Friday, December 22, 2006

Number 18 : Hallelujah and Desires of the Heart

"Number 18" is all I could say.

One recurring theme of Msgr. Giussani and CL is a reflection upon the calling of the first two disciples from the Gospel of John (1:29-42). Some of the key lines from the biblical passage are:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying; and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which means Christ).

Many points are made about this scene. There is much to meditate upon and understand. In a few places, Msgr. Giussani guides the discussion to the aspect of time: "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon." Why remember and even mention the time? What is the point?

Well, if you go back a bit and recall what John and Andrew were asking ("where are you staying?"), you can see in their question a longing to be and remain in the presence of Jesus: In the words of Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, "Where will You remain with us? Where can we be with You?"

Msgr. Albacete continues:

The first human response to the Incarnation, to God's Word in human words, the first Christian expression of the desires that define and move and even torment the human heart is the desire for a place, for a place in which to be with Jesus, in which to be educated by Jesus, by His companionship, by being with Him, by "encountering Him" at every moment of life, by remaining where He "remains," a place from which He will never go away.

They came and saw and stayed with him that day. Now most scholars say that the Gospel of John was written quite a few years after the Ascension of Christ. Now whether or not that is true makes no difference to Giussani's understanding of this event. As Albacete notes,

Many years later, when the Gospel was put together, the memory was still vivid about the precise hour when this happened: "It was around 4 pm." The next day, they went to tell others about it, and Christianity began. So is was then, so it is today: the desires of the heart are unleashed and strengthened at a precise time in a precise place [...] .

When and where was that special kiss? When and where was your engagement to your spouse?
When and where was your child born? When and where was that particular moment of grace experienced?

And yes: When and where was Jesus born? When and where did Jesus die?

These are some of the thoughts that entered my mind when I tried to give words to what I was feeling and thinking upon the completion of hearing the great "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah.

Now listening to a piece of music is not the same as the birth and death of the Son of God. The connection lies in the fact that when an event breaks out upon those experiencing it, the effect is so strong and penetrating that sometimes a reference to the time and place is all one can muster ... at least for a brief time. Sometimes detailed and overly descriptive words can deplete an event (and thus the memory) of their impact and perhaps even cathartic nature.


Time and place matter. In another article, Msgr. Albacete complements his earlier words:

For John and Andrew it all began not as an opinion, not as an inspiration [...] but as “something that happened” to them at a specific time, date, and place. It began as a fact, as an event, as a human encounter. So much is this the case that when asked by Jesus what they wanted, John and Andrew’s reply was simply a place to be with Him always, a place where what happened to them looking at Him would continue to happen.

Time and place matter. They aid memory.

On one particular December day, all I kept thinking about was earlier that morning at my locker when I kissed her.

For many days, the setting--the time and place--was what we and our families spoke of: Christmas morning before the Christmas tree when we became engaged.

As well, the December afternoon at Bellflower Kaiser when I saw my daughter for the first time and immediately said a prayer with and for her: It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon.

Time and place matter. They add context and color to an event: In a Bethlehem manger one winter day.

Sometimes time and place can become part of the meaning and symbol of the event itself: not just the Cross, but at 3:00 on the Cross at Golgotha. 3:00. Now the hour of mercy. Fridays at 3:00 would no longer be the same (no matter what modern liturgists and so-called "liberated" Catholics might pine for).

Time and place matter. Symbols matter. Icons matter. Like John the Baptist, those who point to the more meaningful persons or events matter. Words can do the same: December 25; Friday at 3:00 pm.

Archbishop Bruno Forte makes a similar point in commenting upon the same biblical passage as above:

"Come and see." In matter of faith, when we contemplate the mystery, seeing comes after we have abandoned ourselves entirely; first one comes, and then one sees! This is what the two disciples in fact do; and such is the impression left on them by meeting Jesus, a meeting that will mark their lives forever, that John remembers teh exact time it took place with the chronological exactitude so typical of the memory we have of the times of a great love: "It was about four o'clock in the afternoon."

The times of a great love. Is that what has happened? A great love? Listening to Handel's Messiah in its entirety and especially the "Hallelujah" left me with very few words that could then capture the emotions, the thoughts, the meaning; left me with very few words that could then capture the experience. Very few words. Anything analytical probably would have just materialized the moment.

So what did I do? What did I say?

"Number 18 ... number 18."

After a few still moments, "That was number 18."

Then once some more time passed, I went to my daughter and brought her over to listen to number 18.

"Therese, come listen to this. Number 18, the Hallelujah." I explained a few bits of background and the thematic direction of the earlier tracks and then pressed the play button.

Number 18. Sitting on the couch last night at about 8:30 pm.

Scratch that.

Number 18 sitting on the couch last night at about 8:30 pm with my daughter.

Msgr. Albacete was right: "the desires of the heart are unleashed and strengthened at a precise time in a precise place."

Hallelujah for that. Hallelujah. הַלְּלוּיָהּ

HALLELUJAH! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. KING OF KINGS, and LORD OF LORDS, HALLELUJAH!

No comments: