Jesus, Completely Magnetized by God

I don’t always read the meditations accompanying the daily Mass readings in Magnificat, but I did so this morning (mostly because today’s Gospel, Luke 17:7-10, is one I never quite know what to do with).

The meditation was by the Swiss theologian – described by Magnificat’s editors as a mystic, poet, philosopher, liturgist and author – Father Maurice Zundel, who died in 1975. I am not otherwise familiar with Zundel’s writings, but this one resonated very deeply with me. So, I share it for your contemplation today:

The attraction exercised by God is like a magnet, like the process of magnetization. We begin to exist, to be free, to be persons when we respond to this divine magnetization; then we begin to be saints. In the case of saints, the magnetization happens at a closer range, saints cling to the magnet more continuously. And we clearly feel that in Jesus’ humanity there is no longer any distance between it and the magnet. It no longer escapes the attraction of grace. It is projected into God with a force that is God. It is carried, lifted by the magnet.

In Jesus Christ, there is a total renouncement to any clinging of self. If you prefer, from the point of view of his humanity, Jesus is the man who has lost his self. There is no longer any self. There is no longer any possibility for him to cling to his self, to oppose his self to God, because he is completely magnetized, lost in divinity and projected into God by this magnet which is God, because in God each Person is a whole-hearted movement toward the other.

That means that the mystery of Jesus is a mystery of poverty, of infinite renouncement, and that it corresponds to a poverty found in God.

If God does not come through us, even if he is in us as he is in Christ – it is the same God who is always totally true to himself, the same God in our soul and in that of Jesus, the same God, I repeat, the same God as in the saints – if this God in us does not shine through, it is because we cling to our selves and prevent this infinite charity, this infinite poverty from shining through us.

We would be Christ himself if we were in this state of absolute, total, and unique poverty in which our Lord’s humanity is found, this humanity which is totally shorn of itself, which is no longer anything but a living relationship with God, which can no longer be a testimony to itself but is a testimony to the presence of God, of which every gesture, every word, whose total presence is the testimony of the divinity.

Know Yourself

I was reading last night one of the short stories in a collection of several stories by Stefan Zwerg (one of the books Dave brought on vacation). The story is titled The Burning Secret.

The first character introduced in the story is a young Austrian baron. He is described this way:

He was popular and welcome in all circles, and was well known for his dislike of being alone. He has not taste for his own company and avoided such an encounter as much as possible, for the last thing he wanted was to make close acquaintance with himself.

I was struck by the description because I know many people who fit that description. People who always want/need to be with others so they are not alone – who avoid being alone at all costs. People who, when they are alone, always have on the TV or the internet or some other distraction to keep them from the silence of being alone, from being only with themselves.

Yet making close acquaintance with ourselves is necessary if we are to make close acquaintance with God. I am convinced we cannot know God without knowing ourselves.

Portrait of Ourselves

In catching up on my Commonweal reading (as I’ve admitted before, how far behind I am in reading the periodicals I subscribe to is a good barometer of how frequently I’m getting – or not getting – to the gym, since I tend to read them on the elliptical machine), I was reading a piece by Rand Richard Cooper on John Updike.

Talking about Updike’s influence on him, Cooper writes that “being influenced by Updike involved more than imitating his prose style. We immerse ourselves in a writer’s fictions; and over time, through a mysterious osmosis, these narratives become a part of ourselves.” As I read Cooper’s examples of the Updike characters or incidents that informed his own understanding of himself, I was reminded of my college days.

For me it was Joyce. I had given up Catholicism by the time I finished high school and my overwhelming vision of myself during my early days at Georgetown (yes, I had given up Catholicism, but I still attended a Jesuit school), was Stephen Dedalus. Specifically, Stephen Dedalus at the end of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. As I walked around the campus, with what I imagine now must have been a serious and ernest, yet uninvolved-with-the-mundane-that-surrounded-me, expression on my face (at least I’m sure that was what I was trying to achieve), the words that ran through my mind were Stephen’s:

I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use, silence, exile, and cunning.

I was young then, as was Stephen at the end of Portrait, and I’ve learned much since then that has taught me the limitations of the attitude with which I walked those campus paths so many years ago. But that doesn’t change the truth of Cooper’s observations. The best writers do have an uncanny ability to offer us a helpful lens through which to see our perceptions and emotions. And we owe them a debt of gratitude for that.