Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Retreat Report: halfway point!

There's a quality to the penitent heart that calls for some definition of terms. Starting with one of those words that, sadly, has been lost in our culture except in jokes and ironic comments.

What are the meanings of the word "virgin"?
It can mean pristine, original, new, beginning, nave, inexperienced...

But when you speak of human beings, the surrounding culture doesn't know of virginity in any other sense than the strictly biological. Unless you are speaking of extra-virgin olive oil. In some ways, many times, our culture treats virginity as a negation (it refers to something a person hasn't done) and yet at the same time as something you can lose. As something with a definite before and after. Certainly not something that can be shared in a life-long mutual gift.

Pope John Paul gives virginity a kind of unexpected twist. He sees it not as a matter of before/after, but as a totality of a person's gift of self. Think of a virginal couple on their wedding night: their marital embrace is a sharing of virginity that will extend throughout their lives together. The fullness of personal giving and of the intersubjective communion of persons. Not something you lose, but a point of communion. Something that speaks of the absolute and "eternal spousal meaning of the glorified body". Existence for an Other. I do not find my meaning in myself, but in a gift of self to that other to whom I belong.

There's a wholeness to the way the penitent heart clings (tenete) to the Lord, to become one spirit with him. A wholeness of its availability that is an image of the wholeness of the receptivity and availability of the 2nd person of the Trinity, ever at the Father's side,receiving all that the Father gives and is (God does not ration his gift of the Spirit).

Bl. Alberione wrote: “Ah, if only we reflected that, in us, the Father is eternally begetting the Son; in us the Son is eternally begotten and in us the Father and Son breathe forth the Holy Spirit...” In us: our communion with this reality of the indwelling Trinity is what makes the penitent heart a virginal heart because we, too, are continually being brought into existence by a creative act of God.

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is, so to speak, His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship, It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody and if we could see it we would see these billion points of light coning together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely (Merton).

It is our ongoing creation; our being-made here and now, and according to Robert Barron, conversion is a new creation. So the penitent heart is a heart springing fresh-made from the creative hands of God at what Merton (citing Massignon, who got it from a medieval Sufi) called the “virgin point.”


Ruth Ann said...

Thank you for this beautiful insight into what virginity and consecrated life are about. I'm sorry to say that I didn't understand the full dimensions of what it means until reading this.

Anonymous said...

Found your post most appropriate today since we are celebrating our 48th Wedding Anniversary. It has been a blessing to have that experience of fullness of personal giving and receiving.

Sr Anne said...

Happy Anniversary, Anonymous and spouse!

Ruth Ann, Pope John Paul especially gets kudos for pointing out that virginity is not only for consecrated people, because it is so much more than a biological datum. I especially love his insight into how a married couple's original virginity (I know, we're in the realm of an ideal that some would dismiss out of hand--to their loss) is "extended" throughout both of their lives together because it meant the whole gift of self. I wonder if this concept could help young people recognize and value their purity; if they realized that it meant the full and shared gift of self for a lifetime.
Makes me want to write something for little kids (at least middle school) before the culture convinces them that virginity is something to be embarrassed about.

Anonymous said...

Excellent idea and the sooner the better.