Thursday, February 19, 2015

Inferno - Canto 2 - February 19, 2015

I love it. We no sooner set out on our journey then we stop because we are afraid that we don’t have the courage or nerve to finish it. I was thinking about what this reminded me of. I thought maybe of the many retreats I have been on, leaving with such a high and commitment to change, and then losing heart and courage and falling away soon after. You leave the retreat saying “Lead on Virgil”, but almost immediately you crumple and falter and convince yourself that you don’t have the “stuff” to really change, to be a saint, to change the world. That is where Dante is. He doubts his ability to finish this journey, so why start it. How many times have we felt that way? It also made me think of the renewal our parish is going through now and some of the things that are trying to be implemented. You can become very fired up with the different notions and ideas and what might be, and then there are the moments where you talk yourself into thinking you really don’t have it in you so why put yourself through it all.

It is that moment, when you are on the ground, talking yourself out of taking that first step that we need to hear what Virgil says. Dante was not called on this journey on a whim. Virgil didn’t come here because he was bored. There is purpose, there is meaning, and he was called on this journey by 3 heavenly ladies. Beatrice, Mary, and Lucia formed the intention for this journey and called on Virgil to guide Dante. That should give Dante all the confidence he needs. It is very subtle, but I love the image of how swiftly the messengers move when a request is made. Mary speaks to Lucia and “Lucia…arose and came to the place”. Lucia speaks to Beatrice and she goes as “none on earth were ever swift to seek their good or flee their hurt as I after these words uttered.” Beatrice speaks to Virgil and “she made me hasten more to come; and thus I came to thee”. Even Virgil, who belongs in the Inferno, jumps at the command of the Heavenly request. It speaks to me of an understanding of its authority, of its divinity, in the confidence in its good. Nothing from Heaven comes without it accomplishing good and these 3 understand that much better because they are no longer a part of this world.

Here, in the world, we don’t see that. The idea that everything is for our good is foreign to us. The world wants to shape us into an understanding that everything is random and there is no real meaning. But there is and when you hear God calling you, you should have confidence in that. You should be willing to move forward boldly and strive to accomplish great things. I think about the way I am called to live as a Catholic in the world and what I don’t do that I could. Compare that to those that are being martyred by ISIS probably as I type. I hear Virgil telling me to stand up, “why lodgest in your heart such cowardly fear”. We should hear those words and think back to those moments when we were emblazoned with the fire to change the world. Think back on what that was that made you want to step out into the unknown and live a new life with Christ and show Him to the world. Forget about your notions that you don’t have the “right stuff”. Why have such cowardly fear. Return to your purpose as Dante. Go back and find that call and forget your fear.

This also made me think about Lent, or a New Year’s resolution. How many times have we decided to do something or give up something for Lent and fall the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. I think should be a pep talk to get back up and keep going. Just because you only lasted 36 hours without eating between meals doesn’t mean it isn’t worth keeping up after you fall. There are 100 Cantos and Dante almost quit before the real journey even began. Don’t quit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Inferno - Canto 1 - February 18, 2015

I have taken a bit of a break since we finished the Theology of the Body, but what better time to start up a new series of reflections than Lent.  I had the idea last year to go through Dante's Divine Comedy.  I had heard of groups going through the Inferno through Lent, which makes sense because it is a reflection on sin and Lent is a time to reflect and cleanse you of sin before Easter.  With that in mind, I have decided to start our journey through Dante's Comedy on Ash Wednesday.  It is 100 Cantos long, which will take us through the final Cantos of Paradise about 3 days after Pentecost.  This, then, seems an appropriate time frame to travel this journey, the seasons of Lent and Easter.  It appears that each Canto is around 1200 words, which is about what we were doing with the Encyclicals last year, maybe a little longer, but it is Lent, so a little bit extra work is appropriate.  There are many translations and many opinions on which are the best.  I am using the Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed translation.  The book I checked out from the library has some diagrams and drawings.  I will try to post those as well as any other charts or explanations I find.  I find them helpful to wade through the different images that Dante lays out. 

Half way through the journey of his life, according to things I have read, means he was 35 years old.  There is also a Psalm that my footnotes reference that is seen as 70 years. (The years of our life are seventy. Psalm 90:10) Not sure what to make of the fact that Ash Wednesday, the day I start this journey through Dante is also my 35th birthday.  It may be just a fun little thing or a gentle blessing from above, who knows.  You can read a lot about what Dante was going through in his life, his political issues, and his exiles from home, etc.  I imagine that much of this will be fleshed out as we go, but I think it is also important to look at what he is saying outside of Dante's individual context.  It may be a very personal journey for him, but it would not stand the test of time as it has if that were all it was meant for.  When he says he awoke from dark wood which to describe would be as bitter as death, we should think back on times in our lives where things were bleak and dark.  Maybe we are in one of those times right now, when things seem to be unraveling, God seems distant, and hope is far away.  That is where our journey starts, as we are just coming out of a dark wood of life, and before us is a Hill, and the sun is just beginning to creep over the top of the hill.  You can feel the hope grow as the warmth fills you as the light shines on you and you move forward to put that dark wood behind you.  You long to get to the top of the hill to bask fully in the light and the warmth. 

But as you begin to climb the hill you are stopped, distracted, you turn back.  Three beasts stop Dante on his climb.  Commentaries and my footnotes say that the 3 beast are the 3 main categories of sin that we will see in the inferno, incontinence, violence, malice.  They appear as a leopard, a lion, and a shewolf.  Everything I have read says that the leopard is malice, lion is violence, and shewolf is incontinence.  They are probably all correct, but while I was reading the Canto and thinking about the 3 types of sin, I felt differently.  Incontinence is underlying basic nature we have inherited that leads us to sin, leads us to want the world more than God, that stain of original sin that we must struggle constantly against.  It is a constant distraction from God, a constant step backwards.  It is not the worst type of sin, but it is a temptation to turn away from God.  The nudge to watch TV instead of pray, to sleep in instead of Mass, to look at facebook instead of your work at the office.  This is incontinence and, to me, it seems that is what the leopard is doing to Dante as he climbs.  The leopard is a distraction that causes him to turn from the path. 

The Shewolf is a complete block to moving forward.  A sin of malice or fraud is moving beyond the petty everyday sins that cause us to fall and moves into an area where we completely cut ourselves off from God, and are of mortal sin, where we cannot get into Heaven.  Dante says he cannot go past the Shewolf and is told by Virgil that no one can go that direction.  I would equate that to mortal sin cutting us off from Heaven.  Dante is told that one day a Hound will come and destroy the Shewolf, which we can understand as Christ second coming in which sin will be destroyed and no longer a part of the new Earth. 

I don't know how this will translate throughout the book, but I start off feeling some sympathy for Virgil.  We see that he is sent to guide Dante, but tells him explicitly that once they get to Paradise, someone else will guide him.  Virgil is from the inferno.  He is not able to enter Heaven.  He fully confesses that this is because of the life he lived while on Earth, but he is going to make this journey as a guide and see things that he will never get to experience because even those in Purgatory are destined for Heaven, which Virgil will never obtain.  This journey he will take with Dante will be the closest he will come to Heaven, and once he gets to the gates of Paradise, he will have to turn back to whatever level of Hell he is to spend eternity.