Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Advent 2005: Conversion to Love in order to "See."

1) “Parousia” means presence or, more accurately, “arrival,” i.e., the beginning of a presence. “In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also of the god being worshipped, who bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time. `Advent,’ then means a presence begun, the presence being that of God.” [1]

2) The astounding reality is that God Himself, Creator of the entire visible world, more than simply being present by man being His image and likeness, is really present in His very Person enfleshed: “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1, 14). That is, there is quid divinum in the ordinary things of everyday, and it is up to each one of us in our freedom to find it.

3) The even more astounding thing is that we don’t see it. Benedict XVI said in Cologne: “In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God." He then develops the argument: 1) We are forgetful of God. 2) Everything seems to be the same as it would be without Him. 3) But this “same” is not enough. We are unfulfilled and sense there is something missing. 4) Therefore, we create our own “religion;” we turn it into a “hobby” done in “leisure time, and a morality that fits our sensibilities and preferences. 5) However, in the crisis, we are alone.

4) This fits the scriptural description of John the Baptist.

a) His initial preaching is hard and demanding of clarity. The appearance of the Messiah means that laying of the ax to the tree and the thorough cleaning of the threshing floor. He demands the removal of ambiguity.
b) John demands this same clarity of Herod – who immediately has him thrown in jail.
c) While in jail, John begins to doubt whether Christ is really “He who is to come” and sends messengers to ask, “should we look for another” (Lk. 7, 19)?
d) Christ responds: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” And then adds: “Blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Lk. 7, 22-23).

5) John Paul II comments: “Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live – an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty – in contact with the whole historical `human condition,’ which in various ways manifests man’s limitation and frailty, both physical and moral.”[2]

This means that God is present in the world, and is recognizable, if we enter into the same way of being as He is present, i.e., as love. John was scandalized at Christ’s invisibility in “straightening things out.” Josef Ratzinger commented:

“This was probably the final task set the Baptist as he lay in prison: to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. In point of fact, we cannot see God ad we see an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him only by becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. In the final analysis it is usually the self that stands between us and God We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills, and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.

"John, then, even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist. `Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.’

“The Christian of our day, too, can be shown no other way to friendship with God than the way of ceasing to look for external clarity and beginning to turn from the visible to the invisible and thus truly finding the Lord who is the real foundation and support of our existence. Only when we act in this manner does another and doubtless the greatest saying of the Baptist reveal its full significance: `He must increase, but I must decrease’ (Jn. 3, 30). We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves. This brings us back to the main theme of Advent: We will know God to the extent that we give him room to be present in us. A person can spend his life seeking God in vain if he does not enable God to continue in his life the presence begun.”[3]

[1] See Josef Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 71.
[2] John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia #2.
[3] Josef Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching op. cit. 76-77.

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