Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Song at the Scaffold

Favorite Resources for Catholic Homeschoolers -- review
Excerpt from the book

This book read more like a dramatized meditation to me than like a full-fledged novel. I am not saying that as a criticism in the least. I read it, almost got absorbed into it, over the course of yesterday evening. It is quite short and to me, the second part was "unrealized" compared to the first part. The story moved back from the personal intensity of the beginning -- the characters and spirituality of Marie de l'Incarnation and young Blanche la Force -- to a more wide-sweep scene of the whole sorry situation of revolutionary France, eldest daughter of the Church, who was literally "drinking the blood of the aristocrats." In that way, the form of the story paralleled the way one aristocratic girl's voice in the plot of the story, in saying "Vive la nation", ascended to an almost bodiless purity.

The concept of young Blanche ( who as one sister nun said should have been called "La Faiblesse" instead of La Force) taking upon herself the fear of the universe was a profound and interesting one. She in a sense "became" fear, by God's providence, as Jesus "became sin" for our sakes. She was the embodiment of the trembling consciousness of that "rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem to be born". She was the one who feared that the stairs would fall and that people would look at her with cruelty, and that the Infant King would lose his crown. And all of that did, indeed, come true.

And yet, hers was the last song at the Scaffold. The book comments that when she sang, the Terror ended, though it took weeks more before it was over in reality. In that way the story reminds me of Flannery O'Connor's Artificial Nigger, though in other ways it is completely different, of course. The idea that one person, or a race, in some way suffers for the sins of the nation, is very Catholic. Of course, Caiaphas put this into words, "is it not right that one man should die for the many?" His words were cynical, but came true in a different way than he said them.

Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite, spoke of becoming a "victim of love"

"I know well that it is not my great desires that please God in my little soul, what He likes to see is the way I love my littleness and my poverty; it is my blind hope in His mercy, this is my only treasure.... The weaker one is, without desires or virtues the more ready one is for the operations of this consuming and transforming love.... God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens."
In a way, this little novella is an incarnation of this spirit; it is a song of Carmelite mysticism and of the "strength that is made perfect in weakness".

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