Thanksgiving in the United States is a time of calm before the expectant weeks of Advent. At least for a moment, the travesty and distress of the world is exchanged for feasting and consciously remembering the good providence of God. He is good, but the world is falling away. The mask of life is most certainly on the face of death. In these times of pausing, I’m more comforted with honest perspective as it is hinged upon the hope of the Gospel. So I turn to reading Lewis (and others).
I appreciate the letters to Don Giovanni Calabria, a Roman Catholic priest who founded an orphanage in Verona. Calabria only spoke Italian and Lewis didn’t know Italian, so their correspondence was in Latin. I don’t know Latin well enough to read it so my reflection is through the English translation. He and Lewis began their letter writing in 1947 with an inquiry by Calabria to Lewis after reading The Screwtape Letters. I hope these few excerpts provide a glimpse into how they viewed the world and found peace only in Jesus–his death and resurrection as well as the grace given to us to serve.
Everywhere things are troubling and uneasy—wars and rumours of war: perhaps not the final hour but certainly times most evil. Nevertheless, the Apostle again and again bids us ‘Rejoice’ (Philippians 4:4). Nature herself bids us do so, the very face of the earth being now renewed, after its own manner, at the start of Spring. I believe that the men of this age (and among them you Father, and myself) think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world. Does not the author of The Imitation warn us against involving ourselves too much with such things? We are not kings, we are not senators. Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the state of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford. In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet. I have always believed that Voltaire, infidel though he was, thought aright in that admonition of his to cultivate your own garden: likewise William Dunbar (the Scottish poet who flourished in the 15th century) when he said, “Man, please thy Maker and be merry; This whole world rate we at a penny!” Tomorrow we shall celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Christ. I shall be remembering you in the Holy Communion. Away with tears and fears and troubles! United in wedlock with the eternal Godhead Itself, our nature ascends into the Heaven of Heavens. So it would be impious to call ourselves ‘miserable’. On the contrary, Man is a creature whom the Angels—were they capable of envy—would envy. Let us lift up our hearts! ‘At some future time perhaps even these things it will be a joy to recall’ (Virgil, Aeneid, I, 203). (March 27, 1948)
The times we live in are, as you say, grave: whether ‘graver than all others in history’ I do not know. But the evil that is closest always seems to be the most serious: for as with the eye so with the heart, it is a matter of one’s own perspective. However, if our times are indeed the worst, if That Day is indeed now approaching, what remains but that we should rejoice because our redemption is now nearer and say with St. John: ‘Amen; come quickly, Lord Jesus.’Meanwhile our only security is that The Day may find us working each one in his own station23 and especially (giving up dissensions) fulfilling that supreme command that we love one another. (July 14, 1952)
Pray for me, my Father, that I neither persist, through over- boldness, in what is not permitted to me nor withdraw, through too great timidity, from due effort: for he who touches the Ark without authorization and he who, having once put his hand to the plough, draws it back are both lost. (Jan. 5, 1953)
“Post-Christian man” is not the same as “pre-Christian man”. He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost. (March 17, 1953)
Let us give thanks and walk into Advent–in this post-post Christian world–knowing that time is manufactured for eternity, the breath of humanity for the glory of God, our love of neighbor for the sake of the “eternal Godhead Itself,” as Lewis frames it. He ends his correspondence with Father Calabria in March 1948 and again in July 1952 with a simple, “Let us ever pray for each other.”
Yes, let’s do that. We will need it for the trials ahead.