The Ultimate Embrace
Did you know that our spectacles make us blind?
Just think of it! When we do not see clearly, we put a lens before our eyes so that we can see better. Some time later we do not see well again, thus we have to adjust by getting a stronger lens and so, on and on. The result is that increasingly we see less and less. We blame it on the deterioration of our eyes.
Why do our eyes deteriorate? Relying on the lenses, we do not exercise our eyes. Once, I met a person who became blind because of a motorbike accident. He told me “I am happy now because I see more!” He explained, in the past he relied on his eyes to see, but now he can see with his mind and heart. In other words, his accident has taught him to develop other faculties with which he could see.
Let us apply this to God, who as Scripture tells us “No one has ever seen” (John 1:18). Like the man who met with the accident, through our sins we became blind and cannot see God – “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart” (John 12:40).
Seeing our blindness, God in his mercy has given us another way to see – through Jesus “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, makes him known.” He purifies our heart. In fact, he gives us a new heart to fulfil what he promised in the Beatitudes, “Happy are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Jesus makes the Father known. There is probably no better parable to illustrate this than the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This story is really about God the Father and his Son Jesus in his humanity born of the virgin Mary. Jesus wastes his inheritance by eating with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, to become sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), at which point he returns to the Father.
In verse 20 it says, “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” This return to the Father describes, in a most beautiful way, heaven. Heaven is not a place, as many of us think, but a relationship, our relationship with God.
The parable talks about aspects that characterize this relationship: longing, compassion, embrace and kissing of the Father. Heaven is sharing in the relationship of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The happiness for which we are destined by creation is participating in the eternal embrace of the Trinity.
Jesus became flesh so that he could show us the Father in his humanity. His embrace, hug, touch and kiss expresses the loving-kindness of the Father, for “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). God’s love is not without emotion and he is not afraid of affection. He desires us and longs for us and wants us to desire and long for him in return.
In “Song of songs” God even describes his relationship to us as that of two lovers with very erotic and passionate images, as we can read in the opening verse of the book “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth.” (verse 1:2) Such a description of God’s love is hard for us to understand. It is not just hard to understand, but fear that our sins use it for wrong purposes – like Judas’ kiss – it prevents us showing or receiving affection. However, when used rightly it brings healing and happiness.
Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve, our fallen nature took away the purity of heart without which we cannot see God. As sons and daughters of God, we have to let Jesus take away our sins, purify us and give us a new heart. With this new heart, we enter in the happiness of seeing and experiencing God’s embrace and becoming witnesses of his loving-kindness. How, you may ask?
Once in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis saw a severely disfigured man with a face covered with boils, warts, and cancers. Like his namesake St Francis of Assisi who kissed a leper, the Pope without any hesitation grabbed and kissed the man’s head and prayed with him. You and I can only imagine the happiness this man must have experienced.
The Covid-19 crisis, when people could no longer attend Mass, teaches us another way to see God. A good friend wrote an article in which he asked, “What do you miss most at this time? Do you miss the Eucharist?” The majority of people answered this question by admitting that they did not miss the Eucharist, but that they missed the people, the community – people’s faces, greetings, hugs, chats and even individual peculiarities.
Funny, isn’t it? People always saw Jesus’ real presence on the altar, but the crisis made them aware of his real presence in the community. At the kiss of peace during the Eucharist we are sharing and extending the loving-kindness of the Father to one another. Remember, heaven is not a place, but the never-ending embrace of the Triune God. Only this is true happiness!