Guardini on the Grey Dawn between Time and Eternity

Romano Guardini (1885-1968) wrote a magnificent book entitled The Lord (1954); the Gateway edition has an introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger; Guardini’s book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (1935) was a direct influence and inspiration for Ratzinger’s own book of that title. Kenneth Schmitz of the Pope John Paul II Institute told me once that Guardini’s The Lord brought him back to the Church.
In a chapter entitled “Between Time and Eternity” Guardini has a very insightful interpretation of the passages pertaining to the period between Christ’s Resurrection and his return to the Father.

He says at the outset of the chapter — “If we accept them as we should, not as a legend, but as a vital part of our faith, then we must ask what they mean in the life of the Lord, and what their significance in our own Christian existence.” (486)

He then goes through the various post-Resurrection appearances and discovers a very suggestive pattern. First of all, we notice that he does not overwhelm his disciples with new miracles (as if rising from the dead were not enough). Guardini says our Lord re-visits his friends and disciples and confirms the past but transfigures it in the present. An event from the past is recalled, transfigured and continued. Mary Magdalen, Peter, disciples at Emmaus — there is a moment of recognition, a moment of recollection, and transfiguration. What happens? “something unspectacular and exquisitely still: the past is confirmed. The reality of the life that has been crosses over into eternity.” (492) There is “the simultaneous preservation and transfiguration of all that has been.” To bring the point fully home, Guardini concludes “earthly destiny enters into eternity.” (492) For St John describes his vision of our Lord in eternity as “the Lamb standing ‘as if slain’ but alive.” The past is preserved in the present, earthly destiny enters into eternity.
So why do we need these stories and images of the encounter with the risen Lord in this twilight between time and eternity? Guardini says there is a danger of dualism, that we shall forget the humanity of Jesus, his incarnation and his earthly sojourn under the glare of the eternal, immortal one. There is a “danger that this truth dangle in space, enigmatic as rune on an ancient stone.” The significance of the earthly sojourn could well fade into a dusty haze of the “historical past.” But “this period of transition deciphers the rune.” Here is the key: “All that has been remains in eternal form. Every word he spoke, every event during his lifetime is fixed in unchanging reality, then and now and forever.” (493)
So now we must see how utterly charged are those few words exchanged between Jesus and disciples during this period. We see how these scripture passages become such perfect opportunities of prayer:
“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’ and she turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni.'” (John 20.16)
“Simon, son of John, do you love me? Lord you know all things, you know that I love you.” (John 21.17)
“Children, have you caught anything? Cast the net on the right side of the boat.” (John 21.5)
“Oh foolish men, slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” (Luke 24.25)
“He took the bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.” (Luke 24.30)
I do think Guardini has deciphered the rune correctly. Each line has compressed into itself the depth of a three year relationship of mentorship, friendship, and love. One single line shoots straight through the heart of the disciple and resonates within the metallic traces of memory. I must exclaim that these passages from the gospels must be either pure fiction or pure personal and undeniable truth. Pure fiction because so well wrought and so alive with a diaphanous glow of personal experience. But then there needs be four brilliant authors, working their craft for a diverse readership. But the apostles were not geniuses. No, these passages are one further indication of the truth of the gospel witness. Let him who has ears to hear . . . The humble world of the Jewish fishermen from Galilee was irradiated by love incarnate and the memory of his sojourn neither faded with the era nor disappeared into another world. Guardini is right — each memory is confirmed and “released and carried over into the spacious serenity of eternal life.” (491)

To be a Christian is to be a man or woman of memory. Our memory is the memory of the sons of Zebedee and the memory of Peter and Andrew. Is this why our Lord chose two sets of brothers to be his witnesses? They are brothers because they share memory! And it is also the memory of the “colleagues” at Emmaus, it is the memory of the little flock at Bethany, it is the memory of the apostles in the upper room, it is the memory of Mary our mother (“Son, behold your mother”). The memory of the Lord fills and overflows the shared lives and memories of the communities of Christ. One brief word conjures it up; one shared meal fuels its love.

And our memories generate hope. Hope lies before us in the dawn of the resurrection. In that gray of the dawn after the Resurrection we discern the figure of the Risen Lord, poised between time and eternity and through love our memory turns to anticipation, so we must call out “Teacher!” “Lord!”

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1 Comment
  1. Could you please give me a short appraisal of Guardini's two books, The Lord and Eternal Life, with a content description?
    If you have the time, it'd be very much appreciated.

    Grazie!

    K

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