Friday, October 5, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 31, “Those Whom He Loved”

Dear old friend from long ago,*

This is one of my favorite chapters in The Lord, because it embraces three of my favorite figures in the Gospels. All three had an intimate relationship with Jesus, and all are gifts to me of my Catholic faith. I never thought of them much before I was received into the Church five years ago.

The three are John, the young Apostle closest to Jesus, “he whom Jesus loved”; Mary Magdalene, the “courageous, great, and ardent soul” redeemed from a sinful life; and Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and “guardian of the Divine Child.” I feel affection for each of them.

I took Joseph as my confirmation name after deciding that Thomas More was a bit presumptuous. I am a father and husband like Joseph, and will never be a great statesman, or probably martyr.

I have always liked the imagery of St. John—whom Catholics consider to be both Apostle and Evangelist, though I know my Episcopalian friends pooh-pooh this. It is John who leans on Jesus’s chest at the Last Supper, John who remains at the foot of the cross and takes the Blessed Mother into his household at the Savior’s command. This love, enriched over a long life of contemplation, satisfactorily explains to me why the Gospel of John is different than the Synoptics. Written last, it may be most reliable, in the same way that a biography of my father written when I am 95 would capture the heart of the man in ways I still can’t today.

Then there is Mary of Magdala. I have two daughters named Martha and Marian (a variant of Mary), and I have always said that if I had had a third daughter I would have pushed to name her Madeleine, French for Magdalene. Of course, that never would have happened. If we had been blessed with a third daughter, Katie would have voted for Alicia and Katie would have won. I named Martha and Martha named Marian; it was Katie’s turn.

Martha and Mary were the sisters of Lazarus. These three siblings take up most of the chapter about “Those Whom He Loved.” Lazarus was resurrected by the Lord shortly before His final journey to Jerusalem. Martha does all the housework while Mary sits adoringly at Jesus’s feet. When Martha complains, Jesus answers, unfairly it seems, “Mary has chosen the best part, and it will not be taken away from her.” In their differing attentions to Jesus, Martha and Mary represent the active and contemplative sides of spiritual life.

“Again and again,” Guardini writes, “the man of action feels Martha’s complaint on his lips: Isn’t the inner life really pious indolence, religious luxury?”

RG answers his own question, beginning with a sentence that is one of the many bits of poetry in this amazing book:

One day all the loud things will be still. Everything visible, tangible, audible will come to judgment, and the great inversion will take place. The external world is inclined to consider itself the real world; it accepts the inner realm as a remote, somewhat degenerate addition in which the weakling takes refuge when he can go no further. One day the correction will be made. What is now silent will be clearly evident as the stronger thing; what is now hidden as the decisive. The heart will prove itself mightier than the hand, a man’s essence weightier than his works. . . . ”

Let me make this long post longer, my dear friend, by adding a personal note. When I came into the Catholic Church five years ago, I felt strangely remote from Jesus. I did not know who He was. Reading a recent post of mine, you yourself will see that The Lord was not a key factor in my conversion.

Five years have made a difference. Eighteen hundred days of daily mass and frequent confession, readings and prayer have brought me closer to Jesus. I see now that loving Him is something real, vital, needed. Guardini says this himself at the beginning of the chapter:

“The greatest of all graces is to love the Lord with a heart fully conscious of what it is about; to love not only ‘our dear Savior’ in the impersonal sense which the phrase so often has, but Christ himself, corporeally and spiritually, as one loves an irreplaceable person to whom one is bound through thick and thin. The conviction that this person is simultaneously the eternal Logos, Son of the Living God and Savior of mankind is grace unspeakable.”

Honestly, my friend, I am far from the theological understanding of that last sentence. But for now, being closer to the Lord, loving Him more, seems love enough for me.

God bless you,

This series of posts continues here with chapter 32.

* This post continues a series of open letters to a real Episcopalian friend from my days at boarding school in the form of meditations on The Lord by Catholic theologian Romano Guardini.

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