That's when I picked up an even heavier burden.
Where was my son on the trail? I had asked him to carry the water, which he did for a while, but then he set it down because it was too heavy and the mountain was too steep. So I sighed and picked it up. I wasn't doing such a stellar job as a parent.
All my life I've been thinking we need to prove our worth by being contributing members of society. Like Martha, I thought I needed to make myself valuable by working hard to serve. I understood only the surface meaning of Jesus' council that Mary had chosen the better part. Sure, stop and talk to the Lord when He is present. But what I didn't get until recently is that we don't need to do one thing to prove our value to the Lord.
As children of God, we have a divine nature which means our value is infinite. Any good (or bad) we do is like adding (or subtracting) one and infinity. Though we can develop greater virtue as we live and learn, our value is forever infinite.
Back on the hillside, we didn't end up needing the water after all. My son's contribution was to question, "Why bother with this water?" Had I listened to him, it would have saved us, and the young man who ran to the rescue, a lot of trouble. It turns out that our value doesn't always look like what society thinks value should look like.
Dante's Divine Comedy--An Allegory of Salvation
(This is the closer study I promised on 8/28/11)
As I sit writing this, I am a man in exile wandering through a foreign land. Though I can see my home just across the way, when I try to travel there I am threatened by sins of the flesh and sins of wrath. I conquer these by using my intellect to balance desire and discipline. But then I am defeated by the sins swarming around me and my generation. My will power alone is not enough; I can't make it back home on my own.
Then the Father of Reason, Virgil, joins me. He points back to a trail of sorrow that traverses through Hell and tells me the only way I can get back home is to journey thence. I take up the bitter cup and follow him. We spiral downward into the abyss of the devil's domain. At each step we see poetic justice. People who sought to fulfill their own will become what they sought, yet are denied the satisfaction of taking any pleasure in it. This is not a punishment from God, but rather a consequence of making gods of their desires.
The capitol of Hell is the City of Dis, which is surrounded by the gate of heresy. All those who dwell within are there because they chose to deny God and the hope of eternal life. Though it is a despairing place, our path lies through the heart of Hell so we must pass through the gate. Neither Virgil nor I can open it. We pray for Divine Aid and wait.
At first it seems our prayers our answered by an even greater torment as the Furies descend upon us, mocking. They threaten to call Medusa to come and turn us to stone. The moment Virgil hears her name, he commands me to look away. Reason alone cannot answer doubts about God's existence. Virgil covers my eyes, saying in effect, "Just look away from the question and trust in God."
After my faith denied heresy its victory over me, our prayers for Divine help are answered. A Heavenly Messenger opens the gate and we are allowed to pass. If I may offer a bit of counsel, await God's grace to manifest itself in your life. It will come no matter how threatening the Furies surrounding you.
An oppressive weight pulls us downward in Dis until we meet the author of evil, the founder of heaviness, the devil himself. We grapple with him and, at long last, pass from the Inferno into Purgatory. I will pause here to observe that I've noted a certain glamorization of evil in recent decades. Make no mistake, there is NO glamour in Hell. Satan attracts by covering sin with a glossy sheen, like the Siren's song. But rip away the exterior and what lies beneath is hideousness and entrapment of addictions.
Upon entering Purgatory, Virgil and I are bathed in a baptism of water that washes away the stains of Hell. Though things are much better here than in the Inferno, I admit to being plagued by lethargy and learned that laziness leads to depression. I was visited by the Angel of Zeal and was energized by a creative spark which propelled me forward.
At last we come within sight of Paradise, the place I had set my sights upon when Virgil first joined me. But I am horrified to see I cannot enter Paradise unless I pass through a baptism of fire. Virgil, my Father Reason, persuades me to trust I will find my heart's desire on the other side of the wall of fire. I submit to the scorching pain, then emerge outside of Reason's realm. Virgil cannot follow me here because I am now no longer limited by reason. I am taken under the wing of Personal Revelation, who is embodied by Beatrice.
Though I grieve over my separation from Virgil, Beatrice scolds me for looking back. She points out that since I have been purged from the will to sin, I'm in the presence of Divine Revelation and I no longer need Virgil's Reason. She is right to scold because looking back prevents me from making use of the great gifts I have been given. Understanding this, I repent. This now allows me to drink from the river Lethe, which washes away all memory of sin from my soul. Losing this last remnant of sin, I am now purified and free to pass into Paradise.
Upon entering Paradise, I am greeted by a tremendous pageant. The Church, the Prophets, the Bible, the Sacrament, the Gifts of the Spirit are all personified in a joyous parade. A Griffin (half-lion, half-Eagle) symbolizes the Savior (half-human, half-Divine) and is pulling the very chariot where Beatrice is seated. Christ is the Author of Personal Revelation.
In Paradise I visit the realms of the planets, each representing a Cardinal Virtue (Wisdom, Love, Prudence, Courage, Justice, Temperance). I learn that Temperance is nearest God's abode because it is the contemplative life which Jesus recommended to Martha in following Mary's example.
Looking back, I see how my progress through the Inferno taught me pity, or Charity; Purgatory taught me Hope, and Paradise sealed my Faith. Through these Three Theological Virtues, I gain unspeakable joy. I saw in my journey that the universe is enwrapped by the Divine Will of God. The Heavens and all nature are an expression of the Mind of God. In order to experience pure joy, we must be capable of comprehending its existence all around us.
Since writing my Divine Comedy, some have speculated that I may have had in mind the fulfillment of Joachim Fioretti's prediction that there would be Three Ages. The Age of the Father was the Law of the Old Testament. The Age of the Son was established by Christ's organization of His Church in the New Testament. The Age of the Holy Spirit is to be fulfilled when the Spirit works directly through all people by means of the Everlasting Gospel. Finding my Beatrice seemed to me a manifestation of the Third Age. I challenge you to find YOUR Beatrice and promise you she is there.
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighiere
Dante and His Divine Comedy by Timothy Shutt
The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, Volume 1, by Maynard Mack, & etc.