Remember thou art dust…
My Lenten reading this year is Romano Guardini’s The Lord, a classic spiritual work from the mid-20th century. Although of Italian descent, Guardini lived almost his entire life in Germany. He was a priest, a theologian, and a spiritual writer, as well as one of the pioneers of the liturgical movement. The Lord is an extended meditation on Jesus as encountered in the Gospels and reflects the growing influence of the biblical movement in Catholicism during this period.
From time to time over the next 40 days, I may post excerpts from The Lord that strike me in a particular way. Here is one from the chapter “Baptism and Temptation,” where Guardini writes of Jesus’ temptation in the desert as depicted by Luke:
Once more forces collect for the assault-the mountain-peak view of the vast glory of the world, offering itself to him who is truly competent to rule! How the sensation of spiritual strength must swell the breast at Satan’s words! The will to power increased with the sense of exalted dignity and importance! Never was the costliness of earth more deeply felt than by Jesus’ greatest and most sensitive of hearts; sweet and potent, it must have hummed in his blood, calling up all his powers of creativeness and ownership. The greatness you feel in you, mighty one that you are, what are you going to do with it? Squander it on the paltriness of the poor or the stuffiness of the pious? On the mission of a wandering preacher? You were born to rule; the power and responsibility of a true sovereign await you! Tremendous temptation!
Guardini is writing in the post-WWII period and his words reflect his experiences with Nazism and its cult of the übermensch. But the “will to power” is a recurring theme in human history and not unique to a particular time or place. How many modern day Raskolnikovs can be found in the financial industry? Or perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, we can see him in the mirror when we awake each morning.
While the Ash Wednesday injunction to “repent and believe in the Gospel” is more biblical, I must confess that I miss the older “Remember thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” The shock of being confronted with the certainty of our death is a good way to begin Lent. Sic transit gloria mundi.