Lent with Dante, I




I’m not a fast reader. I often get bogged down in a book and simply don’t get it finished. I read a lot, though not nearly as much as I used too. It’s not unusual for me to have several books going at the same time. Often I read for information; but like most others who read, my best reading comes from books whose purpose is to entertain. I am drawn to a certain type of literature. I read Tolstoy and C.S. Lewis, Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver. And now Dante Alighieri.

I began reading The Divine Comedy over a year ago, beginning with Inferno. I don’t generally like poetry, but found the epic poem to be a different sort, a crafted story, an insight into a world I was not altogether familiar with. Though I stand on the bank of the Tiber, looking wistfully toward Rome, it’s not always been that way. The journey has been long and its not over yet.

Inferno was a relatively fast read. It was startling to read of popes actually in hell, along with all other manner of corrupt people. But then I got to Purgatory and found myself all over its pages. I could barely read a canto. Even now, a year later, I’m just a little over half done. It would be easier if I did not believe in purgatory. My conversion came gradually, over the course of the last two years. How shall we be made fit for heaven? I’m sure that my life prior to my death will not completely render me free of sin and the propensity to transgress. I know that my salvation ultimately rests with Jesus Christ, his person and his work. But like any salvage work, there’s a lot of cleaning up to do. What shape that salvage work takes in this life and the next, I don’t completely know, and that’s okay. I just know that the cheap grace often preached from churches today is hardly worthy of the Christ who said take up your cross daily and follow me. The biggest battle any of us will ever face is the battle inside. I have seen the enemy – and it is me.

…induced by lukewarm love of doing good. Dante defines for us true sloth, not just letting “grass grow under your feet,” as the saying goes, but a grudging half-hearted attempt at doing the good. In fact, all seven capital sins purged in purgatory deal with love that is gone astray. Pride, envy, wrath, sloth, coveting, gluttony, and lust – all have their roots in love that is disordered and must now be reordered to fully enjoy the presence of God.

So, this Lent my fast is social media, my replacement, Dante.