Saturday, December 1, 2007

Reflections: Why I Read

As I was making the morning rounds of my regularly-visited blogs, I read a gorgeous post on Catholic and Enjoying It which begins like this:

“When Evangelicals ask me why the Church keeps holding up Mary alongside Christ, the best answer I can think of is this: There's one thing that even Jesus cannot do.

”He cannot show us what a disciple of Jesus looks like.”

Mark’s post was inspired, I believe, by the Pope’s recent encyclical. It speaks of the Virgin Mary as “the first apostle”. I was inspired by Mark’s post to submit the following comment:

“As a Protestant, let me ask, with reference to all the beautiful (no sarcasm there) writing above, how Mary is to be considered an exemplar for those of us struggling to attain discipleship?

”As the Immaculate Conception, born without Original Sin, it would seem that Mary would have had to struggle supernaturally to turn away from God; whereas the rest of humanity, born with, in effect, two strikes against it, needs to struggle supernaturally in order not to turn away from God, and this, knowing that we will continually fail. Mary never failed. She never needed to fear failure. I will. I can contemplate her with envy, but I can't do what she so effortlessly did. And I say "effortlessly" knowingly. Each and every one of us will face all of the sorrows that she faced, but we will face them as potentially damned sinners, while she faced them with full confidence of a crown and a heavenly throne for both her Son and herself, once the ordeal had been endured. We face our sorrows in hope, perhaps, in our strongest moments, but also in fear. Mary, ultimately, had nothing to fear.
It's all well and good to tell me to do what she did; but I can't do it. I am a sinner; she was not. And this sinlessness was of her essence; it is not of mine.
If Protestants don't get it, I think this, at least in part, is why.”

Having sent the above comment off, I clicked on “Home” and walked across the room from my computer to my recliner in order to pick up one of the books I am currently reading, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

Okay, so here is why I read:

On the very next page from where I had left off reading last night, in the chapter entitled “The Eternal Revolution”, Chesterton answers the question posed in the opening paragraph of the comment I had, only three minutes before, submitted to Mark Shea.

And here is how Chesterton does so:

“This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed. Whistler used to make may rapid studies of a sitter; it did not matter if he tore up twenty portraits. But it would matter if he looked up twenty times, and each time saw a new person sitting placidly for his portrait. So it does not matter (comparatively speaking) how often humanity fails to imitate its ideal; for then all its old failures are fruitful. But it does frightfully matter how often humanity changes its ideal; for then all its own failures are fruitless. The question then becomes this: How can we keep the artist discontented with his pictures while preventing him from being vitally discontented with his art? How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always satisfied with working?” [emphasis added]

And thus the demise of my too clever objection to Mary as the ideal for the struggling apostle. Do I thank Mark Shea? Do I thank G. K. Chesterton. Do I file it under “synchronicity”? Or do I thank something Higher?

All of the above.