13 October 2014

Bishop Silva: The heavenly garden is more beautiful than the flowered islands of Hawaii

Photo: Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace
A few months ago, His Holiness Pope Francis granted to the faithful of my favorite island chain in the Pacific Ocean a unique privilege by granting the favor of naming the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu a Minor Basilica. The honorific title of basilica is given by the Holy Father to a church with a particular importance because of its history or art (or both).

The Cathedral Basilica of Honolulu witnessed the ordination of Saint Joseph Damien de Vuester to the priesthood and welcomed Saint Marianne Cope to the Hawaii before she followed Father Damien to the island of Moloka'i to serve the lepers on the Kalaupapa peninsula. In addition to its connections to these two saints, the Cathedral Basilica is believed to be the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States of America and has a remarkably beautiful set of stained glass windows (I posted a few photos on Facebook a few years ago, though they do not do it justice).

As a church now especially connected with the Bishop of Rome, it has the honor of displaying the ombrellino (umbrella) and the tintinnabulum (bell) -shown to the right as His Excellency the Most Reverend Clarence "Larry" Silva, Bishop of Honlulu, blesses them - which are utilized in any procession in which the Roman Pontiff takes part in a basilica.

Bishop Silva took the occasion of the Mass of Thanksgiving to preach about the various aspects of the art and architecture of the cathedral basilica and caught my attention when he spoke of the ceiling:
Have you ever looked up at the ceiling of this magnificent cathedral?  In most churches the ceiling soars above our heads, higher than it needs to be for the practical reasons of sheltering us from the sun and the rain.  This high vault draws our attention to heaven, to our ultimate destiny, where we will be in the presence the Most High God.  If you look carefully, you will see angels, which remind us of these messengers of God who speak to us every day and guide us like little tinkling bells, so that our paths stay true to the Way that God has set for us.  For the Way himself God sent the Archangel Gabriel to touch Mary’s soul and to call her to her vocation.  Our ceiling is stenciled with flowers to remind us of the Garden of Eden that will be restored to us, a place more beautiful than even these flowered islands that are sometimes referred to as paradise, but which in reality are nothing compared to the heavenly garden.
This last sentence caught me by surprise and sent my thoughts back through the ten or eleven visits I have made to Hawaii which, in total, add up to almost six months in all. I have seen more beauty in the flowers and trees, waters and forests, mountains and skies, of Hawaii than I have seen anywhere else. This natural beauty of the islands, in addition to the beauty of the aloha of the Hawaiians themselves, keeps me returning year after year. This same beauty is also always near my heart, which pines always to be back in my beloved Hawaii. I once described it as something in Hawaii singing to me and to all.

The beauty of the flowers of Hawaii is magnificent indeed! Consider only a few samples of the beauty I have encountered there over the years:

As beautiful as the flowers of this earthly paradise are, Bishop Silva is right. Saint Paul knew of what he wrote when he referred to the words of the Prophet Isaiah: "What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered into the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him" (I Corinthians 2:9).

If we long to be in Hawaii, how much more so should we long to be in heaven!

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