I think I’m a few decades late to Ron Hansen’s coming-out party. And it’s likely most of my Catholic readers have already read this book. So you’re likely not going to need my recommendation. I’m going to touch on some points as I have sensed them through this novel.
Though about a postulant in a 1906-07 convent, this book possesses a very American feel: a reverence for nature and for the rhythm of life on our continent. I haven’t read Mr Hansen’s Western stories, but I can see certain links to a sense of American wonder, even if the setting for Mariette is a cloistered religious community in the East.
Mr Hansen alternates betweenb lyrical passages I found reminiscent of psalmody, and the more conventional story line moving forward. Mariette is also under investigation, so testimony is the third medium by which the story is told. All three work marvelously well, and bring a remarkable balance to the effort.
I understand Mariette in Ecstasy has been adapted for film (though not a US release) and stage. That’s fine, I’m sure. But this story really cries for a settinbg as an opera. The writing is so luminous it sings.
I confess: I’d love to be able to write like Ron Hansen.
The big question as the novel heads into part 3: is Mariette really experiencing a miracle or is she just an accomplished “actress,” as one character asserts? How much of the action is due to God’s grace and how much the devil? And the final resolution for Mariette, is it just? Is it right? I think so. A hundred years ago, the thought of someone being ejected from a monastery would have been a humiliating defeat. But in the instance of this book, I think it makes for a happy ending. A deeply Catholic believer doesn’t need the endorsement of the Church, the propping up of priesthood or religious life, or even the regard of one’s sister and brother believers to know one is following God faithfully. I loved the ending. It seemed logical, entirely correct, and ultimately just.
This portrait of a deeply religious woman is just about perfect. If you haven’t read it, read it tomorrow if you can.
One of the longer passages in the Reconciliation Lectionary is Jesus’ encounter with the sinful woman during the Pharisee’s dinner party. You know the story, and the parable (41-43) Jesus uses to illustrate his point.
Instead of studying the entire text–which I think might be too long for most form I Reconciliations, I’d like to focus on the notion of forgiveness:
So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
An earlier edition of the NAB gives verse 47 as such, “I tell you that is why her many sins are forgiven–because of her great love. Little if forgiven the one whose love is small.”
Is there a problem with the old rendering? Because of her love, her sins are forgiven. The updated translation in the latest RNAB–what we are given in the Lectionary–seems to resonate more with the parable in which the person forgiven a greater debt has more cause to love.
The Jesuit Peter van Breemen summarizes thus:
The message is now unmistakable: the very great love of this woman is the fruit of the forgiveness she experienced so intensely.
Jesus gives repeated experiences of forgiveness in the Gospels. Sometimes people ask for it. Sometimes, they just express their enthusiasm, as Zacchaeus did (Luke 19:1-10). Sometimes a person was just caught in the act (John 8:1-11).
Perhaps it is a human tendency, not a godly one, to expect to see some sign. We want our child to come to us with contrite tears for disobedience or deception. We want our spouse to approach us, crestfallen. We want to see a bishop in prison orange.
It strikes me that we should be looking deeper, and that we should be taking less the attitude of Peter (asking if we forgive seven times) and more that of Christ. And if we can forgive the theft of a small cookie, the white lie, and even the cover-up of a grave crime, then perhaps we have something deeper to savor.
“Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray it as much as anything we utter as Christians. Given our mortal/moral makeup, it would be impossible for us to imitate the sinless perfection of God. But we can certainly make an effort to forgive as Christ so freely offers forgiveness. And we will fail, as the Pharisee friend of Jesus did. But we can be urged internally to try and try again. Because, really: what’s the alternative? Host dinner parties and point fingers at other people? Like that’s not going to come back to haunt us.
Ash Wednesday will be something of a scramble in temporary worship conditions in my parish. Ordinarily, our church is conveniently located across the street from campus–the student union in fact. And we get droves of people for four Masses–one at noon and three in the evening.
It won’t be as convenient to walk to the Iowa State Center, which is big enough to hold the people who come to these liturgies. So we added an early morning Mass in our basement. The noon service will be Liturgy of the Word, plus distribution of ashes.
So it’s time to sit in the purple chair before the purple days of Lent. If Ash Wednesday were yours to plan, and assuming your usual availability of clergy, how would you arrange the proceedings? Use a liturgy of the Word more liberally? What are the ideal times to accommodate both parishioners and those occasional Catholics who drop in for the “obligatory” observance of this non-obligatory holy day?