Hamlet expires saying, “The rest is silence.” When someone dies, a stillness descends. However feebly he might have communicated to us, even a moment before—with a gesture or a sigh—the soul of the other enters a silence in death. It’s so final, so absolute. Small wonder that many believe that the other is lost to us at death, dissolving away into nothing. Yet, before she died of tuberculosis, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
We don’t know how resurrection is possible. Science is rather useless before the unrepeatable, and the scriptures have no interest in the process of resurrection—what would have happened within the tomb. They focus entirely upon the result, though in a befuddling way for those seeking a description. They tell us that he is the same Jesus, yet he is not recognized. He can be touched, though he is no longer limited by space or time.
We do know this. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fundamental character of death is altered. The soul of the other doesn’t slip away into silence. Christ speaks to his chosen ones. He calls them to his side. And, of course, Christ has a side, a time and a place within this world, to which he summons them.
Today, at the empty tomb of Jesus, heaven is revealed. Before the resurrection of Christ there was no notion that we could live beyond death—blessed or cursed—as anything more than silent shades. But, if Christ speaks from the other side of death, it is not a place of shadow and stillness. It is a realm of life, life with Christ—for us, and for those whom we have loved and lost. Easter reveals what we now call the Communion of Saints. In Christ, the dead find a voice. In Christ, they remain in communion with us. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
Pope Francis has a particular devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She’s his go-to saint under stress. “When I have a problem I ask the saint, not to solve it, but to take it in her hands and accept it. And as a sign, I almost always receive a white rose.”
In The Great Reformer (2014), his biographer Austen Ivereigh writes:
Stefania Falasca recalls Bergoglio telling her in Rome that “one time, when he had to make an important decision about a complex matter, he left it in her hands. Sometime later, an unknown woman placed three white roses at the doorstep of the sacristy.” His collaborators in Buenos Aires say this happened often. Bergoglio often found a white rose on his desk—left at the door for him by a stranger—and would say: “So Santa Teresita’s been in. I see.” The anonymous rose-givers tracked him down even when he was away from the curia. Bergoglio’s close collaborator remembers one time being at a meeting with the cardinal at a church on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, when a woman appeared at the church door with a huge bunch of stunning white roses. “Are they for the Virgin?” she asked her. “For the cardinal,” the woman said and, leaving them, vanished.
Federico Wals’s white rose story is even more dramatic. The cardinal’s head of press used to accompany him to the San Cayetano shrine festival every August 7, a physically grueling day that included a huge outdoor Mass, a major homily on work and unemployment, followed by a ten-block walk down a long line for a three-hour meet-and-greet with God’s faithful people Bergoglio looked forward to it, but when the cardinal came in a car driven by a friend to collect Wals on the icy wet morning of August 7, 2010, he looked awful. He told Wals he hadn’t slept all night from a terrible pain in his leg and none of the analgesics he had swallowed had taken effect. But he had prayed to Santa Teresita, he said, and if God willed, he would make it.
After the Mass, however, the pain was worse, and the cardinal was limping badly. As he began to walk the ten blocks down the line of thousands of people, shaking hands and exchanging words, he face was wreathed in pain, and Wals was sure he couldn’t go on. At the start of the second block, he sent Wals to ask the car to wait at the next corner. Wals gave the driver the message and returned to keep the cardinal company.
When we got to the second corner, this big burley guy appears. He must have been about forty; he was tall—the cardinal is tall but he had to look up. The guy stepped out in front of him, with his arm inside a raincoat, like Napoleon, and in a very rapid movement, he took out a white rose and gave it to him. The cardinal took the rose, looked at him, blessed him, and didn’t say anything. The guy just stood there. So I made to guide the cardinal to the car, and he said to me. “No, no, you don’t get it. This is the message I’ve been waiting for. It will be okay now.” He gave me the rose, and at the same moment I looked up at the guy and he had gone. The cardinal said: “This is the presence of Santa Teresita. Tell our car to wait for us at the Vélez soccer pitch. We’re going to make it.” The cardinal carried on, and he was fine, walked the whole ten blocks, feeling no more pain in his leg that day” (338-340).
Nothing is more certain than death. Nothing more improvable than what lies beyond. Science can’t study what cannot be repeated, and each of us enters death only once. From this side, Hamlet is right: the rest is silence. The two realms don’t touch, but that doesn’t mean they don’t intertwine. Where Christ has gone, his saints will follow.
Acts 10: 34a, 37-43 Colossians 3: 1-4 John 20: 1-9