Sunday, November 06, 2011

"The Bridegroom is coming."

In Act Two of his play, The Jeweler's Shop, Blessed Karol Wojtyla tells the story of Anna, whose marriage to Stefan began with promise, but has turned to the bitterness of disappointment and disillusionment. They have become like strangers in the same house, and she believes that their love is dead. But the mysterious jeweler will not take her wedding ring when she tries to sell it -- her husband still being alive, her ring alone does not weigh anything when he places it on his scales, which "weigh not the metal, but man’s entire being and fate." Ashamed, but still desperate for love, she leaves the jeweler's shop and meets a "chance interlocutor" who speaks to her of the Bridegroom who is coming.

In the parable of the Bridegroom and the Ten Virgins, which is the Gospel reading at Mass for this Sunday (Mt 25:1-13), we usually think of its lesson of constant readiness, but Pope John Paul uses it to add a couple of insights to our understanding of love.

Adam – I told Anna, “The Bridegroom will come shortly.” I said this thinking of the love which had so died in her soul. The Bridegroom passes through so many streets, meeting so many different people. Passing, he touches the love that is in them. It if is bad, he suffers for it. Love is bad when there is a lack of it. . . .

Anna – Isn’t what one feels most strongly the truth? . . . Is not love a matter of the senses and of a climate which unites and makes two people walk in the sphere of their feeling?
Adam, however, did not fully agree with this. Love is, according to him, a synthesis of two people’s existence which converges, as it were, at a certain point, and makes them into one. And then again he repeated that the Bridegroom would walk down this street shortly. This news, heard for the second time, not only fascinated me, but suddenly awoke a longing in me. A longing for someone perfect, for a man firm and good, who would be different from Stefan -- different, different . . . And with the feeling of this sudden longing, I must have started running, looking closely at the men I passed.

[Anna begins to encounter various men passing by.]

Adam – This is just what compels me to think about human love. There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious. The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama. It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence. The surface of love has its current – swift, flickering, changeable. A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction. This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away – women and men. They get carried away by the thought that they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact, they have not yet even touched it. They are happy for a while, thinking that they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains. That’s how it is: on the other side of that rapture, nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it. But there can’t be nothing, there can’t! Listen to me, there can’t. Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity – so it cannot be that nothing remains! . . .

Anna – [meets a second passerby] I was almost ready to cling to his arm . . . I longed so much for a man’s arm and a walk along the avenue of wilting chestnut trees. He went on to say, “How about stepping into that club?” . . . “And then?” I asked. He did not reply, and I seemed to take fright at that “then.” He must have had a wife . . . Suddenly, I realized what the expression “a casual woman” could mean. . . . I kept walking, however, still thinking about the same thing, coming forward, as it were, toward every passing man. . . .
Now I’m on the edge of the pavement. On the curb.... There’s a car; an expensive one. The window is partly lowered, a man at the wheel. I stopped.

Adam – Love is not an adventure. It has the taste of the whole man. It has his weight. And the weight of his whole fate. It cannot be a single moment. Man’s eternity passes through it. That is why it is to be found in the dimensions of God, because only He is eternity. . . .

Anna – I stopped and fixed my eyes on the car, the windows, the man. . . . The man looked. I approached. He had a low, warm voice when he said, “Won’t you join me?” He indicated the seat next to him. In a while, he will start the engine. We shall move off. We’ll drive into the unknown. . . . I shall be somebody again. . .
I want to, I think I want to very much. I think I had already put my hand on the door handle. I only had to press it. Suddenly I felt a man’s hand on mine. I looked up. Adam was standing above me. I saw his face, which was tired; it betrayed emotion. Adam looked me straight in the eyes. His hand was just lying on mine. Then he said, “No.” I felt the car moving past us. In a moment, it was gone. “It’s strange that you should come back; I thought you’d disappeared for good.”

Adam – I came back to show you the street. It is strange. Not because it is full of shops, neon lights and buildings, but because of the people. Look, on the other side of the street there are some girls passing by; they are walking, laughing and talking loudly among themselves. . . . Their lamps are out, so they are on their way to buy some oil. They will fill the lamps, and the lamps will burn again. . . .
They are the wise virgins.... And now look over there. Those are the foolish virgins. They are asleep and their lamps are lying by the wall. One has even rolled across the pavement and fallen into the gutter. To you it seems they are asleep in those recesses, but in reality, they too are walking down the street. They are walking in their sleep. They are walking in a lethargy – they have a dormant space in them.
You now feel that space in you, because you too were falling asleep. I have come to wake you. I think I am in time.

Anna – Why did you wake me? Why?

Adam – I’ve wakened you because the Bridegroom is to walk down this street. The wise virgins want to come forward and meet him with their lights; the foolish virgins have fallen asleep and lost their lamps. I promise you they will not wake in time, and even if they do, they will not be able to find and light their lamps. . . .
The Bridegroom is constantly waiting. He constantly lives in expectation. Only this is, as it were, on the far side of all those different loves without which man cannot live. Take you, for instance. You cannot live without love. I saw from a distance how you walked down this street and tried to rouse interest. I could almost hear your soul. You were calling with despair for a love you do not have. You were looking for someone who would take you by the hand and hug you.
Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride? One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul, as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering” – because to love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders, and cannot burn out. Ah, the flame and the spring. You don’t feel the spring, but are consumed by the flame. Is that not so?

Anna – I don’t know. I only know that you have been talking to my soul. Don’t be afraid! It goes with my body. How can it be embraced or possessed without my body? I am a foolish virgin. I am one of the foolish virgins. Why did you wake me? …
There they are again, those girls. Their faces are not even attentive. Are they really pure and noble, or is it just that they have fared better in life than I? …

Adam – The Bridegroom is coming. This is his precise hour. Oh, look – the wise virgins have just gone by, holding their freshly lighted lamps. Their light is bright, because they have cleaned the glass in the lanterns. They walk gaily, almost dancing as they walk. . . .

Anna – I went on looking. A man was walking, dressed in a light coat, he was not wearing a hat. I did not notice his face at first, because he walked lost in thought, his head lowered. On impulse I began to walk in his direction. But when he lifted his face, I nearly gave a shout! It seemed to me I clearly saw Stefan’s face. And I immediately withdrew ... I have seen the face I hate, and the face I ought to love. Why do you expose me to such a test?

Adam – In the Bridegroom’s face, each of us finds a similarity to the faces of those with whom love has entangled us on this side of life, of existence. They are all in him.

[Act Three - several years later, during which Anna had begun the process of healing her marriage]

Adam – That evening I saw Anna again. The memory of her encounter with the Bridegroom was still vivid to her. Anna had entered the road of complementary love. She had to complement, giving and taking in different proportions than before. The turning point occurred that night many years ago. At that time everything threatened destruction. A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom. What Anna felt of it at first was only the suffering. In the course of time a gradual calm came. And something new that was growing, was still intangible, and, above all, did not “taste” of love. One day they may learn to relish the taste of that something new . . .

Excerpts from The Jeweler's Shop (1960), translated by Boleslaw Taborksi (1980)
In our exegesis of scripture, we know the Bridegroom to be Christ, and His Bride is the Church. In many parables, we are the guests at the wedding banquet or the virgins awaiting the Bridegroom's arrival. But although the Bride is the Church and we appear to be bystanders, who is the Church?

We the faithful make up the Church. We are the Bride. You are the Bride. "Oh, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves which fill our lives, there is Love! The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street! How am I to prove to you that you are the bride?" Each of us is the Bride that Jesus loves with such a fierce deep passion, if only we would realize it and accept it. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love."

However, to be the Bride, one with Christ, means also to be one with His Passion. “Beloved, you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to . . . my suffering.” The spousal love of Jesus for us, and that we ought have for Him, passes through the Cross. But in that encounter of love comes not the death of love, but new life for our relationships of love with others. "A new love could begin only through a meeting with the Bridegroom."

At first, it may appear that there is only the suffering. But in the course of time, a transformation occurs, something new grows. At first, it may seem intangible and not have the “taste” of love that we are accustomed to. But in Him, in the Bridegroom, we can learn to relish the taste of that something new, the eternity and absolute of love.

(Cross-posted at Cinema Catechism)

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