According to Thomas a Kempis in his Of the Imitation of Christ, “a true lover of Christ…does not fall back upon consolations, nor seek such sensible sweetness; he prefers hard trials and would wish to undergo severe labors for Christ.” I, though, perhaps not a true lover of Christ, seek consolations and sensible sweetness, whether from God or from this world. Given that I rarely find consolation in my faith, I frequently turn toward created things–beautiful things, but created things nonetheless. Caught me: perhaps not all beautiful, but indeed all created. I will venture out on a limb (if it is not too far off the ground anyway) and say that music, literature, poetry, my friends, alcohol, and the sight of beautiful women more consistently provide consolation than does my faith, my religion, and–at times, it seems–my God. Yes, I know armchair, spiritual director: those who look that to that which is limited will find only limited comfort, and, in the course of time, begin to mistake the shadow of the thing for the thing itself. Before long, then, I, like Faustus, may find myself saying the following:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? / Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss / Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies! / Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again! ? Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, / And all is dross that is not Helena.
To give up heaven for Helen, even though she may have launched more ships than what even the US Empire Navy possesses, is still to give up heaven. My fear (though it waxes and wanes based upon the sunlight), however, is that I will then have to confess the following, as Stephen Dedalus admits as he listens to a homily while on his Jesuit-directed retreat in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
The conscience will say: You had time and opportunity to repent and would not…O what shame, what misery! The ruler of the universe entreated you, a creature of clay, to love Him Who made you and to keep His law. No. You would not. And now, though you were to flood all hell with your tears if you could still weep, all that sea of repentance would not gain for you what a single tear of true repentance shed during your mortal life would have gained for you. You implore now a moment of earthly life wherein to repent: in vain. That time is gone: gone for ever.