Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 6, 2012

A Thought Occurred to My Mind…

While Mauriac’s novel “Viper’s Tangle” is still in my mind, and the pictures it paints there of the tricks we play on ourselves, I came across something else.  We were on our way to Holy Mass, the other day, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and I hoped to get there early enough to go to Confession before Mass.  Doing that, entering the  quiet place, thinking about the kind of fellow I am, the kind of fellow I would like to be with the help of Grace and  all those things which had troubled into me thinking I still had a long way to go and then confessing them to God through the ministry of His priest has become an important part of my life.  That’s a very awkward sentence, but I cannot figure out a better way of putting it.  I’ll accept suggestions.

You know, a friend once said of me, while introducing me to someone, “Peter’s a very humble guy.  But, that’s because he has a lot to be humble about.”  We all laughed, myself included.  I hadn’t given much thought to being humble up to that time, or even given much thought to what humility was.

But, I began soon after.  One of the first things revealed to me was the close linguistic connection between humility and dirt, soil, humus.  I liked that, thinking to myself about the dirt, the soil I grew my few plants in, the ground I walked on, that held me up, the dust from which I came and to which I would return.  I liked it.  There’s a lot of that in Viper’s Tangle, a lot of dirt.  The protagonist, a retired lawyer, Monsieur Louis, is the son of farmers, living in a house in the middle of a farm and vineyard.  He’s not humble at all.  He’s proud, a word which some sources trace back to a Latin word, prodesse.  That means “to be of value”.  I found that interesting when I learned it, since M. Louis is a miser…and proud of it.  Somehow, because of his money, and solely because of it, he thinks he is of value, and suspects everyone of trying to get at it, the source of his pride and power, hating them for it.  According to the book, most of all of that is true.  The apples do not fall far from the tree.

Read the book, if you haven’t, and find out what happens to him and his pride.

But, that’s not exactly what I was interested in in telling you about this, though it is to be sure a part of it all.  I was speaking about what I discovered, that “something else” on my way to Confession and Holy Mass the other day on the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  We’ve been reading another book, “As Long As Love Remembers”, by a fellow named Russell Janney.  It’s long out of print.  Janney wrote a couple of other novels back in the middle of the last century, one of which became a hit film, “The Miracle of the Bells”.  We read that one, too.  This one is a kind of reworking of “Bells” in the Saturday Evening Post style of story telling.  If a film were to have been made of this book, June Allyson would have played the girl lead.  (I forget that many of you may not remember her.  OK, then how about Glynnis Johns.)  The title of the book is sufficient, I think.  It is a good counterpoint…and a refutation in its own way… of the title of Mauriac’s book.  The author makes much of the openness between the two protagonists in “As Long As Love…”  They are married as is M. louis, the old miser in Viper’s tangle”, but, oh, what a difference.

Before we left for the short ride downtown to St. Patrick’s for the Holy Mass I was sitting here in front of this thing doodling with the keyboard and came across a video by a priest named Father Robert Barron in which he talks about hell, what it is and how to get there.

It’s a very interesting little video, and you ought to take the time to watch it.  Not too long after he begins talking about hell he says he thinks that what is taught by the Church about hell is a corollary to two others things the Church teaches us…and requires us to believe: God is Love.  We human beings are free.

Of course, I said to myself, as I listened to Fr. Barron say that.  It is the very thing I have thought, and the very thing I have known for lo, these many years.  God is love.  The problem is…

He continues in the video to speak, then, about the absurd conclusion many have reached that God sends us to hell, drawing on the words of CS Lewis who said once said that the door to the soul is locked on the inside.  (There is also that famous painting of Christ knocking on the door, the door with no door handle on the outside.)  So, as I sat there watching and thinking about what he was saying something began to bubble up inside of me; a small bubbling, to be sure, but, nonetheless…

The example of poor M. Louis, came to mind.  You see, in the book, the old skinflint has his own bubblings, but he successfully punctures them, disbelieves in the possibility they present to him, and continues along his not so very merry way.  He is rather proud of himself, all in all.

Well, we left and drove down to the church.  Along the way I am turning over in my mind what the little video about hell and humility have to do with me and confession.  I am not scared, afraid of anything, but I am more than normally eager to get there and participate in the ritual, partake of the sacrament, receive absolution and become new again.  At least that’s what I thought I had been doing all along.

But, had I?

Then, as I walked into the church, entered the confessional and began to speak to Father X, something dawned on me that brought things into focus.  I hadn’t really opened my own door.  I had kept back some essential part of myself all along, our of fear, lack of trust, timidity, and yes, pride…just like the old miser.

I did not mention that to my confessor, because the thought was/is still forming, and, now, here I stand, listening to the insistent knocking on the door. A knocking by the one who as John Paul II said  knows, and only He knows, what is inside me.  What have I to fear?

The question looms larger in my mind, and I begin to see the answer.  I fear the loss of my pride, my “prodesse”, my sense of value.  Nothing.


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