Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quinquagesima Sunday

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 / Luke 18:31-43

We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known.

When the evil queen in the fairy tale "Snow White" asks questions of her magic mirror, she always learns what is true. Whatever she desires to know, by peering into that mirror upon her wall, she can come to know, and know truthfully. Even so, when she discovers that it is no longer she, but rather Snow White who is the "fairest of them all," one wonders how rightly we can call he subsequent knowledge true. Her enigmatic gaze into the glass, he peering into her mirror in a dark manner, produces in her something like knowledge, something aping the truth, but it is a knowing devoid of charity. So full of wrath against Snow White, she fails to know herself, except partially. She knows not her own beauty, which is, at least as regards her appearance, unchanged; she is no less beautiful than before. However, seeing by her darkened, enigmatic gaze, the queen gains only the partial and misleading truth, that if Snow White is the fairest, then she, the queen, is not.

Hearing what is true, even being instructed by the most infallible of sources as to what is so, is no guarantee of knowledge. The Twelve, after all, had accompanied Jesus throughout Galilee. They had seen his wonders, heard his preaching, received both his loving care and his loving rebuke. One would imagine that anyone who would be able to see Jesus truly, who would come to real and full knowledge from his words, should be numbered among the Twelve. However, when he turns to Jerusalem, and they with him, and he foretells his Passion and Resurrection, they remain in the dark. And they understood none of those things, and this word was hid from them, and they understood not the things that were said.

What is absent in the queen, and in their own way in the Twelve, is not access to a proper and reliable way of knowing. The queen can only see good as a competition, where the increase in any quarter means the loss in another, a zero-sum game in which she is either the pitiless victor or the aggrieved victim. The apostles' vision, their enigmatic gaze, is surely not so dark as this, but no less confused. They cannot see that the deeds and words of the Incarnate Word make no sense if confined to Galilee, that if they love the God of whom the prophets spoke, then they would also love all things ... which were written by the Prophets concerning the Son of man.

We do not, we cannot have now in this life the full fire of love, the abundant clarity of faith, the sustaining warmth of hope that find their consummation only in the beatific vision. Our vision will always, then, and necessarily be limited, darkened, enigmatic. Indeed, even in the beatific vision, when we will know as we are known, there will always remain that fundamental divide between the Creator and the creature — He made us, and not we ourselves. Even so, if we are to know ourselves aright, and so learn to love as we ought, and in loving as we ought to see as we long to see, we can follow the example of the blind man on the road to Jericho. That is, we can, at a glance, know what we lack, what we desire, and from whom we can be assured our desires will be met. That is, in the petition of the blind man — Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me ... Lord, that I may see. — we have the root of all right knowing: by faith to know ourselves aright, by charity to desire what will lead to true happiness, and by hope the confidence that this happiness can truly be ours.

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