As I continue to read the Divine Comedy, read the commentary and listen to Mazzotta’s excellent commentary on this excellent and needed poem, I am reminded of how fragile we persons are.
Purgatory is a journey upward from slavery to freedom. The desert to the promised land. The order of sins are in exact reversal as those in Hell. Esolen reminds us that every action we take is motivated by love–either good or evil action. Loving something too much or too little. Pride keeps us blind to knowing if the action is good or evil or helps us justify our distorted action.
Dante now journeys to the ledge of the prideful. He sees the prideful carry heavy weights upon their shoulders.
What I’d like to talk about is the imagery Dante uses of the worm and the butterfly. He says, “Have you not learned that we are only worms/ born to form the angelic butterfly/ which flies to justice shorn of its cocoon?”
A worm will cause a plant to die. A worm is food for birds. A worm is ugly, vulnerable, weak, somewhat pathetic. We humans puff ourselves up in our pride and deceive ourselves. We pride ourselves in our education, abilities, skills, how well we love, hate, deceive, etc. (To be proud of yourself in being well skilled and taking pride in what we do is a good thing. If you are a great musician, it’s fine to know so. It is when we lord it over others and despise others and are arrogant and elevate ourselves so high we belittle, that is when pride is a huge problem. Pride usually leads to greater and greater sins. Humility is knowing you are good at what you do, but doing it with dignity and peace bringing edification to another or others.)
The worm imagery tells us we are fragile and vulnerable. And we are transformed into who we are, into a better person by the cocoon and coming out as a beautiful, but still fragile butterfly.
I think what this imagery speaks of is that God gives us gifts. He shows us, helps us see who we are. But the slightest pride in saying I can do this on my own, I don’t need God can destroy our life, integrity, blow us off the path in an instant. It is said in Scripture to neither look to the left nor to the right. One motion to either side can veer us off the path in an instant and take us far from the path. It’s like a gust of wind blowing the butterfly off course. Or the bird snatching the worm from the ground in an instant.
King David did this very thing. Abraham. Moses. Peter. Paul. Many, many others. They took their eyes off the path and strayed in different ways. But God spoke to them again and restored them. (Sometimes after many years). Repentance isn’t always a swift turn around.
Mary, Mother of God is mentioned in this Canto. She is the greatest example of humility. “Let it be done according to your will.” She responded with swift obedience what God had for her. There was no pride within her.
They will carry a heavy burden. But it will not be carried for eternity for the one who repents. Jesus’ burden is light.