Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Feast of St. Bartholomew, August 24, 2005

“Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, `we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’ Nathaniel said to him, `can anything good come out of Nazareth?’… When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming, he said of him, `Behold, a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile!’ `How did you know me?’ said Nathaniel. `Before Philip called you… I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathaniel answered, `Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” [1]

Nathaniel speaks his mind concerning Nazareth. Jesus praises his forthright sincerity and proves that he is privy to that sincerity from within by revealing the detail, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Amazed, Nathaniel confesses, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”[2]

* * * * * * *

The import of the above exchange is the core of the mind of Benedict XVI. That core is the following: The revelation of the truth of Christ is imparted only to those who speak the truth about themselves. Said differently, the catechumenate is the core of catechesis, or perhaps, better: Revelation is not a book, in the sense of being identical with Sacred Scripture. In the same vein, then-Cardinal Ratzinger remarked, “I have my doubts as to whether the quintessentially Catholic, as living structure, can be captured in a formula. One can try to indicate the essential elements, but it requires more than just knowing something about it, as I can, for example know something about a party program. It is an entrance into a living structure, and it comprises the totality of one’s life plan. For this reason, it can never, I think, be expressed in words alone. It has to be a way of living, of lived identification, a merging with a way of thinking and understanding. The two things enrich each other.”[3]

Christian faith must be a living experience and this because Revelation is the exposure to the lived experience of the Person of Jesus Christ. “The faith does not have permanence in and of itself. One can never simply presuppose it as something already concluded in itself. It must be continually re-lived. And as it is an act, an act that embraces every dimension of our existence, it must always be thought through anew and always borne witness to anew.”[4]

The question of sincerity as self-disclosure is a fundamental component of faith as as-similation of revelation. Both revelation and faith are corresponding and reciprocal acts of self-disclosure. On the part of God, it is becoming one of us. On our part, it is becoming Him. If revelation is the very Person of Jesus Christ as act of Self-gift, then faith must be the mirror-image of that act as receptivity. Failing that, knowledge about Christ is equivalent to practical atheism as “absence of God.” To know about is not to experience. A propos of the regnant European bourgeois life and rationalism in the 17th and 18th centuries, John Paul II wrote: “about 150 years after Descartes, all that was fundamentally Christian in the tradition of European thought had already been pushed aside. This was the time of the Enlightenment in France, when pure rationalism held sway. The French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror, knocked down the altars dedicated to Christ, tossed crucifixes into the streets, introduced the cult of the goddess Reason. On the basis of this, there was a proclamation of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. The spiritual patrimony and in particular, the moral patrimony of Christianity were thus torn from their evangelical foundation. In order to restore Christianity to its full vitality, it is essential that these return to that foundation.
“Nevertheless, the process of turning away from the God of the Fathers, from the God of Jesus Christ, from the Gospel, and from the Eucharist did no bring about a rupture with a God who exists outside of the world. In fact, the God of the deists was always present; perhaps He was even present in the French Encyclopedists, in the work of Voltaire and of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and even more so in Isaac Newton’s…modern physics.
“This God, however, is decidedly a God outside of the world… The rationalism of the Enlightenment put to one side the true God – in particular, God the Redeemer.
“The consequence was the man was supposed to live by his reason alone, as if God did not exist. Not only was if necessary to leave God out of the objective knowledge of the world… it as also necessary to act as if God did not exist, as if God were not interested in the world. The rationalism of the Enlightenment was able to accept a God outside of the world primarily because it was an unverifiable hypothesis. It was crucial, however, that such a God be expelled from the world.”

To know about God is not to experience Him. Faith involves the dynamic of sincerity as a conversion away from self yielding an experience of self, and hence self-knowledge. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger formulated apodictically; “One must know oneself as one really is if one is to know God,”[6] and then presented the scene of the encounter of Christ with the Samaritan woman as concrete illustration.

I offer the following at length because a) it reveals the mind of Benedict XVI in the point that he considers the supreme crisis of the present day, the absence of God; and b) it is vintage Ratzinger in its depth, clarity and simplicity as portrayal of the transition from the objectified “horizon” of “thing” (water) to the “horizon” of “I” as disclosed by the act of sincerity. This revealing of God’s presence among us, “I who speak with thee am he,” is compelling.

“It [Jn 4] opens with the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the context of a normal, human, everyday experience – the experience of thirst, which is surely one of man’s most primordial experiences. In the course of the conversation, the subject shifts to that thirst that is a thirst for life, and the point is made that one must drink again and again, must come again and again to the source. In this way, the woman is made aware of what in actuality she, like every human being, has always known but to which she has not always adverted: that she thirsts for life itself and that all the assuaging that she seeks and finds cannot slake this living, elemental thirst. The superficial `empirical’ experience has been transcended.
“But what has been revealed is still of this world. It is succeeded, therefore, by one of those conversations on two levels that are so characteristic of John’s technique of recording dialogue, the Johannine `misunderstanding,’ as it is called by the exegetes. From the fact that Jesus and the Samaritan woman, though they use the same words, have in mind two very different levels of meaning and, separated thus by the ambiguity of human speech, are speaking at cross-purposes, there is manifested the lasting incommensurability of faith and human experience however extensive that experience may be. For the woman understands by `water’ that of which the fairy tales speak: the elixir of life by virtue of which man will not die and his thirst for life will be entirely satisfied. She remains in the sphere of bios
[7], of the empirical life that is familiar to her, whereas Jesus wants to reveal to her the true life, the Zoë[8].
“In the next stage, the woman’s full attention has been attracted to the subject of a thirst for life. She no longer asks for something, for water or for any other single thing, but for life, for herself. This explains the apparently totally unmotivated interpolation by Jesus: `Go and call your husband!’ (Jn. 4, 16). It is both intentional and necessary, for her life as a whole, with all its thirst, is the true subject here. As a result, there comes to light the real dilemma, the deep-seated waywardness, of her existence: she is brought face to face with herself. In general, we can reduce what is happening to the formula: one must know oneself as one really is if one is to know God. The real medium the primordial experience of all experiences, is that man himself is the place in which and through which he experiences God (underline mine). Admittedly, the circle could also be closed in the opposite direction: it could be said that it is only by first knowing God that one can properly know oneself.
But we anticipate. As we have said, the woman must come first to the knowledge of herself, to the acknowledgement of herself. For what she makes now is a kind of confession: a confession in which, at last, she reveals herself unsparingly [emphasis mine]. Thus a new transition has occurred – to preserve our earlier terminology, a transition from empirical and experimental to `experiential’ experience, to `existential experience.’ The woman stands face to face with herself. It is not longer a question now of something but of the depths of the I itself and, consequently, of the radical poverty that is man’s I-myself, the place where this I is ultimately revealed behind the superficiality of the something. From this perspective, we might regard the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as the prototype of catechesis (underline mine) It must lead from the something to the I. Beyond every something it must ensure the involvement of man himself, of this particular man. It must produce self-knowledge, and self-acknowledgment so that the indigence and need of man’s being will be evident.
“But let us return to the biblical text! The Samaritan woman has achieved this radical confrontation with her own self. In the moment in which this occurs, the question of all questions arises always and of necessity; the question about oneself becomes a question about God. It is only apparently without motivation but in reality inevitable that the woman should ask now: How do things stand with regard to adoration, that is, with regard to God and my relationship to him? (cf. Jn. 4, 20). The question about foundation and goal makes itself heard. Only at this point does the offering of Jesus’ true gift become possible. (underline mine). For the `gift of God’ is God himself, God precisely as gift – that is, the Holy Spirit (cf. verses 10 and 24). At the beginning of the conversation, there seemed no likelihood that this woman, with her obviously superficial way of life, would have any interest in the Holy Spirit. But once she was led to the depths of her own being [underline mine], the question arose that must always arise if one is to ask the question that barns in one’s soul. Now the woman is aware of the real thirst by which she is driven. Hence she can at last learn what it is for which this thirst thirsts.
“It is the purpose and meaning of all catechesis to lead to this thirst. For one who knows neither that there is a Holy Spirit nor that one can thirst for him, it cannot begin otherwise than with sensory perception. Catechesis must lead to self-knowledge, to the exposing of the I, so that it lets the masks fall and moves out of the realm of something into that of being. Its goal is conversio, that conversion of man that results in his standing face to face with himself. Conversio (`conversion,’ metanoia) is identical with self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is the nucleus of all knowledge. Conversio is the way in which man finds himself and thus knows the question of all questions: How can I worship God? It is the question that means his salvation; it is the raison d’etre of catechesis"
( J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius (1987)353-355).

[1] Jn. 1, 46.
[2] Jn. 1, 49.
[3] J. Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, Ignatius (1997) 19.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “What Does the Church Believe?” The Catholic World Report, March 1993. 26.
[5] John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Knopf (1994) 52-53.
[6] J. Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius (1987) 354.
[7] Biological life that is self-contained.
[8] Trinitarian Life that is self-transcending.

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