... To protect her vow of chastity and escape Apollo’s clutches, Daphne cries out to her father...
“What do we get?” asked Peter rather bluntly, while listing what he left
behind to follow Christ. Where we half expect a paternal reprimand, the profuse generosity of our
Lord’s reply shocks us: “A hundredfold!” (Mt 19:29).
Just 100 to 1? A classic case of
modest understatement, if you ask me. I give you exhibit A…
every spring, the Galleria Borghese, the most exquisite museum in Rome after the Vatican Museums,
admits guests free of charge. We seminarians didn’t want to miss our chance to savor the
masterpieces of Rafael, Caravaggio, Canova, Titian, and—my personal favorite—Bernini.
And so there we were, circling the magnificent Apollo and Daphne, the
miracle that Bernini’s chisel brought to life. Never has inanimate stone undergone such a dramatic
metamorphosis. But the enchanting irony of it all is that Daphne herself is represented in the very
moment she begins to morph into a static tree.
Remember your mythology? Apollo’s
feverish chase after Daphne was induced by the arrow from the spiteful Eros, who also shot Daphne
with another arrow, causing her to spurn Apollo’s advances. To protect her vow of chastity and
escape Apollo’s clutches, Daphne cries out to her father, the river God, begging him to turn her
into a laurel tree. At Apollo’s touch, roots sprout from her toes, and from her fingers green
So Bernini’s stone awakes when Daphne falls asleep. But there was
another level of irony that I was oblivious to at the time. A flock of future priests was enthralled
with what some tourists took for a semi-erotic scene of scantily clad lovers. When their surprised
stares were brought to my attention, I felt like mounting my soapbox and crying out, “To the pure
all things are pure…” (Ti 1:15). While they cycled through the room rather quickly (so much else to
see, you know), we indulgent celibates were content to stand gazing. We evidently had more to admire
and delight in than the average onlooker.
And this phenomenon supports the thesis
immortalized in Bernini’s stone: he who would seize every passing pleasure only stifles it. Covetous
hands obtain only dry branches.
But the corollary to Apollo’s lesson is no myth
either: open, though empty, hands will be filled and satiated. Christ himself taught us that if we
subject ourselves to the hierarchy of his divine love, if we let him reign in our hearts, if we pray
that his Kingdom come, we won’t need to grapple and grasp after delight in creation. In his time, in
his measure and in his way, we’ll taste them all, we’ll enjoy them all … and this, a
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