Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Lord: Author’s Preface

My dear old friend,

I hope that by now you have received the book I sent you: Romano Guardini’s The Lord. It’s my way of continuing the conversation we started last month about my conversion to the Catholic Church. You, a lifelong Episcopalian, found my conversion hard to grok, as we said back in school.

I told you that I would be re-reading the book and posting about it chapter by chapter—not to analyze the book (I’m not trained for that) but to offer some personal responses as a happy, convinced, unapologetic Catholic, so that you can see how I see the world now. It’s been over 40 years.

Prepare for a mixed bag, my friend. The Lord has 88 chapters. . . .

In his preface, Guardini tells what he’s about: to offer “meditations on Jesus’s life.” The book, he says, resulted from “the spiritual commentaries of some four years of Sunday services”—edited homilies, in other words, I suppose. (Homilies is the Catholic word for sermons.)

Guardini points out two pitfalls of writing about Christ’s life—trying to psychoanalyze him (RG was writing in the Freudian heyday) and trying to write a standard biography (one that traces the evolution of character against the backdrop of the times).

In either case—psychological study or biography—the writer overlooks Jesus’s divinity, what Guardini calls Jesus’s “participation in the divine mystery.” (Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, my friend? A highly enlightened man? A liar? A lunatic?)

Later in the book, Guardini will write: “Nothing in the Gospels suggests that Jesus had to struggle through worldly captivity or uncertainty to the complete freedom he enjoyed. This is what makes every attempt to ‘psychoanalyze Jesus’ as ridiculous as it is impossible; in him there is no such thing as ‘development of personality.’ His inner life is the fulfillment of a fact: that he is simultaneously Son of Man and God.”

Even in the case of a saint, like Francis of Assisi, whom Guardini discusses in the preface, there is a point “beyond which the mystery of rebirth and guidance by grace contradicts all why’s and wherefore’s.” (Because if God is really involved here, there are greater forces at work than a mother’s love, a father’s abuse, sibling birth order.)

So then, you might ask, why study the lives of the saints? As I told you when we got together a few weeks ago, the saints were the key to my conversion. They opened the door. No one had ever talked about the saints in the Episcopal Church when I was growing up. (Why was that?) But they fascinated me.

Here’s why I study and venerate saints like Joseph, Joan of Arc, and Thomas More (three personal favorites). Not because I think I can be particularly good at imitating them but because they are witnesses that this thing, Christianity, it works! Did for them sometime in the past two thousand years, can for me today.

The saints testify that, whatever Jesus was, whatever he taught or left (Catholics say he left the Church, founded by Peter and eternally informed by the Holy Spirit), that something endures. The Holy Spirit is still with us, and so is God, Jesus (that Trinity of the good old Episcopal Doxology: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow . . . ).
As Guardini says in a later chapter, “It is a help to know that so many have given their minds and lives to [the sacred word]; that two thousand years of history have lived in it; that so much humanity vibrates in the divine tidings.”

As the old traditional Catholic prayer, the Angelus, reminds us every day: The Word was made flesh. And dwells among us.

I look forward to hearing from you and continuing this correspondence.

In faith and friendship,

PS. Tomorrow, Part I, chapter 1, Origin and Ancestry

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