Sunday, December 31, 2006

Feast of the Holy Family 2006

The supreme point to keep in mind is that “the concept of `person’…has become for us the fundamental concept of the analogy between God and man.”[1] And the meaning of person has been taken from the Biblical revelation of God as “relation,” and man to be made in the image of this relation.

Ratzinger observed: “The God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship.” Under this title, he developed the following: “We observed that, in the ancient world, man could orient himself to God through knowledge and love but that any notion of a relationship between the eternal God and temporal man was regarded as absurd and hence impossible. The philosophical monotheism of the ancient world opened up a path for biblical faith in God and its religious monotheism, which seemed to facilitate once again the lost harmony between reason and religion. The Fathers, who started from the assumption of this harmony between philosophy and biblical revelation, realized that the one God of the Bible could be affirmed, in his identity, through two predicates: creation and revelation, creation and redemption. But these are both relational terms. Thus the God of the Bible is a God-in-relationship: and to that extent, in the essence of his identity, he is opposed to the self-enclosed God of philosophy [consider Aristotle’s “First Unmoved Mover” or Plato’s “One"

As mentioned in the recent blog, the meaning of “relation” here is not an accident inhering in a substance, but a unique created subsistent relation even in man. By this, Christianity has revealed a new dimension of Being that is “the very center of philosophical thought.” I repeat Ratzinger’s bold affirmation that he had already proposed in previous works: “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius [1990] 130-132; “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 [Fall, 1990] 439-454. Here in 1999, he says: “The meaning of an already existing category, that of `relation,’ was fundamentally changed. In the Aristotelian table of categories, relation belongs to the group of accidents that point to substance and are dependent on it; in God, therefore, there are no accidents. Through the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, relation moves out of the substance-accident framework. Now God himself is described as a Trinitarian set of relations, as relatio subsistens. When we say that man is the image of God, it means that he is a being designed for relationship; it means that, in and through all his relationships, he seeks that relation which is the ground of his existence.” [2]

The Family: Relational Incubator of the Human Person
(title mine)

Josef Ratzinger

In the letter which St. Ignatius of Antioch – on his way to martyrdom in Rome – writes to the Christians of Ephesus, there is a phrase, difficult to translate, of great density, which powerfully calls the attention of the reader. I refer to that which appears in chapter 16 of the letter: “My brothers, do not deceive yourselves: Whoever perverts the home will not inherit the Kingdom of God (verse 1). Who are these persons, those who `pervert home’? In what does this action consist that is incompatible with the Kingdom of God, that is, with the goal of all human existence and of the whole history of man? To understand the phrase more deeply, it is necessary to keep in mind that in Greek – in a form that is very similar to the which occurs in Semitic languages – the word `home’ in its first sense does not mean the building of stone, but the family community understood in its widest sense – the grandparents, the parents, the sons, the servants-; life in common is what builds houses of stone or wood. The term `home,’ in its fundamental meaning, alludes, therefore, to something alive, to that original form of community between men which results from ties of descent, or of blood, and that by nature develop necessarily to form the space of fidelity, of living with and for the others, the space in which life is transmitted, learned and protected, not only in the biological sense, but in all its dimensions. Well, since the sources of life, of `being a person,’ are tied to mystery and since its conservation and adequate development need great protection, the home – understood in this way – is under the protection of the power of the holy: it has a sacred character. Therefore, whoever damages the vital world of the home, has raised his hand at the same time against the holy: this has been the common conviction of all the great and old cultures.

“After these considerations, we can return to the letter of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians. The received Latin version reproduces in a very adequate way – if what we have set forth above is correct – the idea of the martyr bishop: it translates the phrase in question by `familiarum perturbatores,’ that is: those who confuse and destroy families. The passage of Saint Ignatius, besides, is supported by a quotation of Saint Paul which points in the same direction, and which the Bishop of Antioch simplifies and makes exact at the same time. Saint Paul had written: `Don't deceive yourselves: neither the fornicators, nor the idolaters, nor the effeminate, nor the sodomites… will inherit the Kingdom of God' (1 Cor. 6, 9 s.). St. Ignatius, instead of this variety of sins that St. Paul mentions, refers to the good that is threatened which must be protected: the home, this protecting space that is the source of `being a person,’ the home which must be protected as a holy place. In this way, the original human way of knowing passes over in an immediate way into Christian faith. However perverts the home, whoever is the cause of the home being lost is destroying the conditions for God to live and reign in the world. On the one hand, man can only live and communicate in peace when he is under the protection of the holy; and on the other, God only can find a `place to live’ among men there where they have become a “home,” where – in other words – the ties and blood relations have converted in an ordered life-with-others where man learns that to live is `to be in relation’ by opening himself thus to the fundamental relation of his life, or obedience to God. When Ignatius of Antioch sums up and classifies the different sins enumerated by St. Paul, he calls them `perdition and destruction of the family,’ and thus puts in relief that `to destroy’ the family is to go against the Kingdom of God. In doing this, he is, perhaps, the first in expressing with all clarity the eminently theological character of the family. At the same time, it becomes evident that all the forms of desintegration of the life of men cited by St. Paul come from the perversion of the fundamental relations which mean `home.’ All these sins have their source in the `isolation,’ in the ignorance or the negation of `habitating’ and of `building,’ in the dissolution of that multiform structure of relations on which rest the health – in the most profound sense of the term – of the human condition.

“All of these ideas acquire a poignant meaning today before the tremendous rupture with the tradition that postmodernity has introduced and continues to introduce in its extreme radicality. It’s enough to consider that there exist great modern cities in which more than half of their inhabitants are `singles,’ persons who would see establishing a permanent tie or relation as a limitation of their freedom, and who, therefore, are not disposed to commit themselves and leave their `isolation.’ This dissolution of the `home’ is reflected also exteriorly in the construction of houses in the service of the individualism of a fragmented human life, according to which the function of the living quarters consists in `protecting’ the lack of relations. In this context, the family appears as a form of slavery; paternity and maternity, as an insult. There is no place for the vision of paternity and maternity understood as service to life, which is, by nature, to make space for a new existence that is a free autonomy. Nor is it possible to see that filiation is to accept being in the sense of `dependency’ and, therefore accepting `being a person’ in all of its open character. And together with this disintegration of `being a person,’ the conditions for knowing God and to give an account of his existence are undermined. More than 40 years ago, Romano Guardini wrote some words full of sense: `The phrase… “He who sees me, sees the Father” (Jn. 14, 9), have also an inverse meaning: “He who does not see the Father, fails to see me also.” We are not trying to accuse concrete persons who suffer `isolation,’ but rather to recall the phrase of Saint Ignatius whereby anyone despising and dissolving the family - and in this way dragging person into `isolation’ - are closing the door on the Kingdom of God and on that form of human life in which `living-together’ with God is the foundation of peace and fullness of the world.

“Before these tendencies, an urgent task of the Church consists in being the protector of the family, safeguarding that original evidential character, taken up and deepened by Christianity, the knowledge that the sanctity of the `home’ means defending thus the dignity and the truth of `being person'"
[3] (from the Spanish translation of the German original).

The Home: Unique Space of Salvation

In the Bible, salvation does not take place in the Temple or synagogue. It takes place in the home. The avenging angel in his mission to destroy the first born of man and animal “passed over” the homes of those who had the blood of the paschal lamb sprinkled over the doorposts of their homes.

“Israel’s Passover was and is a family celebration. It is celebrated in the home, not in the Temple. In the history of the foundation of the People of Israel, in Exodus (12, 1-14), it is the home which is the locus of salvation and refuge in that night of darkness in which the Angel of Death walked abroad. For Egypt, in contrast, that night spelled the power of death, of destruction, of chaos, things that continually rise up from the deep places of the world and of man, threatening to wreck the good creation and reduce the world to an uninhabitable wilderness. In this situation it is the home, the family, which provides protection; in other words, the world always needs to be defended against chaos, creation always needs shielding and recreating. In the calendar of the nomads from whom Israel adopted the Passover festival, Passover was New Year’s Day, i.e., the day on which the creation was refounded, when it had to be defended once again against the inroads of the void. The home, the family, is life’s protective rampart, the place of security, of
of that peace and togetherness which lives and lets live, which holds the world together.

“In the time of Jesus, too, Passover was celebrated in the homes and in families, following the slaughter of the lambs in the Temple. A regulation forbade anyone to leave the city of Jerusalem in the night of the Passover. The entire city was felt to be the locus of salvation over against the chaotic night, its walls the rampart protecting the creation. Israel had to make a pilgrimage, as it were, to the city every year at Passover in order to return to its origins, to be recreated and to experience once again its rescue, liberation and foundation. A very deep insight lies behind this. In the course of a year, a people is always in danger of disintegrating, not only through external causes, but also interiorly, and of losing hold of the inner motivation which sustains it. It needs to return to its fundamental origin. Passover was intended to be this annual event in which Israel returned from the threatening chaos (which lurks in every people) to its sustaining origin; it was meant to be the renewed defense and recreation of Israel in the basis of its origin. And since Israel knew that the star of its election stood in the heavens, it also knew that its fortunes, for good or ill, had consequences of the whole world; it knew that the destiny of the earth and of creation was involved in its response, whether it failed or passed the test.

“Jesus too celebrated the Passover according to these prescriptions, at home with his family; that is to say, with the Apostles, who had become his new family. In doing so he was observing a current rule which permitted pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem to form companies, the so-called habhuroth, who would constitute a family, a Passover unity, for thyis night. That is how Passover became a Christian feast. We are Christ’s habhura, his family, formed of his pilgrim company, of the friends who accompany him along the path of the gospel through the terrain of history. Companions of his pilgrimage, we constitute Christ’s house; thus, the Church is the new family, the new city, and for us she signifies all that Jerusalem was – that living home which banishes the powers of chaos and makes an area of peace, which upholds both creation and us. The Church is the new city by being the family of Jesus, the living Jerusalem, and her faith is the rampart and wall against the chaotic powers that threaten to bring destruction upon the world. Her ramparts are strengthened by the blood of the true Lamb, Jesus Christ, that is, by love which goes to the very end and which is endless. It is this love which is the true counterforce to chaos: it is the creative power which continually establishes the world afresh, providing new foundations for peoples and families, thus giving us `shalom,’ the realm of peace in which we can live with, for and unto one another. There are many reasons, I believe, why we should take a new look at these factors at this time and allow ourselves to respond to them. For today we are quite tangibly experiencing the power of chaos. We experience the primal, chaotic powers rising up from the very midst of a progressive society – which seems to know everything and be able to do anything – and attacking the very progress of which it is so proud. We see how, in the midst of prosperity, technological achievement and the scientific domination of the world, a nation can be destroyed from within, we see how the creation can be threatened by the chaotic powers which lurk in the depths of the human heart. We realize that neither money nor technology nor organizational ability alone can banish chaos. Only the real protective wall given to us by the Lord, the new family he has created for us, can do this. From this standpoint, it seems to me, this Passover celebration which has come down to us from the nomads, via Israel and through Christ, also has (in the deepest sense) an eminently political significance. We as a nation, we in Europe, need to return to our spiritual roots, lest we become lost in self-destruction.

“This feast needs to become a family celebration once again, for it is the family that is the real bastion of creation and humanity. Passover is a summons, urgently reminding us that the family is the loving home in which humanity is nurtured, which banishes chaos and futility, that the family can only be this sphere of humanity, this bastion of creation, if it is under the banner of th Lamb, if it is protected by the power of faith which comes from the love of Jesus Christ. The individual family cannot survive; it will disintegrate unless it is kept safe within the larger family which guarantees it and gives it security.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant,” Ignatius (1999) 76.
[2] Ibid.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Prologue” Enchiridion Familiae, Vol. Rialp, Madrid 1992. pp. CXV.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 103-106.

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