Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Presentation in the Temple: February 2, 2006: "Sign of Contradiction" and "A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart"

1) From the conclusion of John Paul II’s retreat to Paul VI, “Sign of Contradiction:”[1]

“Forty days after this birth Jesus, son of Mary, was presented at the temple in Jerusalem in accordance with Old Testament law (cf. Lk. 2, 22-38). When Mary and Joseph entered the temple to go through the presentation rite, the old man Simeon took the child in his arms and spoke the prophetic words (cf. Lk. 2, 29-32) which the Church recites every evening during Compline: `A light to shine for the gentiles,’ and then, turning to Mary, referred to him in the words we chose as the leit-motif of our retreat: `He is set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction…’ (Lk. 2, 34).

“Nearly two thousand years have passed but the words then spoken have lost none of their validity or relevance. It is becoming more and more evident that those words sum up most felicitously the whole truth about Jesus Christ, his mission and his Church….

“The times in which we are living provide particularly strong confirmation of the truth of what Simeon said: Jesus is both the light that shines for mankind and at the same time a sign of contradiction…. Jesus Christ is once again revealing himself to men as the light of the world, has he not also become at one and the same time that sign which, more than ever, men are resolved to oppose?
[2]

The contradiction that Jesus Christ presents is that man is not a shrewd but evolved animal. Rather, he is a person in the way that God is person. That is, man is free and self-determining. He is inviolable and must be served in such a way that the only adequate justice to him is to love him. Man, then, is not to be understood “from below” as evolved and naturally selected “stuff.” Rather he is to be understood “from above.” He has been made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore has to find his identity in the God-man who not only reveals who God is, but who man is: “Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself. And brings to light his most high calling.”[3]

a) Hence, the core of Gaudium et Spes #22 discloses that Jesus Christ, as God and man, is not an “exception” to man, but “the revelation” as prototype of man. At a previous moment, then-Josef Ratzinger stated that “the (…) great misunderstanding is to see Christ as the simply unique ontological exception which must be treated as such. This exception is an object of highly interesting ontological speculation, but it must remain separate in its box as an exception to the rule and must not be permitted to mix with the rest of human thought”[4] (underline mine).

b) In the light of Jesus Christ, it is contradictory to reduce man to a number. Again, Ratzinger: “The Book of the Apocalypse speaks of the enemy of God, the beast. The beast – the counterpower – does not bear a name but a number – 666 – the seer tells us. The beast is a number and translates into numbers. What that means is known to us who have experienced the world of the concentration camps: Its horror was due to the fat that the camps obliterated faces, annihilated history, and turned human beings into interchangeable parts or a huge machine. Human beings were identified by their functions, nothing more. Today we must fear that the concentration camps were only a prelude, and that the world, in accord with the universal law of the machine, may adapt itself completely to the organization of the concentration camps. For in a place where only functions exist, the human being can only be a kind of a function. The machines that human beings have constructed will stamp on people the sign of the machine. It is necessary to render human beings legible to the computer, and this is only possible if human beings are translated into figures. Everything else remaining in human beings becomes unimportant. Whatever is not a function is nothing. The beast is a number that transforms people into numbers. But God has names and calls us by name. He is a Person who seeks other persons. He has a countenance and he seeks our countenances. He has a heart, and he seeks our hearts. For him we are not functions of the great machine of the world; precisely those persons who have no automatic function are his people.”[5]

Culture War:

“This situation with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the `culture of death’ and the `culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only `faced with’ but necessarily `in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.

“For us too Moses’ invitation rings out loud and clear: `See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil…. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live’ (Deut 30, 15, 19).”
[6]

Bloody War:

It is estimated that two–thirds of all the martyrs in Christian history died in the twentieth century. Of that century’s millions of witnesses to the faith (precise numbers are not yet known, and perhaps never will be), we are really familiar with only a few—Maximilian Kolbe, Charles de Foucauld, Miguel Agustín Pro—and even those are hardly known outside Catholic circles. The rest have languished almost entirely unknown, whether because the records of their lives have been lost, because the countries in which they died have been literally inaccessible, or because the governments under which they were persecuted have been less than cooperative with attempts to make known the circumstances of their deaths. It is no exaggeration to say that we will not know the full history of the twentieth century until we know the stories of its martyrs. …
On July 24, 1936, near the start of the Spanish Civil War, Republican militiamen in Madrid shot three Carmelite nuns in the middle of a street. “One died instantly,” Royal writes, “another was at first refused transport to a hospital by a bus driver who wanted to ‘finish her off,’ a third wandered around dazed until another band of militiamen executed her.” By July 31, in Madrid and Barcelona alone, 321 priests had been murdered. Between 1950 and 1953 in Communist North Korea, “50 percent of the hierarchy, one–third of the clergy, and at least fifteen thousand lay persons perished”; many more died in the notorious Death March to the Yalu River.
Hundreds of thousands of Catholics were murdered in Mexico from the 1920s on. Priests, nuns, and lay people were tortured in Soviet labor camps and in Nazi–occupied Poland. Sadistic brainwashing techniques were developed against Romanian Catholics, who nonetheless kept attending Mass at a rate of almost 80 percent. “Accidents” befell priests in Lithuania. “Reeducation centers” were established by the North Vietnamese. Missionaries in Angola and the Trappist monks at Tibhirine were murdered for their faith. In Albania, Catholics—the only religious group that refused to cede power to that Communist state (though they were later forced to sign an agreement in which they submitted to state control)—were tortured, their bishops “forced to clean the streets and public bathrooms wearing clown outfits with paper signs across their chests saying, ‘I have sinned against the people.’” In 1967 the Albanian government outlawed religion altogether, and declared the traditional family to be “reactionary.” Over two thousand religious buildings were closed or destroyed, and almost all the clergy were imprisoned. Pope John Paul II has said that “history has never seen before what happened in Albania.” Under Soviet rule, the Ukrainian Catholic Church was “the largest suppressed group of believers in the world.”

The Contradiction Offered by Jesus Christ:

Benedict XVI: “The power that imposes a limit on evil is divine mercy. Violence, the display of evil, is opposed in history – as `the totally other’ of God, God’s own power – by divine mercy. The Lamb is stronger than the dragon, we could say together with the Book of Revelation….

“What limits the force of evil, the power, in brief, that overcomes it – this is how [John Paul II] says it – is God’s suffering, the suffering of the Son of God on the cross:

`The suffering of the crucified God is not just one form of suffering alongside others… In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening oup a new dimension, a new order: the order of love… The passion of Christ on the cross gave a radically new meaning to suffering, transforming it from within… It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love… All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation; …evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering. …Christ has redeemed the world: `By his wounds we are healed’ (Isaiah 53, 5)…

“… (W)e must also do the utmost to ensure that people can discover the meaning of suffering and are thus able to accept their own suffering and to unite it with the suffering of Christ.

“In this way it is merged with redemptive love and consequently becomes a force against the evil in the world.

“The response across the world to the pope’s death was an overwhelming demonstration of gratitude for the fact that in his ministry he offered himself totally to God for the world; a thanksgiving for the fact that in a world full of hatred and violence he taught anew love and suffering in the service of others; he showed us, so to speak, in the flesh, the Redeemer, redemption, and gave us the certainty that indeed evil does not have the last word in the world.”
[7]



* * * * * * * * * * *


Our Lady: “And a Sword Will Pierce Through Your Own Soul Also” (Lk. 2, 34-35)



“We know that immediately after speaking those words Simeon turned to May, in a way linking the prophecy, about the Son with the one about the Mother: `And a sword will pierce your soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.’ With the old man’s words in mind we too turn our gaze from the Son to the Mother, from Jesus to Mary. The mystery of this bond which unites her with Christ, the Christ who is `a sign of contradiction,’ is truly amazing.”[8]

Unfinished: The key to the “kenosis” of the heart of Our Lady being pierced by the sword is to go to 1) Redemptoris Mater #16-18); 2) Rosarium Virginis Mariae, #13-14.


[1] Karol Wojtyla, “Sign of Contradiction,” A Crossroad Book, The Seabury Press (1979) 197.
[2] Ibid. 198.
[3] Gaudium et Spes, #22.
[4] Josef Ratzinger, “The Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 449.
[5] Josef Ratzinger, “The God of Jesus Christ,” Franciscan Herald Press (1979) 15-16.
[6] John Paul II, Gospel of Life, #28.
[7] Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Origins January 26, 2006 Vol. 35, No. 32, 534-535.
[8] Karol Wojtyla, “Sign of Contradiction” op. cit. 201.

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