Monday, November 26, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 83, “The Great Sign in Heaven”

Dear friend,

We are coming to the end of this series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord. (Can I hear you say, Amen!) I began my daily reflections on Labor Day and will end the day before the start of a new liturgical year, by the Catholic calendar. If the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, I may start a new series on the First Sunday in Advent, this time about the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I have never read. Mea culpa.

The purpose of this series of posts was to stay in touch with you, my old friend from boarding-school days, while also putting myself in better touch with Jesus Christ. I’m not sure I’ve accomplished either goal, though I am more confident about the latter. (I’ve had only one whispery reply from you. You know I love you, man, even if I never hear from you.)

But getting close to Jesus—Means what?

I have evangelical friends who say they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A Southern Baptist gentleman once boasted to me that each of his grandchildren, of which he has a couple dozen, has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To which I wanted to reply, But how do you know that they do? What have they told you about him? Is he left-handed or right? What’s his Social Security number?

I don’t mean to be cynical here—well, not too cynical—but before I became a Catholic nearly five years ago, I was skeptical about faith and cynical about people who wore their faith on their sleeve, boasting about their love for Jesus, their therefore supposed holiness. I was too smart for that sh—.

Now, here I am five years later, desiring a closer connection with Jesus. Please note that I don’t say that I have it, but I want it. I really want it.

Being an old Harkness warrior, a self-appointed “literary rock” and amateur intellectual about all things cool, any connection I might have with faith or Jesus must begin with my mind; or rather, I know that I won’t be satisfied with self-hypnosis or a pure leap of the heart. The heart is necessary for faith, obviously. My heart is moved each time I enter my church, and hear the Mass, and receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in Holy Communion. These are things I can’t explain, at least not to the satisfaction of my mind, and I suspect yours.

But to get “closer” to Jesus, I have to get my mind into the arena too, and this is where Guardini has come up big for me.

Today’s chapter is about the “great sign” in heaven—which is effectively the Blessed Virgin with child. She is seen by St. John as “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” Mary is often depicted this way in Catholic iconography. It’s straight out of Revelation.

Guardini satisfies my mind greatly by interpreting the symbolism of Revelation here and elsewhere, but what I want to pause over and conclude with is his summary statement: “What does [all] this signify? . . . At the risk of scandalizing the exponents of ‘pure Christianity,’ let us venture the conclusion: Christ is a cosmic reality.”

Well, now that may seem hard to get “close to,” a Cosmic Christ. Maybe in our hallucinogenic days we could have “grokked” that, but today, it seems a bit above my pay grade. Still, here’s my takeaway. If we reduce Jesus Christ to a teacher of ethics, a just-very-good man, we reduce faith to what RG terms “pious humanism”:

“Jesus is not at all the pure figure which criticism suggests. Behind [the tenets of modern Biblical interpretation] stands a dogma—a shadowy, modern, man-made dogma—according to which Christian essence means pious humanism. The Gospels, however, know nothing of the sort, and before they can be made to read so, piece after piece must be eliminated on the excuse that it had crept in under foreign influence or was the product of collective elaboration.”

This I can relate to, my friend. One of the “great gifts” of our high-falutin’ prep school education was layer upon layer of “foreign influence”—received ideas and cultural norms that have encrusted my mind with scientific skepticism and liberal bias. All of this “collective elaboration” of received modern truth has to be chipped away if I am ever going to get “close” to Jesus.

Romano Guardini has helped me continue this work. I’m still far from grokking a Cosmic Christ, but I will go to Mass again this morning and ponder it—Him, I mean.


This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 84.

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