Me autem minui

June 19, 2007

We’re finally getting some rain here, which means that the brown-but-dormant lawn will probably perk up and need to be cut soon. Hooray for that, but it’s better news for area farmers. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get the soft, two-day soaker they were hoping for.

The kids have VBS this week, and the first of this week’s company (my sister-in-law and nieces) are landing today. Next week everyone except me will be heading south for a week to visit friends and family. I will stay home and will no doubt find ways to stay occupied and/or amused.

As mentioned in a previous post, Midsummer is upon us: the solstice is Thursday, and the holiday itself falling on the 24th, when the Western Church observes the Nativity of John the Baptist. This is the only other Nativity observed in our liturgical calendar (the other, of course, is the Nativity of Our Lord).

When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the significance of the dates in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. The Baptist said “He must increase, I must decrease.” The days begin to shorten and the light decreases until the birth of our Lord, when they again begin to lengthen.

To me, the solstice is an interesting nexus of belief and rite. We’ve been reckoning the passing of the seasons by the movement of the sun for time out of memory. When the Creator of the universe enters his own story, the echoes of the Incarnation – like ripples across a still pond – travel throughout all of history. How can it be otherwise? If these echoes have been festooned and decorated with ribbons, bonfires and festivals, should we not smile as parents at the scribbles of child? Not in condescension, but in delight that the circles and scrawls begin to approximate a human figure. As a Catholic Christian, I declare my beliefs with every word of the Credo, but I do not despise the pagan past. Not all of it, anyway. As Chesterton writes in The Everlasting Man, it could have been much worse.

If the passage from heathenry to Christianity was a bridge as well as a breach we owe it to those who kept that heathenry human. If, after all these ages we are in some sense at peace with paganism, and can think more kindly of our fathers, it is well to remember the things that were, and the things that might have been. For this reason alone we can take lightly the load of antiquity and need not shudder at a nymph on a fountain or a cupid on a valentine. Laughter and sadness link us with things long passed away and remembered without dishonor; and we can see not altogether without tenderness the twilight sinking around the Sabine farm and hear the household gods rejoice when Catullus comes home to Sirmio.

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