Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Magdalen Hour

I love early morning on Easter Sunday. It is the Magdalen Hour, the hour of peace restored and joy renewed.

It is the hour of recognition: coming about not through some automated exercise in information collection - Mary didn't Google Christ after all! -  or through some methodologically sound collection of verifiable data subjected to the most rigorous examination and deconstruction... certainly not! As contemporary French author Fabrice Hadjadj tells us in The Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ,  it came simply through Christ's call across a quiet spring garden just stirring after dawn: 

'Mariam!'

'Rabonni!'

It is one of the only exchanges that St John preserves in Hebrew.

I don't know why the translator or the editors chose such an appalling title for Hadjadj's book. The French title is Resurrection, mode d'emploi (Resurrection: a user's guide), which tells us two things: first, what the book is about (the Resurrection) and, second, that it is consciously setting out to parody the infamous classic Suicide, a User's Guide, a taboo volume that came out in the 1980s and a go-to self-help book for suicides before the internet took over that particularly evil role.

But I digress...

The Magdalen Hour - the counterstroke to the hour of darkness announced on Thursday evening by St Luke (22:53).

These moments are comforting in a week when we've seen flashes of conflict in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula. It doesn't do to feed oneself a diet of geopolitical panic. That has not stopped us redoubling our prayers for world peace to the Immaculate Heart of that Mary whose own hour - according to St Ignatius and I'm sure various others - came even before Magdalen's.

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Hadjadj's book also contains another gem which has occasioned me much thought this Lent. His first chapter is actually a reflection on the soldiers who took money from the High Priests to lie about what they saw at the Resurrection. It seems this fact is often passed over in commentaries on the gospel but Hadjadj points out very adeptly that there is something universally relevant about the opposition between belief in the Resurrection, and the getting and spending of some other token in place of that belief. I suppose the Old Testament calls this idolatry, although we hardly recognise that as a metaphor for our own practices any more. Fools that we are...

Different versions of last night's Collect show this. The words 'puram tibi exhibeamus servitutem' are translated 'that we may render to Thee a pure service' by some older translations, but 'that they may render you undivided service' in at least one modern translation. Undivided service is what it's all about. How often - I articulate Hadjadj's thought no doubt in a garbled way - do our hearts get involved in the trading of affection for imaginary benefits, like those soldiers who let their desire for money get the better of the truth they had witnessed at dawn (Matthew 28:15).

We tend to think of the conspiracy predating Christ's death. But St Matthew's account of the High Priests' actions after the Resurrection suggest they are still at it afterwards. If it took gall to conspire against Christ before he was slaughtered; how much worse was it for them when they heard from the mouths of these soldiers that the Temple had indeed been rebuilt in three days. Let us hope for their sake that the Chief Priests simply did not believe the guards; but in that case why bribe them, rather than punishing them for lying?

But we are all conspirators in fact, actors in a grand auto-destructive plot: promising ourselves this or that benefit at the cost (and what cost!) of the truth we have learned and professed belief in. We do not know the puram servitutem. Our hearts are still divided by an affection for those coins - name your poison - that will block up the door to the opened tomb. Who will roll the coin away?

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I don't know how long this blog can stagger on for. I'm increasingly committed to digital minimalism and am more inclined to simply dig my own field rather than spraying my thoughts over the internet. The single most fruitful thing we could all do is to cut ourselves off from the net and spend the time we would have wasted on it in prayer, reading and reflection. I have been teetering on the edge of this contradiction too long now to remain a committed blogger.

The challenge instead - the challenge I set myself - is to find the things that bring nourishment to our own souls and those of our families. So little of that can depend on a microchip. The neo-scholastic naive reductionism about the neutrality of technology has hurt us all long enough.

But let me finish on a happier note. One of the joys of today is the music of the day Mass. There are few more perfect hymns in the Liber Usualis than the Victimae Paschali Laudes. It is the soundtrack of the Magdalen Hour. Dic nobis Maria quid vidisti in via?

She can tell us of course and indeed she does. But it doesn't matter what we hear, unless we prefer it to all our big data and wretched bit coins.

Happy Easter.


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