One of my daughters came into my office on Monday and presented me with a riddle.
Rebecca: “Where can you always find gold?”
Me: “At the end of a rainbow?” “In my mouth?”
She shook her head at each response, so I said something esoteric about the soul and the goodness of human nature. Apparently, I was still incorrect.
Then she said: “In the dictionary!”
We both smiled. She smiled because her riddle was clever. I smiled because I had just been bested by my 7 year old daughter. She also inspired this week’s meditation. The topic: gold.
I will begin with this passage from the book of Wisdom (3:1-9):
“But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect.”
In the twelve years I have worked in the Diocese of Kalamazoo as a music director, I have heard this passage proclaimed hundreds of times. This passage, which comes from the Old Testament, provides an early explanation of purgatory and life after death. In fact, there are few passages in all of Scripture which so adequately explain purgatory, and it is worth further exploration. However, that is not the focus of this meditation.
Verse 6 states: “As gold in the furnace, he proved them…” Again, this is a clear reference to the purgation of oneself in preparation for Heaven, but I would like to share another story I was once told which puts remarkable perspective on this:
A woman was participating in a Bible study, and the group was focusing on this passage. The leader told her to go visit a jeweler to find out what it meant to “prove” gold. She found someone and made an appointment to speak with them. When she posed her question, they explained that the process of refining gold was very complicated. One of the first steps is to use the intense heat of a fire to burn away the impurities of the gold. The longer the gold is in the fire, the more pure it becomes. Most gold is removed rather quickly and is rushed to be crafted into cheap jewelry. But the best gold is that which spends the greatest amount of time in the fire. Some pieces are actually brought near the point of immolation, but are pulled out at the very last moment. After hearing this, the woman understood what God was purging and why it was necessary.
What are the things that “prove” us in our lives? And, since we know God would never allow us to be destroyed, it must follow that we will never be in a situation that we cannot handle with His love and support. This can be difficult to understand because suffering and tribulation do not always make sense. But if we truly believe that “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” then we must accept that everything we experience is united with God in some way.
Whenever I think about “gold” I am always reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay. He writes:
“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.”
Indeed, nothing gold can stay here on earth, but an eternal dwelling awaits the purest gold.
For more on this topic, please read Salvifici Doloris, an apostolic letter by Blessed Pope John Paul II.