St. John, Clovis, Nebuchadnezzar, and Us

Clovis Baptism St Remi

For the Memorial of St. John of the Cross, let’s meditate for a moment on what St. Remy said to Clovis, when the bishop baptized the king:

Bend down, proud warrior. Burn what you have adored, and adore what you have burned.

“Burn what you have adored.”

I have loved the wrong things: fundamental fact of human life. O man, O son of Adam, you have loved the wrong things. No matter who you are; no matter what you have loved, you have loved wrongly.

Sounds harsh. But the first Advent Eucharistic-Prayer Preface can help us out. “…when all is at last made manifest…” When that happens. In the future. Has not yet happened.

st-john-of-the-crossWe may be quite knowledgeable, we Googlers of this earth. But we are immeasurably more ignorant than we are knowledgeable. There is infinitely more truth that we don’t know than that we know.

Someday, when God wills, all will be open to our gaze. As it stands now, we stumble in the dark. Hence we love wrongly. Hence we need to burn it.

“And adore what you have burned.”

This clause strikes me as considerably harder to understand. Are we guilty of having burned God? Can you even do that?

I think the only way adequately to understand St. Remy’s whole sentence, really, is to presume that it refers to King Nebuchadnezzar. He cast the three servants of Yahweh into the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar worshiped pagan idols and ordered everyone else to do the same. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused.

Nebuchadnezzar had a huge furnace he used for executions. When he gazed into his oven of death, he saw not only the three Jews he had condemned, but also a fourth with them, “who looked like a son of God.”

15-03-03/42When we have loved wrongly, we have not done so “in a vacuum.” That we love rightly is no matter of indifference. The One we have failed to love as we should: He, and He alone, we must love.

But wait! Nebuchadnezzar was given a special vision and saw something to love. We just got through grappling with the fact that we cannot see the One we must love. Anything we see, which we love—that, ipso facto, is loving wrongly. That, ipso facto, needs burning, not adoring.

Where is the One we have heretofore burned—and now must adore, according to St. Remy? Father Bishop, where is He? How can we follow the second part of the instruction you gave to King Clovis?

The saintly bishop replies: Do you believe in God? The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit? Do you believe?

Yes, Father. We do not see. But we believe.

Then there is your answer, mortal. Adore the invisible One you do not know. Adore the One in Whom you believe, Whom you have heretofore burned by adoring the things you know.