At the end of Hamlet, after Hamlet has died, his friend Horatio utters a now famous eulogy, “Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince,/and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” His words are an echo of the Requiem Mass, in which we pray, “In paradisum deducant te angeli. May the angels lead thee into paradise.” The very last words of Hamlet himself are, “The rest is silence.” The word “rest” has two meanings, the first is et cetera, meaning – after my death I will fall into the silence of the grave and speak no more. The other meaning is requiem, meaning – in eternal rest the noise and distraction of this life will filter away. This is an echo of the scriptural description of Heaven as a place of rest.
Hamlet is a tragedy, but only if seen from one perspective, because for Hamlet himself the ending is triumphant. He dies, yes, and he suffered much during his life, but throughout his life he always sough the truth and he always sought to find the best action even if it caused his life to be more difficult. Shakespeare clearly admires Hamlet and wants to make clear that this man, even though he never inherited his Father’s throne, is now a King in Heaven.
So Hamlet is a tragedy, but it is not sad. The spiritual writer Leon Bloy says, “The greatest sadness in life is to not become a saint.” Bishop Barron comments on that statement, saying that there’s all kinds of sadness that we can ruminate on from our past – I didn’t become the success I wanted to be, I didn’t achieve this or that, I didn’t get the money I wanted. There’s all kinds of sadness, but in the final reckoning none of that is as important as we think it is, or at least, it doesn’t have the final say in whether your life is, on balance, happy or sad. At the end of the day, there’s only one real sadness, to not become a saint — to not become the person that Christ wants you to be.
St. Paul puts this so eloquently when he says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I am nothing.” And again, he says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.”
If I can get confessional here for a minute, I’ve always wanted to be a great writer, but all I have is a novel I wrote about 10 years ago shoved in my desk drawer that will never see the light of day again because it is so terrible. I want a beach house on Cape Cod, I want to be able to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Some of my goals in life I’ve achieved, others I’m so far away I may as well be looking at them through binoculars, but as Bishop Barron says, this is all trivial. God made each and every one of us, and he has one goal in mind for you, one goal only – that you would become his child. That he might hold you close, and share his love with you, and draw you into his big, messy, amazing family. Everything else is trivial. Until Jesus becomes Lord of your whole life, you can accomplish anything you want but it will eventually slip away into the silence of the grave.
The only survivor of the grave is the human soul, which is of everlasting value. The way to emerge triumphant is to become a saint, to situate ourselves directly in the midst of this great hope for the future, that we are in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. A saint is a living revelation of God’s glory, a person who embodies the ideal of pure love.
It can seem oppressive, to be told that we must become saints and we must follow God’s plan, we must fit within his narrow confines. But when we limit ourselves in this way we find that love, like beauty, is a strange phenomenon. It isn’t a zero sum game, and it follows an unexpected path. The more beautiful something is, the more it points beyond itself. We want to know the artist behind the beauty, or we encounter these deep emotions and spiritual consolations through beauty. The greater the beauty, the more it flings the doors of the universe wide open. It’s a sign of something else. Love is like this too. God loves us and his love is a promise that we shall never die, that we shall be made saints. When we become totally God’s, he doesn’t remove from us our own desires and happiness, we aren’t oppressed by him. His love refers us on to a greater glory. We become more what we currently are.
The communion of saints is a powerful society. They have found their rest and now they turn to us with all their compassion to help us find ours.
A bit of practical advice? Find a saint who is special to you (For me it’s Edmund Campion, Maximilian Kolbe, and Edith Stein), maybe your patron saint from confirmation, maybe a saint who you’ve bonded with over the years, and maintain that relationship and ask them to help you and pray for you. The saints are our friends, our brothers and sisters, and they want nothing more than for us to join them in their happiness as they gather in wordless joy around the throne of God Almighty.
Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The Shakespearean insight is entirely from Joseph Pearce’s excellent book Through Shakespeare’s Eyes