By Ms. Colleen Trevissani
As Canto 27 opens, we find Dante enjoying the rapturous tones of a celestial choir singing glory to the Holy Trinity. The heavenly song fills him with a joy and bliss that is inebriating. His head is reeling and feels all his senses feeding into this experience. His footing is not sure and yet he is excited and enlivened to move forward. He experiences a high like no other as he views this next aspect of Heaven. But he is not drunk on new wine, nor were the apostles in their time. In Acts 2:15, it is the experience of Pentecost. In that situation, the Apostles too are experiencing a taste of heaven, a breaking through of God into our world.
I have been blessed to have seen glimpses of this breaking in of God. In my teaching and youth ministry experience, I have known youth who are blissful themselves. Their faces shine even when in a time of distress. These beautiful people offer me a glimpse of that heavenly choir that Dante sees. The heavenly light shines through them, and I get a little bit of that heady feeling when I see this light. Their joy is contagious and I catch it.
But even as I have experienced God’s presence in this world and have seen heaven on earth in those to whom I minister, I continue to seek short term happiness. I lose sight of the end game in favor of a short term pleasure. Dante condemns the people of his time for this shortsightedness of seeking false highs. St. Peter’s voice condemns those in ecclesiastical leadership. They have given into the seduction of power plays. They have sought office for their own gain. They have divided people to grow their own side and to line their own pockets at the expense of others.
What is happening in Dante’s time is not foreign to us. In the world and unfortunately sometime even in the Church, people compete for followers, increase divisions and exploit others for their own greed. We have political campaigns that center on separating “us” from “them” and promote the building of walls to keep people out. Banks encouraged people to make risky loans leading to the mortgage crisis. Even more recently they have set up bank accounts without permission to meet quotas and increase business value.
In our lives too, we seek short term gains over true and lasting happiness. We are tired and choose to stare at the screen, rather than do something like read or even sleep—things that will bring us a more substantial peace and health. We stress eat rather than journal or jog or pray. Yet, the mercy of God brings us back to the path to true happiness. Again and again, God places in my life these glimpses of heaven. I see it in my own heart, and I see it in the light shining through others.
We need these breakthrough moments to sustain us on the journey. I think we see this in the lives of saints, including the very recent story of St. Teresa of Kolcutta, who after experiencing the light and clarity of a blissful “call within a call” to serve the poorest of the poor, experienced the felt absence of God for the remaining years of her life. She held on to the memory of that light and bliss until she might experience it again, as we believe she is now experiencing it fully and completely in heaven.
In some of our youth ministry reflections we talk about our highs and lows and some of our closest moments to God. Youth share of the experiences where they see God come close, or see a foretaste of the heavenly vision. Just as a youth ministry group-reflection or a spiritual direction relationship helps us notice and recall these times of connection with God, the memory of these glimpses helps bring me back to the light. In times of struggle or when faced with darkness, I recall the headiness of those blissful experiences of God and am encouraged to keep going. As Helen Keller wrote, “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”
Colleen Trevisani is a lay minister and certified teacher, with experience teaching from Pre-K to college. She has ministered in the areas of liturgy, music, retreats, faith formation and youth ministry. She has an MDiv and an MEd in Inclusive Education. Currently the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at St. Kateri in Irondequoit, NY, she lives with her husband and two small boys in Henrietta, NY.