Friday, September 23, 2005

One of the nice things about Tradition... that you don't have to do all the footwork yourself. This dawned on me, again, last night.

I was reading an introduction to some of St. John of the Cross’s works and was struck by his profoundly biblical sanctity. He was known to carry his Bible everywhere he went, and could be “caught” reading it in almost any free moment. When other monks and seminarians ran off to town to see the latest stigmatist or hear the latest mystic, St. John stayed in his cell hunched peacefully over his Bible (cf. Kevin O. Johnson, _Why Do Catholics Do That_ [New York: Ballantine, 1994], p. 273). The longer he soaked in the Scriptures, the more driven and inspired by biblical “triggers” he became. Everyday speech would trigger biblical parallels in his mind, which would in turn trigger other biblical resonances. St. John’s ever-alert, sensitive, imaginative Biblicism, which is especially vivid in his poetry, forged his very concrete, earthy, dynamic vision of theology and divinization. Among the many gems of exegetical insight I gleaned from St. John in this introduction, one that especially caught me was this: in order to avoid being seen in a nighttime maneuver, the Gideonite soldiers carried their lanterns in clay jars (cf. Jdg 7:16-20). St. John sees in this concealment the inner fire of God’s love veiled in the temporary darkness of this age, in the fragile opaqueness of faith. "Faith," he says, "represented by those clay jars, contains the divine light. When faith reaches its end and is shattered by the ending and breaking of this mortal life, the glory and light of divinity, the content of faith, will at once begin to shine."[1]

What a beautiful, potent vision! Though we entered the dark vale of tears by sin, our God, Who has promised to dwell in darkness (cf. 1 Kg 8:12) met us in the darkness at the Cross, when the Light of the world plunged into the darkness of death (cf. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45). Faith is the very medium, the vessel, in which we possess God – and this medium is a darkness often rife with emptiness. St. John’s insight about the soldiers’ lanterns was not mine to create "on my own", but, thank God, has truly become "my own" by virtue of accepting my Christian inheritance, Living Tradition!

Tradition is a glistening, marvelous hallway running through the heart of the Church; this hallway of faith, the Church’s living backbone, is built from the jewels, glass, wood and stones of Scripture, along which the living, ever-present light and voice of God shimmers and echoes into every age. The longer light fills the heart of the Church, which is holy life growing always from the Lord’s own Heart, and the longer His Word resounds in that pondering heart, the brighter and clearer the Tradition becomes for our posterity in the corridor. Hence, for every child of Tradition, just when you think you’ve made a new discovery, if you look back far enough, or open enough doors, you’re almost certain to find some saint or other has already had the same insight. Even better, though, is finding some saint or other who has had insights you never dreamed of having! The farther forward you travel towards God, which paradoxically means to the farther and longer back you travel down the hallway of the Living Tradition, the more easily you will see the footprints of your predecessors, footprints which, though they precede you in time past, also anticipate you in future glory.

[1] _The Ascent of Mount Carmel_, book 2, chapter 9, 2, as cited in _St. John of the Cross_ in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (New York: Paulist, 1987), p. 102.

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