Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"ARISE, MY LOVER, AND COME."


 Homily for December 21st, 2016: Song of Songs 2:8-14.  

       “Hark, my lover – here he comes springing across mountains, leaping across hills … My lover speaks, he says to me, ‘Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!’”

       These words from our first reading come from a short book called The Song of Songs. It is a collection of love poems portraying, in the form of an allegory, the love between the soul and God. In the passage we have just heard the human lover calls out to God, the Beloved. Christians have always understood the Beloved to be a figure for Jesus – which is why the Church gives us the passage, just four days before Christmas. The one calling out, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come,” is Jesus. His love for us is passionate. He longs for us to be close to him always.

       One of the great interpreters of this book is the twelfth century French monk, St. Bernard. He begins his commentary on the Song of Songs with the book’s opening words, addressed by the soul to God: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” The kiss, Bernard explains, is the Holy Spirit, who binds Father and Son together in love. The kiss may also be understood, however, as Jesus Christ, who with his kiss unites divinity and humanity. Since we are sinners, we cannot raise ourselves all at once to the Lord’s mouth. We must first fall at his feet, kissing his feet in repentance. Then, as the Lord’s stretches out to grasp and steady us as we rise, we kiss his hands. “And finally,” Bernard says, “when we shall have obtained these favors through many prayers and tears, we humbly dare to raise our mouth to his mouth .... not merely to gaze upon it but – I say this with fear and trembling – to receive his kiss. ... And whoever is joined to him in a holy kiss becomes, at his good pleasure, one spirit with him.”  

               We don’t read the Bible like that today. Some people still do, however. Let me tell you about one of them, a Jewish psychiatrist before he was baptized at age 27 and became a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in western Massachusetts, where he died in November 2006 at the age of 97. A true son of St. Bernard, Fr. Raphael Simon (his monastic name), left us these beautiful lines:

 “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances.

            To seek him, the greatest human adventure.

            To find him, the highest human achievement.”