Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Sunday is For

Creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God makes with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story of God and man. The freedom and equality of men, which the Sabbath is meant to bring about, is not a merely anthropological or sociological vision; it can only be understood theo-logically. Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free. Only then are the equality and dignity of all men made manifest.

Reflection – I’m so glad to finally (after a whole month of blogging!!!) get around to a first excerpt from this little book. You may be aware that changes in the liturgy are afoot – mostly changes in the English translation, along with increased freedom and interest in the use of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
Ratzinger was a primary mover in these changes long before he became Pope Benedict, writing a number of deeply insightful books about the liturgy, its theology, spirituality, and the implications of these on the manner it is to be celebrated. He has not steered away in his writings from controversial topics; indeed, he has been motivated, it seems, by his own deep misgivings about the direction liturgical theology and piety has taken in the years since the Second Vatican Council.
In this short passage we see the heart of the liturgy, grounded in the very heart of creation. ‘On the seventh day, God rested…’ The climax of Genesis 1 is the creation, not of man, but of the sacred space opened up in time, the place where God and man come together in a relationship.
The Sabbath! The whole of creation is oriented towards this. Not towards inter-worldly processes of birth and death, the laws of physics and of economics, but to its Maker. The whole of creation exists so that man and woman, made in God’s image, can be in a relationship of love with Him.
Ratzinger makes the point about freedom and equality here, referring to the version of the Ten Commandments in Deut 8, where the Sabbath laws are linked to the experience of slavery and oppression in Egypt. But isn’t it the case that we experience our lives on earth as being somewhat of a slavery? Enslaved by economic pressures, by the incessant demands of life from a hundred directions, by our own internal drives?
God calls us to step out of this slavery into freedom, and this stepping out is the covenant, the Sabbath, worship. We step into a world where everything is given to us as a free gift of love, and we are invited to give everything back to Him as a free gift of love. The life of the Trinity, reproduced in creatures. And it is only from the starting point that we can even begin to understand the liturgy and know how to approach it properly.

The Purification of Eros

Did Christianity really destroy eros? Let us take a look at the pre- Christian world. The Greeks—not unlike other cultures—considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a “divine madness” which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness. All other powers in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary: “Omnia vincit amor” says Virgil in the Bucolics—love conquers all—and he adds: “et nos cedamus amori”—let us, too, yield to love. In the religions, this attitude found expression in fertility cults, part of which was the “sacred” prostitution which flourished in many temples. Eros was thus celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine. The Old Testament firmly opposed this form of religion, which represents a powerful temptation against monotheistic faith, combating it as a perversion of religiosity. But it in no way rejected eros as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it. Indeed, the prostitutes in the temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing “divine madness”: far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited. An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in “ecstasy” towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.
Deus Caritas Est 4

Reflection – This post picks up where a previous one leaves off. You know, I love it when Pope Benedict agrees with me! Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
When I was a newly ordained priest, oils still wet on my hands, there was a certain popular novel making a lot of waves, and bringing people to question their faith about Jesus and the Church. I decided to teach a course at the parish I was at that would debunk this ridiculous novel. But, of course, I had to read the thing first.
So yes, I read The Da Vinci Code. Now, I am not a very accomplished ascetic; I am not known for my all-night vigils, my sunken cheeks and eyes due to my heroic fasting, my ability to assume uncomfortable postures of prayer for hours on end.
But give me this: I actually read The !/&*@# Da Vinci Code. (Excuse my language). Surely that counts for something (although perhaps not, now that I’m complaining about it)! And, of course, that fatuous piece of best selling tripe is all about this business of sacred eros and holy prostitution and all that stuff. How empowering it is for women to be conduits of the divine… for men, of course.
At the time, I had precisely the response that Pope Benedict writes above. Women are just being used in this scenario! They are not valued as persons, but as instruments delivering some kind of ‘sacred’ experience to men. There is no real love, no real bowing before the beauty and sacred value of the person—just a using to get some kind of experience. Whether it is a simple experience of lust and pleasure or some elevated ‘sacred high’ is irrelevant. And where do women go, then, to get their sacred experience? Or do they not need one?
And this is the way of eros, if left to its own dynamism. It is such a powerful force, such an intense experience, that we tend to use the other person to deliver this erotic high to us. Eros is made by God, and is beautiful and good, but it is not sufficient unto itself. Left to itself, it degrades to lust and use.
And so we begin to work our way towards Pope Benedict’s answer to the charge of modernity, the accusation that the Church is anti-sex, anti-eros, anti-fun, and ultimately anti-human. He says, “Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.” And this is where the next instalment of the encyclical will take us, to the purification of eros so that it may realize its divine intent in our human being.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Does it Mean to Be A Person?

Mary is the open vessel of longing, in which life becomes prayer, and prayer becomes life. Saint John wonderfully conveys this process by never mentioning Mary’s name in his Gospel. She no longer has any name except ‘the Mother of Jesus’. It is as if she handed over her personal dimension in order now to be solely at his disposal, and precisely thereby had become a person.

Mary, the Church at the Source, 15-16

Reflection -  A number of years ago, I had a personality clash with another member of Madonna House (I know, you’re shocked!). What rubbed me the wrong way was that she never called me by name – at the time, I was the director of our liturgical choir, and she always called me “Maestro” whenever she saw me. This annoyed me. One day I even snapped at her, “I have a name, you know!” She was duly chastised.
I thought I was quite justified at the time (don’t we always…). But now, reading these luminous words from the Pope, I’m not so sure. I want to be called by my name! I am a person! I am an individual! I have rights! R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – find out what it means to me, or feel my wrath.
Mary was a person, an individual with rights, a creature endowed with dignity, worthy of respect. And yet… ‘she handed over her personal dimension in order now to be solely at his disposal’.
We are so sure, we moderns, of what it means to be a person with dignity and respect. It means to be recognized, acknowledged, to be assertive and put across one’s own personal views/dynamism/presence into the world.
For Mary, to be a person was to be an open vessel of longing for God. For Mary, to be a person was to be arms wide open, lifted up in supplication, embracing, taking in God, and hence the whole world, into her embrace. For Mary, to be a person was to be an empty space, an unplanted field, a virginal womb awaiting the fullness of God.
A very different picture of personhood emerges here. We have two models of personhood, really. And they are sharply separate, clearly delineated, truly as far from each other as heaven is from hell. There is the person as self-assertion, self-expansion, aggression—which is truly a demonic idea of personhood. And there is person as open receptivity, humble waiting, responsivity to our Father who made us, the Son who died to save us, the Spirit who descends upon us to make our lives fruitful. The Marian person. And we really do have to choose what kind of person we are becoming, we want to become. And that choice is, simply, heaven or hell.

The Tranquil Demands of Truth

All of history bears the traces of this strange dilemma between the non-violent, tranquil demands made by the truth, on the one hand, and the pressure brought to make profits and the need to have a good relationship with the powers that determine daily life by their interventions, on the other hand. Again and again, we see the victory of profit over truth, although the signs of the truth and of its own power never disappear completely. Indeed, they continue to live, often in surprising forms, in the very heart of a jungle full of poisonous plants.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 98

Reflection – I’ve blogged excerpts from this excellent little essay entitled “The Natural Knowledge of God” from this excellent little book several times already. In this passage, we see how well Ratzinger understands the heart of our fallen humanity. We are always facing just this dilemma: there is truth, always surrounding us, always awaiting our attention, ready to present itself to us and make its ‘tranquil demands’ on us… and then there’s the world and its not-so-tranquil demands.
We know we’re not supposed to torture people… but we’re being attacked by terrorists! We have to torture them! We have to find out what they’re planning! Yeah, yeah, we’re not supposed to torture. That’s ‘true’. But we have to live in the real world, right! So, torture away…
We know we’re not supposed to abort babies. But women are in trouble! We can’t expect this ‘truth’ about human life and its inviolable dignity to apply to real life! So abort away… and the wreckage of human lives goes on and on, most especially to the women put in this horrific situation.
It happens on so many fronts. There is God and his truth, his vision and plan for human life. But I want to have fun! I want to make my money! I want to have the number of children I want to have! I want to be left alone! I want to look good! I want the Church to look good! I want... I want… I want. So many ways of ‘profiting’ that the truth runs counter to.
And if it’s not the desire for profit, it’s the fear of the powers that determine the world. God and his truth are over there… but my peers are over here, and they will reject me. My family is all around me, and they will make fun of me. The business world works a certain way – lying and greed are built into the system, you know! And so on and so on.
The story doesn’t change from century to century, even if the specific metrics of profit change along with the specific powers needing to be placated. Always, though, God and his Truth await us, patiently, mercifully, implacably. Always we can choose the narrow path, the hard way. We can choose the truth, choosing to believe, even if we don’t quite see it, that the truth will set us free.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

The moral dimension lost its evidential quality with the crumbling of the fundamental Christian consensus. All that remained was a naked reason that refused to learn from any historical reality but was willing to listen only to its own self… This isolation [of reason] necessarily leads to cynicism and to the destruction of man. The real problem that confronts us today is reason’s blindness to the entire non-material dimension of reality.”

Values in a Time of Upheaval, 66

Reflection – Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Casting off the shackles of dogma and tradition, standing in the light of pure reason, pursuing free inquiry into reality unfettered, rejecting the obscurantist, superstitious, priest-ridden, hag-ridden, narrow-minded medievalism of our ancestors.
It seemed like a really really good idea. Surely we’ll get on better without all that nonsense, and come to a rational consensus about reality based on clear scientific principles and solid research!
Except that hasn’t happened. We have ideologues, for sure, who are working very hard to impose their particular view of a radically de-natured and de-gendered humanity on society, particularly through the time-honored method of indoctrination of children. We have a rather large population who do not accept this ideology, but who have scant rational argumentation against it, just a feeling that there’s sumpin’ wrong with it.
We have a great deal of sentimentality and emotion-driven arguments on all sides of any question. We have a large number of people (I suppose we’ve always had) who just do whatever the heck they want in any given situation—practical if not ideological relativists.
Through all of this two things happen. Moral life is increasingly privatized, driven solely to the sphere of personal decision, largely made on emotional reasons, since there is no clear way to reason about these questions. But since moral life is essentially social life, and different individual ethos come into conflict on a daily basis, more and more frequently governments, usually under the influence of the above-mentioned ideologues, have to regulate any and all public discourse and conduct.
And so we have the phenomenon of atomized individuals holding whatever private beliefs they ‘feel’ are true, but finding themselves increasingly controlled in their public actions and speech by ever-expanding government regulations.
It seems that this is what happens when we shut out of our moral reasoning any reference to a higher reality, to the non-material aspect of reality. To God, ultimately. When the kingdom of God, the sovereignty of God is wholly excluded from the calculations of man, then we are left with the kingdoms of the earth, clashing, grappling, fighting for power, for who will control, who will make the rules, who will make their own will prevail.
For Christians, the response is not to take up a gun and start blasting away (literally or figuratively) at whoever differs from us, like that Norwegian lunatic. Rather, it is to show forth the goodness and beauty of the kingdom of God, to show by our lives that it is a kingdom not only of truth and justice, but of mercy and tenderness. It is thus (and, I believe, only thus) that we can slowly re-introduce into our post-modern chaotic world the notions of law, truth, objective morality, and all that other stuff that it seemed like such a good idea, once upon a time, to throw away.

The End of the Road

The Assumption means… that God knows and loves the entire person which we are now. The immortal is that which is now growing and developing in our present life… what is imperishable is whatever we have become in our present bodily state; whatever has developed and grown in us, in our present life, among and by means of the things of this world.
Dogma and Preaching, 117

Reflection – Normally I would probably save this particular passage about the Assumption of Mary into heaven for August 15. However, I am going to be engaged in something else right about then that will preclude my being able to blog about much of anything, so here we are. Anyhow, the feast of the Assumption is just around the corner, so it’s never too soon to start thinking and praying about it!
This is a small part of a much longer and larger reflection on the mystery of the Assumption. For the record, in case anyone reading this is unclear on what we believe, the Assumption refers to Mary being taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly pilgrimage, as a sign of her perfect cooperation with the work of redemption, and hence her privileged entry into the fullness of resurrection life, body and soul.
When Catholics and Orthodox Christians ascribe these wondrous mysteries to Mary, it’s important to remember that we do so because of our understanding of two things: her unique, unparalleled relationship to Jesus; and her relationship to the Church as a sort of paradigm of what it truly is.
Because of this latter reason, the things we say about Mary really do reflect on our the mystery of our own Christian identity. Otherwise, in a sense, who cares? So Mary is assumed into heaven - whether you believe that or not, what difference does it make?
Mary, simply, is what a saved human being looks like. We look at Mary so as to understand more fully the mystery of what Jesus has done for us. In everyone else’s lives, the mystery of redemption is shadowed somewhat by our own sins, refusals, compromises. Only in Mary do we see what God really is intending to do with us human beings.
And so in the mystery of the Assumption we see ‘the end of the road’. We see that our life is not headed for defeat, futility, misery, tragedy. The end for our lives desired by God is that we share the glory of Christ forever in heaven.
That Mary is assumed body and soul means, as this passage reflects, that our whole self, our real self, our historical, physiological, cultural, social self is going to be raised up into this eternal realm. It will be purified, of course, cleansed of everything that is not love, not truth, not goodness, not beauty. But it will be us, nonetheless. The real person who is walking around now on earth, God desires to walk around forever in the mysterious realm of light we call Heaven.
Mary’s Assumption into Heaven shows us that the heavenly life is already beginning to work in us now, and that our sure and real hope is that all we carry in our hearts right now--all our loves, our enthusiasms, our cares, our concerns, our true concrete personal being -- is going to be met, embraced, and raised up into the mystery of love, forever.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Garden

That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all: of the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage… The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love. In the critique of Christianity which began with the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice. Here the German philosopher was expressing a widely-held perception: doesn't the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?
Deus Caritas Est 3

Reflection – Pope Benedict of course will go on in this passage to answer the challenge of Nietzsche et al. But isn’t this such a typical criticism of the Catholic Church! The Church, the killjoy! The Church, bestower of Catholic guilt upon the world! The Church, who ruins everything with Her silly little rules and proscriptions and finger-wagging shame-inflicting poisonous so-called moral ‘law’. Bah!
Away with Her! Ecclesia delenda est – the Church must be destroyed! She is all that stands in the way of human happiness, expressed in boundless sexual activity. We've got to get ourselves back to the garden, Joni Mitchell sang in 'Woodstock'. Once we're there, it'll all be all right. It'll be just grand.
Except… as Mary Eberstadt points out wryly in her wonderful Loser Letters, at this stage in the game, it’s getting a little hard to pretend about that anymore, isn’t it? It’s not like the whole world is still in the grip of Catholic morality, and so we can speculate what it would be like to be free of it all. Large swaths of the world have decidedly shrugged off Catholic morality with élan, haven’t they? And of course it has generated untold human happiness and joy, right? Walk down the streets of Toronto, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Montreal, Los Angeles, and people are literally dancing for joy, hugging each other, tears of happiness streaming down their faces now that the Wicked Witch is dead (ding dong)!
No? Looking a little grim out there? The broken marriages, STDs, abortions, betrayals, meaningless hook-ups, serial relationships, using one another for pleasure, etc. etc., somehow don’t all end up in a net increase of human happiness? Humph. Fancy.
Must be something wrong with unbridled eros. It will be interesting to see what Pope Benedict says about it next!

In Praise of Passivity

In contrast to the masculine, activistic-sociological populus Dei approach, Church—ecclesia—is feminine. This fact opens a dimension of the mystery that points beyond sociology, a dimension wherein the real ground and unifying power of the reality Church first appears. Church is more than ‘people’, more than structure and action: the Church contains the living mystery of maternity and of the bridal love that makes maternity possible.
Mary, the Church at the Source, 25

Reflection – ‘Let us build the city of God, let our tears be turned into dancing…’ We all know the activistic strand of ‘churchiness’ that Ratzinger is referring to in this passage. Let’s get organized, let’s initiate a program, let’s have a five-year plan, ten-year plan, twenty-year plan. Take charge, and make the Church what it oughta be!
While neither the Pope nor I would ever deny a role for human action and labor in the task of the Gospel, he points out here and elsewhere the radical insufficiency of this model of the Church.
Before the Church does, the Church is. Before the Church acts, the Church receives. Before the members of the Church can make, they must contemplate. There is already a reality present that is the Church, and it is not a product of our makings and doings, our collective projects and programs. It is a gift of God coming down from heaven, a total response to the initiative of the Father, a ‘product’ if you will of the project of the Son, and its only valid program is to listen to the Spirit and follow Him.
This is the reality of the ‘femininity’ of the Church. I realize that questions of masculine and feminine are hotly controverted in our day. But the fact remains—the woman receives the man who gives himself to her, and in that receptivity gives her own self to him, and from that comes the fruitfulness of new life. No brand of feminism or any other variation of gender politics can ever change the biological structures by which humanity is fruitful.
And this is a model of the Church. We receive God, and give ourselves to Him in that reception in obedience and love, and out of this bear fruit, not in a dozen more successful programs and projects, but in holiness, in souls restored to Christ, in new citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Always, always, always, the first movement of the Church is a passive one: to contemplate, to look, to wait, to listen. God is the one who initiates, gives life, and makes fruitful, and the only lasting city of God we can have  part in building is that city designed by Him, according to His ideas and good pleasure, never our own.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why I Am Catholic, Really

The light of Jesus is reflected in the saints and shines out through them. But the ‘saints’ are not only those persons who have been explicitly canonized. There are always hidden saints, too, who receive in their communion with Jesus a ray of his splendor, a concrete and real experience of God.

Reflection – “Why do you believe?” A young woman asked me that question point blank a few years ago. She herself was struggling mightily with the basic question of faith, and wanted to know why I had come down on the side of being a Catholic Christian.
I gave her four reasons, actually. The first three were: 1) that Catholicism makes sense, hangs together as a rational system; 2) that it has generated an impressive outpouring of art, music, beauty, and intellectual achievement collectively known as ‘Western Civilization’; and 3) that the more I try to obey Jesus and live the Gospel, the more peace and joy I seem to have, even in times of trial and darkness.
In light of this passage from Ratzinger, though, I want to focus on the fourth and strongest reason why I, personally, have decided to believe in Jesus and in his Catholic Church. And that fourth reason is Jim Guinan, Mary Pennefather, Jean Fox, Frs. Emile Briere and Gene Cullinane, and an odd half dozen others I could mention, some of whom are still walking around among us (the ones I mention have all died).
Those readers of the blog who know the MH community know very well what I’m talking about. For those of you who don’t, I can simply say that it has been my privilege to know saints. Not just to know them in a book, but to hang out with, wash dishes alongside, go for walks with, play cards with, even get into arguments with saints.
By saints I don’t mean ‘really nice people’. There’s all sorts of really nice people in the world, and they’re… well, really nice! Nothing wrong with that, at all. Thank God for the nice people—I wish I was one of them!
But the people I mention—there was something else going on there. Jim with his goofy Irish humor, his ever-present rosary, and his keen intellect, Mary who struggled mightily with anxiety all her life, and prayed, prayed, prayed, and served in simple humble ways, Jean with her charismatic words, piercing eyes, and tender heart, Fr. B and his constant choice to love, no matter what it cost him, Fr. Gene who offered everything to Christ in his last illness and death... there was more going on with these people than just ‘aren’t they nice!’ I honestly can’t describe it—you have to have known them, or people like them, to know what I’m talking about.
If you are fortunate enough to know a living saint (and I realize I’m being slightly presumptuous in ‘canonizing’ these people) you know what I mean. A light shining out, a presence bigger than them but in them, somehow, an effect they have on their surroundings that is way beyond their own human gifts. Like a living tabernacle, or icon. In Fr. Gene’s last illness, when I was privileged to be among his caregivers, I always had an urge to genuflect when I entered his sickroom. Christ was there, in him.
Ultimately, I have chosen to throw my lot in with Jesus and Catholicism because I have experienced the light of Christ shining out of a good dozen or so of my brothers and sisters in an extraordinary way, and have seen this light growing in beauty and intensity in dozens and dozens more of the ‘saints in the making’ I live with.
And I want that light. I want to shine like that. I want Jesus to do something with my poor humanity that will reflect the beauty of his human divinity. I’ve had a concrete, real experience of God as he chose to manifest himself in Jim, Mary, Jean, Frs B and Gene and a whole bunch of other people. And honestly, that’s enough for me. That’s why I am Catholic.

What Does it Mean to Love God?

Love of God leads to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others. Loving God requires an interior freedom from all possessions and all material goods: the love of God is revealed in responsibility for others… Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others.
Spe Salvi 28

Reflection – This brief passage, which is from a paragraph of the encyclical that I’ve already blogged about, is a succinct little teaching on love of God and neighbor. To love God – what does that mean, anyhow? It’s not the same thing, exactly, as love of neighbor. My neighbor has needs; God doesn’t. My neighbor is visible; God isn’t. What is this love of God?
To love is to want what your beloved wants, so far as it is truly good. To love God is to want everything God wants, since He is Goodness Itself. To love God, then, is to obey God. To love someone is to desire to be with them, to be one with them. To love God is to want to be with Him, to be one with Him. To love God, then, is to worship God, to come into His presence and unite ourselves to Him by our total gift of ourselves to Him (which can only happen by his gracious gift).
But this unity and love ushers us into truly living with God. This obedience ushers us into truly living as God lives, and this is the life of love of neighbor. To care for God above all means caring relatively little, if at all, for material goods. To live with God is to share in his life, and his life is most clearly seen in the life and death of Jesus, a pattern and substantial reality of life and death made available to us because he rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Love of God means putting ourselves at his disposal, and his disposal of us is to pour ourselves out daily in love of one another. And this is the whole structure of Christian ethical life: total surrender to God in love leading to total gift of ourselves to the other, regardless of who they are and how we ‘feel’ about them, a dynamic of love, surrender, and gift made possible to us by our faith and union with Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Freedom and Justice


can never be anything other than a freedom expressed in the right way of living in common – freedom in justice. Otherwise it becomes a lie and leads to slavery.

Reflection –  Freedom has become one of those words, hasn’t it? You know what I mean, words that everyone throws around (freely!), that rank high on the scale of values and goods, and yet are rarely discussed. What does it mean to be free? What is necessary for freedom to flourish? What is the good of freedom?
Ratzinger, a thoroughly modern theologian living in the era when questions around freedom, authority, and law have been not just abstract intellectual questions, but matters of life and death for much of the world, has written a lot about this.
In this very short passage which is part of a longer analysis in a very fine little book (I hate to keep shilling books aggressively on this site, but this one really is a winner, and well worth the modest price!), he points out the insufficiency of the common modern idea of freedom.
This is the idea that freedom means simply that I do what I want and you do what you want, and he does what he wants and… we’re all free! Except we’re not.
What if what I want to do is publicly state that what he and his same-sex partner want to do is wrong? I am likely to end up with a human rights complaint, years of costly, burdensome legal processes and perhaps a quasi-judicial verdict that will order me to change my opinions, as happened to Steven Boisson in Alberta. What if what she wants to do is peacefully pray outside an abortion clinic and talk to the women going in about other options? She will end up in jail, as has happened to Linda Gibbons.
What if the freedom of advertisers is expressed in plastering sexually suggestive and even explicit billboards and posters all over every major city in North America (yeah, what if…)? Then the freedom of men and women striving to live chastely is severely hampered by the ceaseless bombardment of temptation, not to mention the freedom of parents living in those cities to raise their children with a sense of modesty and purity.
The truth is, individualistic freedom is an illusion. Every action I ever take affects the lives of every person around me. We are all constantly becoming less free or more free—freedom being defined here strictly as freedom to grow and develop into the fullness of our human potential. Either my actions are contributing to this growth in my immediate neighbors, or it is hampering it. Either my neighbors’ actions are fostering my growth into freedom or they are not.
This is where Ratzinger is going when he argues that only a freedom in the service of justice is truly free. A freedom that is selfish, that cares nothing for those around me, actually limits freedom. An entire society committed to the goal of totally selfish self-expression is moving steadily away from any true freedom, as each atomic individual grabs and grasps for whatever they want, tearing at the fabric of relationships in the process.
Ironically, it is the choice to willingly limit one’s own freedom for the sake of justice, for the sake of the good of the other, that builds a free society for all, and allows each of us to grow to our fullest potential. Like an athlete or dancer submitting to hard training to perfect their skills, sometimes we have to submit to the discipline of sacrifice and obedience to perfect the quest for human fulfillment, a fulfillment I believe will only be found in the life of love of God and neighbor, of worship and service.

An Authentic Relationship with Being

The Christian act of faith intrinsically includes the conviction that the meaningful ground, the logos, on which we take our stand, precisely because it is meaning, is also truth. Meaning or sense that was not truth would be non-sense… the indivisibility of meaning, ground and truth throws into relief the whole network of co-ordinates by which Christian faith surveys the world and takes up its position in relation to it.

Reflection – The other day I was talking to someone, happened to use the word ‘truth’ in relation to a certain situation, and was quite surprised at the negative reaction I got. There is something about the word ‘truth’ that is hard for people today, I guess.
It seems that people are OK with the word ‘meaning’ – one can find meaning in any kind of subjective way; a poem, a picture, a song, a sunset can be ‘meaningful’ to you, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t have a meaning for others.
But truth seems to draw us into a world where there are objective norms, objective realities, objective facts that apply to everyone regardless of how we feel about it or whether those facts are ‘meaningful’ to us.
This seems coercive or burdensome to many, I guess. I have to say ‘I guess’ because I don’t have that particular modern struggle. I have been fatally infected by Dominicans who taught me the Meanings of Words, so that I know that truth is simply our mind conforming (or, in technical language, adequating) itself to whatever object it is in the act of knowing. To speak of truth means that our minds are able to actually know what things are, and what they are not, that the universe and everything in it is intelligible – in other words, is telling us the truth about itself.
Far from being coercive, ‘truth’ invites us into an authentic relationship with being, in which we really take in what this or that thing is, really know it.
As in small things, so in big things. Truth in general refers to the intelligibility of this or that being; truth in its absolute is the Truth of Being Itself, that which undergirds and grounds and embraces all that is. Our meaning is true; far from being ‘what I feel’ life is about, Christian meaning is True meaning. Not a subjective impression, we believe that in grounding our truth in Christ, we are grounding ourselves in the Truth behind the Cosmos. That basing our life on the Gospel, on the person of Jesus, on his saving work, means basing our life on the love, the energy, the will that sets the stars in motion and knows the number of cells in our body and fills the world with its presence. This God has come down to us, and by giving us the way of Christ has made it possible for us to found our personal lives on the very life of the Trinity, of God, the life that binds the whole cosmos together. This is how, as Ratzinger writes, we are able in our faith to survey the whole world and take up our position within it with confidence and peace.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Advice

Fr. Michael Winn came and gave a talk on Eastern Christianity at MH last week. On his blog he gives the twelve steps need to become the saint God made you to be. Read, and do!

Sophia's World

The figure of Wisdom (Sophia) attains central significance [in the late Old Testament]… ‘Wisdom’ appears as the mediatrix of creation and salvation history, as God’s first creature in whom both the pure, primordial form of his creative will and the pure answer,  which he discovers, find their expression… creation answers, and the answer is as close to God as a playmate, as a lover… ‘Sophia’, a feminine noun, stands on that side of reality which is represented by the woman, by what is purely and simply feminine. It signifies the answer which emerges from the divine call and election. It expresses precisely this: that there is a pure answer, and that God’s love finds its irrevocable dwelling place within it.
Reflection – Before I jump into reflecting on this passage, I want to give my most enthusiastic plug for this little book by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. It is one of the most profound and beautiful reflections on the Mother of God I have ever read. It is small (100 pages or so), and hence cheap, and just one of the best things ever. Buy it! Or, rather BUY IT!!!!!!!
Ahem. Sorry – I didn’t mean to shout at y’all. The first part of the book, and I’m sure to be quoting bits and pieces of it all over this blog, is a tracing of the feminine line of the Old Testament. We all know by heart, if we know our bible at all, the masculine line: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and so forth.
But the feminine line (Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Esther, Judith, etc.) is very important, for reasons that will become clear as I blog about other bits of it. And in this passage, Ratzinger highlights the last movement of this feminine presence in the Hebrew Scriptures: created Wisdom, personified in several places in the Wisdom literature as a woman.
And this Woman, this Sophia, works alongside God in his creative work. Remember, this Sophia is a creature, not God – that is very clear from the Wisdom literature texts. But she accompanies God in his work, and in this participation with God there is joy, delight, intimacy.
A whole theology of creation emerges from this revelation of Sophia. We tend to either think of creation as standing autonomous from God, somehow left to fend for itself, to make its own way, or as being a wholly passive lump of clay being shaped by God without (or even against) its will.
Here we see that creation is made to be in a sort of intimate partnership with God, a marriage, if you will, in which the Uncreated Wisdom, which will be revealed as the Logos of God, incarnate in Jesus, meets the Created Wisdom. Wisdom, for us human beings, becomes not mastery or cleverness, but perfect response to our Father in heaven. And wisdom, far from being ponderous or dry, is joyful, laughing, playing, delighting in Him who made her, happy to give her whole energy to this ‘making’ together with God.
As God’s Uncreated Wisdom is revealed to us in Christ, Sophia, created wisdom, is revealed to us in the face of the one who gave Herself to God’s plan for the world with joy and exaltation of the One who chose Her.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

Three Pounds of Meat?

Einstein pointed out that the relationship of subject and object is, ultimately, the greatest of all puzzles, or, more exactly, that our thinking, our mathematical worlds conceived solely in our consciousness, correspond to reality, that our consciousness has the same structure as reality and vice versa. That is the principal ground on which all science rests. It acts as though this were a matter of course, whereas, in fact, nothing is less so. For it means that all being has the same nature as consciousness; that there is present in human thought, in human subjectivity, that which objectively moves the world. The world itself has the same nature as consciousness. The subjective is not something alien to objective reality; rather, this reality is itself like a subject.
Principles of Catholic Theology, 71

Reflection – The brain weighs roughly three pounds. The activity that goes on in the brain is a combination of electric and chemical discharges, secretions, movements. If you are a strict materialist, you must maintain that somehow, these electro-chemical movements yield abstract speculative knowledge about quantum physics and creative insights yielding technological innovations. These same electro-chemical functions also result in poetry, music, humor, love, and a really good recipe for chocolate chip cookies (not necessarily listed in order of importance).
In short, we have consciousness. And this consciousness, which is the most direct experience each of us has in our subjective reality, corresponds to actual reality. Einstein pointed out, and Ratzinger is happy to repeat, that this is not an obvious, self-evident, or necessary fact.
Why should organic processes happening in three pounds of meat create an experience of subjective awareness and activity? Why should the actions of our mind correspond to the actions of inorganic matter, so that we can obtain understanding and even some mastery of it? Why should our minds tell us that 2+2=4… and it is so!
The correspondence of mind to matter, of our thoughts to reality, puts us fairly on the way to the rejection of materialism as a possible system. Materialists use rigorous logical proofs to prove that logic is merely a secretion of chemicals in the brain. They multiply words to prove that language is ultimately no different than the squawking of chickens or the soughing of wind in tree branches. They use their brains to prove that the brain is nothing but three pounds of meat in a fragile shell of bone and cartilage.
That our minds are able to extract the truth of reality at least suggests, if it doesn’t absolutely prove, that something like a mind has shaped the truth of reality in the first place. There is something (someone???) out there who has made the universe such that a rational mind can make rational sense of it, a sense which is proven in our capacity to shape reality according to our intentions and ideas.
Those who, in the words of Mark Shea, ‘worship the intellect rather than use it’ are incapable of seeing the flaw in materialist reasoning. But it is flawed. And the flaw, while it in no way, shape, or form proves the truth of Christianity, certainly does point in that direction. We believe in a God of Logos, of rationality and order. This belief factually corresponds to the most daily experience of every human being. 2+2=4.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Paddling Into Deep Waters

In reference to Galatians , where Paul says “I live no longer, Christ lives in me:

Conversion in the Pauline sense… is a death-event. In other words, it is an exchange of the old subject for another. The ‘I’ ceases to be an autonomous subject standing in itself. It is snatched away from itself and fitted into a new subject. The ‘I’ is not simply submerged, but it must really release its grip on itself in order then to receive itself anew in and together with a greater ‘I’… No one can undertake on his own the exchange of subjects spoken of by Paul… indeed the exchange would still be the ‘work’ of the individual subject, thus confirming his hopeless self-imprisonment. The exchange of subjects includes a passive element, which Paul rightly characterizes as death, in the sense of receiving a share in the event of the Cross. It can come to someone only from the outside, from another person. Christian conversion can never be achieved solely in the interiority of one’s personal decision. It has a sacramental structure.”

Reflection – This is deep stuff. We’re paddling into very deep waters here. The central issue of our humanity lies in these words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Who are we? What are we made to be? We find ourselves in our current condition grappling with this whole idea of personal identity and autonomy. To be a person seems bound up with being a self-enclosed ego. To have an identity seems bound to the reality of self-assertion, competition, aggression, even. We have to establish ourselves, put ourselves out there, carve out our own space and defend it against all comers.
And there is something deeper in us that experiences this reality as death. Egoism, even in its more innocuous forms, is not the fullest expression of our humanity. Something is lost in this unending project of the self.
We cannot get out of this project by our own efforts. As Ratzinger puts it so well, our efforts to do so just become one more self-project. There is something that has to come to us from what is not us, to liberate us from ourselves. Something has to change in us that is so radical that we cannot do it ourselves, and the change feels to us like death.
This is baptism, in its deepest realization. What happens in baptism is not a nice ritual with a cute baby. It is not mere incorporation into the Church. It is not even merely the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is the making of a new creature. At the conference I was at last week, one of the presenters put it beautifully: “Into the waters goes a baby. Out of the waters comes a living icon!”
And this baptismal grace, the essential sacramental movement coming utterly from outside of us working this total and radical change of our inner subjectivity, is played out again and again in the life of the Christian. We are perpetually closing off into our egoism; the grace of God continually comes to us in the sacraments, in prayer, in a million hidden ways, to open us up again to the life of God filling us from what is not us.
This is deep stuff. But this is what Christians mean, really, when they talk about ‘spiritual life.’

On Christian Arrogance

The modern relativistic approach to religion:

is the refusal to identify the unique historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth with the reality of God, the living God himself, since it is held that absolute being, or the absolute being, can never be completely or finally revealed in history.
Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 210

Reflection – Indeed, isn’t it a total act of arrogance of Christians to claim, in the face of the competing great world religions and the hundreds if not thousands of smaller, more localized and personal ones, that our little Jesus, this one little person in the vast history of human persons, is It? Or rather, Him?
How dare we? God, if we allow for one, is clearly universal, eternal, infinite, and all-encompassing. How can we say that this God above all other realities could make himself known fully in a single human life? What about all the Hindu avatars of the deity? What about the revelation to Mohammed? What about the Buddhist path? What about so many other religious lights and insights and beauties coming to us from virtually every corner of humanity?
How dare we say that this little man, this one Jewish carpenter and itinerant preacher from 2000 years ago somehow trumps all of that? Somehow is the final and ultimate revelation of God? Is this even possible?
So runs a typical modern objection to the truth claims of Christianity. It seems like a strong one to lots of people. And of course, a mature Christian faith does recognize the truth present in every other religion, every world view, religious or not. Indeed we have no problem acknowledging there is some fragment of truth present in every human heart.
But we do maintain that Jesus is the fullness of this truth. How can we? How dare we? Well, to start with, it seems to me that the religious relativistic position is based on some concept of God that is a bit… well, impersonal. Like God is some big cloud out there, floating in some spiritual ether.
But what if God is, in some sense, a person? What if this personal God actually wants us to really know Him, really possess as much of the truth of Himself as we can bear in our current state?
Wouldn’t He need to reveal this fullness of truth… somewhere? At some time? And therefore (by strict logical necessity) to some specific people? It’s not like we paltry human creatures are going to figure out this fullness of truth. We needed to be told.
So someone, somewhere got told. Was it Mohammed, or Buddha, or the Hindu tradition? Or did God Himself want to come and tell us about Himself?
Once we put it in those terms, the charges of arrogance and presumption fail. If God is a person and really does want us to know Him, the only question is when, where, and by what means this transmission of knowledge has occurred.
Now, note that this short presentation of our Christian idea of revelation does not mean that there’s nothing more for us to learn about God. I personally hope that in heaven I will continue to learn more about God forever. But that Jesus reveals to us as much as we can grasp now – that’s our idea.
The question really hinges on whether or not God wants to be known, wants to have an intimate personal relationship with His human creatures. If He does, then something like Christian revelation is required. If not, then not.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


The thirst for freedom is the form in which the yearning for redemption and the feeling of unredemption and alienation make their voices heard today. The call for freedom demands an existence uncramped by prior givens that keep me from fully realizing myself and throw up external obstacles to my chosen path…  The limits that the Church erects seem doubly burdensome because they reach into man’s most personal and most intimate depths. For the church’s rules for ordering life are far more than a set of regulations to keep the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic of humanity as far as possible from collision. They inwardly affect my course in life, telling me how I am supposed to understand and shaped my freedom. They demand of me decisions that cannot be made without painful renunciation. Is this not intended to deny us the sweetest fruits in the garden of life? Is not the way into the wide open closed by the restrictive confines of so many commandments and prohibitions? Is not thought kept from reaching its full stature just as much as the will is? must not liberation consist in breaking out of such immature dependency? And would not the only real reform be to rid ourselves of the whole business?
Called to Communion
Reflection – Ratzinger shows in this passage how well he understands the modern world. He had been a university professor in 1968, when student riots swept across Europe. The soixant-huitards and their anomic anti-authoritarianism would define the next half-century in European intellectual and cultural life.
Ecclesia delenda est – the Church must be destroyed – this is the spirit of the age. It tells us what to do, and this is intolerable. For anyone to tell me what to do is intolerable. Ecrasez l’infame! Voltaire’s cry rings out louder than ever today. It is an interesting phenomenon, though.
For example, the environmental movement tells us what to do every day of the week, and indoctrinates children to spy on and hector their parents. The government never tires of telling us what to do: what to eat, how to exercise, what we can and cannot do on our own private property (to use a quaint old-fashioned term!). The secular gurus – Oprah and all that – never ever cease for a day doling out instructions on how to live, shop, love, budget, what to read, what to think, etc. etc. etc.
And yet, when the Church, which has no police force, little indoctrination of children these days (alas), and nothing remotely approaching Oprah or Dr. Phil’s Neilson ratings, tells people what to do, there is outrage. Or, rather, OUTRAGE!!!!!!!!!
Hmmm. One might be tempted to suspect that the Church’s advice on the meaning and mores of life, unlike all of the above parallel magisteria of secularity, actually hits something in us, something deep and true, some innate knowledge of God and the truth of human life that we cannot quite suppress. So when Holy Mother Church tells us not to fornicate, or contracept, or abort (I mention these, not because they are the only or even most important teachings, but because they are the ones that cause the most OUTRAGE), it is intolerable.
We’re trying to forget; don’t remind us. We’re working on our denial; stop bothering us. We’re hardening our hearts against truth in favor of self-will; don’t touch those places in us that still know, a little bit, the truth of life.
I can’t think of any other reason why the Church’s teachings provoke such anger and rage when the far more intrusive and omni-present teachings of everyone else provoke none. Can you?

It's Not a Question of Brie

Is it possible for us, as human beings, purely and simply to lay aside the question of God, that is, the question of our origin, of our final destiny, and of the measure of our existence?.. We are compelled to choose between two alternatives: either to live as if God did not exist or else to live as if God did exist and was the decisive reality of my existence.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 87-8

Reflection – Ratzinger writes here about the illusion of agnosticism. This is the theory that we can simply suspend our decision about the existence of God. Maybe He is, maybe not, and anyway who can know? And who can know what kind of God this is, if He is, and what He actually wants with us?
Ratzinger points out in this passage, as he does in many places in his writings, that this seemingly humble and reasonable position is in fact untenable. The reason for this is that the existence of God is not a mere piece of data, like the existence of France or koala bears. There, we can be as agnostic as we like. I’ve never been to France, and it’s just possible that the whole thing is a massive put up job, a joke. I mean, c’mon, a nation that prides itself on its sophistication and culture but likes Jerry Lewis movies? Whadya think I am, a chump? You’ll be sending me on a snipe hunt next.
The question of God is not like that. Besides my being ethnically French and loving Brie, the existence or not of France is of no consequence to me (no offense to my French readers! Vive la France! Vive la gloire!).
But, you know,  I can live without Brie. But God? This is not a mere data point; it is the question of the meaning, coherence, direction of the universe and of my own life therein.
Either there is a God, and my life is from Him and towards Him, and I need to live accordingly, or there is no God, and thus no overarching meaning to the universe. I can do whatever I want (until, you know, someone stronger comes along and quashes me) but nothing I do has any meaning or point beyond my own 6 feet and 185 pounds of presence in the cosmos.
It does seem to me (as it does to Ratzinger) that these are the only two logical possibilities. If I’m wrong about that, and there are other possible ways of framing the question, please comment below!
Now the question is left open, if we decide to opt for the God side of the question, of who and what this God is and what does He/She/It want of us, anyhow? But if we decide there is a God or gods or Something(s), it seems our chief priority in this life is to come to some conclusion for ourselves about the matter. Not a snipe hunt, but a God hunt.
My own conclusion, the reasons for which are too long to go into in this post, is that the claims of Catholic Christianity are true, and so my life is built on at least trying to shape my life according to those claims. What is your conclusion?

This Post is About Sex

The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God's passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God's relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution. Here we find a specific reference—as we have seen—to the fertility cults and their abuse of eros, but also a description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact that he gives her the Torah, thereby opening Israel's eyes to man's true nature and showing her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness—a joy in God which becomes his essential happiness: “Whom do I have in heaven but you? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you ... for me it is good to be near God” (Ps 73 [72]:25, 28).
Deus Caritas Est 9

Reflection – “The Church should get out of the sex business.” I still remember one of the MH staff quoting that to me years ago, words spoken to her by her brother. The Church’s teachings on sex and marriage have never been easy to obey; in the past fifty years they have become for many incomprehensible, unacceptable, even ridiculous. Since no one (hardly) even is willing to entertain the Church’s teachings on these matters, why doesn’t the Church stop making itself ridiculous (religulous?) and just drop the whole subject? The gross and widely publicized infidelity of a few of the Church’s priests and bishops doesn’t help the cause.
This we all know. In this passage from the encyclical, though, we see a glimmer of why the Church just cannot do it. We can’t get out of the ‘sex business’ for a simple reason: sex is not a business!
It is not a commodity, a good to be used and abused, a unit of exchange among human beings, a bargaining chip in relationships, a field of the endless power struggle between men and women and all variations therein. Sex as a business is a depressing reflection of how we fallen human beings actually think of it and what we do with it, though, isnʼt it?
Sex is in truth a reflection, we learn from the prophets, of the very nature of God, and his disposition towards humanity. It is a deeply theological reality in its essence. The nuptial imagery of Hosea, Ezekiel, Isaiah is not a tangential, secondary reference in the Old Testament. Rather, it is a deepening of a theme introduced in Genesis 2 – the nuptial joy of Adam and Eve mirroring God’s joy in his creation, a joy which finds its summation in his making man and woman ‘in his own image’.
This nuptial joy, this erotic theme of the Bible, finds its summation and glory in Christ, revealed as the Bridegroom, the one in whom the union of God and the human person is consummated – made complete, brought to its deepest realization this side of paradise.
And this is why we just cannot relax our sexual ethos into the modern laissez faire attitude. Sex is this stubbornly incarnate element of our humanity which is supposed to reveal to us, in our most deeply fleshly experience of life, something deep about the truth of God.
Sex, therefore must occur in a faithful covenantal relationship that is open to life. Otherwise it does not communicate the truth of God and becomes a sort of incarnational heresy. And this is the great tragedy of our modern age – the very place where we are meant to enter into the deep truth of God’s love has become a place of business, of selfishness, of something else, anyhow – some kind of extension of egoism or self-will. God made us, and it, for something better, something much, much better.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Answering the Fundamental Crisis

To make positivity an absolute… makes not only enquiry about God, but enquiry about man and reality in general quite impossible… We are facing… a fundamental crisis in reality in general, and the displacement of theology is but the most concrete expression of the fundamental dilemma of existence into which we have been precipitated by the triumphant advance of positivistic thought.
Faith and the Future, 70-71

Reflection – By positivity, Ratzinger is not referring to having a positive mental attitude. Logical positivism is the philosophical system which reduces intelligible reality to two things: immediate sensory experience and scientifically verifiable data. Everything else is nonsense, literally meaningless.
Ratzinger points out here that the positivistic stance, if taken as the only possible way to think about the world, eliminates a lot more from the field than just God. We cannot directly observe or scientifically demonstrate answers to a whole host of questions that most people consider significant. What is human life for? What do we owe to one another? What is the meaning of love? Is lifelong commitment possible, or desirable for human beings? What is happiness?
None of these questions can be either raised or answered in a strictly positivist system, and attempts to do so are generally embarrassingly shallow or covertly import non-empirical, non-verifiable data into the equation.
Without a concept of human reason that allows for more than positivist methods, these questions fall to the sphere of emotion, of sentimentality. What do I feel is important?
But this fails, too. We know, when we ask what human life is for, that we are not asking ‘what do I feel about being human?’ And the same holds true for the other questions. We are asking about something real, solid, substantial, not a mere changing emotion.
Ratzinger has consistently and firmly called for a reclaiming of a broader concept of reason. There is no logical reason to limit reason to the positive. There is no empirical evidence for empiricism, no scientific test proving the truth of scientific positivism. The consequences of this historical irony-the acceptance of a theory of knowledge that contradicts its own premises-are to render the deepest concerns of human beings incoherent and unintelligible. Ratzinger has dedicated his life, in some measure, to a reclaiming of the fullness of human reason, within which the truth of life can be known and embraced.

What a (lot of) friends I have in Jesus!

The question often arises if Christianity has:

an individualistic understanding of salvation, hope for myself alone, which is not true hope since it forgets and overlooks others. Indeed [this is not so]. Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus—we cannot achieve it alone or from our own resources alone. The relationship with Jesus, however, is a relationship with the one who gave himself as a ransom for all (cf. 1 Tim 2:6). Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into his “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.
Spe Salvi 28

Reflection – Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior? The question asked by evangelical Christians is one that sometimes makes other Christians either puzzled or put off.
Well, it doesn’t have that effect on me, and not just because I’ve got a few evangelical Christian relatives who are very dear to me (hello, my E.C. relatives who might be reading this! Love ya!). I am a person, Jesus is definitely my savior, so yes, Jesus is my personal savior (what other kind could he be?).
However, we do see in this passage from Spe Salvi that there is something more going on in the Christian religion than just being ‘saved personally by Jesus.’ What a friend I have in Jesus! He walks with me and He talks with me. But it seems like Jesus has a few other friends in the world, a few other people besides me who he at least wants to walk and talk with. One or two or seven billion people He cares about, just a little.
And so my personal relationship with Christ, if it really is with Him, has to spill over into these one or two or seven billion other people. He died for everyone; the very least I can do is pray for everyone. He gave his life for the whole world; I can give whatever measly stuff I have to give for my little corner of the world, and ask him to multiply it, so it can feed everyone else.
If our faith is not like that, not opening us up to loving everyone, being concerned for everyone, wishing every good thing, every good gift from Heaven, upon every last human being on earth, then something has badly gone wrong. We’ve missed Jesus, somehow, in it all. And that’s a hopeless state of affairs.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Good Physics Makes Lousy Metaphysics

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love.
In the Beginning, 37.

Reflection – You are not the result of random process of evolution. Every person is made; every person is loved. This is the ringing testimony of Pope Benedict XVI at his installation Mass as Bishop of Rome in 2005.
It is of the essence. Over the past two hundred years, the physical sciences have pushed back the frontiers of ignorance about the processes of matter and energy to a truly exhilarating degree. We know a great deal now about cosmology, sub-atomic movements, and the structures of physical reality.
When this surge of physical knowledge, however, is transferred (illogically!) to the metaphysical level – when all of reality is deemed (without rational argument!) to be the result of random physical processes, then terrible consequences follow.
The deep sense of futility, emptiness, pointlessness of life that so many carry today flows from this (unsubstantiated!) viewpoint. The great modern/post-modern plunge into hedonism, workaholism, dissipation of various kinds, or political radicalism can be linked to this (unverified, and unverifiable!) presentation of reality.
It is only a metaphysic, a whole view of reality, that contains with itself an originating mind that can establish us in a world that is good and true. It is only a metaphysic that contains within itself an originating mind that is disposed to love what it has made that establishes us in a world that is genuinely beautiful. The empty void, the dark cold caverns of space, understood as the ultimate, most significant realities, leave us empty, cold, and in darkness, in a dangerous universe that cares not for us, because it cannot care for anything at all.
Only when we begin to believe that all that is in the physical realm is held by a Person, a Mind, a Love, can we rest, and open ourselves to both receive reality and give our own reality to one another. Christianity provides such a metaphysic. Atheism does not.

To Stand in the Horizon of the Eternal

The fundamental liberation that the Church can give us is to permit us to stand in the horizon of the eternal and to break out of the limits of our knowledge and capabilities. In every age, therefore, faith itself in its full magnitude and breadth is the essential reform that we need; it is in the light of faith that we must test the value of self-constructed organizations in the Church.

Reflection – OK, so this passage is a bit of a mouthful. Ratzinger has been talking in this book about the Church, its nature, its challenges, its mission. In an earlier post, I discussed how people resent the Church for telling them what to do—how the Church seems to be an enemy of human freedom.
Here, Ratzinger answers that charge, pointing out that the true limitation of our humanity is our being bound by our own limits and capacities and temporality. We are all born into our own time, land, culture. We all have a certain degree of intelligence, strength, personal charisma and drive. We all find ourselves (especially as life goes on and we get a wee bit older!) hampered by our limitations, our finiteness.
The Church, because it bears the life of Christ, the grace of God, the dynamism of the Spirit into the world, frees us from the strict limitations of our finite humanity. We can be weak in body, plagued by illness or disability, but united to Christ this very weakness becomes grace upon grace poured out in redemptive suffering. Or we can be weak in mind, incapable of understanding much, but in Christ the treasures of wisdom and understanding are offered to us. An illiterate peasant who takes hold of the Gospel possesses infinitely more wisdom than an atheistic university professor.
And it is indeed the Church that makes this liberating power of Christ present in a visible incarnate way in the world, through the sacraments, the teaching office, the visible structures. And this is why Ratzinger points out that efforts to reform the Church, to change those structures, must be carried out in light of the Church’s true liberating mission—it’s not a question of loosening up the moral rules or letting anyone do whatever they want. It’s a question of bringing people the fullness of the Gospel so that we can put our selfish selves to death and be raised up with Christ. This is true freedom; anything else is a useless parody.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Revelation of Passion

The divine power that Aristotle at the height of Greek philosophy sought to grasp through reflection, is indeed for every being an object of desire and of love —and as the object of love this divinity moves the world—but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love. The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her—but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.
Deus Caritas Est 9

Reflection – Here we touch upon a really significant difference between the world of the Bible and the world of pre-Christian philosophy. It is the nature of God, philosophy tells us, to be perfect, to lack nothing, to possess the fullness of being.
This is indeed true. But the corollary of that is precisely what the Pope describes in Aristotle: we all want God, want this fullness of being, in a sense we cannot help wanting God, although we get very confused about what to do with that desire, to say the least.
We are moved by desire and love towards this divine presence—but He/It does not, cannot reciprocate. God lacks nothing; why would He desire us?
This is where the Bible does not so much contradict human reasoning and philosophy as complete it. We agree that God is perfect, that He lacks nothing, that in no way, shape, or form does God ‘need’ us.
But, and this is a truth that can only be revealed to us, never reasoned towards, He loves us. And this love is not some kind of disinterested thing: ‘well, he gives us being, and this in some form qualifies as ‘love’ in that He wills our existence, blah, blah, blah’.
This is not the God of the Bible. He loves us with a passionate love. His love for us is a desire to be with us, to commune with us, to engage with us in a genuine personal encounter.
I repeat, this can only be known as a revealed truth. There is no way we can reason that the Supreme Being, the One, the Mystery, the Source, the Being behind all being and beings, would have any use for us, any interest in us. Only in the revelation to Israel, completed in the revelation of Christ, and completed there in the awesome Paschal Mystery—only there do we get a glimpse that this Ultimate Mystery is one of fire, passion, intimate love.
And we have to hold together the truth our reason yields – God is perfect and needs nothing – with the truth He has told us about Himself – he is passionately concerned for us and desires us to be in communion with Him. The two held together usher us into a life of awe, gratitude, beauty and joy. The the ground of all being, the source of all, the great I AM, loves us. He loves us. Really??? He loves us, really.