The German language has various words which do not exist in English to describe the darker side of the human condition. One of them is ‘angst’. The most accurate translation of angst is ‘anxiety.’ But it is anxiety with a capital ‘A’. It does not really describe the daily worries that trouble most people as they struggle to make ends meet and take care of themselves and their loved ones. It is rather a profound sense of dread verging on despair that takes root in the soul when a man is gripped with the conviction that his very existence seems to hold no meaning. Angst arises from a sense that ultimately we are just tiny specks of dust in a vast and unforgiving universe, and that whatever aspirations and achievements we might pursue to give purpose to our existence ultimately end in a black hole of oblivion.
It is probably safe to say that we live in an age of considerable angst. There is much concern about the present and a great deal of uncertainty about the future. We see it in the political discourse of the western world and in the media, where a crisis of credibility has lead to widespread discontent and suspicion, and high ideals of the dignity of the human person and of human freedom protected by the rule of law look in danger of giving way to cynicism and a desperate desire for self-preservation at all costs.
This is a perilous state for any civilisation to find itself in. As the idea of administering euthanasia to an individual whose quality of life is considered not worth maintaining becomes increasingly acceptable in educated circles, so the thought of putting humanity out of its misery by means of nuclear destruction can conceivably become a temptation to those in power who have been nurtured in a nihilistic, misanthropic mindset. A celebrated intellectual being interviewed on Radio Four recently said that she could not help wishing that the asteroid that is believed to have brought a dramatic end to the age of the dinosaurs had also prevented the birth of the human race.
Our Lord Jesus – in His teaching and in every aspect of His life – reassures us that our lives do have meaning, and that there is a very real and wonderful purpose to our existence. He tells that our lives have a value, a purpose and a meaning that transcend anything we might achieve (or suffer) in this world – that we have been created by God in a act of love – that He gave His life for us on the Cross, and He would have died on that Cross for you and for me if you or I had been the only person in existence who needed saving. And although we might look small and insignificant in the whole scheme of things, your soul and my soul is more precious in the eyes of the Creator than this whole material universe that He created in all of its majesty. Indeed, He created this world not for His own delight. He enjoys all of the fulfilment He needs in the Life of the Blessed Trinity, which is characterised by an infinite and eternal outpouring of love between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. He created this universe so that we might discover His creative genius in every flower, every mountain, every star and every galaxy that exists within the cosmos, and so that it might point us towards everlasting life with Him in Heaven.
“In my Father’s house there are many mansions” He promises, “And I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jn 14.2-3) However beautiful and wonderful this universe really is, it is a mere pale reflection of the glory that God has prepared for us in Heaven. We cannot begin to imagine what those mansions might look like, because “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2.9) But we take Truth Himself at His word when He tells us “and I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” (Jn 14.3)
Recently we celebrated Our Lord’s Ascension, body and soul, into Heaven, which ushered in the ‘end times’ in which we now live in expectation of His Second Coming, when His glorious presence will fill the skies from east to west. In this month of June, we shall also celebrate the fact that He is still with us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament, in which He gives Himself to us as food. The Blessed Sacrament is the greatest token of love and friendship that we can ever find on this earth. Certain saints like our Holy Father Saint Philip have been granted visions of Our Lord in the Sacred Host, but normally this presence remains hidden under the sacramental signs. This is so that we might have the courage to approach Him and consume Him. Bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood so that we might be transformed more perfectly into His perfect likeness, and so that we in turn might set about transforming this world around us.
On the feast of Corpus Christi, we worship God in the Blessed Sacrament with maximum solemnity, and with the best we can offer in the way of music, vestments and flowers. We also give thanks that Our Lord remains on the altar outside of Holy Mass, in the Tabernacle, so that we might visit Him at our leisure and share with Him all of our joys and sorrows, our worries and our hopes. The ability to rest in silence in each other’s company is a sign of maturity in any relationship, so we should not be concerned if we cannot always find the words to pray. Just rest in front of the Tabernacle in His presence, allowing Him to communicate His healing and His grace in abundance. He is the one and only invincible solution to this angst that seems to be gripping our world. In Him we find our meaning and our destiny.
Fr Julian Large