Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 12, “The Beatitudes”

My dear old friend from days of long ago,*

Do you remember the toughest taskmaster at Exeter? The one we all lived in mortal fear of? I would have done anything for him, because he held the key to my happiness, my success at school, even my future, or so I thought.

No, I’m not talking about Mr. Hinkle, though he was remote: those specs, that stare, that ’stache! Nor any of the science faculty, either, though no science course was ever a “gut” for me. I don’t even mean Dean Bob, although the words that come to mind when I think of the dreaded dean of students are not usually found on Catholic blogs.

No, the master I’m thinking of was a far more demanding SOB. I met him on my first day of school, and he shadowed my steps for three years. I am talking, of course, about Mr. Popularity. I would have done anything for him.

Maybe you gave him a different name: Mr. Esteem-of-My-Peers. Mr. College-Recs. Mr. Hot-Shit. Being popular was a term that I brought with me from day school days in Connecticut, where I suffered like Christ at the slightest hint that I wasn’t accepted by the opinion-makers in our class. At boarding school, some of us may have been too cool to admit that we worshiped Mr. Popularity—until senior year when Wolf declared a “revolution” and we all started hugging each other and began talking about our feelings in “Group Grope.” (More on that later.)

But oh, how I, Webster Bull, Class of ’69, worshiped Mr. Popularity. The sacrifices I made on His altar!

This is all by way of talking briefly about Romano Guardini’s chapter on The Beatitudes. “Our natural reaction to the Sermon on the Mount,” RG writes, “is one of distaste.”

I have to face facts: those eight little rules from Matthew 5 run counter to everything I aspired to. Suffer persecution? I don’t think so. Be “poor in spirit”? As the butt-room chorus had it, “shoo-ha fell!” (Sure, fella!) I was full of myself, my brilliancy as a “literary rock” and butt-room arbiter, a little earl sent to a great school to become greater myself. Meek? Not exactly. Try being meek, fell, and see how it works for you.

I’m talking about myself, not indicting any of the 200+ other guys in our class, 40+ of whom were destined to go to Harvard by divine right of kings. That was a boy’s presumptive right if he ranked in the top 10th or 15th percentile. If others in our class bowed to the same false gods as I did, well, they can speak for themselves.

Of course, Jesus is asking for something different in the Beatitudes. RG asks, “Is a man’s strength to be measured solely by his insistence on getting his own way, if not by his brains, by his fists? [I lost the only boxing match I ever fought so sadly I had to rely on my brains.] Obviously, there is a higher kind of strength . . . ”

And a higher kind of freedom, which is Guardini’s point here at the end. We were given great freedom at boading school to compete and to win on the playing fields as in the classroom. But in the Beatitudes, Guardini writes, Jesus is asking for a “disturbing, antagonizing demand for a general revalution. . . .

“It is no longer the voice of earthly reason that speaks. Something entirely different is demanded—the positive, heroic act of a bounty that can be acquired only from above, a divine generosity that is its own measure. . . .

“Now we begin to see what Jesus is driving at: a bearing in our relationship to others that is no less than divinely free—not what law and order [and popularity] demand, but what true liberty gives. The measure of that liberty is love, the love of God.”

Though we had required attendance for my first two years, I can’t remember going to church at Exeter. It has been pointed out to me by none less than our school minister in those days, that if I do not remember, then “something else was probably going on.” Of course it was. I was rich in spirit, proud and free, and I seldom hungered or thirsted for righteousness.

And you, my dear old friend? How about you?

Best,
WB

This series of posts continues here with chapter 13

* This post continues a series of letters to a friend about Romano Guardini’s book about Jesus Christ, The Lord. The series begins here and continues daily.

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