I have a couple of recently acquired books by Thomas Howard (also a library book) and I went looking this morning to see where he had been a professor. I found a recorded interview with him on The Coming Home Network International from 2010 in which they discussed Psalm 43:1-5, Howard’s choice of a scripture that has been important to him. I should add that Thomas Howard, raised an evangelical Christian (brother to Elisabeth Eliott) in later life converted to Catholicism. His perspective was colored by both traditions and it was very instructive, and I appreciated it. I especially thought his point about the sacraments including the physical dimension, not just the spiritual, was very valid, and something protestants need to learn.
Howard spoke of the verses of this Psalm, and the liturgy as well, leading us on a journey to the “holy hill”, to God’s “dwelling”, the “altar of God”, and to God. Speaking about Mass and approaching the altar he says:
“Unto thee will all flesh come with it’s burden of sin”… in one sense is true but the
proper approach to the altar is, having made my confession, and being innocent,
being aware of my failures and shortcomings, NOT hanging on to them and saying
“Well, I’m going to get the benefits and the luxuries of feeding on the bread of God
but I’m going to hang on to my own preferences and my own characteristics.”
No, I have to lay that down at the foot of the cross.
“I will go to the altar of God.”It is the most accurate and adequate way of describing our
whole life, our mortal life, our eternal life, the very thing that we human beings were
created for, the very meaning of our being.…We, with the whole creation and angels
and archangels are in procession to God since He is the alpha, our beginning,
and the omega, the end, the fruition, our goal, the fulfillment of the whole thing.
Losing sight of this, that I am in procession to the altar of God with all the saints
that have gone before us, is a disaster which ends in Hell finally. And in that
connection I was thinking of the poem.. by T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets. He’s got a
marvelous line in there where he’s talking about the desolation and the meaning-
lessness and the flatness of life without God; people who go slipping along through life.
The phrase he uses about this state of affairs for a given person is…”distracted from
distraction by distraction.” No focus, no centering, no clarity, no goal, no discipline,
no unity of life. Just distracted from distraction by more distraction.