Dear friends in Christ,
It is not every day that Pope Francis and the Economist Newspaper are encouraging people to do the same thing. But that is exactly what is happening as we approach the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, the author of that great work of Western literature, the Divine Comedy.
Ever since its writing, the Catholic Church has always given a unique status to this great poem. Of course, that is not to say that Dante had some kind of prophetic ability to say who was in heaven, hell, or purgatory at any given moment. The poem is, after all, a work of fiction, but one that has perennial truths to teach us. As Dante in the poem continually looks up to the stars, so the Divine Comedy has a unique ability to raise our minds above the travails of this world. If we take it on its own terms, this literary journey from the depths of despair to the heights of glory will remind us that while this earth is passing away, our actions here and now have eternal consequences.
The passages about hell – perhaps understandably – have fascinated the popular imagination the most. And of course, there is a call to responsibility in those sad passages about those who are separated from God for eternity. Yet it is the Paradiso to which we are called as readers and as human beings. Each of us has an eternal destiny, to share in the life of God forever with the great multitude of the blessed whom Dante meets along the way. It is not, in the end, a poem about punishment and evil, but about hope, joy, and the “love which moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradiso, Canto 33). I plan to read the Divine Comedy over the next few months and invite you to do the same.
May God be Blessed!
-Father Eric Banecker
P.S. You may find a website called 100daysofdante.com helpful – they are reading the poem between September and Easter, releasing three videos per week. Pope Francis’ letter on the subject “Candor Lucis Aeternae” (Splendor of Light Eternal) is also worth a read!