Spirituality of the Readings
Death and Life
“God did not make death.”
The First Reading says this. Alright, then where did death come from?
The reading says it entered the world through the devil’s envy.
This is a puzzling thought, to be sure, but maybe we can understand it. First, what is envy, and how could it bring about death? Well, you and I have surely beheld what another person possesses. Our greedy eyes have looked at wealth or power or good looks or talent or strength or whatever else. The success of others might sting and make us fear our own smallness. We feel—well it is hard to describe what we feel. Anger, fear, panic, and who knows what else.
We have green eyes.
Second, multiply that by a million. Now you see how the devil felt. He had been an archangel, perhaps the greatest being in God's creation—second only to God himself. But even angels have faults deeply stitched into their souls. Lucifer, as he was called then (meaning “light-bearer”), was dazzled by God's infinite greatness. However Lucifer did not like being only finitely great in comparison to the infinite God! So he developed an envy of God! An envy, which turned into a hatred of God’s goodness. A bottomless hatred. Like opposing poles of magnets, his opposition to God propelled him straightaway out of heaven.
With a thud he landed on earth. Shame and loss tumbled him, back and forth, through the Garden of Bounty that God had created. This ex-angel now walked bestially in stunned silence amidst shimmering beauty, intricacy and innocence.
Finally he came upon the most touching sight of all and it froze him in his tracks. He looked upon the first human beings, pure, unsullied. They were “imperishable, and made in God’s own image,” the First Reading says. The poet Milton imagines what the devil must have thought:
O Hell! what do mine eyes with grief behold, …
whom my thoughts pursue with wonder, and could love,
so lively shines in them divine resemblance,
and such grace the hand that formed them
on their shape hath poured. …*
The father of lies, in his woundedness, was tempted to “grab the thorns in order to get at the rose”: in other words, to conceive real love for these two, to recall the tenderness and care with which he himself was created. But anger and jealous rage knocked aside this temptation. Instead of loving them he seized them. “I can suck beauty and all its traces into myself,” he thought. “If I possess these I will have my goodness back. I can continue my war against God and I can win it all! Horror is a small price for what I will gain!”
He was about to create death.
Creating life is a very different matter. Let us understand what human life would be like without jealousy and envy.
What came to be through him [i. e, Jesus] was life,
and this life was the light
of the human race. (Gospel)
Jesus was humble, was content to be himself. He was not hostile. He grieved for others instead of for himself. Example: in Sunday’s Gospel, Jairus’ daughter is just “asleep,” he says. The crowd laughs. Asleep! What a joke. But, with God’s own assurance, Jesus knew that love is stronger than death. And so he walked through their ridicule, woke the dead girl, and nestled her into the deep rich love that had created her.
Satan says. “Evil, be thou my good”!**He choses envy, which brings death.
Love brings life.
To which company do we choose to belong?
* From Book Four of Milton’s Paradise Lost, 358-365. To put this poetry into plain 21st century prose:
Oh Hell! What are these creatures I am looking at with such grief? I could even love them! They fill me with wonder, so much wonder. They so resemble the divine one in his dazzling light. And look how much grace his hand has poured on them, his hand that formed them.
** Milton IV, p 110
John Foley, SJ
**From Saint Louis University