“Walk with your feet on earth, but in your heart be in heaven.” –St. John Bosco
We are on the bloody battlefront with rifles in our hands, swords in our belts, and helmets on our heads. Shells constantly roar and scream overhead while the earth passes by us quickly as we scramble across a stricken field. Our sergeants are before us yelling commands over the rapid fire of the guns in the hands of our enemies. Comrades fall before us, pierced by a bullet, or struck by shrapnel and men often fall back screaming “retreat!” We can hear no wind, no bird-song, no relaxed breathing. Only fire-arms roaring greet our ears. Our fingers are numb with cold or slick with sweat. Our feet are blistered or unfeeling. Our chests are constantly heaving, necks continually strained, and arms always tremblingly swift.
Our orders had been given us: “Hold until relieved,” as in the movie The Longest Day. Our general has already mapped out the front and charted the forces in position. Our duty was to fulfill the mission entrusted to us and not collapse under strain of warfare. It is before we are placed on the front lines that we prayed, sang with comrades, danced with pretty girls, wrote home, listened to newly released music, and told tales to other fellows. Now on the battle front, we hold our gun between anxious palms and keep in our heart the memory of all things beautiful.
Life is a constant warfare. The above description of a battlefront gives us an image of what our lives are like. We battle daily many evils, discomforts, sorrows, anxieties, strains, and pressures. These things are encountered as sickness, death, desperation, the loss of a home, the shortcoming of others, the corruption of society, the collapse of the understanding of morality and other such pains. It is when we encounter these pains that our “feet are on earth”. In order for our feet to keep walking, there needs to be a goal to which we are aspiring beyond the evils and discomforts of the world. Otherwise, we would be content to give into the evil and join their forces, because there would be nothing differentiating one side from another.
While we are on earth, there are harbours of beauty and joy. There are things on earth that allow us to look to for support and rehabilitation. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” –Philippians 4:8 For whatever is beautiful is from God: companions, music, dance, art, literature, embraces, love, Creation, animals, characters from stories… It is through all that is beautiful, through prayer, through the sacraments, through community, that we are able to be “in heaven” and, thereby, continue our journey on earth. For, as in the battle, we would not be able to continue marching because we would be rent with wounds, dehydrated, without ammunition and sunken in moral. Therefore, we need to be healed by the great physician, Jesus, given water, armed with the sword of the spirit, and uplifted with the joy of the power of the Most High.
To be on earth and in our hearts be in heaven is to continue our work on earth, but receive our support and life-giving substances from heaven which comes through the church and all other gifts that the Lord has given us. Blistered and sore our feet may be, but Jesus provides a way for our hearts to be light and filled with joy. For, in the battle, our comrades are with us (friends, family), our banner is still before us in the hands of the unarmed banner-bearer (our Christian symbols), our commanders are amidst us booming their commands (priests, bishops, lay-directors), and the fierce determination to defend the good is within us. Though our heads cower in fear, our hearts do not shrink because God has given us the means by which we are to fight. Though our legs tremble, the depths of our being is set firm in the truth.
St. John Bosco describes perfectly the life of a Christian. We are to be disciples to the nations with our hearts in the grasp of Heavenly things. We are to live as soldiers of the truth, defenders of the word of God, crusaders to the lost nations, heralds of the coming of Jesus, bearers of our crosses, and banner-bearers of the ideals of Christian living. With our hearts in heaven, we can achieve the work of God on earth with His aid.
Our backs are strained, our heads hang upon our chest, our rifles drag on the ground beside us, our eyes are swollen and red, and our cheekbones are sore from grimacing. As we enter the camp, surgeons and nurses rush with biers and sweep up the wounded who faint with fatigue. Fires are lit and rifles are cast down. Men collapse on their mats, snatch canteens, tear off helmets, and cast aside empty ammunition containers. The General makes his way through the returned men, patting some on the back, listening to purple heart tales, sitting with terror-stricken men, shaking blistered hands, inquiring after the wounded, paying his respects to the dead, and encouraging his commanders. A lull falls over the camp as weariness descends, but it is a peaceful lull. Calm after the surge…