Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Mystery Shell

Yesterday I went to the cemetary for a little visit. On Caleb's marker, someone had put a shell. It was a pretty half shell. I wonder where it came from.... perhaps someone who is a family friend thinking of Caleb, or someone who happened to be moved to see such a small child buried, or perhaps one of the workers put it there after finding it thinking it was a good place.

Regardless, it was nice seeing someone had put it next to Caleb's name. I checked back in the photo I took of the marker at the All Souls Day mass and that shell was nowhere so its definitely a recent addition, and a welcome site. We were given a shell at Caleb's baptism.

I decided to look up the significance of the shell as a faith symbol.......

Scallop shell: the sea shell, especially the scallop shell, is the symbol of Baptism, and is found frequently on Baptismal fonts. The dish used by priests to pour water over the heads of catechumens in Baptism is often scallop-shaped

It has been used for centuries in the Catholic tradition as a symbol for pilgrims. Pope Benedict XVI has a scallop shell at the point of honor on his coat of arms.

The shell has several symbolic meanings. First it refers to a famous legend about St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (354-430 AD). Once as he was walking along the seashore, meditating about the unfathomable mystery of the Holy Trinity, he met a boy who was using a shell to pour seawater into a little hole. When Augustine asked him what he was doing, he received the reply, “I am emptying the sea into this hole.” Thus the shell is a symbol for plunging into the unfathomable sea of the Godhead. It also has a connection, though, with the theologian Joseph Ratzinger and the beginning of his academic career. In 1953 he received a doctorate in theology under Professor Gottlieb Söhngen at the University of Munich by completing a dissertation on “The People of God and the House of God in Augustine’s Teaching about the Church."

Furthermore, the shell also stands for “Jacob’s staff,” a pilgrim’s staff topped with a scallop shell, which in Church art was the symbol of the apostle James (in Latin, Jacobus). In this sense, the symbol alludes to a central concept of the Second Vatican Council, the “pilgrim people of God,” which the theologian shepherded locally as Archbishop Ratzinger and of which he is now, as Benedict XVI, the universal shepherd.

SO even though Caleb is gone from this life, it was nice to see that symbol of his birth into the Catholic faith in his baptism. Its a nice reminder of the wonderful life he now is experiencing while we schlep along down here.

Caleb, pray for us! We want to be with you again someday.

1 comment:

Karen said...

How special to find such a wonderful symbol on Caleb's marker. I didn't realize the meaning behind shells--so neat.