Sunday, February 17, 2013

Transforming the desert of our hearts

Given the tumult of the past week and the unrelenting busy-ness of my life, both that which I choose and that which is imposed on me- the latter of which I need to deal with more patiently (if nothing else I need to learn that I don't get to pick my own crosses), my Lenten observance has gotten off to a slow start. I have found it difficult to pray, read, and reflect. So on this First Sunday of Lent, when we hear about Jesus' three temptations in the desert, I began reading the spiritual exercises given by Archbishop Bruno Forte to the Papal Household during Lent back in 2004. The English translation of these exercises is To Follow You, Light of Life.

Cutting to the chase of his introduction, Archbishop Forte observes that due to human sin the world is changed from a garden paradise into a desert. The work of redemption, then, is nothing less than transforming the world from a desert back into a paradise. I think, too, that he suggests that the transformed paradise is somehow more paradisaical than the original, possessing a beauty, a depth, a richness not found in the original, due to the fact that the transformation does not seek to erase the memory of our desert exile.

Forte begins by referring back to the twentieth century, which cannot be seen as anything other than perhaps the worst in human history, an age of horrors. He refers to it as "the age of heady ideologies that recognized in reason alone the ability to transform the world and life." He then proceeds to mention "the violence produced by the historical forms taken by those ideologies," noting that they have "brought humanity to an experience of darkness." It precisely here that he invokes Martin Heidegger, whose flirtation with and, at least temporary, relationship to Hitler's National Socialism, which Forte only implies, I cannot go without bringing up explicitly because it is highly relevant, who said, "this is the night of the world."

Forte then seeks to flesh out the darkness he has described, noting "the darkness of this night is not so much the absence of God as the fact that human beings feel nothing for this absence," what Dr. Glen Olsen has recently described in great detail as the consequences of our collective cultural and societal loss of any sense of the transcendence of the human person. "This is the night of nihilism," Forte continues, "that indifference to eternal values which corrodes the very capacity of human beings to set out in search of the meaning of life and history." This reminded me of Vidal, the Marxist philosophy professor from Rohmer's Ma nuit chez Maud, a film about which I wrote recently, who said, "Personally I very much doubt that history has any meaning."

This indifference to eternal values, which is indifference to God, is, for Forte, "the condition expressed by the rabbinic saying quoted by Martin Buber: 'Israel's exile began when the Jews learnt how to bear that exile.'" Hence, "Exile does not begin when we leave home, but when we no longer miss it."

How do we "emerge" from our exile and turn our hearts toward home? Forte insists that this "happens every time the Word is proclaimed" because the proclamation of the Word sends "us back to search for lost meaning" and points "us to the dawning of a new day." Therefore, it is the Church's task to proclaim the Word in season and out of season, but especially "at this time of the world's night, of the crisis of modern utopias and postmodern disillusionment, in this world often perceived as scarred by the clash of civilizations and religions, the church is called more than ever before to make the desert of the world and of our hearts flower again so as to become God's new garden."

Of course, the Word proclaimed by the Church is none other than Jesus Christ, Whom Forte describes as "both our journey and our destination." It is Jesus Christ and Him alone who can ultimately bring about the transformation described, dispelling darkness with light and turning the desert of our hearts and of the world (the latter a product of the former) into a garden. He cites John 8:12- "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Let's not forget that the origin of the word "Lent" is derived the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, meaning "Spring." The reading for Lauds for this First Sunday of Lent coheres nicely with all of this. It is taken from the eighth and ninth verses of Nehemiah chapter 8: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!... for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” It is interesting that the part about eating "rich foods and drink[ing] sweet drinks" is omitted, especially given that today is Sunday and so does not technically count as a day of Lent.

Be of good cheer. We are reminded by our reading today from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your postings from my ever inquisitive discerner. Yesterday I was struck as I left the hospital after my 12 hr shift - the sun rays lingered still on the horizon! It wasn't pitch dark! Spring is coming! It out hope in my heart- as the verses you closed with today did.


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