Empty Shell Without!

Man has a natural inclination for peace even if he is engaged in all sort of malfeasance. Man naturally needs a foundation to lay his head though he is soaring high like an eagle in the sky. Though most powerful, he needs a rescuer. Though he renders an account to no one, he needs truth, honesty, true freedom, and love; he needs someone or something to put him in touch with his inner life, his conscience. No one was yearning for these more than the character named ‘Unnamed’ in Alessandro Manzoni’s masterful work, The Betrothed. Although he had power, wealth and security, his life was empty until he was converted to Christ who offers the best way to live.

lllAfter the peasant and naïve girl Lucia was kidnapped, she fervently turned to our Blessed Lady for help. Being a merciful mother, she helps her not directly, but by changing the lion heart of her captor (the Unnamed) into a little lamb. That is the only reasonable explanation behind his tormenting heart once he accepted the task of kidnapping her. He gets angry with himself for accepting; a sort of remorse and disquiet settle in his heart; the memory of past crimes start to emerge.[1] This man is not an ordinary personality. He was like “the godfather” of his time. He is above the law, feared by all, judge and master of the affair of others, and notorious for the number of crimes.[2] His castle is a veritable hotbed of murderous crimes.[3] He is thought of as a strange, ferocious, legendary, and barbarous figure. The villagers are so afraid of him, they don’t ever dare use his name. so they call him the Unnamed (l’Innominato in Italian).[4] Yet, the moment Lucia claims that “God will forgive his multitude of sins for one act of mercy”[5], he was filled with hope and the desire to hear more. This can be seen as the encounter that sets him on the path to conversion. How was this possible other than by the powerful intercession of Our Blessed Mother giving birth to a dead soul? This good news is the rescuer he was looking for, though unknowingly.

bbbAn encounter with God is life-changing and ensues a better future. As pope Benedict puts it, “one who has hope lives differently [because he] has been granted the gift of a new life.[6] Before this encounter, the Unnamed was conscious of his great vigor and confidence, no thoughts of the future poisoned his memories of the past, the non-stop spectacle of violence, revenge, and murder used to fill him with pleasure; after the encounter now, the idea of judgment… has revisited him every often. A glimpse of Lucia’s cart fills him with inexplicable depression, horrifying feeling of loneliness, ceaseless terror, and a little voice inside of him does not cease crying: “yet I am”.[7] Hope of the mercy of God can transform the most wretched heart into the most docile one. Seeing Lucia only increased his torment, and her begging softens him and moves him to compassion. Consequently, he orders a woman to care for her, entertain her, and ensure that nothing harmful happens to her.[8] This is the most brutal of men, yet encountering Lucia is turning him into a “softy”. After seeing Lucia, his conscience does not stop speaking; he spends the whole night ruminating his past crimes; he even thinks of suicide; he longs to escape from his thoughts; he lies awake the whole night; He longs to hear further words of hope and comfort from Lucia.[9] “When the feeling of compassion overpowers a person, [the latter] loses his manhood until he follows through”, Manzoni believes.[10] So we see before he enjoys that newfound hope, he went through a sort of “dark night of the soul”. At the end of these dark nights, he is motivated by the hope of a future where he can undo the past insofar that’s possible, and embrace the beginning of a new life, which is precisely what conversion entails.

The encounter with the saintly cardinal Borromeo reinforces the Unnamed’s desire to embrace Christ. That’s the contagious power of holiness; that’s the arresting beauty of truly embracing the gospel. The cardinal’s dignified and majestic bearing, his serious and yet lively eyes, his magnificent simplicity of his purple robe, and his penetrating gaze help welcome the Unnamed with the utterance: “… I am most grateful to you for taking your admirable decision to come to me, …although there should have been many times… when I should have come to you.[11] Unsure whether the cardinal is truly familiar with his notorious exploits that he (the Unnamed) had performed, the latter is surprised that he is so well received—“Did you say you should have come to me. Do you know who I am”[12], he exclaims. The cardinal points out to the Unnamed that the obvious pleasure he feels at seeing him could only be inspired by the visit of a man whose reputation he knows too well.[13]

bbbThe cardinal suggests that this visit could only be good news that God has touched his heart. However, the Unnamed asserts that there cannot be good news when hell is raging in his heart. “Where is that God anyway”.[14] The cardinal confidently reminds him that God is near him, agitates his spirit, allures him, gives him a foretaste of the hope of tranquility and happiness, so if he so chooses he can find real peace.[15] Then the Unnamed was dubious whether or not God will welcome him back— “There is indeed something oppressing my heart…, what do you think God can do for me”.[16] The cardinal authoritatively and paternally reassures him of God’s ocean of mercy— “Who are you to think that your wretchedness… can outweigh God’s goodness”.[17] It is God who stirs him to seek him…. He does not rejoice that thousands abhor his actions… God will be glorified when he acknowledges his sins.[18] Hearing these good news, that iron fist, the strong, the unbroken, the brave that is the Unnamed breaks into weeping.[19] That’s a powerful sign the Unnamed had turned around and touched by Christ. After all, we know that God is a father who is always waiting for the return of his prodigal sons or daughters. The good shepherd did leave the 99 to seek out the one lost sheep. Everyone matters in God’s eyes. So as an instrument of God, the cardinal gives thanks to God, though unfaithful steward and neglectful shepherd that he is, he is found worthy to witness a so happy a miracle[20] i.e. the conversion of a most wretched soul.

mmmIn conclusion, in case we forget what the church does, this conversion is how the church relates to the world. She is a mother who never disowns her children regardless of how low they have fallen into sin. As long as they turn around and return home, her arms are wide open waiting to hug them. That’s what the church does for every sinner; he should seek them out. That’s what the new evangelization is about—seek the lost, and if she does not, when they return, her doors are always wide open. The sins of one sinner affect the whole. So when one sinner is converted, the whole benefits. The bigger the sinner the more beneficial it is for the common good. The whole benefits when one person decides to embrace a holy life. Although it is the task of the state to establish peace and security by means of power, conversion of heart is the most powerful way to establish peace and security. Only the church can establish it in such way. The cardinal had thus done well to receive the Unnamed with such open arm given the threat he was for society at large. He was saved and I suspect many of his household will also be saved with him.

[1] Alessandro Manzoni, , The Betrothed, transl. by Bruce Penman, Penguin Books, 1st publ in London, 1972, 369.

[2] Ibid 361

[3] ibid 363

[4] Ibid 364-6

[5] Ibid 386

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi, 2

[7] Ibid 370

[8] Ibid 379

[9] Ibid 395

[10] Ibid 392

[11] Ibid 414

[12] Ibid 415

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid 415-6

[17] Ibid 416

[18] Ibid 416

[19] Ibid 417

[20] Ibid 417

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