G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”
I am bound to agree. After decades of writing freelance, I have come to realize that nothing so challenges and satisfies as writing about Jesus Christ and His truth as articulated through the Catholic Church — popes and pew-sitters alike. To follow the great Marcus Grodi on the back page of The Catholic Answer is a vast privilege and humbling challenge, which makes me a bit of a grateful beggar; there’s a reason why this new column is called Ora Pro Nobis. How blessed I am, though, to launch it in an issue so chock-full of perilous, exciting and instructive orthodoxy!
Seeing Jerid Miller’s piece on Verbum Domini land at The Catholic Answer in the same month I debut here is one of those small-but-happy synchronicities that make you feel you’re being looked after. Small bites of Pope Benedict XVI’s beautifully wrought exhortation on the Word of God, taken in concert with other sacred reading, have been flavoring all of my study with a consoling steadiness that builds from a single line to which I keep returning: “The realist is the one who recognizes in the word of God the foundation of all things” (Verbum Domini, No. 10).
On first reading that, I gasped at the simple profundity. If this is true, and if the Word of God, the Logos existing before all things is All-Good, then it follows that all created creatures — all things, down to their spinning atoms — are good and founded upon this Word.
On some level we must know this to be true, yet only a relative handful of human beings, among the billions who have walked the earth, seem to have found it obvious. Chesterton was onesuch, as evidenced in the unending sense of surprised delight he took of the world and everything in it. He found newspaper ink to be as wonderful as beach glass, which — it went without saying — was to him as glorious as a good cigar or a glass of beer or orthodoxy. As awe-struck and grateful for the world as a teenager in love, he routinely saw goodness about him, and pondered the unconditional gift of days, asking, “Why am I allowed two?”
In Chesterton’s wordy sphere, though, how did he gain his wondering insightfulness? He lived and breathed the 19th-century equivalent of social media (what a blogger he would have been!) of which our pope writes: “Ours is not an age which fosters recollection; at times one has the impression that people are afraid of detaching themselves, even for a moment, from the mass media. For this reason, it is necessary nowadays that the people of God be educated in the value of silence . . . only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary, woman of the world and, inseparably, woman of silence” (VD, No. 66).
Do we lose sight of God’s ever-present goodness simply because we are underexposed to true silence? For all his gregariousness, Chesterton’s mostly unplugged era provided necessary pockets of deep silence, a different means of connectedness which we lately encounter only by force of will. To consent to be in silence is a kind of humility; it involves a potent giving up of the self. St. Therese Couderc, the foundress of the Cenacle Sisters, understood this, and in her ministry assisted retreatants toward such recollectedness. Devalued by her own community, however, she was forced to live deeply within silence, one which supports Benedict’s exhortation: “I saw written as in letters of gold this word Goodness, which I repeated for a long while with an indescribable sweetness. I saw it, I say, written on all creatures, animate and inanimate, rational or not, all bore this name of goodness. In a sense, St Therese Couderc was privileged to “see” the Verbum Domini, the Logos of all origins, contained in the single word “goodness.” TCA
Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine oblate, and managing editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.com, where she also blogs as the Anchoress. She is also a weekly columnist at First Things and a regular panelist on the Brooklyn-diocese-produced current events program, in the Arena, seen at NETNY.net. Contact Elizabeth at email@example.com