Today’s readings: Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Philippians 2:15d, 16a; Luke 6:39-45

 

To commemorate Charles Baudelaire’s bicentennial birth anniversary, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris curated an exhibition by the renowned South African artist Marlene Dumas, who took inspiration from the poet’s collection Le Spleen de Paris. The 15 exhibits were on view till last January.

Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems Le Spleen de Paris, published posthumously in 1869.Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems Le Spleen de Paris, published posthumously in 1869.

Dumas tells how Baudelaire’s poems troubled and saddened her due to the poet’s verbalisation of “the struggle with the evil of the soul and the injustice of political systems”. In Le Spleen de Paris, published posthumously in 1869, Baudelaire elaborates on the themes of Les Fleurs du Mal, wherein he chews over the relationship between good and evil in the human heart, exploring the philosophical and religious dilemma from the standpoint of someone fascinated with evil, who does not shy away from his own imperfection and who unashamedly uncovers the hypocrisy and falsity of a society corrupted to its core. Les Fleurs du Mal had such a shocking effect that in 1857 Baudelaire was prosecuted for offending public and religious morals. He defended himself by stating that the collection should be judged as an entire corpus which transmits an appalling moral quality.

Damian Catani argues that, in the necessary present-day rethinking of our understanding of evil and on who is responsible for it, “Baudelaire makes a decisive contribution”. Indeed, the poet’s attention to melancholy and malaise in Le Spleen and Les Fleurs du Mal might have something to say on our abysmal uneasiness and boredom with the current state of affairs, pointing to a wakeless desire for healing.

Les Fleurs du Mal had such a shocking effect that in 1857 Baudelaire was prosecuted for offending public and religious morals.Les Fleurs du Mal had such a shocking effect that in 1857 Baudelaire was prosecuted for offending public and religious morals.

In the opening poem in Les Fleurs du Mal, as if attempting to bring home the doleful state of the human heart that has lost its naturalness, Baudelaire bluntly faces off the reader as “hypocrite reader, my likeness, my kin!” Without making too much of a comparison, in today’s gospel, Jesus sternly confronts his listeners: “You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

Let no one be deluded! No significant change for good is ever possible if it does not stem from the acknowledgement that we are all – personally and collectively – kindred in evil. Jesus warns us that in condemning others with a holier-than-thou attitude, under the pretence of wanting to correct and reform, we are merely protecting our weak false-self, constantly fooling ourselves that the immorality we perceive in others is extraneous to us.

Baudelaire’s forthright provocation that we do not commit evil because “we are not bold enough” should at least make us ponder on how often we fall into the trap of pretending to bring change and transformation for good while acting from the same sinister “store of evil” secretly latent in our hearts!

In the second reading, the apostle insightfully remarks that only when that “which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility”, does new life or resurrection becomes possible. Hence, the admonition to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain”.

Being sturdy in the Lord ‘in whom there is no wrong’ enables us to first reform ourselves before engaging in activism for change

Being sturdy in the Lord “in whom there is no wrong” enables us to first reform ourselves before engaging in activism for change. This does not mean that one should not employ his energy to bring change and transformation. It only means that one’s commitment to righteousness will stem from the right motivation. Missing this fundamental measure, one runs the risk of being trapped into a vicious cycle that unceasingly births death.

charlo.camilleri@um.edu.mt

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