Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 67, “‘I Go Away and I Am Coming to You’”

Dear friend,

In his chapters about the forty days between Jesus’s Resurrection and his Ascension into heaven, Romano Guardini seems to be repeating himself. The previous chapter was titled God’s Coming and Going. Now we read “I Go Away and I Am Coming to You.” Can’t RG just get on with it?

Well, no. Because the whole purpose of The Lord—both for Guardini and for me reading and writing about him—is to dwell a while with Jesus, to contemplate him, in the hopes of understanding him better and growing closer to him. And these final days of his earthly life are my last chance! As they were for the Apostles.

As they were for us in our spring term of senior year, too. A last chance. We were so ready to get on with things that we missed what was right in front of us. You spent much of the term in Washington, as I recall, but for the rest of us back on campus, the Big Red Machine was in neutral and many of us were in full coasting mode. How much we missed! And lost! So let's stay with Jesus here a while, while he stays with us.

In fact, this chapter is our last chance, because it concerns the Ascension, described in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: “He was lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing up to heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white garments, and said to them, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall come in the same way as you have seen him going up to heaven.”

Heaven. All dogs go there, according to the movie, and so do we, according to stories told us as children. But is heaven really anything? “What is the heaven into which Jesus was accepted on that first Ascension Day?” Guardini asks. The space age forces us to ask too. RG notes that “though we were to fly to Sirius, we should be no closer to heaven than we are on earth.” Although Christ was seen to “ascend,” or go up, heaven is not simply the highest point in space. Obviously.

RG’s chapter on Jesus’s trial was the longest in the book, and this is the shortest. So let me end short, with Guardini’s definition of heaven. Then we can all sit around the Harkness table at our next reunion and—discuss!

“Heaven is the intimate reserve of Holy God. . . . God, the incommensurable, infinite, simple; essence of truth and holiness? His reserve is absolute. Nothing can even approach it. . . . This intimate reserve of God [is the] ‘destination’ of the risen Lord . . . ”

And ours. “That God pardons the sinner and accepts the creature into his holy presence—that is the new and overwhelming message of Christ. . . . His salutary love is directed not exclusively towards the ‘soul,’ but towards man in his entirety. The new, saved man is founded on the divine humanity of Jesus, and this humanity, begun in the Annunciation, was fulfilled in the Ascension. . . .

“So Jesus left—only in the same instant to return in new form. He entered eternity, into the pure here and now of unshadowed reality, into an existence that is entirely love, for ‘God is love.’ Ever since, Christ’s manner of being has been that of love. Hence, because he loves us—and that he does is the essence of his sacred message—his going away into the fulfillment of love really means that he is ‘with us’ more fully than ever before.”

The Lord be with you, my old friend,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 68.

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