May turns to June, schools close and pools open, baseball diamonds promise fields of dreams, lake activity multiplies and amplifies, summer vacations begin, and children frolic in an age of innocence. As George and Ira Gershwin wrote, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jump’n and the cotton is high. Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good-lookin’, hush little baby, don’t you cry…One of these morning’s you’re gonna rise up singing, you’ll spread your wings and take to the sky. But till that morning there’s nothin’ can harm you…So hush little baby, don’t you cry.”
The age of innocence takes us back to a time when our daddies were heroes and our mamas a beautiful panacea for all of life’s booboos and miseries. Chasing butterflies, rolling in grass, and getting wowed by the wonders of nature, we discovered our identity as a child of God and part of glorious creation. As we advanced to coming-of-age encounters in teenage years, our identity became more comparative and somewhat cynical. Like Holden Caulfield, to some degree we viewed peers as moronic or conceited and adults as corrupt phonies, perverts, fakes, flits, and hypocrites. He saw childhood as a time of joy, honesty, and incorruption. ‘Comin’ through the rye is symbolic of advancing from a world of innocence into a field of challenges, pressures, and judgments. As a Cather in the Rye, Holden wants to spend his life saving children from falling into the corrupt world of adulthood.
I wonder sometimes if God is kind of like parents who love their innocent, trusting, wee ones who are filled with wonderment and grace yet feel mercilessly challenged by their older rebellious children whose coming-of-age trek includes days of sufferable corruption because, amidst hormonal moods, emotions, and impulses, they know more than parents. God wants us close as we age from innocence to the period that thinks we know better than our heavenly parent. Our transition journey through the rye can take us to a place of sin and corruptibility that is off the mark from our creation. “Sin” comes from the Greek “hamartia” which literally means to miss the mark, an archery term indicating imperfection. Yet some among us, like Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster whose identity was the bride of Christ and who clothed herself in a garment of love, have not missed the mark but were able to transition incorrupt from childhood, holding on to their innocence within creation.
The beauty and grace of discovering Sister Wilhelmina’s body uncorrupted by death might just be a sign from our loving heavenly parent that she was on the mark with her earthly life and that death cannot destroy her innocence. There are hundreds of saints whose bodies, or parts of the body, have remained intact for long periods of time, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of years. Among the most famous are Saints Cecelia, Francis Xavier, Bernadette, Anthony, Agatha, Vincent DePaul, Rita of Cassia, and Charles Borromeo. Setting aside scientific decomposition facts of what is natural or unnatural and the odd habit of Catholics to exhume dead bodies, there is something miraculous and godly about these holy men and women who possess incorrupt or less corrupt bodies after physical death. Perhaps it is merely a sign to us of their integrity, steadfast faith, child-like innocence, and ability to rise above the corruption of aging. Instead of falling into a world of corruption, they were caught and remained, first and foremost, a child of God throughout their earthly existence.
Enjoy the summer and touch the innocence of your creation as a child of God. If you have time to squeeze in a mini-retreat, I will host one that focuses on prayer on Thursday afternoon, June 15, 1-3:30, and another on Friday morning, June 16, 9-11:30, on miraculous encounters, even one on The Cather in the Rye and loss of innocence. If interested, sign up on the Farnan Spirituality Center website or contact me at email@example.com.