In Defense of Folly
The problem with having a blog is that when the truth gobsmacks you (i.e. hits you upside the head, to use a more scientific expression), you feel obliged to share it. Having a blog, you'd be selfish not to share it, and yet a blog is so silly that you know you can never do justice to the truth you're struggling to simultaneously hold onto and give away.
Which reminds me: a devoted reader recently brought to my bird-brained attention that I tend to occasionally split my infinitives. In defense of this particular folly, let me explain that I find myself using such a defamed construction because it best expresses my blondest thoughts and feelings, but even if that were not the case (and perhaps blonde is no longer a politically acceptable defense), I have in my corner no less a raconteur than the great James Thurber, and no less a stylist than the magnificent E.B. White. In my defense I could go on with their defenses at length, and in fact I did just that in the first draft of this post. (Yes, believe it or not I do revise these before I publish!) In the interests of economy, however, I have decided to save that amusing digression for a later date. If we're not economical with our use of the internet, all kinds of dire things may happen. Far be it from me to remind you that the meat is still in the freezer, but speaking generally, you know what I mean. I'll content myself with merely announcing here, for the whole wide online world to see, that according to White (and Strunk) in The Elements of Style: "Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does." An example? "I cannot bring myself to really like the fellow." Not that I can't bring myself to really like the fellow, but Strunk didn't know Marcel, so he's at a disadvantage.
I do sense, however, that even contenting myself with White and sparing you Thurber's hilarious take on the subject (if you must have it, you can find it HERE), I am ambling away from the important and life-changing Truth that compelled me to begin splitting infinitives today. This is not an entirely accidental digression - every part of me, be it grammatical or ungrammatical, humorous or serious, hesitates to dissipate the perfume of grace surrounding the ultimate Mystery I want to relay.
I am always turning to Marcel to solve my problems, always quoting from Conversations because no less an authority than Truth Himself is found there conversing with our little brother. Today, though, I want to begin with St. Therese, the one who first spoke to Marcel and first taught him the truth about God's infinitely tender love for us.
In a letter to Celine, our spiritual sister writes: "You wish to become a Saint, and you ask me if this is not attempting too much. Céline, I will not tell you to aim at the seraphic holiness of the most privileged souls, but rather to be 'perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.' You see that your dream – that our dreams and our desires – are not fancies, since Jesus Himself has laid their realization upon us as a commandment."
Okay, that isn't what I was about to quote, but it's so great that I couldn't resist!
More to the point at hand (and what I was looking for when I found the words just quoted) is the letter Therese wrote to her sister when Celine was about to enter the convent. And here she speaks not only of the perfume we must feel free to dissipate, but also of our tendency to be fools - which is what I feel I am in desiring with all my heart to convey the beauty and richness of two sentences Our Lord speaks to us in the Gospel readings, taken from the Last Supper, that prepare us for Pentecost. These two sentences are what compelled me to begin a new post so soon after my last, and in fact they were on my mind - though they never made it from there through my fingers to the keypad - when I last wrote.
First, then, with Marcel's permission, let me quote his - our - little Therese:
"What happiness . . . to pass for fools in the eyes of the world! We judge others by ourselves, and, as the world will not hearken to reason, it calls us unreasonable too.
"We may console ourselves, we are not the first. Folly was the only crime with which Herod could reproach Our Lord . . . and, after all, Herod was right. Yes, indeed, it was folly to come and seek the poor hearts of mortal men to make them thrones for Him, the King of Glory, Who sitteth above the Cherubim! Was He not supremely happy in the company of His Father and the Holy Spirit of Love? Why, then, come down on earth to seek sinners and make of them His closest friends? Nay, our folly could never exceed His, and our deeds are quite within the bounds of reason. The world may leave us alone. I repeat, it is the world that is insane, because it heeds not what Jesus has done and suffered to save it from eternal damnation.
"We are neither idlers nor spendthrifts. Our Divine Master has taken our defense upon Himself. Remember the scene in the house of Lazarus: Martha was serving, while Mary had no thought of food but only of how she could please her Beloved. And 'she broke her alabaster box, and poured out upon her Savior’s Head the precious spikenard, and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment.'
"The Apostles murmured against Magdalene. This still happens, for so do men murmur against us. Even some fervent Catholics who think our ways are exaggerated, and that – with Martha – we ought to wait upon Jesus, instead of pouring out on Him the odorous ointment of our lives. Yet what does it matter if these ointment-jars – our lives – be broken, since Our Lord is consoled; and the world in spite of itself is forced to inhale the perfumes they give forth? It has much need of these perfumes to purify the unwholesome air it breathes."
As Marcel was before me (and no doubt Celine before Marcel), I am comforted and emboldened by our sister's words. But I also have Marcel to embolden me, and so I can do Therese one better.
She writes: "Folly was the only crime with which Herod could reproach Our Lord . . . and, after all, Herod was right. Yes, indeed, it was folly to come and seek the poor hearts of mortal men to make them thrones for Him, the King of Glory, Who sitteth above the Cherubim!" and then she asks: "Was He not supremely happy in the company of His Father and the Holy Spirit of Love? Why, then, come down on earth to seek sinners and make of them His closest friends?"
I can answer that, Therese. You may be a Doctor of the Church, but I have an advantage over you: just as you learned everything at the feet of the Master and with the help of St. John of the Cross, so I learn everything there too, but with your help and Marcel's! Ah, the little grasshopper has become a teacher in his own right, and his audacity inspires my own. I dare, then, to answer your question and tell you precisely why He came down to earth to seek sinners and make of them (us!) His closest friends.
To put it simply: He couldn't help Himself.
As you say, dear Therese, "Our folly could never exceed His, and our deeds are quite within the bounds of reason." But come to think of it, His deeds were quite reasonable too . . . St. Thomas tells us: “The lover is not content with a superficial apprehension of the beloved, but strives to investigate from the inside all particular things that belong to the beloved, so as to penetrate to his inmost being.” Or again, in the words of our holy father St. John of the Cross, “This is the property of love: to seek out all the good things of the Beloved.”
How then could Jesus NOT come down to live among us?
I grant you His taste in friends is surprising, but there is no accounting for taste, as one of my dearest friends used to love to repeat. And we have His own words, His guarantee, that He is here among us still for precisely that reason: For Love, for His and the Father's Love for us, unaccountable and mysterious as such perfect Love may be.
I sometimes wonder why I take so long to get to the point. I'm sure others sometimes wonder this too, but today I have a defense of even this folly: I ramble and digress because when the point is as magnificent as Jesus' points always are, there is no possible commentary I could make after putting bare Truth on the bare page. I want to give the world His words to transform us all, but I know my presentation will always lack the simplicity and depth of His, no matter how few or many words I use.
As St. John of the Cross says, “The Father spoke one word from all eternity and He spoke it in silence and it is only in silence that we hear it.”
Yes, but it warms my heart to know that the Son, who is this single Word spoken by the Father, Himself used many, many words to convey to us what He had come to reveal, and none more moving and revealing (at least to me) than those He spoke on the night before He died.
Among those words He spoke at the Last Supper are Jesus' words for today, the few words that unleashed so many of mine, the Truth that hit me upside the head and compelled me to split infinitives and then defend myself. Believe me, I did originally consider putting these words alone on the page and calling them a post, because I'm well aware how little I can add once His words are out there. But where would be the sport in that? Where the Marcellian littleness? When did Jesus' words ever inspire silence in my namesake? I will only spare you the litany of my complaints (a la Marcel and the oozing sandals, the hot room, the too tight soutane, and so on and so forth) because such complaints are better whispered to Jesus who is, according to Marcel, to blame. As to the folly of my blathering, my best defense is that it precedes Jesus' eternal wisdom, rather than follows it, and that's the best I can do.
And so I will end now with Jesus' words, the ones I wanted to start with. Oh, and speaking of starting, don't even get me started on ending with a preposition! But enough of me, here is our Jesus, telling us plain as plain why He had to come live with us and why He will remain with us through all days until He scoops us into His arms and Heaven forever.
First, speaking to us directly, He says:
"As the Father loves Me, so I love you. Remain in My love." (John 15)
And then, speaking to the Father:
"And I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one, as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that You sent Me, and that You loved them even as You loved Me. Father, they are Your gift to Me. I wish that where I am they also may be with Me . . . I made known to them Your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them and I in them." (John 17)
Truth Himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true. I pray that His words may penetrate your heart and, by His Power, transform your life. May you know, at least for a moment and hopefully for a lifetime, that you are loved and beloved, and may this perfect love with which God loves you cast out all fear, now and forever!
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