I had planned to read The Lord for my Lenten reading. But when Lent had come and gone and I had read maybe thirty or thirty-five pages, I realized that six weeks was nowhere near enough to read this extraordinary work. Only last week did I complete the 630th page. Six months and a few weeks. And yet I could read it again and again, still not plumbing the available depths of Romano Guardini’s meditations on the life of the Christ.
Although it feels stupendously arrogant to even attempt this post, knowing that the most I can do is convey a mere crumb of Guardini’s transcendent work, I do so. Because after reading this article, maybe you’ll choose the real thing, the book.
The author begins his book by in a preface which explains that he has not written a biography of the Lord. A biography, Guardini explains, is possible “only within the narrowest confines. Neither his personality nor his works are immediately traceable to the conditions of the time, for he came to us out of the fullness of time contained in the mystery of God, and it was to this mystery that he returned after he had ‘moved among us’…” It is impossible to discern his character, or to understand the manner in which his destiny unfolded, “for their ultimate explanation are to be found only in that impenetrable territory which he calls ‘my Father’s will’- territory forever beyond the reach of history’s most powerful ray.”
Guardini carefully deflects any possible praise of his work at the end of his preface when he explains that he has offered ‘nothing new’ and that “occasionally, the reader may encounter unaccustomed ideas, turns of thought meant only to stimulate reflection on the mystery of God..in the face of this mystery, human conceptions weigh little…what counts is the realization that Christ forces upon us when he himself interprets scripture and our hearts start burning within us.”
But the reason it took six months to read this book is the fact that Guardini has written a masterpiece. One which must be read with both deliberation and imagination. The precision and lyrical nature of his prose demands it. Of the countless points made new by my slow ponderous read of this book, one echoes: The Scandal of the Cross.
Throughout his astonishing book, Guardini explains patiently and persistently that the belief that Christ was born to die on the cross is far from the truth. That phrase, scandal of the cross was well-known up through the middle ages. But lost in recent centuries. It had never crossed my mind that the life of Christ was headed anywhere but toward an agonizing end. Until now.
And once we consider that shift from thinking there was not just one fall of man, but two, Palm Sunday becomes far more than palms and donkeys. Guardini writes of the very air as being saturated with divinity. The phrase explains Christ’s reply to the Pharisees attempting to quiet the jubilant throng of inspired people. “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”
Being so inundated with grace that all fear is erased. Everything obliterated but grace, the all pervasive knowledge that Truth is right in front of you, walking among you. So much so that defying the authorities is as nothing.
Consider how that could have felt, the absence of any fear…then take a leap to how everything could have changed. Everything.
“That Jesus’ task “is consummated” must be true, because he says so (John 19:30). Yet what a spectacle of failure! His word rejected, his message misunderstood, his commands ignored. None the less, his appointed task is accomplished, through obedience to the death—that obedience whose purity counterbalances the sins of a world. That Jesus delivered his message is what counts—not the world’s reaction; and once proclaimed, that message can never be silenced, but will knock on men’s hearts to the last day.”