|01-06-2007 - Traces, n. 6
Christ in His Beauty
Draws Me to Him
In these pages of Traces, we offer literary contributions of various kinds that document the truth of several passages from Fr. Carrón’s lessons, showing the common experience of each man as the cry of the heart, as preconceived closure, or as surprise at an unexpected encounter. In fact, it is to this shared humanity that the Christian experience offers itself as a convincing proposal
by Andrea Tornielli
This year, the Fraternity Spiritual Exercises took place in light of the great encounter on March 24th in Saint Peter’s Square with Benedict XVI, who invited the entire Movement to live “a profound, personalized faith solidly rooted in the living Body of Christ, the Church, which guarantees the contemporaneity of Jesus with us.”
During the days in Rimini, Fr. Carrón repeatedly challenged us with this invitation: “Will we have the courage some day to verify this proposal of Christ, to verify to the end whether the proposal of life that Christ offers us as the fulfillment of our humanity and thus of our affection, is able to answer, or will we always stop halfway?”
Taking as his point of departure the poetic verse of Jacopone da Todi, “Christ in His beauty draws me to Him,” and echoing Benedict XVI’s insistence on the beauty of Christ that attracts, Fr. Carrón spoke of the Jesus’ conception of life, following a chapter from the book, At the Origin of the Christian Claim (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998, pp. 80-97), by Fr. Giussani, a man who, throughout his entire existence, witnessed to his personal relationship with Jesus and how he was “wounded” by His beauty, and for this reason became the father of a people within the great riverbed of the Church.
“The Lord Jesus,” said Fr. Carrón, quoting the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, “speaks to our thirsting, pilgrim hearts, our hearts yearning for the source of life, our hearts longing for truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth in person, drawing the world to himself,” emphasizing that God had mercy on our nothingness and became flesh and blood to save our humanity.
For this reason, Fr. Carrón invited us to identify ourselves in Christ’s gaze toward His disciples, full of fondness, noting that in the relationship with Him all their human experience was comprehended and their needs brought to light. We are the irrepressible desire for the Infinite, and we depend so deeply that we can say to God, “I am You who make me.” The person cannot be reduced to his psychological, biological, or sociological elements, though the modern mentality would have it so, reducing and thus isolating man. In contrast, in affirming the dependence on God, solitude is eliminated at its root, because communion is in the “I.” Our dependence is such that we are moved to acknowledge that without His beauty we cannot be ourselves.
In the second meditation, Fr. Carrón focused on “the law of life” that emerges from the conception Jesus has of existence: the gift of self. Man completes himself by abandoning himself. Sacrifice and love form the personality of the Christian. “How can anyone work without remembering Christ?” he asked. In fact, without it, man feels like a prisoner, and suffers boredom in the circumstances of life. Offering, therefore, means recognizing that Christ is the substance of all of life. Our humanity is not an obstacle, but a means to an end, given to us so we may recognize Christ. Our instinctivity, what we find within ourselves, what determines us, what attracts us, is precisely what introduces man to the service of reality, within the work of ordering desire to Everything. Concluding the meditations, Fr. Carrón said, quoting Fr. Giussani, “It’s not human to give ourselves to anything but a person. Love is only human if one loves a person. The ‘whole’ is the expression of a person: God.” Acknowledging and following Christ makes of man an “upright and untiring [traveler] toward a destination … In abandonment and adherence to Jesus Christ, an entirely new affection blossoms that generates an experience of peace.”
What is the value of the “I”? Where is it rooted? “What is most evident, immediately following the fact that we exist, is that before we lived we had no life. Therefore, we depend.” I beg you not to bypass these sentences like things you already know. It’s enough simply to help us to become aware… when the last time was that we really felt our dependence, the truth about ourselves to the point of recognizing that we depend, to the point of feeling the shiver of this dependence. […] The value of the I, the value of each one of us, is that it is a direct, exclusive relationship with God, which has its echo–as I said earlier–in need, in our begging. […] [W]e have the same struggle as everyone else in recognizing what is given, and we think they are conventions, that we can throw them in the wastebasket, that nothing happens. […] And so, affirming that we are this direct relationship with the Mystery is the only possible way to defend man, as we have been made, with that desire for fullness, for happiness that we find ourselves with.
Joseph Tusiani, trans. New York: The Noonday Press, 1960. p. 150
For its unrest my soul can only scan Some grievous sin committed long ago, Not recognized at all, but which you know In your great pity on this wretched man. I speak to you, O Lord, for each my plan, Without your Blood, has gained me grief and woe: Have mercy on me born unto your law! Hearken my ancient cry–I know you can.
The Diaries of Franz Kafka, 1914-1923. Max Brod,
Ed. (M. Greenberg, Trans., with the help of H. Arendt).
New York: Schocken Books, 1949. p. 126.
[T]here is no one here who understands me in my entirety. To have someone possessed of such understanding, a wife perhaps, would mean to have support from every side, to have God.
Les Fleurs du mal, Richard Howard, trans. Boston:
David R. Godine, Publisher, 1983. p. 18.
These blasphemies, these ecstasies, these cries,
these groans and curses, tears and Te Deums,
re-echo through a thousand labyrinths–
a holy opium for mortal hearts!
A thousand sentries pass the order on,
a cry repeated by a thousand messengers;
hunters shout it, lost in the deep woods;
the beacon flares on a thousand citadels!
This, O Lord, is the best evidence
that we can offer of our dignity,
this sob that swells from age to age and dies
out on the shore of Your eternity!
The First Man. David Hapgood, trans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. pp. 26-27.
Jacques Cormery, gazing up at the slow navigation of the clouds across the sky, was trying to discern, beyond the odor of damp flowers, the salty smell just then coming from the distant motionless sea when the clink of a bucket against the marble of a tombstone drew him from his reverie. At that moment he read on the tomb the date of his father’s birth, which he now discovered he had not known. Then he read the two dates, “1885-1914,” and automatically did the arithmetic: twenty-nine years. Suddenly he was struck by an idea that shook his very being. He was forty years old. The man buried under that slab, who had been his father, was younger than he. And the wave of tenderness and pity that at once filled his heart was not the stirring of the soul that leads the son to the memory of the vanished father, but the overwhelming compassion that a grown man feels for an unjustly murdered child–something here was not in the natural order and, in truth, there was no order but only madness and chaos when the son was older than the father. The course of time itself was shattering around him while he remained motionless among those tombs he now no longer saw, and the years no longer kept to their places in the great river that flows to its end. They were no more than waves and surf and eddies where Jacques Cormery was now struggling in the grip of anguish and pity. He looked at the other inscriptions in that section and realized from the dates that this soil was strewn with children who had been fathers of graying men who thought they were living in this present time. For he too believed he was living, he alone had created himself, he knew his own strength, his vigor, he could cope and he had himself well in hand. But, in the strange dizziness of that moment, the statue every man eventually erects and that hardens in the first of the years, into which he then creeps and there awaits its final crumbling–that statue was rapidly cracking, it was already collapsing. All that was left was this anguished heart, eager to live, rebelling against the deadly order of the world that had been with him for forty years, and still struggling against the wall that separated him from the secret of all life, wanting to go farther, to go beyond, to discover, discover before dying, discover at last in order to live, just once to be, for a single second, but forever.
Father Giussani had already rightly identified the beginning of this process, centuries ago in…“that permanent possibility of the human soul… for a lack of authentic commitment, of interest and curiosity in total reality” (At the Origin of the Christian Claim).
The lack of commitment to what we are: this is something that is certainly about us. […] We can take the bus, go a ton of miles, huge annoyances, spend money, and be at a standstill, stuck in the center of the “I,” motionless. This is passivity. And we can be here in our companionship and be alone, reduced to the factors of what came before, to our reactions, without becoming aware that I am relationship with the Mystery, that as long as I don’t move this, as long as I don’t put the center of my “I,” that which is more I than I myself, into play, my “I” is at a standstill, and this can’t but have consequences.
Notes from the Underground.
New York: Dover Publications, 1992, pp. 17-18.
[M]an everywhere and at all times, whoever he may be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one’s own interests, and sometimes one positively ought (that is my idea). One’s own free unfettered choice, one’s own caprice, however wild it may be, one’s own fancy worked up at times to frenzy–is that very “most advantageous advantage” which we have overlooked, which comes under no classification and against which all systems and theories are continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice.
John Henry Newman
B. D. Parochial Sermons, Vol. IV (Sermon XX).
London: J. G. & F. Rivington, 1839. p. 343-344.
I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable. When young, they indulge their lusts, or at least pursue the world’s vanities; as time goes on, they get into a fair way of business, or other mode of making money; then they marry and settle; and their interest coinciding with their duty, they seem to be, and think themselves, respectable and religious men; they grow attached to things as they are; they begin to have a zeal against vice and error; and they follow after peace with all men. Such conduct indeed, as far as it goes, is right and praiseworthy. Only I say, it has not necessarily any thing to do with religion at all; there is nothing in it which is any proof of the essence of religious principle in those who adopt it; there is nothing they would not do still, though they had nothing to gain from it, except what they gain now from it; they do gain something now, they do gratify their present wishes, they are quiet and orderly, because it is their interest and taste to be so; but they venture nothing, they risk, they sacrifice, they abandon nothing on the faith of Christ’s word
The Master and Margarita. Diana Burgin & Katherine Tieran
O’Connor, trans. New York: Vintage International, 1996. pp. 8-9.
“But this is what disturbs me: if there is no God, then, the question is, who is in control of man’s life and the whole order of things on earth?”
“Man himself is in control,” was Bezdomny’s quick and angry reply to what was, admittedly, a not very clear question. “I’m sorry,” replied the stranger in a soft voice, “but in order to be in control, you have to have a definite plan for at least a reasonable period of time. So how, may I ask, can man be in control if he can’t even draw up a plan for a ridiculously short period of time, say, a thousand years, and is, moreover, unable to ensure his own safety for even the next day?”
And, indeed,” here the stranger turned to Berlioz, “suppose you were to start controlling others and yourself, and just as you developed a taste for it, so to speak, you suddenly went and… well… got lung cancer…”–at which point the foreigner chuckled merrily, as if the thought of lung cancer brought him pleasure. “Yes, cancer,” he repeated, narrowing his eyes like a cat as he savoured the sonorous word, “and there goes your control!
No one’s fate is of any concern to you except your own. Your relatives start lying to you. You, sensing that something is wrong, run to the learned physicians, then to quacks, and maybe even to fortune-tellers in the end. And going to any of them is pointless, as you well know. And it all ends tragically: that same fellow who not so long ago supposed that he was in control of something ends up lying stiff in a wooden box, and those present, realizing that he is no longer good for anything, cremate him in an oven.
Why, even worse things can happen: a fellow will have just decided to make a trip to Kislovodsk,”–here the foreigner narrowed his eyes at Berlioz, “a trivial matter, it would seem, but he can’t even accomplish that because for some unknown reason he goes and slips and falls under a streetcar! Would you really say that’s an example of his control over himself?”
The Magic Mountain. H. T. Lowe-Porter, trans.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. p. 104.
Thus what we call tedium is rather an abnormal shortening of the time consequent upon monotony. Great spaces of time passed in unbroken uniformity tend to shrink together in a way to make the heart stop beating for fear; when one day is like all the others, then they are all like one; complete uniformity would make the longest life seem short, and as though it had stolen away from us unawares.
Christianity as beauty, as attraction, … is the only thing able to respond to the challenge of the heart, the only thing able to face, to cope with this need for totality that the heart has. This is why it is the only thing able to overcome the distance, if the heart gives in to its attraction. […] This is why, if Christ is only a rule and not this affectively attractive presence, He cannot possibly fulfill man affectively. Here is where one sees the import of Christ’s promise. Because when one has experienced that nothing satisfies, he begins to understand that perhaps he had better open himself to Him. […] Jesus presents Himself as the center of the affectivity and freedom of man: by placing Himself at the heart of human feelings themselves, He asserts Himself with full right as their true root. In this way, Jesus reveals the import of the promise. Jesus makes the claim that it is only by following Him that Man can truly find the answer to these things.
The Confessions of St. Augustine, J. K. Ryan, trans. New York: Doubleday, 1960. Book X, Chapter 27(38), pp. 254-255.
Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there that I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you. They kept me far from you, those fair things which, if they were not in you, would not exist at all. You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deadness. You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and you have put my blindness to flight! You have sent forth fragrance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you. You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.
If This is a Man, Stuart Woolf, trans. London: Everyman’s Library, 2000. p. 145.
Now nothing of this sort occurred between me and Lorenzo. However little sense there may be in trying to specify why I, rather than thousands of others, managed to survive the test, I believe that it was really due to Lorenzo that I am alive today; and not so much for his material aid, as for his having constantly reminded me by his presence, by his natural and plain manner of being good, that there still existed a just world outside our own, something and someone still pure and whole, not corrupt, not savage, extraneous to hatred and terror; something difficult to define, a remote possibility of good, but for which it was worth surviving.
Czeslaw Milosz, The Collected Poems, 1931-1987. C. Milosz & R. Pinsky, trans. Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco Press, 1988, p. 193.
When the Moon
When the moon rises and women in flowery dresses are strolling, I am struck by their eyes, eyelashes, and the whole arrangement of the world. It seems to me that from such a strong mutual attraction The ultimate truth should issue at last.