Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Call to the Action of Grace


Mariology demonstrates that the doctrine of grace does not revoke creation; rather, it is the definitive Yes to creation. In this way, Mariology guarantees the ontological independence of creation, undergirds faith in creation, and crowns the doctrine of creation, rightly understood… Mary is the believing other, who God calls.

Mary, The Church at the Source, 31

Reflection – In the early decades of the 20th century Catholic theology was very much taken up with a debate about the relationship between nature and grace. Writers such as Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac challenged the existing neo-Thomistic orthodoxy which emphasized nature and grace as two separate realms, two distinctly delineated modes of existence with their own proper functioning, rules, integrity.

Without going into all the details of the debate, which would be impossible to do justice to in a blog post, Rahner and de Lubac attempted in different ways to show more of a continuity between nature and grace, to show how God’s grace completes nature or how nature is ‘by nature’ open to grace and incomplete without it, while preserving the utter gratuity of God’s action of grace.

It is a complex debate, perhaps notable in our day and age for the intensely Catholic and faithful way in which it was conducted. There were no full-page ads in the New York Times, no petitions circulated, no pressure groups formed (Call to Action of Grace!), no manifestos published. All the players involved in the debate were faithful Catholic men and conducted themselves in just that way, while opening doors to new theological insight that are still being explored today.

That is the underlying theological context (part of it, anyhow) behind this quote from Ratzinger today. And so we see in this quote how Mary is, in fact, the one who shows us both the reality and beauty of creation, since she stands before God as wholly other, as ‘not-God’ and at the same time wholly beloved of God, wholly in dialogue, in encounter, in commuion with Him.

Creation is not at war with God. Humanity is not at war with God. So many Enlightenment thinkers held that God and man are in conflict, that God is a threat to human autonomy, freedom, dignity. Mary smiles at all that.

The queen of heaven and earth does not need Nietzsche to teach her about human dignity and power. The one who freely said yes to God and freely walked the way of that yes through the years of Nazareth, to the foot of the Cross, and ultimately to heaven itself does not need Sartre to teach her about freedom.

Mary shows us that humanity is made free and confirmed in royal dignity precisely by its openness to God and to His grace. Creation—nature—is an open space for God. Its ‘ontological independence’ (big words!) is precisely for that: to be something real, something that exists, not without God exactly, but truly as not-God,  so as to receive God as a guest, to extend hospitality if you will to the Most High God.

What a dignity! This is what our freedom is for, that something real, something existing, can say to Existence Itself, Reality Itself, “Hello! Come in! Welcome! I love you!” Mary did it, and she shows us that this is what we are to do, what God wants us to do.

And tomorrow’s feast, about which I will have more to say tomorrow, shows us that this openness, this hospitality, this utter giving over of ourselves to God, leads not ultimately to the Cross, to suffering, to sorrow and death, but to glory, glory, glory. Creation (you and me, if we will) opens up to its Creator, and the fruit is a beauty, a joy, a life that is radiant and eternal beyond our wildest imaginings. And Mary teaches us that, too.