Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 11, “Disciples and Apostles”

My dear old boyhood friend,

Romano Guardini’s book The Lord, which we are reading together—at least I’m reading it, are you reading it?—breaks through the encrustations built up around Jesus and the people and events surrounding his life among us.

Let’s face it, Jesus, the image, gets old. The long hair, the beard, the pretty eyes, the “miracles” in quotation marks. They add up to a wall poster encouraging us to be a little nicer to each other. Everyone and his brother has their own idea about, you know, what would Jesus do.

But as RG insists, Jesus was not just a symbol, a paragon, a particularly good guy after whom we would model ourselves if we knew what was good for us, which we usually do not. Jesus was God made man, and he lived on this earth. He, God, entered history! The people around him lived real, historical lives too, and they thought and felt many of the things you and I would think and feel if we wore those sandals and fished with those nets.

Like, for instance, the Apostles. Because all of them except Judas are saints, according to the Catholic Church, it is easy for a Catholic like me to (a) take them for granted, (b) assume that they were particularly holy guys, and (c) gape at them in awe. (I know that most Protestants don’t acknowledge the saints, which has always puzzled me, and was one of the big reasons I crossed the Tiber, but please stick with me here for a minute.)

According to Guardini, the eleven were nothing special. As I said to a friend of mine and made her laugh, the Apostles were basically boobs until Pentecost, bozos on the same bus as you and me. And as Guardini insists repeatedly here and elsewhere, this left Jesus alone, so alone that we must feel for him if we have any heart and can get rid of those encrustations long enough to see Him.

The Apostles so didn’t get Him and so often. Peter is the loudest example, of course, with his outbursts and his denials and so on, but every Apostle except John fled the Crucifixion. Leaving the women, many women, who were “more courageous than the men,” as Guardini notes.

RG: “Reading the Gospel, we do not gain the impression that during Jesus’s lifetime the disciples really grasped his meaning. . . . How often we are struck by the smallness, the narrowness, the paltriness of the disciples’ reactions: how often the heavenly message is degraded to an earthly one!”

And later: “Frankly, the impression we get from the New Testament hardly permits us to claim that these men were great or ingenious in the worldly sense. It is difficult even to count them ‘great religious personalities.’”

So what makes them at all special? There is the fact historical of Pentecost, and the way the Word spread like wildfire from their words and actions after that descent of the Holy Spirit. But during Jesus’s life and up to the Ascension, there is also this: They were called, and they were sent.

“Personal importance, spiritual creativeness, dynamic faith are not decisive in [the apostle’s] life. What counts is that Jesus Christ has called him, pressed his seal upon him, and sent him forth. . . . An apostle then is one who is sent.”

Here’s the summary: “Spiritually, the apostle is seldom more than a ‘little one’: precisely this guarantees the purity of his role of messenger.” The point is “To be nothing in oneself, everything in Christ . . . ”

What did we follow when we were at Exeter together? What were we drawn close to? Were we “little ones,” able to hear and to carry a message with purity? And if so, what message?

The school had its mottos: Finis origine pendet? Non sibi? 

To which I say, Really? Are you kidding?


This series of letters continues here with chapter 12


  1. I came across your blog quite my accident, but rather move on, I decided to stop and read a spell. I backtracked and read your earlier, longer posting on Guardini's book. It sparked a memory - Forty-nine years ago this month, my freshman year at Georgetown, I had as my Spanish instructor a very conservative Jesuit from Spain - who it turned out, had a heart of gold. Although I was not Catholic, he became a spiritual mentor. And I recalled he said that his favortie author was Guardini, and THE LORD was his favorite of his books. I learned that he passed away in 2007 (at an advanced age) and regret we were not able to maintain contact after I moved on to grad school and he returned to Japan. Now, prodded by your blog - and to his memory, I intend to read Guardini's masterpiece.

  2. Thanks Phil, it's gratifying to read your thoughtful comment and heartfelt memory. Happy reading!


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