A Lesson in Kenosis from the Solar Eclipse

Posted on May 14, 2024 in: General News

A Lesson in Kenosis from the Solar Eclipse


The Feast of the Annunciation and the solar eclipse happened on the same day this year—April 8—and it was one of the most memorable days of my life. Part of the reason for me writing this essay is to get all my thoughts out, because I can’t stop thinking about it, and I can’t stop talking about it. Even when I haven’t planned to do so, I wind up mentioning the eclipse in homilies and referencing it in the classroom and posting about it on social media. I never imagined it would be this way, but then again, I never experienced a total eclipse before, so perhaps this is one of the consequences of experiencing one.

Here in Cleveland, we were in what is called the “path of totality,” which meant that for three minutes and fourteen seconds, the moon moved directly in front of the sun, the temperature dropped about ten degrees, the day became as night, and animals acted strangely. Because our city is on Great Lake, our days are often cloudy, and the forecast for that day was not looking good, so although I had planned a nice gathering with friends, I wasn’t convinced that it was worth all the fuss. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The weather was perfect that Monday afternoon, the sky was clear, and my friends and I all had special glasses so that we could look directly at the sun and slowly witness the moon moving over it. We listened to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Brandi Carlile’s cover of “Black Hole Sun” more than twice and then whatever else was part of the eclipse playlist on Spotify. Then it happened. The temperature dropped, the moon lined up perfectly in front of the sun, the music stopped, and we all stood there, on the shores of Lake Erie, in the dark, in the middle of the day. We spontaneously decided to sing the “Hail Mary,” but we did so softly and reverently, as not to take anything from the moment, but simply to honor it and consecrate it.

It’s hard to explain those three magnificent minutes, but something monumental happened, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I have never experienced a natural phenomenon that affected me so greatly.

As best as I can tell, underneath my profound experience of the great solar eclipse is a natural and rare lesson in kenosis, a Greek word meaning “self-emptying” or “complete or total gift of self.” When God the Father sent us his Son, he held nothing back. He emptied himself. He did not send us half of his Son or ninety-eight percent of his Son; he sent us his Son in totality. When Jesus died on the Cross, he too held nothing back. He did not simply have a concussion or fall into a coma; he bled out and gave us the total gift of himself. Everything that he had, Jesus gave, holding nothing back. Complete self-emptying. Total gift of self. And in the Eucharist, we experience not just a part of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, and not just a percentage of his Real Presence, but the totality of his gift of self, the totality of his love, and the totality of his Real Presence. He holds nothing back. He gives us everything that he is because this is what love does.

One of my friends, who at one time was in my youth group at my first parish assignment, is now happily married with five children and she lives in Steubenville, Ohio. She decided to bring her children up to the Cleveland area to experience the eclipse in its totality, while her husband—who is a wonderful man—decided to stay back in the Ohio Valley. To his mind, although not in the path of totality, Steubenville was almost in totality, with ninety-eight percent coverage. He figured that he’d see almost exactly what his wife and children would see in the path of totality. After all, what’s the difference between ninety-eight percent and one hundred percent? In the arena of academics, both percentages earn an A.

Who better than Our Lady to show us what it looks like to receive the totality of God and to offer herself back to God in totality as gift?

After the eclipse my friend called her husband to discuss her experience. As it turns out, two-percent matters. Down in Steubenville the temperature never dropped, it never got dark, you really couldn’t take your glasses off (without damaging your eyes), and the eclipse was interesting at best, but certainly not noteworthy, remarkable, or life-changing. Not so in Cleveland. In the path of totality, the eclipse was a sight to behold, an experience to cherish, a phenomenon that has become, as one of my young friends voiced, “a core memory.”

There is something special that happens in totality, not only in the path of the eclipse, but in life and in love. If we are completely honest, most of us rarely give ourselves completely away in love. Most of us are pretty good at giving a lot of ourselves away, but maybe holding on to a few things: a dream, a desire, a sin, a hope, a plan, a relationship, a backup plan, a little bit of control. However, real life and real love only really happen by way of kenosis, in the total gift of self. God begins this gift with himself, in the Father giving us the Son, and then the Son pouring out his life and love for us on the Cross, and continuing to do so in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist.

What is our proper response to God’s great and total gift of self? It is the total receiving of God’s gift and then offering the total gift of ourselves back in return. That’s what happens in Baptism, when we give our whole selves over to the cleansing and healing waters of Baptism. It’s what happens when we confess our sins freely and totally in the sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s what happens when a bride and groom give themselves totally away to each other in love in Holy Matrimony. It’s what happens when a man prostrates himself before ordination as a sign of his complete gift of self. It’s what happens when one lays down one’s life for one’s friends, as there is no greater love than that—a total love, a complete gift of self.

When we hold on to something, or someone, and don’t give ourselves totally away in love, we render ourselves incapable of receiving the totality of grace that God wants to give us. Unfortunately, I know this to be true from experience. And if you are reading this essay, you probably do too.

It’s no coincidence that the solar eclipse and the Feast of the Annunciation landed on the same day. After all, who better than Our Lady to show us what it looks like to receive the totality of God and to offer herself back to God in totality as gift?

If there’s another eclipse anytime soon, plan your vacation around it. I know I will. It’s worthy of pilgrimage. In the meantime, you can take my word for it, with brother sun and sister moon as my witnesses.