By J. David Franks
This column appeared in the July 25, 2014, edition of The Boston Pilot.
What is your midsummer night’s dream? Time slows, sweet doldrums take us, a blessed silence of the soul steals in. Do you have a fairytale dream? Shakespeare reminds us, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Do you dream that all the loves in your life will bear fruit? Do you have a dream for our great nation, as a renewed venture in freedom and virtue under God?
Your dreams aren’t just a private matter. Our deepest desires are what constitute social life. Saint Augustine speaks of two cities built by two loves: a city of man, founded on a disordered self-love that puts its own needs at the center of things, and a city of God, constituted by a love of God with no boundaries.
In the Apocalypse to the Apostle John, all of the confusion, fury, and glory of the history of desire is weighed in the presence of the slaughtered Lamb, the Word of God Who conquers by self-sacrificial love (Rev 19:13). Love is the final measure of history. The stigmatized Jesus alone can open the seals of the scroll of history. With the seventh seal, we expect a huge pyrotechnic display of divine wrath. What we get instead is silence (Rev 8:1).
It’s like that breathtaking judgment scene in C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces (as good a novel as any I’ve read): Orual spits the bile of her stored-up resentments against divine providence over and over, which stem from her envious, jealous, possessive “love” for her sister. And the Judge doesn’t have to say a word. She comes to judge the gods, to claim her rights. But in the arena of objectivity, her meanness has only to be expressed for her self-justification to collapse.
Jesus doesn’t justify the ways of God to man. He comes to justify man. First, He comes to vindicate the victims (Rev. 6:9-10): all those whom Mammon, or worldly success, has used up and tossed aside. All those babies, all the elderly and suffering ones, all the women and children outraged in the flesh trade, all the poor upon whose labor our bourgeois comfort is built. Pope Francis talks about the throwaways. He’s talking to us. We should all be disturbed. He is doing the Shepherd’s work: to lead us to the uplands of greater love.
The hardness of our society, this culture of death, is the result of our everyday hardness. What does our hardheartedness look like? When we gossip, we kill. I’ll say that one again, because calumny and detraction are probably the most common mortal sins churchy people engage in. (A meager and pathetic jouissance, to be sure. Is that supposed to be attractive when the world has more interesting options for defective gratification?) When we gossip, we kill. When we refuse forgiveness, we kill. When we are convinced of our own rightness and refuse to find some way to vindicate our enemy, to find some way to put ourselves in the wrong, we kill.
We must always love more, imaging the God of ever-greater love. Consumerist contraction of desire, which sets what I need as measure of what’s possible, is so sad, so empty, so radically unfulfilling. There is only one way to life: openheartedness, defenselessness, radical hospitality beyond all worldly calculation of benefits and burdens. This is the posture of a slaughtered lamb. There is no other posture for a Christian.
“Oh, What a Beautiful City,” that great spiritual, song of the marginalized, emphasizes that the New Jerusalem stands open on every side: “Oh, when I get to Heaven, gonna sing and shout/There’s twelve gates to the city, Hallelujah/Ain’t nobody there gonna put me out/There’s twelve gates to the city, Hallelujah.”
Our hearts, our homes, our parishes, our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation must be like that.
Jesus comes to justify all of us. But we must allow the Cross to say the Word of love to the end: “It is consummated.” Consummated in total openheartedness. The water and blood flow from the pierced Heart of Jesus. His unrequited love streams through the interstices of all time, slowly eroding the obduracies of our lovelessness.
That is what history looks like before the slaughtered Lamb: the ramshackle of our anxious walls and proud towers, so blindly defending a pleasure that does not please us. But the Gospel is this: Jesus has already defeated us. Thank the good Father! Origen compared the Second Coming of Jesus to the fall of Jericho. That is Christian hope. Our meanness will break. The victims will be vindicated. Jesus will make all things new. Every tear will be wiped away. True love will win out in our hearts. Jesus is an importunate lover. He is at the door. We must respond like Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses: “yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
In Holy Sonnet 14, John Donne puts it in a most daring way:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Summer is the season of the Sacred Heart. Father, send the Spirit of Your Messiah now. Interrupt our plans; disturb our complacency; create psychological openings. Break, blow, burn, and make us new! Yes, Love, yes.