Friday, October 7, 2011

The Almighty Has Done Great Things

Angels talk to us in unexpected ways, I imagine. Waking after midnight, and unable to sleep, I reached for my Kindle. Instead of continuing the somewhat trashy novel I’m reading, I was prompted somehow to reopen the Kindle edition of Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean Pierre de Caussade, an 18th-century Jesuit. I began reading it again for the third time.

A confession: Began reading . . . for the third time, in the previous sentence, is true enough, but the whole truth is never finished it. Never even got through the first section. I don’t have the foggiest idea why, any more than I know exactly why I picked it up again early this morning. I did not think, Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.  I did not think, but I read for an hour.

Two things struck me. First, the book is dedicated to St. Joseph, “the one chosen shadow of God upon the earth,” according to the 1921 English translation. (Caussade wrote in French.) Joseph is my confirmation name, which was confirmation enough that I was on the right track, but that honorific about God’s chosen shadow, that stopped me short. What did he mean? At the beginning of section II, “The Duties of Each Moment,” there is a clue. Caussade writes: “The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.” Joseph, as much as any fallen mortal, carried out his duty, and certainly Joseph’s duty was party of the divine operation.

The second thing that struck me is that the entire Abandonment takes off from the Annunciation. For Caussade, Mary’s yes is the start of everything, or as our dear associate pastor, Father Chateau, said in his homily this morning, “All salvation began with a Hail Mary.” Caussade writes:

[Mary’s] answer to the angel when she said, “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” [Be it done unto me according to Thy word], contained all the mystic theology of her ancestors to whom everything was reduced, as it is now, to the purest, simplest submission of the soul to the will of God, under whatever form it presents itself.

In section II, Caussade develops this idea, and that of the shadow, when he writes,

“The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee” (Luke i, 35,), said the angel to Mary. This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment. . . . Therefore in the moral and supernatural order the duties of each moment conceal, under the semblance of dark shadows, the truth of their divine character which alone should rivet the attention.

It took me a long time to get back to sleep, even after turning off my Kindle drowsily. I awoke at 6:47 by the digital clock, debated punting Mass for a moment, said a few brief prayers, and made a dash for church. As the holy water dripped from my forehead, my iPhone read 7:03. Father Chateau starts Mass early, and I had missed the first reading. Instead, I entered the nave just as the lector was giving the response: “The Lord has done great things for me.” No psalm today! The Magnificat instead? Doh. It’s the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. I made my way to my usual seat as Mary’s great yes began and we all repeated, “The Lord has done great things for me.”

Another confession: I have always had some trouble with the Magnificat, as I have too with some of those psalms that talk about the wicked. In the reading from Luke (i, 46–55), Mary says,

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. 

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty . . . 

Likewise, many psalms contrast the fate of the wicked with that of the righteous. But am I righteous? Am I really thanking God for being so good to me, a not-wicked person? 

Today, caught off guard by being late, by the coincidence of last night’s reading and this morning’s non-psalm, I heard Mary’s words in a new way. I am both mighty and lowly, both rich and hungry. And what God promises me through Mary is not that the sinners, those bad guys over there, will be punished while I traipse into Heaven, but that, instead, if I listen long enough to the angel and attend to my work, my duty, and finally find my way, somehow, to a yes, a reversal may take place inside me. And the mighty—in me—will be replaced by the lowly, and rich by hungry. And blessed are those who hunger.

I hope I will not hunger for Great Things like fame or power or wealth but will instead pay attention to my duties of the moment, “the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.” And holy is His name.

Duty calls. It’s time for work—not three minutes late this time, but thirty.

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