“Thou art a soul in bliss; but I am bound

Upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears

Do scald like molten lead.” 

(Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ (Act IV, Scene 7)) 

‘Thou art a soul in bliss’. In last week’s blog, Father Jonathan wrote a moving account on the subject of ‘Purity of Heart’, and something of the life and sufferings of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, who died in her late teens of a terrible cancer.  Purity of Heart is what I would call the ultimate goal of those who wish to love God with their whole mind, whole soul and with all their heart.  Of such holy people, any observer may well be able to say, “Thou art a soul in bliss”.

Beatified – Cardinal John Henry Newman and Chiara Luce Badano  

One can point to others, in recent news items, who have also become ‘blissful souls’ – Blessed John Henry Newman, who was also beatified just a few days before Chiara Luce,  (September 2010), and, as I understand it, the process of beatification of Pope John Paul II is already well underway for the summer of 2011, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and within our own life-times, we have seen the canonisations of holy men and women, Padre Pio, Father Damien of Hawaii, Maximilian Kolbe, Maria Faustina Kowalska … .. the list is constantly growing … .. and seemingly at an increasing pace.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Father Maximilian Kolbe 

However, to obtain the ‘full’ picture, we must look at the rest of what King Lear had to say: “… but I am bound upon a wheel of fire, that mine own tears do scald like molten lead.”  This, to me, seems to reflect something terrible, something rather dreadful and terrifying, in process.  On the one hand, we have the wonderful image of a soul who can look on God, in the full knowledge that pure love flows both ways – love and friendship and trust.  Otherwise, we have a soul in torment, ‘bound upon a wheel of fire …’ and this at once puts me in mind of the parable of Lazarus, who, having died and gone to heaven, cannot help the rich man who, in awful torment, sees Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham and cries out: 

Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.(Luke 16:24.)

Lazarus at the Rich man’s gate – Fyodor Bronnikov, 1896 

The second image does not bear thinking about, but think about it we must.  The parable, given by Jesus, was given for a purpose – a very serious and meaningful purpose.  We cannot, and must not, ignore it, as if it were some story without intent. Having made the point that there are many people who enjoy God’s favour – favour in the world today – we can also see many examples of the ‘Rich Man’, who ignored Lazarus’ pleas when he was barely alive and starving, when he would willingly have eaten the leavings from the Rich Man‘s table, scraps that were given to the dogs.  We can see many examples of people turning their backs on God and, by their actions, saying: ‘I do not want to be your friend – you are nothing to me – I do not believe in you’.  We can see many examples of people, who, through their pursuit of riches, power – self-advancement of all kinds – turn their backs on those-in-need in the world, ‘dishing out’ slavery, injustice, deprivation, inhumanity – even genocide – to millions ‘tagged’ with the name ‘Lazarus’. 

Of course, this rejection of God and His love, is the essence of sin – and we are all sinners – even those blessed with sainthood.  Well, that’s a depressing note to hit!  We began with those who, through purity of heart, can be seen as souls in bliss, and now, we’ve hit rock-bottom – we’re back to sinners and sinning!  But, it need not stay like that.  We have one great ally on our side.  Jesus came to live as a man among us.  He came for one reason, and one reason only – to free us from sin and eternal enmity towards God – and this gives us hope, and a promise of a bright future, if only we will accept him and his great gift – the gift of himself in self-sacrifice – pure atonement for all our sins.  

It is very sad, I think, that many today, and all down the years – reject Jesus and his wonderful gift – the gift of life, of love and of happiness for ever in heaven.  I find it hard to even contemplate the alternative.  Shakespeare’s words make me shudder.  The reality – the loss of God’s friendship – would be a disaster.  Let us pray, then, that God will help us, with his grace, to hang on to the first part of our quotation from King Lear – but not the second:  

“Thou art a soul in bliss.”