Sunday, April 25, 2010


I am reading a book now by an author named Clare Asquith, Shadowplay. The thesis is that most of the plays of William Shakespeare were written with “sub-plots” that reflected his position on the issue of religion in England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (James VI of Scotland). The premise is that Shakespeare strongly sympathized with the cause of the “old Catholics,” waiting (in vain) for the restoration of freedom for the practice of the Faith.

Asquith argues her point of view well. Though (to quote Hamlet) my first thought was, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” I believe she has made a very, very strong and consistent case. I say this being someone who never bought into the “interpretation” of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as a way of doing closet-catechesis of Catholic children. This was always, to me, forced and unlikely (and it is, in fact, untrue).

But the technique is clearly a real one: Handel used it, for instance, in his oratorio Judas Maccabeus, when his chorus “See, the conqu’ring hero comes!” supposedly marks a victory for the Maccabees but in reality was a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland in his defeat of the Scots and “Bonny Prince Charlie” at the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

The lesson is to keep one’s eyes and ears open—you never know what you might be seeing or hearing, and what it really means.

We could make the same point about Jesus. When asked directly whether or not He is the Messiah, Jesus says, “I told you, and you do not believe” (John 10:22-26). The Biblical theologian N. T. Wright comments: “Jesus will not say it in so many words, though anyone listening closely to what he’d said about the good shepherd would have picked up the message easily enough. …As usual, he refers them instead to the works that he’s doing."

That’s not always enough for us, either—after the multiplication of loaves, Jesus tells the crowds who have followed, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are not looking for me because you saw the sign, but because you had your fill of bread” (John 6:26). We can “see” and yet not see, “hear” and yet not hear.

“My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus tells us today (John 10:27). “Hearing,” in this context, means recognizing the Voice and being faithful to its calling. Are we hearing? If we’re not really listening, we’ll never be able to hear. How can we properly listen? In quiet prayer we listen to the Spirit prompting our hearts. In Scripture reading we listen to the Word speaking through the words. In active participation in the Liturgy we listen to the rhythm and reason of the prayers, along with the unspoken word of the worship itself, the Sacrament of Ultimate Love.

Look closely; listen well. Who knows what we just might hear and see?
As a "bonus," here is an instrumental arrangement of the Handel chorus I referred to. I bet you recognize the music!

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