Saturday, June 10, 2006

Trinity Sunday 2006: Recovering the Experience of God

The Great “Crisis” Facing the Church and the World: “The Absence of God”

Robert Moynihan: “Over the past 30 years, not only the cardinals who elected Ratzinger as Pope, but many Catholics, and other men and women of good will around the world, have come to agree with Benedict that the greatest `crisis’ facing the Church and the world is `the absence of God’ – a culture and way of life without any transcendent dimension, without any orientation toward eternity, toward the sacred, toward the divine. And that the `solution’ to this `crisis’ is quite simple to express in a phrase: the world needs `the presence of God.’

“Benedict had long argued that the `absence of God’ in the modern world, the `secularization’ of modern `globalized’ society, has created a society in which the human person no longer has any sure protection against the depredations of power or, more importantly, any clear understanding of the meaning and ultimate destination of his life.

“Yet his call to reorient human culture toward God has never meant an abandonment of the search for social justice. Rather, it has always been a challenge to place that search within the Christian context of repentance and belief in the Gospel.

“Benedict’s focus on the `priority’ of knowing and loving God before doing anything else whatsoever was seen by the vast majority of the college of cardinals as the right focus.

“Benedict was elected by his fellow cardinals, including many from very poor countries, because they agreed with him about the need for a Pope who could preach the priority of Good, and in so doing, lay the only secure foundation for a just society.”

God Alone “IS”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: (212) “Over the centuries, Israel’s faith was able to manifest and deepen realization of the eriches contained in the revelation of the divine name. God is unique; there are not other gods besides him. He transcends the world and history. He made haven and earth: `They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment… but you are the same, and your years have no end.’ (Ps. 102, 26-27).”

The reason for the uniqueness of God, called “The Christian Distinction” between God and the world, is that God is such that having made the world, He is not more; nor having not made it would He be less. God is radically “other” than the world, yet He “IS.” The grounding reason is that God is one yet three Persons. This can only be grasped by reason if we understand person to be relation. But it is essential to understand that this is a totally distinct way of being than experienced through the senses. It can be grasped by the person in spousal love, in agape. But this is another level and kind of experience than external sensation. The Catechism says (255): “The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another; `In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three person in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.’[2] Indeed `everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship.’[3] The language of the equality of the Person is “consubstantiality” from the Council of Nicea (325). The footnote (66) of the CCC reads: “The English phrases `one being’ and `one in being’ translate the Greek word homoousios, which was rendered in Latin by consubstantialis.” It will important to recall Benedict XVI on this point when he says, “the First Person does not beget the Son in the sense of the act of begetting coming on top of the finished Person; it is the act of begetting, of giving oneself, of streaming forth. It is identical with the act of giving. Only as this act is it person, and therefore it is not the giver but the act of giving…”[4]

Restoration of the Knowledge of God

The positive part of the bankruptcy in our knowledge of God is the need to recover the experience. Until you hit the bottom of relativism, nihilism and its meaninglessness, it is possible to go along in a banal bourgeois existence with the spirit paralyzed in its inner need for the absolute. This has brought forth the urgency of a new evangelization that is not primarily intellectual but experiential. It is Christianity of the Way.

Ratzinger on Relativism on the Eve of His Election as Pope:

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be `tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine,’ seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.

“We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An `adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

“We must develop this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith – only faith – that creates unity and is fulfilled in love…. Make truth in love” [facientes veritatem in caritate]

Although God is not experienced by the senses, this does not means that God is not experienced at all. Quite the contrary. God is experienced as Person in the experience that the believing subject has of himself in the act of going out of himself in the act of faith. This is the experience the knowing subject – the believer – precisely as subject. There is no mediation here between the knower and the known. The knower is the known immediately. There are neither sensible perceptions nor concepts. The experience of the self in the act of self-determination – the act of faith is a moral act – is a “like” experience of the Person of Christ in that the human person has been created in the image and likeness of God in view of the prototype of man, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1, 4). When the “I” of the believer experiences self-transcendence in the act of hearing the Word of God and taking it in (as our Lady) such that it becomes flesh of his flesh as lived experience, he then transfers that experience and the consciousness that accompanies it to the very Person of the revealing Christ. Like is known by Like. It happens in the knowledge of any person by another, and a fortiori in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Hear John Paul II on the topic of the two tiers of experience:
“It is therefore possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experiences, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: "No one has ever seen God" (cf. Jn 1:18). If God is a knowable object--as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach--He is such on the basis of man's experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the point of departure for Immanuel Kant's study of ethical experience in which he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer--of which we talked earlier--is in a certain sense the first verification of such a reality…(underline mine)
“And we find ourselves by now very close to Saint Thomas, but the path passes not so much through being and existence as through people and their meeting each other, through the "I" and the "Thou." This is a fundamental dimension of man's existence, which is always a co-existence… Such co-existence is essential to our Judeo-Christian tradition and comes from God’s initiative. This initiative is connected with and leads to creation, and is at the same time – Saint Paul teaches - `the eternal election of man in the Word who is the Son (cf. Eph. 1, 4).”

The theology of the point is the following: Matt 11, 27 says: “No one knows the son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” The large question is how to break into this Trinitarian round of knowing. The answer is given in Luke 9, 18 where he discloses Christ praying to the Father when the apostles return from teaching. He asks them how people think He is. The respond with the various figures of John the Baptism, Jeremiah, Elias or one of the prophets. Christ then puts the critical question to them: “And who do you say that I am” (Matt. 16, 15). Simon responds that Jesus is “the Christ of God.” This knowledge of the “I Am” of the Son is already a knowledge of the Father and the Holy Spirit. This is the knowledge of God that comes from the experience of prayer. “Unless the Father draw” one, he cannot know Christ. The Person of Christ is relation, and therefore, as incarnate, discloses who He is in the act of prayer. His very Being reveals itself to be prayer to the Father. Therefore anyone who prays, becomes like Christ, experiences who He is in His innermost Trinitarian Being, and in the act of experiencing self, experiences Christ. In experiencing Jesus as the Christ is to experience the Father, because Christ and the Father are one. To know Father and Son is to be about to receive the Holy Spirit since He proceeds from both. This knowledge of the Trinity is eternal life (Jn. 17, 3) because to know demands the anthropological act of self-gift that is the conversion of being from substantial in-itselfness to self-transcendence that is Trinitarian, and therefore salvific.

The Act of Conversion that is prayer and the gift of self and that discloses the Person of Christ is the encounter between Christ and the Samaritan woman. This is the kernel of catechesis and the entrance into this relational way of being that discloses the Trinitarian life that we have come to know as Zoe.

Consider it again: “This periscope seems to me to be a beautiful and concrete illustration of what we have just been saying. It 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, 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 [Zoë] 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 that is familiar to her, whereas Jesus wants to reveal to her the true life, the Zoë.
“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. 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. 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 no 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. 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. For the `gift of God’ is God himself, God precisely as gift – that is, the Holy Spirit (cf. v10-24). At the beginning of the conversation, there seemed no likelihood that his woman, with her obviously superficial way of life, would have any interest in the Holy Spirit. But one she was led to the depths of her own being the question arose that must always arise if one is to ask the question that burns in one’s soul. Now the woman is aware of the real thirst by which she is driven. Hence, she can at last learn that 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 conversion, 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 now 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.”

[1] He Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI Let God’s Light Shine Forth” ed. Robert Moynihan (2005 4-5.
[2] Council of Toledo XI (675): DS 528.
[3] Council of Florence (1442): DS 1330.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990 (131-132.
[5] Homily of His Eminence Card. Josef Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Monday 18 April, 2005.
[6] John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Knopf (1994) 34-36.
[7] Ibid., 353-355.

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