As I ended my last program, I was playing excerpts from the movie, "Man of LaMancha" to illustrate the linear attitude of the Western, Christian world. I don’t know if you got the full impact of these excerpts because the only copy that I had came from an old "78" record which the younger generation probably never heard of. The poetry and sentiments expressed in these excerpts are too important to chance that you didn’t hear or didn’t understand what they were saying. So, let me recite and comment on some of the more important passages so that you can receive the full impact of the words.
The first excerpt involves a conversation between Don Quixote, a symbol for Jesus, and Aldonza the Whore, a symbol for Mary Magdalene. Aldonza is the daughter of a whore and some unknown customer. She plies her trade in a barn at a roadside inn where Quixote and his squire, Ganza, stop. The inn is full of rough men of the world who have little respect for themselves and no respect for anyone else, especially a whore like Aldonza. She lives a life of hopeless despair because this is the only world that she has ever known. She has resigned herself to her fate and has accepted this hellish existence as the only possible one.
St. Paul once said, "Why do I believe in Christ Jesus?" And his answer was, "So that my hidden self might be revealed" and Quixote sees in Dulcinea a "hidden self." Unlike the other men at the inn who see her as a prostitute to be used and discarded, Quixote, looking through the eyes of God, sees the hidden potential self that lies underneath the dirt, and filth, and degradation that is presently her life. He sees her "not as she is" but as she "was created to be." In other words, he sees her "real self", the person that God had in mind when He created her. Therefore, he calls her by her real name, Dulcinea, which means the "beautiful and pure one."
This reminds me of an incident that happened back in the 70’s when the Charismatic Movement was just beginning in the Philadelphia area. There were conferences all the time where thousand of people traveled long distances to prominent speakers who were involved in the movement. My wife and I attended one in northern New Jersey along with members of our prayer group. When we arrived on Friday night for the opening session, the person on the stage announced that the core group had been praying to the Holy Spirit and it was their discernment that, instead of having the high-powered speaker who was scheduled to open the conference, speak, that it was their discernment that we should all sit in silence and ask God to tell us our names. A groan went up from the crowd, some of whom had traveled as far away as Texas to hear these speakers. "Ask God for our names! Was he kidding? We already knew our names."
Nevertheless, a hush came over the crowd and for the next hour or so the people obediently sat and prayed that God would tell them their names. Later, when we got back to the hotel, we were all surprised to discover that person after person said that God had revealed their name to them. The names, they said, were not the one ones they had received at Baptism, like Joe, or John, or Mary. Instead the names were ones that identified the deepest quality in their being. They were names like Comforter, Wisdom, Charity, Long Suffering, Faithful One. As soon as the person heard the name, it resonated in the depth of their souls and they knew in some unfathomable way that it clearly identified who they really were. I had the same experience and there was no doubt that the God who spoke that name knew me in a more intimate way than I even knew myself. Just how well does God know us? Psalm 139:1-19 says:
“Oh Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit or when I stand. When far away you know my every thought. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment, you know where I am. You know what I am going to say, before I even say it. You both precede me and follow me, and place y our hand of blessing on my head. This is too glorious, too wonderful to believe! I can never be lost to your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, you are there; If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me. If I try to hide in the darkness, the night becomes light around me. For even darkness cannot hide from God, to you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are both alike to you. You made all the delicate inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous- and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed in my mother’s womb. You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book! How precious it is, Lord, to realize that you are thinking about me constantly! I can’t even count how many times a day your thoughts turn towards me. And when I waken in the morning, you are still thinking of me.”
Wow! Can anyone know our hidden self more than God and when He calls our real name, we recognize His voice? Something within us know that this person knows us in the most intimate way that we can be known and that He loves us for who we really are and not for what we can do for Him.
Unfortunately, life often places us in situations where we are constantly in the presence of people who view us as objects for their own gratification and, like Aldonza and the men in the inn, they use and abuse us and then discard us when they are through. When this happens too often, we often become cynical and find it hard to believe that anyone could love us just for ourselves and that is how Aldonza felt when Quixote starts to address her as Dulcinea, the beautiful and pure one.
Let me read you the words of the conversation that takes place between them. And, as I do, realize that this is Jesus, the visible sign of the invisible God, talking to us and all the downtrodden people who have been scarred by the self-seekers in their lives and have never experienced a love that wants to love "pure and chaste from afar." Quixote says:
Aldonza: Enough of that... she says. Get yourself to a madhouse. Rave about nobility where no one can hear...
Quixote: My Lady...
Aldonza: I’m not your lady...I’m not any kind of a lady...
For a lady has modestly and maidenly airs and a virtue a blind man could see that I lack it’s hard to develop these maidenly airs in a stable laid flat on your back. Won’t you look at me...look at me ...God won’t you look at me, look at the kitchen slut reeking of sweat. Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap a frumpet men use and forget. If you feel that you see me not quite at my virginal best, cross my palm with a coin and I’ll willingly show you the rest.
Quixote says: Never deny that you are Dulcinea!
Aldonza says: Take the cloth from your eyes and see me as I really am.... You have shown me the sky but what good is the sky to a creature who’ll never do better than crawl of all the cruel bastards who badger and batter me you are the cruelest of all... Can’t you see what your gentle insanities do to me? Rob me of anger and give me despair blows and abuse I can take and give back again tenderness I cannot bear. So please torture me now with your "Sweet Dulcinea" no more. I am no one ... I’m nothing.... I’m only Aldonza the whore.
Quixote says: Now and forever. You are my lady, Dulcinea...
Aldonza screams in despair because he has raised in her a hope of being more than she is, which to her, is an "impossible dream."
Great art is often more powerful than the best sermon in making a point because it goes to the heart and not just the mind. Unfortunately, we often fail to use it effectively with our children and instead, allow the degraded art of the world to become the shapers of their hearts. Maybe the reason that they gravitate towards "rappers" and "R" rated movies filled with sex and violence is because we haven’t taken the time to place in them what is good and wholesome. And, as the saying goes, "nature abhors a vacuum." If we don't fill the emptiness with what is good, then they will fill it with what is bad.
As a teacher, I sometimes wish that we would create a course, beginning from the time when they first enter school, dedicated to exposing them to great art and music. Unfortunately, for many people, this means classical art and music which, I suppose, is a worthwhile venture. However, I think that each period of history creates it own way of expressing these eternal truths and that we should concentrate on what speaks to us in our own time and in our own language. An "Ode to a Greek Urn" or the "Village Blacksmith" may have touched the hearts of the Victorian people but John Denver’s "I Want To Live", "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of LaMancha", "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof speak more directly and eloquently to me at this time of history. I have always found that when I take time to explain and expose my students to these things that they have always been touched in a deep way.
Take for example, the segment that I just quoted from Man of LaMancha. In the scriptures St. John says, "God is love" and then St. Paul gives a detail description of the qualities of love, which of course, would be the qualities of God. He says:
Love is patient and kind; love is not envious; love is not proud but gentle and meek and never seeks its own way. It rejoices when the Truth prevails. It believes and endures all things. It hopes and bears every wrong. And it will never fail you."
All this is very true and impressive but, like any deep truth, it needs to be fleshed out by some experiential example. In other words, how does it apply to a life situation? The right hemisphere of our brain is not very good at abstractions and it needs visual and concrete examples in order to understand. Thus, Jesus always used parables to aid His listeners in their understanding of the deep truths which He was trying to impart to them. In like manner, in the dialogue between Quixote and Aldonza we see the transforming power of love in action. We see in a fleshed out form, the impact that Jesus’ love must have had on Mary Magdalene. Once we understand this, then we can now see the real role that God, who is love, plays in our lives. Now we are ready to do an in-depth study. Piece by piece the puzzle starts to take form and what we only saw "through a glass darkly" we now start to see with the clear sight of understanding.
Jesus, instead of being a judge who has come to condemn us by keeping an exact tally of our sins, now becomes the savior who has come to redeem us by leading us away from the "doing of our sins" which are the entropic acts that create chaos in our lives. He is the Quixote who has come to transform us from Aldonza to Dulcinea by affirming in us all of the positive potential of which we are unaware. The devil, on the other hand, in scripture is called "the Accuser" which means that he is the leader of the entropic forces which drag us towards chaos by tearing us down while Jesus is the leader of the negentropic forces which build us up and lead us to the "fullness of life."
And how does He do this? First, through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he has shown us that life is a struggle against the entropic forces of the universe. Second, since love is the "life force" of the universe because it is the energy that is capable of taking two and binding or integrating them into one, then it is the source of all growth and development. In other words, it is the energy that actualizes what is potential. It is the energy that takes "what is" and transforms it into "what it could be"; it is the energy that took Aldonza and transformed her into Dulcinea; it is the energy which St. Paul said he believed in "so that his hidden self" might be revealed; it is the energy which took a sea captain involved in the slave trade and transformed him into an abolitionist minister, who wrote a poem about transforming love under its other name: Amazing Grace. It is the energy which is most misunderstood because it is viewed by so many people in so many different ways. Here, for example, is a song, called the Rose, which explores some of the misconceptions about love, and then concludes with what it really is.
Some say love it is a river, that drowns the tender reed some say love it is a razor, that leaves the soul to bleed some say love it is a hunger, an endless aching need. I say love it is a flower and you its only seed.
It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance it’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes a chance. It’s the one who won’t be taken who cannot seem to give and the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snow lies the seed that with the sun's love in the Spring becomes the rose.
The song, which is secular, says that love is not a feeling, as most of us believe. Rather, it is a pro-life energy that causes all things to grow and develop. In other words, it is the basic negentropic force in the universe. However, one can’t grow unless one is able to overcome their fear of change.
I remember years ago when I was attending LaSalle University that one of my instructors, Brother Elifus Lewis, an excellent teacher with a comical approach who was always throwing provocative questions at his students, said, "Gentlemen, love is not a feeling." We all chuckled and said, "Brother, everyone knows that love is a feeling. How about all the love songs that say, "When I look at you I get that strange feeling." Brother Elifus said, " Gentlemen, love is not a feeling. Love is an appreciation for the objected loved independent of how it makes you feel." It's funny that I still remember that definition even though he only said it a few times. At the time, I thought he was wrong but now I am convinced that this is just one more example of the Wisdom that the Church possesses of which so few of us are aware. The longer I live, the more I find little tibits of Wisdom from my philosophy courses coming back to me with a deeper meaning than they had when I first heard them.
Unfortunately, our language does not make the same fine distinction about love as the Greek language does. They had different words to express different kinds of love. For example, Philadelphia, which means the City of Brotherly Love, comes from the Greek filia, which means "brotherly love." The word Eros, from which we get the word erotic, referred to a passionate type of love in which an inner hunger was satisfied by the possession of the object love. However, the highest type of love, according to the Greeks was Agape Love, which was the type of love which was God. In the New Testament, when St. John and St. Paul refer to love, the use the word Agape. Most of us when we refer to love have in mind Eros because we think that love is something that is supposed to satisfy us.
Thus, when our love songs speak about love, they use phrases like, "You make me feel so good" or "when I look at you, I get that strange feeling." In other words, love is a pleasant feeling. Of course the downside to this version of love is that, first, the focus is really on oneself because our feelings are internal and subjective. Second, if love is a feeling, then if the feeling should stop or switch to someone else, then that is end of love. Consequently, many marriage today are entered by people who are looking to have their needs met and when it fails to do this, the marriage is over. Eros love is a roller coaster which rises to the mountains only to descend into the valley. Third, because this type of love is a feeling, it is incapable of loving its enemies because it associates love with liking and it is incapable of loving someone it dislikes.
Agape love, on the other hand, is, as Brother Lewis said, an appreciation for the object-loved independent of how it makes you feel. It looks at the other persons objectively and appreciates them independently of how they make it feel. Some people say that this love is Unconditional Love, by which they mean that it loves you no matter who you are or what you do. Although this is partly true, I don’t think that this is its essential meaning. This type of love is a transforming love because it is always seeking what is best for the other person and therefore it will not accept anything that diminishes the object loved. It won’t accept that you are a drug addict, or a rapist, or a wife beater, or a prostitute. It’s a demanding love that expects you to be "all that you can be." The unconditional part, I believe, is that it loves you without any condition that you should love it back. Most of our love is conditional because we always attach a hidden price tag to it. I’ll love you if you’ll love me. I’ll help you, if you’ll help me. I’ll visit you in the hospital, but you better visit me when I’m sick. If you don’t than that the end of our relationship.
Agape Love has no strings attached to it. It does what is good for everybody because it is good and not because of any return to itself. In fact, it is this type of love which is the goal of our salvation because, we do the same thing with God as we do with each other. We put a price tag on our goodness. We’ll be good so long as we are rewarded with heaven whereas God wants us to learn to do goodness for its own sake, just as He does.
A number of years ago, when Vatican II was just beginning to have its impact on the local churches, I saw a banner on the pulpit which said, "God is gift!" My immediate reaction was that this was a mistake. I had grown up believe that God wanted gifts. We were always being told to "Offer it up to God" and, of course throughout human history, human have been offering all types of sacrifices to God in the belief that He had to constantly be appeased through the offering of gifts. Like so many intuitive truths, it was only partially right. God did want a sacrifice but it wasn’t goats, sheep, doves, or other human beings. The type of sacrifice that He wanted was the type that Jesus showed us: the sacrifice of ourselves out of love for others.
Anyway, I began to meditate on what was meant by the statement that "God is gift" and, as so often happens, God put things in front of me to help me to understand. First, since God is a person who has everything then there is nothing that any one could give Him because He has no needs. Therefore, the only possible attitude that He could assume towards anyone else is that of a giver. Second, he used my son, Joey, to show me what it meant to be a giver.
Joey was only about seven years old and it was a few weeks before Christmas. I was sitting in the living room and he came in and, with a beaming smile said, "Hey Dad, wait until you see what I’m going to get you for Christmas. You’re really gonna like it." I said, "Gee, Joe. That’s sound great. What is it?"... "I can’t tell you, Dad. You’re gonna have to wait until Christmas. But I know you’re really gonna like it. In fact, it is so great that I think that I’ll get one for myself. I’m going up now to the corner drug store to buy it." He left and ten minutes later return with a brown bag in his hand. Holding the bag up in front of my face, he said, "Here it is Dad. In this bag. But I can’t show it to you until Christmas." I acted disappointed but assured him that I would wait till Christmas. A few minutes later I had to leave to visit my friend around the corner. Twenty minutes later I returned and my wife informed me that Joey was having conniptions. He was so anxious to show me his gift that he couldn’t wait until Christmas. My wife reminded him that my birthday was only a week away and that he could give it to me for my birthday. His lighted up but then he said that even a week was a long time. Then he decided that he would write out the days of the week on scraps of paper, fold them up, and place them in a can. Then, after shaking them up, he would pick one out one and whatever day he picked would be the day that he would give me his gift. It was Monday and he picked Saturday. His face dropped. Then he said that he hadn’t folded that paper correctly and he had to pick again. This time he picked Wednesday and that was the day that he presented me with a bottle of shaving lotion. It was the most precious gift that I have received because what it showed me is that when someone has something good to give, he can’t wait to give it. And that, I believe, is the nature of God. He is overflowing with goodness and, like Joey, He can’t wait to share it. God is gift and all He is looking for is someone who is open to receive His gift which is the "fullness of life." A musical group composed of four priests named the Dameans wrote a song called "The Song of Thanksgiving" which I believe expresses the very point that I am making. Here’s the song:
Love that freely given, wants to freely be received. All the love your poured on us can hardly be believed... And all that we can offer you is thanks. All that we can offer you is thanks.
Creation tells a story that began so long ago of a Love that long to share its life in hope that love would grow. The sun repeats each morning; the story is retold. And just in loves retelling, new chapters yet unfold.
Love that freely given, wants to freely be received. All the love your poured on us can hardly be believed... And all that we can offer you is thanks. All that we can offer you is thanks.
Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom.