The Fourth Sunday of Repentance
(Formerly the Fifth Sunday of Summer)
The Third Sunday of Repentance
The fable called “The Princess and the Pea” by Hans Christian Andersen relates how a queen, desiring to know if a certain woman was a “true princess,” placed a pea underneath 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds to see if the woman would be able to feel it when she slept on it. The delicacy of her skin, which proved itself that night, proved that she was true royalty. She was able to feel in a highly refined way; she was able to percieve something hardly perceptible, and in this she set herself apart.
Those who are colorblind are unable to distinguish between certain colors or shades; those who are tone deaf are unable to sing notes with precision. The senses, in other words, come in various degrees in the variety of the human race. How much more, then, within nature as a whole: we know that dogs have an extremely refined sense of smell, for example, especially those bred as “bloodhounds;” we know that many animals, especially bats, are able to sense pitches of sound completely beyond the human range; and the sight of the eagle is something almost mythological in its power.
The Creator makes nothing meaninglessly. The connection between the thing seen and the seer is an intentional one; in a real sense, God made the object so that it could be seen. Such is his goodness and love: he gives us sight as well as beauty to see, hearing as well as music to hear, and so on with all the senses. All things are meaningful and overflowing with meaning, and all things are connected to each other in this way.
Knowing this, we can in fact work “backwards” from nature and perhaps even guess the intention of the Creator: we can look at a reality in the world and ask for whose benefit it was made. We might not always have an answer, but asking in humility and reverence will only bring us closer to our Maker.
Perhaps the largest question we can ask, therefore, is regarding the ordering of the whole world. Why was the whole universe made with such an interrelating structure? For whose benefit is it so? What creature is able to perceive this order and enjoy it? The answer, in the physical world, is man alone. Only the human being, of all creatures, is able to perceive and appreciate the order of the universe. Other animals can sense particular things, desire them and even enjoy them, but only man can sense all things as a unified, interrelated whole. For the ancients, the mind and the thing it knows somehow become one and the same, which allows Aristotle to say boldly that “in a sense the soul is all existing things.” (De Anima 3.8) In other words, we and the world are intimately interconnected, because, in the Christian perception of things, the world was made for us to enjoy and rule over: “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) Somehow, the world is in our DNA.
The Basilica Hymn for the Fifth Sunday of Summer reflects on the world as teaching us something about ourselves, not simply as natural beings, but as beings beyond nature and beyond death, the final mark of natural things. The hymn shows how the motion of the day from light into darkness, and again into light, symbolizes our own death and resurrection:
Rational mouths confess you, O Good One who orders creatures, who placed a boundary for the day, and whose word does not pass away. For when [the day’s] work is completed and it has fulfilled its operation, it rests in its weariness, in a temporal sleep, and in its dusk it binds for us a figure of death and burial. And in its dawn, it awakens the sleeping from their sleep, as it preaches to us about our resurrection and renewal.