Sunday, June 10, 2012

This is Actually About Christopher West's New Book

Sometimes, living my life feels like witnessing a dramatic performance of a powerful and poignant symphony. It's made of sweet melodies that seem to lift effortlessly from silence, pounding, driving themes that push me relentlessly and leave me no escape, surprising crashes that make my heart pound, sad passages that blend into non-resolution to the point of evoking agony, and a brilliant ending and the stunned silence in which praise I could never put into words wells up, awaiting feeble expression as I stand and clap. This is music that makes me listen differently to everything around me for the rest of my life.

Translating that experience out of the realm of the spirit into English is for me a necessary and delightful work of prayer. But it is made possible by knowing that while it is mine to listen with great interior activity, all of my energies called forth, I am not the creator of the symphony. I experience and respond to something that is infinitely bigger than myself, something bigger than history itself, let along my personal history. I do not create meanings; I discover them.

I discover them because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

I think on through eternity I will be repeating to myself: God became man, and that changed everything.

I believe, with a fierce, tenacious faith, that the Incarnation not only changes everything in all creation and all history, but that it also has the power to change everything about our individual human experience, radically, down to our cores. In other words, I believe sanctity is possible and is in fact the calling on the life of each person. Sanctity is living a human life in union with the Blessed Trinity. How we are progressing on the journey to which we are called is not something we can always see or know at any given time, but it boils down to how captivated our will are by Love, who is God.

How do we get ourselves captivated by Love? I laugh to myself as I write that, because the phrasing reminds me of the anxious intensity I've known to "get myself loved" by God. As I heard someone explain it once, that's like asking someone already seated to sit down. You can't sit down "more." But you can be powerfully loved by someone whom you completely ignore. You can even hear their words of love, see their deeds of love, but repeat to yourself, That's not love, and I'm not lovable. I'm not lovable, so that's not love.

How do we get ourselves captivated by Love? Theologians call it an actual grace: Something happens. Some domino, from a long cascade set off by the Incarnation, knocks something right into our lives that we cannot ignore. We are called, compelled to follow -- to move our life into sync with this grace. We quickly learn that the grace is alive. We are further compelled -- with deeper and deeper choices, whether to follow, and counting how great a cost. We begin to give ourselves to life. We reject lies. We allow our hearts to be reshaped, broken, softened. Our gaze finally moves off self and onto Other.

And through it all, one word of abandonment, of gift, of union emerges from the depth human spirit, a response to the One once ignored and disbelieved: Yes. It is not the yes of a slave, threatened and coerced. It is not the yes of the hireling who agrees to an arrangement for his own benefit. It is the yes of the lover who says I give myself to be entirely yours.

This is the yes of Christ on the cross, the yes of Mary, standing at the foot of the cross.

There is a profound mystery here -- I am speaking of Christ and His Church. And of marriage.

Here I set out to write this blog post about Christopher West's new book At the Heart of the Gospel. In fact, I have just written about it. But for those requiring less poetry, I shall try again later, and comment more directly on the text.

PS: That later try can be read here.

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