“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”
– C.S. Lewis
The world is our ship, and not our home. Surely you have felt it: in the good desires that do not satisfy, even when they are fulfilled, in the deep stirrings of your heart when faced with the numinosity of true beauty, or in the grief of being parted from loved ones as they pass from this world, emptying us with “the loss and the silence.” We are haunted by “the scent of unseen roses, and the subtle enticements of ‘melodies unheard’” (MacDonald) that come from a home we were made for but have never truly seen. As Lewis says, “All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it—tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest—if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself—you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.’”
Today, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints—those pilgrims who have made that journey home and now see God face to face, as he is. Now, they know: the echo has swelled into the song of praise we hear in today’s first reading, and they are part of the greatest music there is. We remember all of our patron saints, from Our Lady and St. Joseph to the well-beloved St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, and so many others. As C.S. Lewis says, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints!” There are great scholars and teachers, heroic priests and religious, selfless parents and friends, holy mystics and martyrs, little children, steadfast souls who helped the poorest of the poor—and ordinary people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. What they all had in common was the longing to see the face of God, “to press on to that other country, and to help others do the same” (Lewis).
Though we can hear the echo of that song, are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses, and even receive Christ in the Eucharist, we are not home yet—we are here in the valley of tears, in the state of the “not yet,” pressing on to that other country as best we can. How can we respond to this inner tug, this state of anticipation? What will our song be? Tempted at times by despair and presumption, we must turn to the virtue of hope. Generally speaking, “in hope, man reaches ‘with restless heart’, with confidence and expectation… toward the arduous ‘not yet’ of fulfillment” (Pieper). As St. Augustine describes it, “God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.”
This kind of hope, the hope of heaven, is a theological virtue, along with faith and love. It is “the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God’s hand the eternal life that is God himself” (Pieper). Hope depends on a person: Christ. As trust extended into the future, it is much deeper than natural optimism; it is an act of the will. Hope is a fighting virtue that inspires one to keep stepping forward even when all seems dark—and the saints did take these steps, as they journeyed through any and every kind of persecution, loneliness, and grief, through God’s grace. When faced with the problem of pain, “in sorrow [they went], but not in despair” (Tolkien). For, just as Christ describes in the Beatitudes from today’s Gospel, “we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory… Estel, Estel!” (Tolkien). Hope, hope!
We must hope, and “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting” as we press on towards Christ. Yet, “the greatest of these is love.” Hope helps lead one from an imperfect love of God—desiring him only for our own sake, and for the sake of our loved ones—to the perfect love of friendship, caritas—affirming God for his own sake. This kind of love, another theological virtue, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). This is the kind of love we see in the saints, especially in Our Lady, who believed what was spoken to her by the angel would be fulfilled, bore the son of God in her womb, endured the death of her son for the sins of the world, hoped against hope for Christ’s resurrection, and longs to lead us home to her son, interceding for us from heaven. Who knows how many “unseen roses” come from the loving intercession of Our Lady!
All of the saints intercede for us in this way, loving us as we stumble forward. We are not alone in running this race; they have valiantly kept the faith and now help us on our way. So, let us take courage, run in their footsteps, come out of ourselves, and draw others after us! Let us persevere in hope that our faith will yield to sight, and our hope will yield to possession after a lifetime of self-surrender. That, as we behold the face of Love, all will be well, and all of our questions will die away as the echo swells into the sound itself and we join in the glorious praise of God by those living in their own country—not as wayfarers, but as children home at last. The term will be over, and the holidays will have begun. The dream will be over, and it will be the morning, on the first page of the most beautiful story that never ends, and “in which every chapter is greater than the one before” (Lewis). At last, we will never doubt again, and there will never be a need.
Reading & Listening Suggestions
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, Letters
Peter Kreeft, The Philosophy of Tolkien
Josef Pieper, On Hope
St. Augustine, Sermon 256, 1.3.4.
Fr. Mike Schmitz: Homesick, The Fighting Virtue, Kingdom Come
3 thoughts on “The Scent of Unseen Roses”
WOW – this was amazing. What a gift to gird my soul today at work. Thank you so much for writing! All you saints, pray for us pilgrims here below!
Beautiful and comforting thoughts!