This was a difficult Lent, and not just because of the impending birth of our third child, the stress that goes with that… followed of course by the sleeplessness. It was just a difficult Lent. Several people I know experienced in this last liturgical season a particular struggle with the deep meaning of the Paschal mystery and our own role in it. In the words of my wonderful pastor on the Easter Vigil, “I killed a man.” A kind of Johnny Cash matter-of-factness hovers over those words. You know that in some sense the statement is true…true and profound. I would say for myself, “I killed a man…and that man was the Heart of the World.”
The other night I found myself thinking what if there were a life after death where the sterile solipsism of my regular existence finally began to bleed away and I was confronted with the Heart of the World. What if the Christian thing which I have been habituated to think is true, were actually true? I mean I know it’s true, but… but what if it were really true, and I lived that way? Would I embrace Him or flee? Would I act disinterested, pretending I didn’t notice his eyes which say to me every-so-clearly, “Well, are you or aren’t you?”
What if, in confronting the truth of the Resurrection, I found the marrow that Thoreau sought at Walden wood, or Steinbeck’s great fish, or Darwin’s origin of the species? What if I came to realize, whilst standing on my back porch in the evening, that the veins in the leaves on the tree, the silver green on the other side of the blade of grass, the pink underbelly of the opossum that waddles by searching for food – all of that is because the Heart of the World wants it done? The crawl of the ant, the buzz of the bee, the yearning of every dog to wag and lap and croon at every moon, is all a result of Him, of the encompassing care and caress of the maker of all that is and sustainer of all being. And this He, this One came to be with us and suffer and die and rise. What if all of these things which the Church claims were true, were adamantine truth that stirred the soul out of its usual torpor?
The hope, the daring hope devoid of the fear against which John Paul the Great warned us, is that we would begin to live the social teaching. This doctrine is a kind of calendar, a measure by which I can begin to gauge how it is I am really living out this faith. Meanwhile, the Heart of the World stands before me at the dawn of Easter bliss to ask if I’m living it out.
Going over some texts recently, I came across Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in particular the tale of Fr. Zosima’s conversion to visceral Christianity. There, says the old Russian monk, there once the central truth of things is grasped is simultaneously the realization that life cannot be the same as it ever was. He bows to his man-servant. He risks his own life to correct a wrong. He inspires others to do their bit for Christ. Conversion means leaving back the old life to start anew.
I’ve also been reading Hans Urs von Balthzar’s Heart of the World and in that glorious prose – which is really poetry I say – von Balthazar shows us just how puerile and petulant we can be as we try to push Him off. He offers us life eternal as our true selves, and I push Him away. I was also reminded that conversion is a many-faceted thing. It is not once, forever and always. It is a constant death and rebirth into newness of life in Him. We might not know where we are, or where we’re going in our journey towards conversion but we cannot kill the man, the Heart of the World. They tried that once, and He rose from the dead.
So for me, the social teaching lived out is less about socio-economic upheavals within structures of sin to which I must raise a protesting fist of righteous indignation. The social teaching is about the Heart of the World, which has a human face, a face that says it is only in giving that we receive, pardoning that we are pardoned, and dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Happy Easter to all! He is Risen! Long live Christ the King.