myself, the astounded host conducted us to an out-of-the-way table.  It was apparent to me that he hadn’t worked here long enough to get used to the usual clientele.

I began by saying how happy I was that these two esteemed theologians on Sacred Time could be here.  Rabbi Heschel thanked me, and said we may as well get right down to business.  And so we began.

The Dialogue

Heschel leaned forward and, jabbing a finger to the table to emphasize his points, introduced the subject.  “My interest in Sacred Time begins with what I believe is a fundamental fact of my religion.  I say that ‘Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time’ and ‘Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year[1].’”

This right away perked my ears up; it reminded me of a similar concept in Catholicism.  I said as much, and Heschel looked pleased.  “Yes, I was an observer at the Second Vatican Council, and I recall that in some of the documents, the Catholic Church uses very similar language; I believe it was especially in Sacrosanctum Concilium.”

Dominic applied his glorified intellect “yes Rabbi: ‘The church believes that its nature requires it to celebrate the saving work of the divine Bridegroom by devoutly calling it to mind on certain days throughout the year.  Every week, on the day which it has called the Lord’s Day, it commemorates the Lord’s resurrection[2].’”

Heschel smiled as the host approached, “yes, that’s it.  Clever lad – how old are you?”

“One-hundred, sixty-nine.”  The host stared; apparently Dominic had become visible to him as well. Dominic apologized, “Oh, but I died when I was fourteen, sir.”  The host nodded dully, then took our order.

Heschel continued where he had left off, “in my theology, Sacred Time is the central reason for religion.  Far from being only a remembrance of past events, the Sabbath especially is an entrance into the very life of God: ‘the words: ‘On the seventh day God finished His work’ (Genesis 2:2), seem to be a puzzle.  Is it not said: ‘He rested on the seventh day’?… we would surely expect the Bible to tell us that on the sixth day God finished His work.  Obviously, the ancient rabbis concluded, there was an act of creation on the seventh day.  Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath[3].’  Menuha is something more than just rest, it represents ‘Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose… in later times menuha became a synonym for the life in the world to come, for eternal life[4].’”

Heschel paused a moment to refresh his lips, and then continued. “To enter into menuha, then, is to enter into the original entity that God sanctified: ‘it is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh [holy] is used for the first time… ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy… the sanctity of time came first, the sanctity of man came second, and the sanctity of space last.’  In fact, the Bible speaks very particularly about events in the past being lived experiences in the present: “we read in the Book of Exodus: ‘In the third month after the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, on this day they came into the wilderness of Sinai’ (19:1).  Here was an expression that puzzled the ancient rabbis: on this day?  It should have been said: on that day.  This can only mean that the day of giving the Torah can never become past; that day is this day, every day[5].’  Every event of spiritual proportions is a present event to be experienced; that, my friends, is my basic theology on Sacred Time.”

His introduction completed, the good rabbi leaned back in his chair and folded his hands politely for the next speaker.

The Holy Father had listened with great interest, and at this appropriate lull, he now took the stage.  “On the matter of Scared Time itself, Rabbi,” the Pontiff began with his accented English, “the Church can agree with you in almost every regard.  We too have a conception of presently entering into and experiencing past events of spiritual proportions.  Our distinctive difference, of course, is that our ‘events’ are primarily the events in the life of Christ.  The most ‘common’ example would be our Sunday worship, which is for Christians ‘the day on which the new world began, the one on which, with Christ’s victory over death, the new creation began[6].’

The Holy Father paused a moment to put sugar in his coffee that had been brought to him, and Heschel took this moment to ask a question.  “Holiness, I have criticized the Christians in my books for abandoning the Sabbath; with all respect – do you have any particular defense of it?”

The Pope looked thoughtful, and then responded, “The abandonment of Saturday worship by the infant Christian community has been for me, a particularly interesting and revealing fact.  This is how I see it: ‘if we bear in mind the immense importance attached to the Sabbath in the Old Testament tradition on the basis of the Creation account and the Decalogue, then it is clear that only an event of extraordinary impact could have led to the abandonment of the Sabbath and its replacement by the first day of the week.  Only an event that marked souls indelibly could bring about such a profound realignment in the religious culture of the week.  Mere theological speculations could not have achieved this.  For me, the celebration of the Lord’s day, which was a characteristic part of the Christian community from the outset, is one of the most convincing proofs that something extraordinary happened that day – the discovery of the empty tomb and the encounter with the risen Lord.[7]’”

I instantly recognized the passage; Jesus of Nazareth is my favorite book of the Pope’s, and this particular passage is one of my favorites.  What a shame I hadn’t brought my copy for a signature.  Dominic and Heschel looked equally impressed, but of course Heschel had to separate admiration from assent.  The Pope nodded gracefully and Heschel went on, “how is it, then, that the Christian community enters into the Resurrection of Jesus?”

“The Sunday worship is an entering into the Resurrection of Christ, particularly through the Eucharist; “through the Eucharist, the Lord not only gives Himself to His own but also gives them the reality of a new communion among themselves which is extended in time, ‘until He comes’ (cf. 1 Cor 11:26).’  In the Catholic understanding, the Eucharist is Sacred Time meeting Sacred Space; it is an incarnational reality like that of when we believe that the transcendent God became supremely imminent by taking on human nature.  In light of that understanding, St. Paul’s words “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes” takes on a very powerful meaning.  It is menuha for Christians – to have the Lord ‘enter under my roof[8]’.”

We lapsed into silence for a minute, each mulling over what had been said so far.  Then Dominic piped up. “Of course, Sacred Time also enters into the prayers during the week for both Judaism and Catholicism right?”

The theologians looked at each other, and the Pope gestured for Heschel to be first.

“Yes, the Jewish prayers reflect the theology of Sacred Time as well.  The evening prayers which we say are an easy example: ‘six evenings a week we pray: ‘Guard our going out and our coming in’; on the Sabbath evening we pray instead: ‘Embrace us with a tent of Thy peace[9].’’”

“And for the Church” I relayed, “the Breviary is a set of prayers for every day, and they adapt themselves the moment in Sacred Time.  On Friday, for example, the last prayer is Psalm 88 – to enter into Christ’s death.

“Psalm 88” Heschel mused.  “Certainly the darkest psalm in the psalter.”

“Indeed” the Pope agreed.  “And Sacred Time knows no discrimination; I pray the same prayers as a seminarian does.”

“That would also be the reason it is against canon law to fast on a Sunday,” Dominic said.  “When you’re rejoicing, it is inappropriate to fast.  Sacred Time includes not just prayers, but actions.”

“Yes!”  Heschel cried.  “That is exactly right.  Sacred Time is a doctrine of action, not just mental activity.  It is an experience in the present: ‘the higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments[10].’”

“And” the Pope concluded, “those sacred moments are based on the actions of God.  I’ve coined the term eschatological realism: ‘it means that [Jesus’ prophecies of coming again] are not a fata morgana or some kind of fictitious utopia, but that they correspond exactly to reality.  In fact, we always have to keep present in our minds the fact that he tells us with the greatest certainty ‘I will come again.’  This statement comes before everything else.  This is also why the Mass was originally celebrated facing east, toward the returning Lord, who is symbolized in the rising sun.  Every Mass is therefore an act of going out to meet the One who is coming.  In this way, His coming is also anticipated, as it were; we go out to meet Him – and He comes, anticipatively, already now[11].’  In Christianity, past, present, and future, should begin to blur in one seamless experience of the Deity.”

Heschel nodded, “And for the Jewish theologian, ‘Jewish tradition claims that there is a hierarchy of moments within time, that all ages are not alike.  Man may pray to God equally at all places, but God does not speak to man equally at all times[12].’  It is a negative way of saying that some moments are more ‘timeless’ than others.”

At this time, the pizza had come (I’m not sure how the restaurant had managed to make it kosher, but I ask the reader not to think too hard about that), and, our goal mostly complete, we turned our attention to other topics.  When the meal was completed, we took leave of each other, and I stood in the parking lot with Dominic.  I thanked him for his help again and asked him if we could do something like this more regularly.  He laughed and gave me a cryptic answer which made me chuckle as well, and then he began walking and faded quickly mysterious from sight.

It always helps to know good friends.


[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951), 8

[2] Sacrosactum Consilium, 102

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 22

[4] Ibid, 23

[5] Ibid, 98

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Heart of the Christian Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 17

[7] Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth – Part 2 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 259

 

[9] The Sabbath, 23

[10] Ibid, 6

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 80

[12] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 98

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