Monday, October 8, 2012
The Lord: Chapter 34, “Destiny and Decision”
We come to that moment in Jesus’s public life when he sets out toward Jerusalem to die. His message has been rejected—both by the leaders of his people, the Jews, and by the masses. Even in his hometown of Nazareth, few have been open to his call. This failure to embrace the Kingdom of heaven Guardini calls the “second fall.” The first, of course, was Adam’s.
What is any of this “old Jewish history” to me, an enlightened modern American? Guardini asks rhetorically, “Can humanity’s fate be made to depend on a single nation . . . ?” In the same way, Guardini adds, we might ask, “What is Adam to me?” And how can we not feel this question? Isn’t the Garden of Eden, after all, just a hoary old symbolic story, the stuff of sermons and old poems but of no possible relevance to myself?
What is Adam to me? “The answer,” Guardini writes, “would be: Everything! All humanity was contained in the first man, was there from the beginning. Everyone participated in [Adam’s] decision, also you. And were your feelings to rebel, should we attempt to deny any such responsibility or to jeer skeptically at the idea as ‘fantastic,’ Revelation would probably reply: There you have it—the sin in you!
“If you lived in the truth, you would know that the claim to individual autonomy of being is in itself sacrilege.”
This is only the first of several main points in this chapter on “Destiny and Decision,” which could be the subject of ten posts. Guardini emphasizes that “our salvation is grounded in actual history,” that “the realization of universal salvation desired by God is brought about by the workings of the few upon history.” This leads to a meditation on two kinds of human freedom. The second, being left free by God “to act in truth and goodness,” depends on the first, “my ability to accept God or to reject him.” God, he says, “could not spare us the burden of this freedom.” Further on, he asks a related question asked by many non-believers today: “How could two thousand years of divine schooling produce such paltry results? The mind staggers but finds no answer.”
But I want to stop with the first question—What is Adam to me?—because of something I learned while walking the Camino de Santiago with my daughter Marian last spring. A non-religious friend met along the way told a story of visiting Jerusalem and placing her hand on a certain spot on the Via Dolorosa where millions of Christians had placed their hands before hers. “Suddenly,” she said, “I realized that it wasn’t me and them, it was us.”
This clear sense of walking with many millions toward the same destiny for two thousand years informed my own Camino. I realized that I was walking to Santiago de Compostela, burial place of the Apostle James, in an unending procession with millions of other pilgrims since the ninth century. Today, the vast majority walk the Camino without religious purpose, and yet they are walking it with me and with St. Francis of Assisi and with the first French bishop from LePuy and even with American president John Adams, who passed through Santiago on his way to Paris and later wrote:
“I have always regretted that we could not find time to make a Pilgrimage to Saintiago de Compostella. We were informed, . . . that the Original of this Shrine and Temple of St. Iago was this. A certain Shepherd saw a bright Light there in the night. Afterwards it was revealed to an Archbishop that St. James was buried there. This laid the Foundation of a Church, and they have built an Altar on the Spot where the Shepherd saw the Light. In the time of the Moors, the People made a Vow, that if the Moors should be driven from this Country, they would give a certain portion of the Income of their Lands to Saint James. The Moors were defeated and expelled and it was reported and believed, that Saint James was in the Battle and fought with a drawn Sword at the head of the Spanish Troops, on Horseback. The People, believing that they owed the Victory to the Saint, very cheerfully fulfilled their Vows by paying the Tribute. ...Upon the Supposition that this is the place of the Sepulchre of Saint James, there are great numbers of Pilgrims, who visit it, every Year, from France, Spain, Italy and other parts of Europe, many of them on foot.”
It is this sense of participating in salvation history with countless other souls over two thousand years and longer (back to Abraham) that drew me to the Catholic Church in the first place. And finally to bring this around to our school days together—it is this sort of sense that was utterly lacking in the culture of the institution we attended. There the attitude was not Non sibi, as the hopeful school motto had it (not for oneself), but “all for one and all for one.”
The appeal to my sense of belonging in something greater than myself began with my graduation—when my name went onto the list of potential alumni donors. While in school, however, I was taught by example that I had better look out for myself because (a) no one else would and (b) there was nothing else to look out for.
It was every boy for himself—and pretty lonely as a result.
Your old friend,
This series of posts continues here with chapter 35.
* This post continues a series of meditations on Romano Guardini’s book The Lord in the form of open letters to a good friend with whom I graduated from boarding school over forty years ago.