Tuesday, December 18, 2012

O Adonai

The memory of Oscar Wilde has been reduced to that of a flamboyant and defiant homosexual, a martyr for the cause. In reality, he was no such person. Like all similar ways of remembering, this is reductive (memory has a tendency to be reductive). It is perhaps one of the worst distortions of the time in which we live to reduce a person, any person, to her/his sexuality.

Wilde's stay in Reading gaol (jail), which was the result of his being convicted in May 1895, along with Alfred Taylor, of "gross indecency," was the occasion of the composition of one of his best-loved poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. In an on-line article, "The Long Conversion of Oscar Wilde," Andrew McCracken wrote:
The year 1898 saw the publication of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Wilde's imprisonment and his alienation from friends and society are clearly at the root of this poem, but while the author's experiences were bitter, the poem is not. Gone are the arch aphorisms and mocking paradoxes of his earlier work; gone is the hopeless sense of sin that finds no redemption. The Ballad tells of the execution that Wilde witnessed at Reading Gaol, and conveys the inhuman isolation that the condemned man felt as he awaited his death. Here Wilde's latent Catholic sentiments reveal themselves unequivocally. The poem condemns the petty censoriousness and miserly justice of this world, but not from the pose of anti-bourgeois snobbery that might be expected of an artist, nor in a fit of vindictiveness over society's harsh treatment of the author. Rather, he returns to a tone that he used to good effect in his fairy tales for children, one of compassion:

"Ah! Happy they whose hearts can break And peace of pardon win! How else may man make straight his plan And cleanse his soul from Sin? How else but through a broken heart May Lord Christ enter in?"

It was also Wilde who pithily observed, "The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Advent is that time when we joyfully anticipate that future.

The above seems to me to be a fitting reflection for our O Antiphon for today, the second of seven, O Adonai:

O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave him your law. Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.

The Scripture passages that form this antiphon are Exodus 3:2 and Exodus 6:6.

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