George Weigel

To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II

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"Why do you seek the living among the dead?"

In a few short weeks, the Church will read once again the Easter story from Luke’s Gospel: “ …on the first day of the week, [the women] went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’….” [Luke 24.1-5].

The Catholic Church discourages “eulogies” at the Mass of Christian Burial for precisely this reason: like the women who had followed the Lord from Galilee to Calvary, we, too, are not to seek the living among the dead. Eulogies typically focus on the past, on what has been. Eulogies are incomplete because they lead us to look among what is dead for someone who is living. And what we have celebrated in this Eucharist is the truth that David Orgon Coolidge is among “the living”: he lives in the Risen Lord who redeemed him, he lives in the Christ from whom he was born again in baptism, he lives an awareness of the presence, the majesty, and the purifying mercy of God in a way that we can only imagine and envy. So let us not look for the living among the dead.

Let us reflect, rather, on what David and Joanie and Jessica and the children and Dave’s Mom and all who have stood by them in friendship during these difficult months have taught us: that love is the most living thing there is. And let us pause briefly and think about all that lives from this good man. We commit him to the earth today, but we do that knowing that he is, through the redeeming power of Christ, among “the living” of whom the angels spoke to frightened women in a garden outside Jerusalem, two thousands years ago.

David Coolidge’s life is a model of witness. David was a faithful witness, whose faith in Christ, through the grace of Christ, made him the man who lives in Christ today. David was a witness to the power of love to transform lives and to bring new life into being. He was a witness to hope, who lived his professional life as a vocation, not merely a career. He was a witness to truth — to the truth about the dignity and value of every human life; to the truths about men and women and their loving and their fruitfulness that are built into us by the Creator. He was a witness to the truth about our country, its laws and its culture, and what we must be as citizens, if our freedom is to flourish. That witness, to faith, hope, love, and truth, lives in the myriad lives David touched.

Because his witness was shaped by a profound faith, an unshakable hope, and a touching, gentle, relentless love, David could and did speak the truth in ways that invited others into conversation. In doing that, David embodied in a rare and precious way the Catholic conviction that our commitment to the truth does not close us off from the world; rather, it opens us up to genuine dialogue with others. This man of profound kindness and deep humanity — qualities that are noted time and again in the hundreds of letters he and Joanie received over the past seven months — was both convinced that God had written the truth of things on the human heart and that leading others to that truth was a matter of persuasion, reasoning, conversation, argument. David Coolidge knew and lived the truth that toleration doesn’t mean ignoring differences, but rather engaging differences with a deep respect for the humanity of others.

This was a great witness. What David did in the Marriage Law Project was important and useful; how he did it was at least as important. He was generous in victory and steady in defeat. He was a model of reasoned argument who demonstrated, in and out of season, how the truths written on the human heart are liberating as well as binding. He lived the truth of Lord Acton’s famous saying, that freedom is not a matter of doing what we like, but rather of having the right to do what we ought. For young attorneys seeking to live their lives vocationally, I can imagine no finer model.

Then there was the witness of these past seven months. It would be ridiculous to deny that they have been difficult. There has been a lot of pain, there have been a lot of tears, there is still grief to be healed. And yet has any of us ever seen so clearly manifest the truth taught by John Paul II in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, that “the world of human suffering” summons forth “the world of human love”?

Many of you here, today, were part of that great summoning. With your songs and prayers, with your casseroles and desserts, by building the back porch and or simply by sharing company with a suffering friend, you were part of the rich, encompassing, saving world of love that has been called forth by David’s suffering. David and Joanie have helped all of us step out of ourselves in order to give ourselves. Their being gifts for each other, in sickness and in health, has helped us to be the gifts we were created to be.

This is how Christians live the suffering that is part of our Christian vocation. We cannot avoid it; we do not deny it. For in baptism we put on Christ, and the life of Christ, as we remember during these days of Lent, leads inexorably to the Cross. There, on Good Friday, the eternal Son took all the world’s suffering upon himself in a perfect act of obedience. And that perfect gift of self-sacrificing love was vindicated on Easter Sunday morning, when the angels asked the women, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

We cannot know all the good that has come into the world because David Coolidge identified his suffering with the sufferings of Christ. We can know, and we can give thanks for, all the good that has come into our lives through the grace of Christ, as we walked with David and Joanie and each other up the road to this particular Calvary.

At a time and in a culture where suffering seems an absurdity, David Coolidge was a witness to the truth that suffering, offered to God in obedience and in identification with Christ, is redemptive. Through suffering, we become the kind of people who can live with God forever. And we thank God for the witness to that truth that David was and is for us.

Peter Kreeft writes that our lives, our history, look different when we see them as his-story, as Christ’s story and our participation in that story. In that perspective, Kreeft suggests, suffering is the bass note in a “harmony whose high notes are lost in heaven.” And the heaven that is promised us is the heaven described by St. John, in his exile:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” [Revelation 21.1-5].

That is the truth in which David Coolidge lived his life. That is the truth in which he gave his soul to God, as Joanie and the children sang “Dona nobis pacem” around his bed in their home. That is the truth in which he lives today.

We do not seek the living among the dead. We know that David, like his Redeemer, lives, and lives in the embrace of divine love.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

This article was originally published on Tribute at the Mass of Christian Burial of David Coolidge


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