Have you ever heard of the practice of using canaries in coal mines to alert coal miners of danger? Canaries are small songbirds that were first bred and used as domestic pets in the 17th century. Because they are more sensitive than humans to toxic gases (such as methane and carbon monoxide), canaries were, at one time, routinely used by coal miners as early warning devices that danger was imminent.
By placing caged canaries in various sections of a coal mine, workers knew they were in danger when a canary stopped singing or dropped dead. If such an event occurred, the miners knew they needed to immediately evacuate the mine, because of dangerous levels of toxic gases that could cause an explosion or cause the minors to die of suffocation (because of lack of oxygen).
Although canaries are no longer used in coal mines, they are one of the most popular household pets for people who want to own a bird that can sing. Canaries have been used extensively by researchers seeking to discover how some birds are able to sing while most others lack the same ability.
As I was sitting in the adoration chapel thinking about Easter Sunday and our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, I thought about the canaries in the coal mines.
The celebration of Easter starts with the Easter Vigil Mass which takes place after nightfall on Holy Saturday. It consists of four parts: Service of the Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism, and Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the early years of the Church, the night before Easter was celebrated by the illumination of the churches and in some cases, the illumination of entire cities.
It is in Baptism that a person’s soul is cleansed of all sin and sanctified in Christ. The light of Christ illuminates the soul with sanctifying grace. In addition, the mind and the will of a newly baptized person are also illuminated with sanctifying grace.
It is because of the death and resurrection of our Lord that we Christians have been given the opportunity to: (1) experience the illumination of our souls through Baptism; and (2) enter into His Kingdom at the end of our earthly life.
If we had the ability to physically enter into a newly baptized soul, we would experience a taste of heaven. In addition to seeing with our own eyes the piercing light of Jesus Christ illuminating the soul, we would also experience His divine presence through all of our other senses. It is my belief that a fully illuminated soul not only reaches out to God the Father, but also “sings” out to other souls in a way that cannot be heard by human ears; however, just as toxic gases can kill a canary in a mine, sin can kill the sanctifying grace that is present in a person’s soul.
Although venial sin does not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, it weakens the spiritual power of the soul, reduces resistance to evil, and causes a person to deviate from the path to heavenly glory. Each venial sin allows toxic gases into the soul that accumulate to the point that makes it difficult for a person to resist committing a grave sin.
When an individual commits a grave sin (more commonly referred to as a mortal or deadly sin), the sanctifying grace that is present in the individual’s soul is completely destroyed and the individual is deprived of entrance into heaven.
Every year throughout the 1990’s, I attended a silent men’s retreat that always started on a Wednesday evening and ended on the following Sunday morning (after Mass and breakfast). There were usually about 70 men who participated and we were required to maintain complete silence during the retreat.
The retreat master each year was Fr. John Hardon. Fr. Hardon was a very smart, holy, and humble priest. In fact, he wasn’t just smart, he was an intellectual giant. During his lifetime, he wrote 34 books which expounded on the richness of the Catholic faith. He died in 2000 at the age of 84.
During each retreat, Fr. Hardon gave ten different one hour talks to the men. Meals were provided and each day we had Mass at noon, a group rosary at 3:00 p.m., and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. On Thursday and Friday evenings we participated in group question and answer sessions with Fr. Hardon. Private conferences were available for individual meetings with Fr. Hardon, and priests were available for confession each day of the retreat.
Fr. Hardon taught that in addition to causing a supernatural death of the soul, a mortal sin causes grave injury to a person’s intellect and rational nature. In the spiritual realm, such an injury always leads to irrational, reckless, ruinous, and self-destructive behavior. Fr. Hardon warned us to be vigilant about our choice of friends. Over the years he reminded us that a person who is in the state of sanctifying grace is an agent of the Holy Spirit, while a person who is in the state of mortal sin is an agent of the devil. He cautioned us to be on guard against allowing people who were agents of the devil to influence our thinking, beliefs and behavior.
As an agent of the Holy Spirit, the soul of a devout Catholic has the ability (and responsibility) to illuminate and sing out to other souls. This can be done through our prayers, words and actions.
Our Lord paid a heavy price for our salvation. As baptized Catholics, we have a responsibility to vigilantly guard our souls against the ever increasing evil that exists today, and to share our beliefs and faith with as many people as possible.
If you are currently in the state of sanctifying grace, your soul is illuminated by the Son of God. Will you live up to your responsibility to shine His light on others, or will you keep His light hidden under a basket? Will your soul sing out to others and share the great gift of your Catholic faith, or will it remain silent?
On this Easter Sunday my prayer and hope for you is that as an agent of the Holy Spirit, you will allow our King and Savior to work through you to help in bringing every soul you come into contact with closer to God. That’s the least you (and I) can do to show our gratitude to the God-man who was willing to be tortured and murdered so He could rise again on the third day and open up the gates of heaven for us.
Long live Christ the King!