Advent — Newman and Wojtyla

Advent -- Newman and Wojtyla

is upon us.  Last year I reviewed a number of ‘s sermons during the Advent season (see first review  here). Today, I returned to the sermons again. In mind’s eye I see Newman climbing up into the pulpit and speaking his wisdom of the heart. As his contemporary William Lockhart said: “Newman’s sermons came down like a new revelation. He had the wondrous, the supernatural power of raising the mind to God, and of rooting deeply in us a personal conviction of God, and a sense of presence.”

As I read the sermon, “Worship a preparation for Christ’s coming,” (PPS V.1) I  thought of our recent production of the ; through Newman’s imagery we can find an advent dimension to Wojtyla’s play.

Newman reminds us right at the beginning we should relish the opportunity to worship now, even in the damp and cold of a dark Advent morning  — because we believe we come before God. “They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then.” Because his gaze is too hard to bear, Newman says, we must learn through our worship how to come into God’s presence.

In the Jeweler’s Shop, the figure of the jeweler represents judgment, and serves as a sign of the  future judgment of God. The imagery used in the play emphasizes the eyes of the jeweler. He is watching (42, 52), his eyes are flashing (43), he acts on others with the “force of his eyes” (81). Andrew and Theresa could bear his gaze and learn from him, troubled though they were by the responsibility of the sweep of temporal existence. Anna was ashamed by his gaze and sought to avoid it.  Christopher and Monica trivialized his gaze. Would they learn to bear it and learn from him? It is the standing question of the play. “what are you building, children?” Theresa asks them. She wants to follow them, but commends them to us, “they will come back, they will certainly come back.”

Newman also uses the imagery of the Bridegroom: “Let us then take this view of religious service; it is ‘going out to meet the Bridegroom,’ who, if not seen ‘in His beauty,’ will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be.” We are not ready for meeting the bridegroom, but we can learn to watch for him through prayer and liturgy. “And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now.” 

Sacramental life points us beyond, towards “He, who is Judge to us, [and] prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready.”

Adam uses the same imagery of the Bridegroom to direct Anna’s gaze beyond the present and away from the temptation of the present desire for a substitute for love. He explains to her that most men live in a lethargy and verge on sleep. Anna must discover that “dormant space” in her soul and look beyond (63). She must wake up to the demands of love even if it means forgiveness and suffering: “to love means to give life through death.” Anna by play’s end has entered the path of love.

At the end of the play, Adam exclaims: “Human existence seems to short for love.” (or love is too short or trivial for existence). The task for human existence is to “reflect in some way the absolute existence and love.”  As he calls forth each character by name, Adam says that such absolute love “is the ultimate sense of our lives.” 

We learn the same advent truth from Blake as well as Newman. Blake wrote: “And we are put on earth a little space//That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” That little space is opened up by the Advent season to become a time to wake, to watch and to prepare.

Advent, Newman advises, is “a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be.” I take this to be the very thrust of The Jeweler’s Shop — Adam helps us remember who we are and the Jeweler chastens our hearts. Wojtyla opens our eyes.
Reading Newman we can return from the world of the stage and face the very coldness of the [December] day; he exhorts once again to “go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end.”

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