Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 65, “Between Time and Eternity”

Dear friend,

I confess. The farther into The Lord I get and the closer to the end of Romano Guardini’s great book on Jesus and the New Testament, the less I understand, the more out of my depth I feel even commenting. Like, for example, this chapter on the forty days between Christ’s Resurrection and His Ascension: it’s quite literally beyond me. And the idea of relating this to our schoolboy days together, as I have earlier chapters, seems preposterous. What did we, friends at boarding school avoiding church whenever we could, have to do with the Risen Christ?!

And yet. We were searching for something, even in our cynical posturing, our long-into-the-night conversations in the butt room, our drug-aided journeys. We were looking for ultimate meaning—what the Apostles found in Jesus Christ and what was reaffirmed for them gloriously during this period when Our Lord was “between time and eternity.”

In this period unique in human history, “The Lord is still on earth, but his feet are already detached, prepared to depart.” The “two figures of Jesus” presented in the New Testament are joined: “‘Jesus of Nazareth’ has become ‘Christ The Lord,’ the eternal one whose figure St. John describes as it was revealed to him on the Island of Patmos: ‘One like to a son of man, clothed with a garment reaching to the ankles, and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. But his head and his hair were white as white wool, and as snow, and his eyes were as a flame of fire . . . ” That passage is from Revelation, and we haven’t got there yet, though RG is taking us there. Stick around for a few more weeks of rambling commentaries and we’ll arrive together at the climax of The Lord, Guardini’s amazing explanation of the last book in the Bible.

There are simple beauties in this chapter, “Between Time and Eternity,” that stir my heart, and I want to understand them more deeply, even if the main import of the Guardini’s argument is beyond me.

Faith is like this, or it is for me. I came to the Catholic Church five years ago, not understanding a tenth of it, knowing only that I needed to be here. Slowly, not always surely, my knowledge and my faith have grown side by side—the more I know the more deeply I believe—so that now I may be a 20-percentiler! With a long way to go. But that’s why we read and pray and go to Mass, right? Catholicism is a participatory sport.

Guardini describes the encounters between the Risen Christ and several of those close to him. Again we encounter the touching, haunting figure of Mary Magdalene, the fallen woman so raised by Him that she was privileged to be first to see him on Easter morning. “Now this great soul, for whom nothing exists but her love, again stands before her Master. He calls her by name and she answers, their words vibrant with the tremendousness of all that has occurrred since Golgotha. Everything is confirmed, transfigured.” In this chapter, we also meet Peter again, and John, the one Jesus particularly loved.”

For whom nothing exists but her love—I love that.

Then, having made us feel the power of this period, Guardini hits us with its logic, and right between the eyes. Imagine that the doubters are correct, that the Resurrection was only a story cooked up by the Apostles, or perhaps a hopeful hallucination working a common magic in their fevered brains. Is this what would have happened, these forty days of appearance and disappearance, of talking and touching and eating together?

“Let us for a moment suppose that the Resurrection and the period afterwards had been only offshoots of morbid religious experience, legend or myth—what would those days have looked like? Doubtless, they would have been filled with demonstrations of the liberated one’s power; the hunted one, now omnipotent, would have shattered his enemies; he would have blazed from temple altars, would have covered his followers with honors, and in these and other ways, have fulfilled the longings of the oppressed.

“He would also have initiated the disciples into the wonderful mysteries of heaven, would have revealed the future, the beginning and end of all things. But nothing of all this occurs [my emphasis]. No mysteries are revealed; no one is initiated into the secrets of the unknown. Not one miracle, save that of Christ’s own transfigured existence and the wonderful fish-catch, which is only a repetition of an earlier event.

“What does happen? Something unspectacular, exquisitely still: the past is confirmed. The reality of the life that has been crosses over into eternity. These days are the period of that transition.”

This is the tragedy of human life as we ordinarily conceive of it, isn’t it? That things end. That there is no transition. That a bunch of schoolboys who become best friends graduate and then disappear from one another, usually forever? No time of transition for us, old friend, not without eternity and the promise of Jesus.

Yours as ever,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 66.

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