Friday, November 21, 2008

Hope in the Blessed Light, the Filler of Hearts

In our struggle against Evil - against that which is empty, broken and dark - we have nothing of our own to use. Nothing at all. By ourselves we are utterly hopeless.

But we are not alone. We have an assistant, a counsellor, a helper - an intimate and sweet Guest, Who is always with us. (Unless God forbid, we chase Him away, or refuse Him entry.) He will fill us up with what we need - with Himself.

But this may sound a bit abstract (but it's quite real and practical) or impersonal (but no two human lovers can begin to approach the intimacy) - so let us use an analogy.

When an air force jet is on a long mission, it may happen that it needs fuel. There are amazing arrangements which enable the pilot to refuel in midair. But it takes arrangement. The tanker plane must have enough fuel, it has to rendezvous with the plane needing the fill-up, which also has to have the precise kind of gear enabling it to accept a fill-up from that tanker. Then a trick of flying is required of both pilots, a maneuver kind of like threading the needle, which links the two while the fuel is pumped from the tanker into the plane that needs the fuel. It takes training, planning, and engineering.

The Holy Spirit doesn't have to fuss with such things to fill us. We're all prepared, being made in His own image and likeness - He who is Love, and we who are made precisely for receiving Love... and we sure are empty... But this aeronautical image (though interesting) is very poor. Let us turn to the Golden Sequence (which we are exploring through Father Britt's The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal) and hear it said better:
O lux beatissima,
Reple cordis intima,
Tuorum fidelium.
Sine tuo numine,
Nihil est in homine,
Nihil est innoxium.

O most blessed Light,
fill Thou the inmost recesses of the hearts
of Thy faithful!
Without Thy divine assistance,
There is nothing in man,
Nothing harmless. [Britt's translation]
We are empty - really empty. Not even fumes. And all the things of nature - from stars to rocks, plants and animals - yes, even other humans - even our own selves - all these are dangerous. All these are noxious - harmful to us. The Latin noceo = "I harm", from which we get words like noxious and innocent and innocuous. Note here the use of homine, which is the ablative of homo = "Man" - that's "Man the race", as in the biological species homo sapiens, and not "man, the male" which in Latin is vir.

But I am going backwards. Consider the first part of this verse. We call the Holy Spirit lux = "light". We should recall that four of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are for the intellect: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel. It is said that our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown, and this is why we have all others, in particular the fear of death. The unknown is anything which is darkness to us, whether this darkness be physical or intellectual. But the Holy Spirit does not simply give us light - He is Light! And light is the chief means of communication in the universe: stars, indeed, whole galaxies at unthinkable distances are revealing themselves to us by their own light. And God also reveals Himself by His own Light, Who is the Holy Spirit. (This is perhaps a hint as to the meaning of "conceived by the Holy Spirit", and why Jesus says the Father would send the Spirit "in My name" [Jn 14:26].)

But now we find a puzzle. If this light is about the intellect, why does it fill the heart? We had that in the first verse a few days back, but let us go further. Now it is interesting to see this word intima here. Histologists and anatomists will know that our veins and arteries usually consist of three layers, going from the outside inward towards the "lumen" or actual blood channel of the vessel:

1. The tunica adventitia, which is connective tissue and also blood vessels. (See below for more on this.)

2. The tunica media, of smooth muscle fibers. (These muscles permit very fine control over the circulation; they are not under conscious control.)

3. The tunica intima, which is the "inner epithelium" (really the "inner skin" of the vessel) and, if the vessel is an artery, some additional tissues.

So we are clearly talking about something deep inside - so much so, that we can say it is our "inner skin"... the inner skin of our hearts. This void, so often filled with ourselves (what is more useless than that!) we beg that the Holy Spirit fill. No, actually, it is "refill" and it is not a beg - it is an imperative.

How dare we command God?

No - He knows we are begging. We speak in our emptiness. We once had the fullness of His light and strength and love - we cast it out to make room for ourselves.

We need Him to come and refill us. But unlike the jets, He does not fly off afterwards. He stays... for He is hospes, our guest.

Come, Holy Spirit!


A comment, off the main topic: yes, we must not forget that the blood vessels themselves need to be nourished by blood. The inmost layers are near enough to the lumen to receive their supply directly, but except in the very small vessels, the blood vessels themselves need to have smaller vessels to bring them nourishment! These are called vasa vasorum - the "vessels of vessels". One many recall that the Pope is called the "servus servorum Dei - the servant of the servants of God... and from this we remember that, by Subsidiarity, the hierarchy of the Church works upside down - for as Jesus told us He came "not to be served, but to serve" [Mt 20:28]. It is a lesson in mystical histology: as blood vessels also need blood vessels, so priests need priests.


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