From The Cloister Walk
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold the child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35)
The darkness is still with us, O Lord. You are still hidden and the world which you have made does not want to know you or receive you. You are still the hidden child in a world grown old. You are still obscured by the veils of this world’s history, you are still destined not to be acknowledged in the scandal of your death on the cross. But I, O hidden Lord of all things, boldly affirm my faith in you. In confessing you, I take my stand with you. If I make this avowal of faith, it must pierce the depths of my heart like a sword, I must bend my knee before you, saying, I must alter my life. I have still to become a Christian. (Karl Rahner, Prayers for Meditation)
Today, the monks are doing something that seems futile, and a bit foolish. They are blessing candles, all the candles they’ll use during worship for the coming year. It’s good to think of the light hidden inside those new candles; walking to prayer each morning in the bitter cold, I know that the light comes earlier now. I can feel the change, the hours of daylight increasing. The ground has been covered by snow since Thanksgiving: in this climate, I’ll seize hold of any bit of hope, even if it’s monks saying prayers over candles.
The reading from Karl Rahner, at morning prayer, came as a shock. To hear so esteemed a theologian cry out, “I have still to become a Christian,” was humbling. The words have stayed with me all day. I wonder if one of the reasons I love the Benedictines so much is that they seldom make big noises about being Christians. Though they live with the Bible more intimately than most people, they don’t thump on it, or with it, the way gorillas thump on their chests to remind anyone within earshot of who they are. Benedictines remind me more of the disciples of Jesus, who are revealed in the gospel accounts as people who were not afraid to admit their doubts, their needs, their lack of faith. “Lord, increase our faith,” they say. “Teach us to pray.” They kept getting the theology wrong, and Jesus, more or less patiently, kept trying to set them straight. Except for Peter, the disciples were not even certain who Jesus was: “Have I been with you all this time, and still you do not know me?” Jesus asks in the Gospel of John, not long before he’s arrested and sentenced to death.
Maybe because it’s the heart of winter, and the air is so cold that it hurts to breathe, the image of the sword from Luke’s gospel comes to mind as I walk back home after vespers. We’ve heard it twice today, at morning prayer and at Mass. I wonder if Mary is the mother of lectio, because as she pondered her life and the life of her son, she kept Simeon’s hard prophecy in her heart. So much that came easily in the fall has become a struggle this winter. I still walk to morning prayer – it seems necessary to do – but it requires more effort now. Still I know that it is nothing that I do that matters, but what I am, what I will become. Maybe Mary’s story, and this feast, tell us that if the scriptures don’t sometimes pierce us like a sword, we’re not paying close enough attention.