2016 is becoming notorious for the barrage of celebrity deaths, especially musicians. Artists as diverse as Keith Emerson and Merle Haggard have arrived at the "double bar" that signals the end of their symphony. This past week, it was Prince Rogers Nelson, known alternately by his given name and his unique symbol.
I noticed by way of this weekend's readings a connection between Prince and the second-century bishop and martyr Irenaeus, who famously said, “The glory of God is man living.” I will do my best to illustrate, before you report me either to the Chancery or to the local Behavioral Health Unit.
The Holy Trinity abides in perfect and ever greater splendor. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit communicate to Each Other the fullness of Love. Such Love moved the divine Persons to create all things outside of themselves as diverse reflections of Their splendid goodness, truth, and beauty. Every created entity--mineral, vegetable, and animal--reflects God's glory by virtue of its existence and through its particular nature.
Chief among earthly realities is the human person, whose passions, understanding, and freedom enable him to cooperate in creation and indeed love with the depth and breadth nearest to God’s love—that is, when we choose to do so. In such moments and spans we are fully alive, firing on all cylinders: physical, emotional, spiritual, and moral, and thus we radiate God's glory in the most marvelous manner.
Our optimal operation can never be a solitary pursuit of self-fulfillment, simply “becoming who we were meant to be” just for our own sake. Even our solo acts materialize only in communion with our fellow children of God. As we exercise our priestly dominion over other created entities, they thereby follow our lead, though creation, by being what it is, does a fine job of glorifying God without our help. Yet it always it happens in communion.
Upon the sudden death of the musician Prince, a line from his 1985 anthem “Let’s Go Crazy” has resurfaced with extra force: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” Now, as with any celebrity, if we dug deeper into Prince’s entire library of works and his life, we’d find enough reasons not to admire him--or for that matter, anybody.
Isn't there a faint echo of the Apostles' admonition in the first reading: "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God"? Trials of our own making, trials of others' making, trials that come from God-knows-where: all are unavoidable.
To “get through this thing called life,” our well-known artist clearly considers crucial both communion and craziness. There is the unhelpful sort of craziness that subjugates our human capacities, which of course we want to avoid. But if by “craziness” we mean intentional enthusiasm, he’s on to something.
Anyone who has ever attended a wedding reception knows how communion and craziness conspire. The Beloved Disciple, himself a kind of Crown Prince in the heavenly court, describes the eternal scene in terms of a nuptial banquet. In his grand vision he sees the “new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Something to look forward to, but also to look around for.
Purified by this life’s trials, moved by repentance for our sins, and galvanized by our sacrificial obedience to Jesus’ twofold commandment of love as-He-has-loved-us, we are invited to “go crazy” with an all-consuming joy. The joy of heaven doesn't render this life meaningless, but rather floods it with value and purpose. As channels of the fullness of living, we become signposts of the Gospel, inspirations to change and growth, radiations of God’s glory.