The Holy Spirit doesn’t fight fair. He hits you when you let your guard down. I was preparing for my Introduction to Hispanic Literature class, minding my own business. And I got triple teamed by the Holy Spirit, Lope de Vega and Longfellow.
One of the most famous sonnets in Spanish literature is ¿Qué tengo yo que mi amistad procuras? By the incomparable Lope Félix de Vega Carpio (1562-1635). An excellent anthology of Spanish verse online, prepared by Benedictine College alum Fred Jehle, professor emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, includes a translation by none other than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A distant memory recalled that Longfellow had learned Spanish and translated Spanish poets. I decided to try my hand at making Lope’s lines ring true for the modern reader.
Lope himself is an amazing figure. A first class womanizer, Spanish Armada survivor, secretary to the Duke of Alba, he was ordained to the priesthood later in life to try to stave off temptations of the flesh. It only compounded his sin and guilt. But he was a prolific poet and dramatist, penning a few dozen volumes of verse and more than 400 plays. He was a tortured soul, and describes better than most the torture of a soul who perceives God’s call but struggles against the undertow of his own sins, original and actual.
Here’s my version of his sonnet:
What have I that You care to be my friend?
What interest could You possibly pursue,
That at my doorstep, Jesus, drenched with dew
The dismal nights of wintertime You spend?
My insides must be slabs of pure concrete;
I opened not for You! A monstrous thing,
If my ingratitude’s raw, icy sting
Dried out the wounds of your most holy feet!
How many times my angel did proclaim:
“Look out the window now, oh soul, and see
How He persists to call with love aflame”!
And, oh, how many, Beauteous Majesty,
“Tomorrow we will open” I would claim
To have my words the same tomorrow be!
While reading and re-reading it, it felt like it was my story, too. Perhaps less dramatic, but no less real. How often I screen God’s calls, and replay the voicemail, and leave Him hanging.
I had been postponing confession. After finishing with Lope, I took the hint and promptly got shriven. I may keep Lope’s poem handy to shame myself into answering my Guardian Angel, whose voice has recently gone hoarse.
The liturgy of Ash Wednesday is a clarion call to bust out of the listless lethargy of a mediocre lifestyle. God has destined us, in his Son, to glory. And to follow Him to glory we must follow Him to the cross. If we have strayed from the path, we must get back. We must, as the Beatles once sang, “get back to where we once belonged.” And there is no other belonging like that belonging, that warm embrace of my Creator, my Father, the One in whom I live and move and have my being.
Lent is not about sacrifice for its own sake. It’s about opening doors. It’s about trimming away what separates me from God and makes me deaf to his voice. His is Beauteous Majesty. And I seek out fleeting fancy that is ugliness and subject myself to rulers unworthy of my rational soul.
Knock, knock. Who’s there? Jesus Christ, wounded out of love for you, chilled with ingratitude, shivering at your door. Don’t stand there saying “Jesus Christ, who?” Open the door.
* * *
Reprinted with permission from the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College. Dr. Mulholland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.