Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Blue meadow or dead gray walls?

Stephen Crane

Can we talk about Poets and Teachers of Dogma? These two professions can seem like direct opposites. Poets deal in dreams, dogmatists in stark certainties. Or so it seems to a society like ours for whom even the word "dogma" is a buzzkill.  Yet both Poets and Teachers of Dogma use language to express the fragile mysteries of our human lives.

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
Stephen Crane, 1871-1900 

Stephen Crane--poet, novelist, journalist and short story writer--was 13 years old when Blessed James Alberione was born in 1884.  He lived only 29 years, dying in 1900, the same year Blessed Alberione received enlightenment in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament on The Night Between the Centuries. Yet both the poet and the priest can aptly be described as men before their time.

Stephen Crane explored man's alienation from God and his vulnerability to the harshness of nature--both his own human nature and the external environment.  He played fast and loose with the poetic conventions of his time, leaving rules of rhyming behind to write short, pithy poems that anticipated the twentieth century rage for blank verse.

Crane, the non-observant son of a minister, was not sentimental in describing human life. Whether describing tenement life in New York City (Maggie: Girl of the Streets,) or at the horrors of war in The Red Badge of Courage, he wrote with realism. He felt estranged from conventional Christian culture in his sympathetic affinity for the poor with whom he often lived.  When he looked inward, he saw fallen human nature:
I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin. One looked up, grinning,
And said, "Comrade! Brother!"
  --- Stephen Crane 

Blessed James Alberione was not a poet, but he valued poets and other writers who use art to communicate truth, beauty and goodness.  I think he would have appreciated Crane's preferential treatment of the poor. He would have approved the poet's interior search for the true God:

A man went before a strange God --
The God of many men, sadly wise.

And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.

"Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty."

Then the man went to another God --
The God of his inner thoughts.

And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension, 
And said, "My poor child!"
           -- Stephen Crane
Art critic Sr. Wendy Beckett
by portrait of Blessed Alberione
As unpopular as it may be now in the world of men that Blessed Alberione loved so much, dogma was not unimportant to the Founder.He urged his priests, religious and laity to study and advance in their learning always, with an eye towards integrating all human subjects with the realities expressed by the teachings of the Catholic Church.  But for James Alberione the teaching and communciating of divine realities--the realities expressed in dogma--had no bombast or fundamentalism. It was a matter of listening to Christ speaking within one's deepest interior.  And how like a poet, is a teacher of divine truths, when he sits at the feet of the Divine Master. As Blessed Alberione writes: 
Above all, Jesus is the interior Master. 
What does this mean? It means that his work of teaching does not limit itself to the ear, but penetrates within. He created our mind, our will, our heart, and he enlightens us, because Jesus is the light which gives light to every man who comes into this world (cf. Jn. 1:9).
Perhaps we have rarely given consideration to the profound meaning of this expression: the Word is the light and the light is life (cf. Jn. 1:4); and all was made through him (cf. Jn. 1:3). When speaking of Christ Light, what is meant is the possibility of knowing. 
We can know things because Christ renders them luminous and he enlightens us interiorly. He gives us the cognitive power. He increases it, vivifies it, and renders it more penetrating, so that every thought will become an illumination of the Divine Master (HM III, 1947, Jan. retreat).

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