Sunday, July 30, 2006

Self-Gift; To Be = To Be For/To Be For = To be: Transcendental Mathematics: -(3+2) = 5,000+

(17TH Sunday of Ordinary Time B; John 6, 1-15)

1) “A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing Elisha, the man of God, bread from the first-fruits, twenty barley loaves and fresh grain in the ear. `Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha said. But his servant replied, `How can I serve this to a hundred men?’ `Give it to the people to eat’ he insisted `for the Lord says this, “They will eat and have some left over.”’ He served them; they ate and had some over, as the Lord had said.”[1]

2) “Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, `Where can we buy some bred for these people to eat?’ He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do. Philip answered. `Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, `There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that among so many?’ Jesus said to them, `Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. When they had eaten enough he said to the disciples, `Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted.’ So they picked them up, and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves. The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, `This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.”[2]

3) “The Lord then said to Elijah: `Leave here, go east and hide in the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan. You shall drink of the stream, and I have commanded ravens to feed you there’…
“After some time, however, the brook ran dry, because no rain had fallen in the land. So the Lord said to him: `Move on to Zarephath of Sidon and say here. I have designated a widow there to provide for you.’ He left and went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to her, `Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink.’ She left to get it, and he called out after her, `Please bring along a bit of bread.’ `As the Lord, you God, lives,’ she answered, `I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten it, we shall die.’ `Do not be afraid,’ Elijah said to her, `Go and do as you propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son. For the Lord, the God of Israel, says, `The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.

“She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.”[3]

To Win, One Must Lose

The Goal is “to Lose:” As in the blog below on last July 20, 2006, the Orthodox theologian John Chryssavgis asserted: “In some ways, the secret to living a rich and healthy spiritual life may well be the fact that there is no secret. One of the problems along the spiritual way is that most of us seek -- or resort to -- magical solutions to profound issues. Reading the texts of the early ascetics, I have come to realize that perhaps the most essential lesson learned in life is the lesson of surrender, of letting go. It is a hard lesson, and one that is only reluctantly embraced by most of us. But I am convinced that this life is given to us in order to learn how to lose. We think that the purpose of a good spiritual life is to acquire virtues, or perhaps to lead a solid, productive, dignified, admirable, and even influential lifestyle. In fact, every detail -- whether seemingly important or insignificant, whether painful or joyful -- in the life of each one of us has but a single purpose, namely to prepare us for the ultimate act of sharing and sacrifice. I would say that the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death, which is the ultimate loss.”

It is very illuminating to put the meaning of the gift of self in terms of “losing.” The “unencumbered Self" is always looking for ways to control others, to ascend politically in whatever arena. The self, indeed, needs affirmation in order to be self. We need to be loved and related to in order to have identity and to be capacitated to make the self-gift. But that self-gift consists in learning to lose, therefore to love. We need virtue and self-mastery in order to be able to serve and disappear – which is to be in relation, and therefore to be on the way of divinization and fruitfulness. This loss of self is precisely the work of the redemption that must be sorted out and contrasted with the universal and false theology of expiation that would put us in control yet again of our own re-constitution as persons.

Ratzinger's "Theology of Redemption"

Consider Benedict XVI, Josef Ratzinger on the true theology of redemption where he contrasts the almost universally held “theology of atonement” propounded by St. Anselm where the infinite offense must be balanced by infinite atonement. Hence, the justice of God demanded that God himself in the Son should obey to death on the Cross in order to “settle the books.” Ratzinger remarks:

This picture is as false as it is widespread. In the Bible the cross does not appear as part of a mechanism of injured right; on the contrary, in the Bible the cross is quite the reverse: it is the expression of the radical nature of the love which gives itself completely, of the process in which one is what one does and does what one is; it is the expression of a life that is completely being for others. To anyone who looks more closely, the scriptural theology of the cross represents a real revolution as compared with the notions of expiation and redemption entertained by non-Christian religions, though it certainly cannot be denied that in the later Christian consciousness this revolution was largely neutralized and its whole scope seldom recognized. In other world religions expiation usually means the restoration of the damaged relationship with God by means of expiatory actins on the part of men. Almost all religions center round the problem of expiation; they arise out of man’s knowledge of his guilt before God and signify the attempt to remove this feeling of guilt, to surmount the guilt through conciliatory actions offered up to God. The expiatory activity by which men hope to conciliate the divinity and to put him in a gracious mood stands at the heart of the history of religion.

“In the New Testament the situation is almost completely reversed. It is not man who goes to God with a compensatory gift, but God who comes to man, in order to give to him. He restores disturbed right on the initiative of his power to love, by making unjust man just again, the dead living again, through his own creative mercy. His righteousness is grace; it is active righteousness, which sets crooked man right, that is, bends him straight, makes hi right. Here we stand before the twist which Christianity put into the history of religion. The New Testament does not say that men conciliate God, as we really ought to expect, since after all it is they wo have failed, not God. It says on the contrary that `God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor. 5, 19). This is truly something new, something unheard of – the starting-point of Christian existence and the center of New Testament theology of the cross; God does not wait until the guilty come to be reconciled; he goes to meet them and reconciles them. Here we can see the true direction of the incarnation, of the cross.

“Accordingly, in the New Testament the cross appears primarily as a movement from above to below. It does not stand there as the work of expiation which mankind offers to the wrathful God, but as the expression of that foolish love of God’s which gives itself away to the point of humiliation in order thus to save man; it is his approach to us, not the other way about. With this twist in the idea of expiation, and thus in the whole axis of religion, worship too, man’s whole existence, acquires in Christianity a new direction. Worship follows in Christianity first of all in thankful acceptance of the divine deed of salvation. The essential form of Christian worship is therefore rightly called `Eucharistia,’ thanksgiving. In this form of worship human achievements are not placed before God; on the contrary, it consists in man’s letting himself be endowed with gifts; we do not glorify God by supposedly giving to him out of our resources – as if they were not his already! – but by letting ourselves be endowed with his own gifts and thus recognizing him as the only Lord. We worship him by dropping the fiction of a realm in which we could face him as independent business partners, whereas in truth we can only exist at al in him and from him. Christian sacrifice does not consist in a giving of what God would not have without us but in our becoming totally receptive and letting ourselves be completely taken over by him. Letting God act on us – that is Christian sacrifice.”

In the same vein, the priesthood of Christ is not the control of something as mediation, but the control and gift of the Self.

We have often seen here that priesthood means mediation; that mediation in every world religion has involved some element extrinsic to the priest. In Jesus Christ, there is a revolution. Here the victim and the priest are the same I. Commenting on St. Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, Ratzinger says,

“Let s not the fundamental reversal involved in the central idea of this epistle: what from the earthly point of view was a secular happening is the true worship for mankind, for he who performed ti broke through the confines of the liturgical act and made truth: he gave himself. He took from man’s hands the sacrificial offerings and pout in their place his sacrificed personality, his own `I.’ When our text says that Jesus accomplished the expiation through his blood (9, 12), this blood is again not to be understood as a material gift, a quantitatively measurable means of expiation; it is simply the concrete expression of a love of which it is said that it extends `to the end’ (John 13, 1). It is the expression of the totality of his surrender and his service; and embodiment of the fact that he offers no more and no less than himself. The gesture of the love that gives all – this, and this alone, according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, was the real means by which the world was reconciled; therefore the hour of the cross is the cosmic day of reconciliation he true and final feast of reconciliation. There is no other kind of worship and no other priest but he who accomplished it: Jesus Christ.”[5]

The Principle of Supernatural Life: You can only keep what you give away. “Property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of `capital’ in opposition to `labor’ – and even to practice exploitation of labor – is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labor, they cannot even be possessed for possession’s sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession –whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of public or collective ownership – is that they should serve labor, and thus, by serving labor, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them.”[6]

This principle derives from the rector principle of Christian anthropology: “Man, the only earthly being God willed for itself, finds himself only in the sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes #24). Hence, one owns oneself only to the extent that one has subdued self and therefore taken possession of self. Then, the self once possessed must make the gift of self to another, always beginning with God, since without God the gift is impossible to another.

The Self Given is Limited and Defective: Five loaves and two fish are little. The love of Philein – a love with the triple betrayal in it – is enough for Christ and accepted. Recall the triple confession of John 21, 15-17 after the triple denial of John 18, 17-27. Jesus asks twice for the love of agape that is the love that is God, a spousal love to death. Simon (down from “Peter”) answers that he loves Christ with the love of companionship, but not to death, not after the triple denial. The last time Jesus asks if Simon loves him with the love of philein. Benedict XVI commented: “This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus’ level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity. From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: `This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, `Follow me’ (Jn. 21, 19).”[7]

Conclusion to giving away what we have: Excess Back!!

“When it is studied in the New Testament the theme of excess leads up another path where its meaning first becomes completely clear. We find the word occurring again in connection with the miracle of the loaves, where an `excess’ of seven baskets is mentioned (Mar 8, 8 par.) It forms an essential factor in the story of the multiplication of the loaves and is to be connected with the idea of the superfluous, of the more-than-necessary. One thinks at once of a related miracle preserved in the Johannine tradition: the changing of water into wine at the marriage-feast at Cana (Jn. 2, 1-11). It is true that the word `excess’ does not occur here, but the fact certainly does; according to the evidence of the gospel the new-made wine amounted to between 130 and 190 gallons, a somewhat unusual quantity for a private banquet! IN the evangelists’ view both stories have to do with the central element in Christian worship, the Eucharist. They show it is as the divine excess or abundance, which infinitely surpasses all needs and legitimate demands.

“In this way both stories are concerned, through their reference to the Eucharist, with Christ himself: Christ is the infinite self-expenditure of God. And both point back, as we found with the principle of `For, to the law governing the structure of creation, in which life squanders a million seeds in order to save one living one; in which a whole universe is squandered in order to prepare at one point a place for spirit, for man. Excess is God’s trade mark in his creation; as the Fathers put it, `God does not reckon his gifts by the measure.’ At the same time excess is also the real foundation and form of the history of salvation, which in the last analysis is nothing other than the truly breathtaking fact that God, in an incredible outpouring of himself, expends not only a universe but his own self in order to lead man, a speck of dust, to salvation. So excess of superfluity – let us repeat – is the real definition or mark of the history of salvation. The purely calculating mind will always find it absurd that for man God himself should be expended. Only the lover can understand the folly of a love to which prodigality is a law and excess alone is sufficient. Yet if it is true that the creation lives from excess or superfluity, that man is a being for whom excess is necessity, how can we wonder that revelation is the superfluous and for that very reason the necessary, the divine, the love in which the meaning of the universe is fulfilled” ("Introduction to Christianity" op. cit. 197-198).

[1] Second Book of Kings, 4, 42-44.
[2] Lk. 6, 5-15.
[3] First Book of Kings, 17, 2-16. (Confraternity-Douay has it at 3 Kings).
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 213-215.
[5] Ibid. 218.
[6] John Paul II, Laborem Exercens #14.
[7] See Wednesday, General Audience, May 24, 2006.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

St. James, Apostle, July 25, 2006

James, the Greater

James, from Bethsaida, was the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. He was one of the three disciples to witness the Transfiguration and the agony in the Garden besides other important events of our Saviour's public life. He and his brother's impetuous zeal caused the Lord to name them the Sons of Thunger.

James developed his apostolate in Judaea and Samaria. According to tradition he preached the Gospel in Spain. On his return to Palestine about the year 44, he became the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom, at the order of Herod Agrippa. His mortal remains were later brought to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, which became a popular medieval pilgrimage site and a sanctuary of the Faith for all of Europe.

Benedict XVI: From the Wednesday Audience of June 21, 2006:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames "James the Greater" and "James the Lesser".

These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus' earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.

The name "James" is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life. Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus' Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord's glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ's glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12: 1-2).

The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus' earthly existence.

A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim's staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the traveling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the "Good News" and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life. Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

Ascetical Consideration:

1) Great external difficulties in the apostolate should not discourage us. St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in “The Way” #586: “God is ever the same. What is lacking are men of faith. Supply that need and there will be a renewal of the wonders we read of in the Gospel. Ecce non est abbreviata manus Domini: God’s arm, his power, has not grown weaker!”

2) Nor should our internal weakness and betrayal: The recent exegesis of John 21 by Benedict buoys us. I repeat its apposite portion:
'In Greek, the word "fileo" means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word "agapao" means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: "Simon... do you love me (agapas-me)" with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21: 15)?
Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: "I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally". Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: "Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)", that is, "I love you with my poor human love". Christ insists: "Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?". And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: "Kyrie, filo-se", "Lord, I love you as I am able to love you". The third time Jesus only says to Simon: "Fileis-me?", "Do you love me?".
Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se)".
This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus' level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity.
From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: "This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, "Follow me'" (Jn 21: 19).
From that day, Peter "followed" the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him. Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
From the naïve enthusiasm of initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours.
We follow him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts us.

As Peter, when his loyalty was unchallenged, would have said “possum” to the question of Christ, “Simon, do you love me more than these” (Jn. 21, 15)?, so also, James and John protest, possumus, that they will be able to drink from the cup that Christ is about to drink.
Gregory the Great comments:

“The sons of Zebedee press Christ: Promise that one may sit at your right side and the other at your left. What does he do? He wants to show them that it is not a spiritual gift for which they are asking, and that if they knew what their request involved, they would never dare make it. So he says: You do not know what you are asking, that is, what a great and splendid thing it is and how much beyond the reach even of the heavenly powers. Then he continues: Can you drink the cup which I must drink and be baptized with the baptism which I must undergo? He is saying: `You talk of sharing honors and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger.’

“Consider how by his manner of questioning he exhorts and draws them. He does not say: `Can you face being slaughtered? Can you shed your blood?’ How does he put his question? Can you drink the cup? Then he makes it attractive by adding: which I must drink, so that the prospect of sharing it with him may make them more eager. He also calls his suffering a baptism, to show that it will effect a great cleansing of the entire world. The disciples answer him: We can! Fervor makes them answer promptly, though they really do not know what they are saying but still think they will receive what they ask for.

“How does Christ reply? You will indeed drink my cup and be baptized with my baptism. He is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: `You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me. But seats at my right and left side are not mine to give; they belong to those for whom the Father has prepared them.’ Thus, after lifting their minds to higher goals and preparing them to meet and overcome all that will make them desolate, he sets them straight on their request.

“Then the other ten become angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervor and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom.”

Gregory underscores the point: `You talk of sharing honors and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger.’

We saw recently, “the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death… `Stay in your cell,’ they [the desert fathers] advise us. Because so often we are tempted to move outside, to stray away from who and what we are. Learning to face who and what we are – without any façade, without any make-up, without any false expectations – is one of the hardest and at the same time, one of the finest lessons of the desert. Putting up with ourselves is the first and necessary step of learning to put up with others.”

John Henry Newman translates this call to bloodshed, war, danger, loss as “ventures” or “risk” of faith:

“They say unto him, `We are able.’’ (Matthew 20, 22).
“These words of the holy apostles James and John were in reply to a very solemn question addressed to them by their divine master. They coveted, with a noble ambition, though as yet unpracticed in the highest wisdom, untaught in the holiest truth – they coveted to sit beside him on his throne of glory.. They would be content with nothing short of that special gift which he had come to grant to his elect, which he shortly after died to purchase for them, and which he offers to us. They ask the gift of eternal life; and he in answer told them, not that they should have it (though of them it was really reserved), but he reminded them what they must venture for it: `Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.’ Here then a great lesson is impression upon us, that our duty as Christians lies in this, in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success.”

Newman continues:

“Who does not at once admit that faith consists in venturing on Christ’s word without seeing? Yet in spite of this, may it not be seriously questioned whether men in general, even those of the better sort, venture anything upo his truth at all?

“Consider for an instant. Let everyone who hears me ask himself the question, What stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to him on a belief of his promise? The Apostle said that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves?... This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolved, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, notching we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolved, and do, and not do, and avid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, wherever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”

John Paul II from Santiago (1982): to Europe, and therefore to us:

“I, John Paul, son of the Polish nation which has always considered itself European by its origins, traditions, culture and vital relationships, Slavic among the Latins and Latin among the Slavs; I, Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, a See which Christ wished to establish in Europe and which he loves because of its efforts for the spread of Christianity throughout the whole world; I, Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church, from Santiago, utter to you, Europe of the ages, a cry full of love: Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots. Return to those authentic values which made your history a glorious one and your presence so beneficent in the other continents. Rebuild your spiritual unity in a climate of complete respect for other religions and other genuine liberties. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Do not become so proud of your achievements that you forget their possible negative effects. Do not become discouraged for the quantitative loss of some of your greatness in the world or for the social and cultural crises which affect you today. You cab still be the guiding light of civilization and the stimulus of progress for the world. The other continents look to you and also hope to receive from you the same reply which James gave to Christ. `I can do it.’”
[1] From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom: Homily 65, 2-4: PG 58, 619-622. Breviary III, Ordinary Time, Weeks 1-17, Office of Reading for James, Apostle, July 25: pp. 1551-1552
[2] John Henry Newman, “Parochial and Plain Sermons,” Ignatius (1987) 917-918.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ratzinger's "Via Crucis" - March 24, 2005

The Overriding Insight of Benedict XVI consists in the Trinitarian Relationality of the Divine Persons whose metaphysic is: To Be = To Be For the other. Consider how the Christology is worked out from the unfolding of the Passion as relational self-gift: to be-for the other.

Before going through the stations, consider Ratzinger’s Christology taken from the Cross:

“Today we can establish with some certainty that the birthplace of the faith in Jesus as the Christ, that is, the birthplace of `Christ’ –ian faith as a whole, is the Cross. Jesus himself had not proclaimed himself directly as the Christ (`Messiah’). This certainly somewhat – to us – surprising assertion now emerges with some clarity from the frequently confusing quarrels of the historians; it cannot be eluded even if, indeed especially if, one faces with an appropriately critical attitude the hasty process of subtraction current in present-day research into Jesus. So Jesus did not call himself unequivocally the Messiah (Christ); the man who gave him this name was Pilate, who for his part associated himself with the accusation of the Jews by yielding to this accusation and proclaiming Jesus on the Cross, in an execution notice drawn up in all the international languages of the day, as the executed king (=Messiah, Christus) of the Jews. This execution notice, the death sentence of history, became with paradoxical unity the `confession of faith,’ the real starting-point and rooting-point of the Christian faith, which holds Jesus to be the Christ: as the crucified criminal this Jesus is the Christ, the king. His crucifixion is his coronation; his coronation or kingship is his surrender of himself to men, the identification of word, mission and existence in the yielding up of this very existence. His existence is thus his word. He is word because he is love. From the cross faith understands in increasing measure that this Jesus did not just do and say something; that in him message and person are identical, that he always already is what he says. John needed only to draw the final straightforward inference: if that is so – and this is the Christological basis of his gospel – then this Jesus Christ is `word;’ but a person who not only has words but is his word and his work is the logos (`the Word,’ meaning, mind) itself; that person has always existed and will always exist; he is the ground on which the world stands – if we ever meet such a person, then he is the meaning which sustains us all and by which we are all sustained.

The unfolding of the understanding that we call faith thus happens in such a way that Christians first hit upon the identification of person, word and work through the cross. Through it they recognized the really and finally decisive factor, before which all else becomes of secondary importance. For this reason their confession of faith could be restricted to the simple association of the words Jesus and Christ – this combination said it all. Jesus is seen from the cross, which speaks louder than any words: he is the Christ – no more need be said. The crucified `I’ of the Lord is such an abundant reality that all else can retire into the background. A second step was then taken and from the understanding of Jesus thus acquired people looked back at his words. When the community began to think back like this it was forced to note, to its amazement, that the same concentration on his `I’ was to be found in the words of Jesus; that his message itself, studied retrospectively, is such that it always leas to and flows into this `I,’ into the identity of word and person. Finally John was able to take one last step and link the two movements. His gospel is, as it were, the thorough reading of the words of Jesus from the angle of the person and of the person from the words. That he treats `Christology,’ the assertion of faith in the Christ, as the message of the story of Jesus and, vice-versa, the story of Jesus as Christology indicates the complete unity of Christ and Jesus, a unity which is and remains formative for the whole further history of faith.”[1]

FIRST STATION: Jesus is condemned to death

From the Gospel according to Matthew 27:22-23,26

Pilate said to them, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?" All of them said, "Let him be crucified!" Then he asked, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!" So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.


The Judge of the world, who will come again to judge us all, stands there, dishonored and defenseless before the earthly judge. Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law" (Acts 2:22ff.). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting. And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.


Lord, you were condemned to death because fear of what other people may think suppressed the voice of conscience. So too, throughout history, the innocent have always been maltreated, condemned and killed. How many times have we ourselves preferred success to the truth, our reputation to justice? Strengthen the quiet voice of our conscience, your own voice, in our lives. Look at me as you looked at Peter after his denial. Let your gaze penetrate our hearts and indicate the direction our lives must take. On the day of Pentecost you stirred the hearts of those who, on Good Friday, clamored for your death, and you brought them to conversion. In this way you gave hope to all. Grant us, ever anew, the grace of conversion.

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SECOND STATION: Jesus takes up his Cross
From the Gospel according to Matthew. 27:27-31
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Jesus, condemned as an imposter king, is mocked, but this very mockery lays bare a painful truth. How often are the symbols of power, borne by the great ones of this world, an affront to truth, to justice and to the dignity of man! How many times are their pomps and their lofty words nothing but grandiose lies, a parody of their solemn obligation to serve the common good! It is because Jesus is mocked and wears the crown of suffering that he appears as the true King. His scepter is justice (cf. Ps 45:7). The price of justice in this world is suffering: Jesus, the true King, does not reign through violence, but through a love which suffers for us and with us. He takes up the Cross, our cross, the burden of being human, the burden of the world. And so he goes before us and points out to us the way which leads to true life.
Lord, you willingly subjected yourself to mockery and scorn. Help us not to ally ourselves with those who look down on the weak and suffering. Help us to acknowledge your face in the lowly and the outcast. May we never lose heart when faced with the contempt of this world, which ridicules our obedience to your will. You carried your own Cross and you ask us to follow you on this path (cf. Mt 10:38). Help us to take up the Cross, and not to shun it. May we never complain or become discouraged by life's trials. Help us to follow the path of love and, in submitting to its demands, to find true joy.
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THIRD STATION:Jesus falls for the first time
From the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. 53:4-6
Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Man has fallen, and he continues to fall: often he becomes a caricature of himself, no longer the image of God, but a mockery of the Creator. Is not the man who, on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers who stripped him and left him half-dead and bleeding beside the road, the image of humanity par excellence? Jesus' fall beneath the Cross is not just the fall of the man Jesus, exhausted from his scourging. There is a more profound meaning in this fall, as Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians: "though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men... He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross" (Phil 2:6-8). In Jesus' fall beneath the weight of the Cross, the meaning of his whole life is seen: his voluntary abasement, which lifts us up from the depths of our pride. The nature of our pride is also revealed: it is that arrogance which makes us want to be liberated from God and left alone to ourselves, the arrogance which makes us think that we do not need his eternal love, but can be the masters of our own lives. In this rebellion against truth, in this attempt to be our own god, creator and judge, we fall headlong and plunge into self-destruction. The humility of Jesus is the surmounting of our pride; by his abasement he lifts us up. Let us allow him to lift us up. Let us strip away our sense of self-sufficiency, our false illusions of independence, and learn from him, the One who humbled himself, to discover our true greatness by bending low before God and before our downtrodden brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus, the weight of the cross made you fall to the ground. The weight of our sin, the weight of our pride, brought you down. But your fall is not a tragedy, or mere human weakness. You came to us when, in our pride, we were laid low. The arrogance that makes us think that we ourselves can create human beings has turned man into a kind of merchandise, to be bought and sold, or stored to provide parts for experimentation. In doing this, we hope to conquer death by our own efforts, yet in reality we are profoundly debasing human dignity. Lord help us; we have fallen. Help us to abandon our destructive pride and, by learning from your humility, to rise again
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FOURTH STATION: Jesus meets his Mother
From the Gospel according to Luke. 2:34-35,51
Simon blessed them and said to Mary his mother: "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed". And his mother kept all these things in her heart.
On Jesus' Way of the Cross, we also find Mary, his Mother. During his public life she had to step aside, to make place for the birth of Jesus' new family, the family of his disciples. She also had to hear the words: "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?... Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is brother, and sister and mother" (Mt 12:48-50). Now we see her as the Mother of Jesus, not only physically, but also in her heart. Even before she conceived him bodily, through her obedience she conceived him in her heart. It was said to Mary: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son. He will be great and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David" (Lk 1:31ff.). And she would hear from the mouth of the elderly Simeon: "A sword will pierce through your own soul" (Lk 2:35). She would then recall the words of the prophets, words like these: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was like a lamb that is led to slaughter" (Is 54:7). Now it all takes place. In her heart she had kept the words of the angel, spoken to her in the beginning: "Do not be afraid, Mary" (Lk 1:30). The disciples fled, yet she did not flee. She stayed there, with a Mother's courage, a Mother's fidelity, a Mother's goodness, and a faith which did not waver in the hour of darkness: "Blessed is she who believed" (Lk 1:45). "Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8). Yes, in this moment Jesus knows: he will find faith. In this hour, this is his great consolation.
Holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, you remained faithful when the disciples fled. Just as you believed the angels incredible message ­ that you would become the Mother of the Most High, so too you believed at the hour of his greatest abasement. In this way, at the hour of the Cross, at the hour of the world's darkest night, you became the Mother of all believers, the Mother of the Church. We beg you: teach us to believe, and grant that our faith may bear fruit in courageous service and be the sign of a love ever ready to share suffering and to offer assistance.
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FIFTH STATION:The Cyrenian helps Jesus carry the Cross
From the Gospel according to Matthew. 27:32; 16:24
As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross. Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Simon of Cyrene is on his way home, returning from work, when he comes upon the sad procession of those condemned ­ for him, perhaps, it was a common sight. The soldiers force this rugged man from the country to carry the Cross on his own shoulders. How annoying he must have thought it to be suddenly caught up in the fate of those condemned men! He does what he must do, but reluctantly. Significantly, the Evangelist Mark does not only name him, but also his children, who were evidently known as Christians and as members of that community (cf. Mk 15:21). From this chance encounter, faith was born. The Cyrenian, walking beside Jesus and sharing the burden of the Cross, came to see that it was a grace to be able to accompany him to his crucifixion and to help him. The mystery of Jesus, silent and suffering, touched his heart. Jesus, whose divine love alone can redeem all humanity, wants us to share his Cross so that we can complete what is still lacking in his suffering (cf. Col 1:24). Whenever we show kindness to the suffering, the persecuted and defenseless, and share in their sufferings, we help to carry that same Cross of Jesus. In this way we obtain salvation, and help contribute to the salvation of the world.
Lord, you opened the eyes and heart of Simon of Cyrene, and you gave him, by his share in your Cross, the grace of faith. Help us to aid our neighbors in need, even when this interferes with our own plans and desires. Help us to realize that it is a grace to be able to share the cross of others and, in this way, know that we are walking with you along the way. Help us to appreciate with joy that, when we share in your suffering and the sufferings of this world, we become servants of salvation and are able to help build up your Body, the Church.
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SIXTH STATION: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
From the Book of Psalms. 27:8-9
You have said, "Seek my face". My heart says to you, "Your face, Lord, do I seek". Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Cast me not off, forsake me not, O God of my salvation.
"Your face, Lord, do I seek. Hide not your face from me" (Ps 27:8-9). Veronica ­ Bernice, in the Greek tradition ­ embodies the universal yearning of the devout men and women of the Old Testament, the yearning of all believers to see the face of God. On Jesus' Way of the Cross, though, she at first did nothing more than perform an act of womanly kindness: she held out a facecloth to Jesus. She did not let herself be deterred by the brutality of the soldiers or the fear which gripped the disciples. She is the image of that good woman, who, amid turmoil and dismay, shows the courage born of goodness and does not allow her heart to be bewildered. "Blessed are the pure in heart", the Lord had said in his Sermon on the Mount, "for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). At first, Veronica saw only a buffeted and pain-filled face. Yet her act of love impressed the true image of Jesus on her heart: on his human face, bloodied and bruised, she saw the face of God and his goodness, which accompanies us even in our deepest sorrows. Only with the heart can we see Jesus. Only love purifies us and gives us the ability to see. Only love enables us to recognize the God who is love itself.
Lord, grant us restless hearts, hearts which seek your face. Keep us from the blindness of heart which sees only the surface of things. Give us the simplicity and purity which allow us to recognize your presence in the world. When we are not able to accomplish great things, grant us the courage which is born of humility and goodness. Impress your face on our hearts. May we encounter you along the way and show your image to the world.
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SEVENTH STATION: Jesus falls for the second time
From the Book of Lamentations. 3:1-2,9,16
I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light. He has blocked my way with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes.
The tradition that Jesus fell three times beneath the weight of the Cross evokes the fall of Adam ­ the state of fallen humanity ­ and the mystery of Jesus' own sharing in our fall. Throughout history the fall of man constantly takes on new forms. In his First Letter, Saint John speaks of a threefold fall: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. He thus interprets the fall of man and humanity against the backdrop of the vices of his own time, with all its excesses and perversions. But we can also think, in more recent times, of how a Christianity which has grown weary of faith has abandoned the Lord: the great ideologies, and the banal existence of those who, no longer believing in anything, simply drift through life, have built a new and worse paganism, which in its attempt to do away with God once and for all, have ended up doing away with man. And so man lies fallen in the dust. The Lord bears this burden and falls, over and over again, in order to meet us. He gazes on us, he touches our hearts; he falls in order to raise us up.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have borne all our burdens and you continue to carry us. Our weight has made you fall. Lift us up, for by ourselves we cannot rise from the dust. Free us from the bonds of lust. In place of a heart of stone, give us a heart of flesh, a heart capable of seeing. Lay low the power of ideologies, so that all may see that they are a web of lies. Do not let the wall of materialism become insurmountable. Make us aware of your presence. Keep us sober and vigilant, capable of resisting the forces of evil. Help us to recognize the spiritual and material needs of others, and to give them the help they need. Lift us up, so that we may lift others up. Give us hope at every moment of darkness, so that we may bring your hope to the world.
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EIGHTH STATION: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem who weep for him
From the Gospel according to Luke. 23:28-31
Jesus turning to them said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us'. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Hearing Jesus reproach the women of Jerusalem who follow him and weep for him ought to make us reflect. How should we understand his words? Are they not directed at a piety which is purely sentimental, one which fails to lead to conversion and living faith? It is no use to lament the sufferings of this world if our life goes on as usual. And so the Lord warns us of the danger in which we find ourselves. He shows us both the seriousness of sin and the seriousness of judgment. Can it be that, despite all our expressions of consternation in the face of evil and innocent suffering, we are all too prepared to trivialize the mystery of evil? Have we accepted only the gentleness and love of God and Jesus, and quietly set aside the word of judgment? "How can God be so concerned with our weaknesses?", we say. "We are only human!" Yet as we contemplate the sufferings of the Son, we see more clearly the seriousness of sin, and how it needs to be fully atoned if it is to be overcome. Before the image of the suffering Lord, evil can no longer be trivialized. To us too, he says: "Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves... if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?".
Lord, to the weeping women you spoke of repentance and the Day of Judgment, when all of us will stand before your face: before you, the Judge of the world. You call us to leave behind the trivialization of evil, which salves our consciences and allows us to carry on as before. You show us the seriousness of our responsibility, the danger of our being found guilty and without excuse on the Day of Judgment. Grant that we may not simply walk at your side, with nothing to offer other than compassionate words. Convert us and give us new life. Grant that in the end we will not be dry wood, but living branches in you, the true vine, bearing fruit for eternal life (cf. Jn 15:1-10).

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NINTH STATION: Jesus falls for the third time
From the Book of Lamentations. 3:27-32
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust - there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.
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TENTH STATION: Jesus is stripped of his garments
From the Gospel according to Matthew. 27:33-36
And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull), they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
Jesus is stripped of his garments. Clothing gives a man his social position; it gives him his place in society, it makes him someone. His public stripping means that Jesus is no longer anything at all, he is simply an outcast, despised by all alike. The moment of the stripping reminds us of the expulsion from Paradise: God's splendor has fallen away from man, who now stands naked and exposed, unclad and ashamed. And so Jesus once more takes on the condition of fallen man. Stripped of his garments, he reminds us that we have all lost the "first garment" that is God's splendor. At the foot of the Cross, the soldiers draw lots to divide his paltry possessions, his clothes. The Evangelists describe the scene with words drawn from Psalm 22:19; by doing so they tell us the same thing that Jesus would tell his disciples on the road to Emmaus: that everything takes place "according to the Scriptures". Nothing is mere coincidence; everything that happens is contained in the Word of God and sustained by his divine plan. The Lord passes through all the stages and steps of man's fall from grace, yet each of these steps, for all its bitterness, becomes a step towards our redemption: this is how he carries home the lost sheep. Let us not forget that John says that lots were drawn for Jesus' tunic, "woven without seam from top to bottom" (Jn 19:23). We may consider this as a reference to the High Priest's robe, which was "woven from a single thread", without stitching (Fl. Josephus, a III, 161). For he, the Crucified One, is the true High Priest.
Lord Jesus, you were stripped of your garments, exposed to shame, cast out of society. You took upon yourself the shame of Adam, and you healed it. You also take upon yourself the sufferings and the needs of the poor, the outcasts of our world. And in this very way you fulfill the words of the prophets. This is how you bring meaning into apparent meaninglessness. This is how you make us realize that your Father holds you, us, and the whole world in his hands. Give us a profound respect for man at every stage of his existence, and in all the situations in which we encounter him. Clothe us in the light of your grace.
ELEVENTH STATION: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
From the Gospel according to Matthew 27:37-42
And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews". Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right hand and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross". So also the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the Cross and we will believe in him".
Jesus is nailed to the Cross. The shroud of Turin gives us an idea of the unbelievable cruelty of this procedure. Jesus does not drink the numbing gall offered to him: he deliberately takes upon himself all the pain of the Crucifixion. His whole body is racked; the words of the Psalm have come to pass: "But I am a worm and no man, scorned by men, rejected by the people" (Ps 22:7). "As one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised... surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (Is 53:3f.). Let us halt before this image of pain, before the suffering Son of God. Let us look upon him at times of presumptuousness and pleasure, in order to learn to respect limits and to see the superficiality of all merely material goods. Let us look upon him at times of trial and tribulation, and realize that it is then that we are closest to God. Let us try to see his face in the people we might look down upon. As we stand before the condemned Lord, who did not use his power to come down from the Cross, but endured its suffering to the end, another thought comes to mind. Ignatius of Antioch, a prisoner in chains for his faith in the Lord, praised the Christians of Smyrna for their invincible faith: he says that they were, so to speak, nailed with flesh and blood to the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1). Let us nail ourselves to him, resisting the temptation to stand apart, or to join others in mocking him.
Lord Jesus Christ, you let yourself be nailed to the Cross, accepting the terrible cruelty of this suffering, the destruction of your body and your dignity. You allowed yourself to be nailed fast; you did not try to escape or to lessen your suffering. May we never flee from what we are called to do. Help us to remain faithful to you. Help us to unmask the false freedom which would distance us from you. Help us to accept your "binding" freedom, and, "bound" fast to you, to discover true freedom.
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TWELFTH STATION: Jesus dies on the Cross
From the Gospel according to John 19:19-20
Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the Cross; it read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek.
From the Gospel according to Matthew 27:45-50,54
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" That is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "This man is calling Elijah". And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him". And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit". When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
In Greek and Latin, the two international languages of the time, and in Hebrew, the language of the Chosen People, a sign stood above the Cross of Jesus, indicating who he was: the King of the Jews, the promised Son of David. Pilate, the unjust judge, became a prophet despite himself. The kingship of Jesus was proclaimed before all the world. Jesus himself had not accepted the title "Messiah", because it would have suggested a mistaken, human idea of power and deliverance. Yet now the title can remain publicly displayed above the Crucified Christ. He is indeed the king of the world. Now he is truly "lifted up". In sinking to the depths he rose to the heights. Now he has radically fulfilled the commandment of love, he has completed the offering of himself, and in this way he is now the revelation of the true God, the God who is love. Now we know who God is. Now we know what true kingship is. Jesus prays Psalm 22, which begins with the words: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Ps 22:2). He takes to himself the whole suffering people of Israel, all of suffering humanity, the drama of God's darkness, and he makes God present in the very place where he seems definitively vanquished and absent. The Cross of Jesus is a cosmic event. The world is darkened, when the Son of God is given up to death. The earth trembles. And on the Cross, the Church of the Gentiles is born. The Roman centurion understands this, and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. From the Cross he triumphs ­ ever anew.
Lord Jesus Christ, at the hour of your death the sun was darkened. Ever anew you are being nailed to the Cross. At this present hour of history we are living in God's darkness. Through your great sufferings and the wickedness of men, the face of God, your face, seems obscured, unrecognizable. And yet, on the Cross, you have revealed yourself. Precisely by being the one who suffers and loves, you are exalted. From the Cross on high you have triumphed. Help us to recognize your face at this hour of darkness and tribulation. Help us to believe in you and to follow you in our hour of darkness and need. Show yourself once more to the world at this hour. Reveal to us your salvation.
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THIRTEENTH STATION: Jesus is taken down from the Cross and given to his Mother
From the Gospel according to Matthew 27:54-55
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.
Jesus is dead. From his heart, pierced by the lance of the Roman soldier, flow blood and water: a mysterious image of the stream of the sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist, by which the Church is constantly reborn from the opened heart of the Lord. Jesus' legs are not broken, like those of the two men crucified with him. He is thus revealed as the true Paschal lamb, not one of whose bones must be broken (cf. Es 12:46). And now, at the end of his sufferings, it is clear that, for all the dismay which filled men's hearts, for all the power of hatred and cowardice, he was never alone. There are faithful ones who remain with him. Under the Cross stand Mary, his Mother, the sister of his Mother, Mary, Mary Magdalen and the disciple whom he loved. A wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea, appears on the scene: a rich man is able to pass through the eye of a needle, for God has given him the grace. He buries Jesus in his own empty tomb, in a garden. At Jesus' burial, the cemetery becomes a garden, the garden from which Adam was cast out when he abandoned the fullness of life, his Creator. The garden tomb symbolizes that the dominion of death is about to end. A member of the Sanhedrin also comes along, Nicodemus, to whom Jesus had proclaimed the mystery of rebirth by water and the Spirit. Even in the Sanhedrin, which decreed his death, there is a believer, someone who knows and recognizes Jesus after his death. In this hour of immense grief, of darkness and despair, the light of hope is mysteriously present. The hidden God continues to be the God of life, ever near. Even in the night of death, the Lord continues to be our Lord and Savior. The Church of Jesus Christ, his new family, begins to take shape.
Lord, you descended into the darkness of death. But your body is placed in good hands and wrapped in a white shroud (Mt 27:59). Faith has not completely died; the sun has not completely set. How often does it appear that you are asleep? How easy it is for us to step back and say to ourselves: "God is dead". In the hour of darkness, help us to know that you are still there. Do not abandon us when we are tempted to lose heart. Help us not to leave you alone. Give us the fidelity to withstand moments of confusion and a love ready to embrace you in your utter helplessness, like your Mother, who once more holds you to her breast. Help us, the poor and rich, simple and learned, to look beyond all our fears and prejudices, and to offer you our abilities, our hearts and our time, and thus to prepare a garden for the Resurrection.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FOURTEENTH STATION: Jesus is laid in the tomb
From the Gospel according to Matthew 27:59-61
Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulcher.
Jesus, disgraced and mistreated, is honorably buried in a new tomb. Nicodemus brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight, which gives off a precious scent. In the Son's self-offering, as at his anointing in Bethany, we see an "excess" which evokes God's generous and superabundant love. God offers himself unstintingly. If God's measure is superabundance, then we for our part should consider nothing too much for God. This is the teaching of Jesus himself, in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:20). But we should also remember the words of Saint Paul, who says that God "through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. We are the aroma of Christ" (2 Cor 2:14ff.). Amid the decay of ideologies, our faith needs once more to be the fragrance which returns us to the path of life. At the very moment of his burial, Jesus' words are fulfilled: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:24). Jesus is the grain of wheat which dies. From that lifeless grain of wheat comes forth the great multiplication of bread which will endure until the end of the world. Jesus is the bread of life which can satisfy superabundantly the hunger of all humanity and provide its deepest nourishment. Through his Cross and Resurrection, the eternal Word of God became flesh and bread for us. The mystery of the Eucharist already shines forth in the burial of Jesus.
Lord Jesus Christ, in your burial you have taken on the death of the grain of wheat. You have become the lifeless grain of wheat which produces abundant fruit for every age and for all eternity. From the tomb shines forth in every generation the promise of the grain of wheat which gives rise to the true manna, the Bread of Life, in which you offer us your very self. The eternal Word, through his Incarnation and death, has become a Word which is close to us: you put yourself into our hands and into our hearts, so that your word can grow within us and bear fruit. Through the death of the grain of wheat you give us yourself, so that we too can dare to lose our life in order to find it, so that we too can trust the promise of the grain of wheat. Help us grow in love and veneration for your Eucharistic mystery ­ to make you, the Bread of heaven, the source of our life. Help us to become your "fragrance", and to make known in this world the mysterious traces of your life. Like the grain of wheat which rises from the earth, putting forth its stalk and then its ear, you could not remain enclosed in the tomb: the tomb is empty because he ­ the Father ­ "did not abandon you to the nether world, nor let your flesh see corruption" (Acts 2:31; Ps 16:10 LXX). No, you did not see corruption. You have risen, and have made a place for our transfigured flesh in the very heart of God. Help us to rejoice in this hope and bring it joyfully to the world. Help us to become witnesses of your resurrection.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius (1990) 151-153.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Experiencing the Self in Silence and Learning to Lose: Consciousness of Self and Consciousness of God

Orthodox Theologian Speaks on Modern Deserts

Interview With John Chryssavgis,

JULY 18, 2006 ( We can only appreciate the mystical dimension of our world and our soul if we go through the stage of the desert, says Orthodox theologian, John Chriyssavgis. "I would say that the secret of the desert is learning to lose," he says. Author of several books, husband and father of two, Doctor Chryssavgis has recently released "In the Heart of the Desert. The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers."

Q: Seeking God through silence and prayer like the 4th and 5th century Christian ascetics still has much to teach us now?

Chryssavgis: It is so easy today to consider silence and prayer as something historically outdated or merely as spiritual virtues. In fact, for the life of the early desert fathers and mothers in the fourth and fifth centuries, silence was a way of breathing, a way of going deep. In a world, such as ours, where so much is determined by the immediate and the superficial, the desert elders teach us the importance of slowing down, the need to pay attention and to look more deeply. Silence is letting the world and yourself be what they are. And in that respect, silence is profoundly connected to the living God, "who is who he is." Silence and prayer mean creating space for those moments in our life where integrity and beauty and justice and righteousness reign. Of course, all this requires toil and tears, labor and love. It is the art of living simply, instead of simply living. It resembles the skill of gardening: you cannot plant unless, first, you cultivate. You cannot expect to sow unless you dig deep. And you certainly cannot expect fruit unless you wait. The search, then, is for what lies beneath the surface. Only in taking time and looking carefully can we realize just how much more there is to our world, our neighbor, and even ourselves than at first we notice or than we could ever imagine.

Q: Is there a secret to live a rich and healthy spiritual life?

Chryssavgis: In some ways, the secret to living a rich and healthy spiritual life may well be the fact that there is no secret. One of the problems along the spiritual way is that most of us seek -- or resort to -- magical solutions to profound issues. Reading the texts of the early ascetics, I have come to realize that perhaps the most essential lesson learned in life is the lesson of surrender, of letting go. It is a hard lesson, and one that is only reluctantly embraced by most of us. But I am convinced that this life is given to us in order to learn how to lose. We think that the purpose of a good spiritual life is to acquire virtues, or perhaps to lead a solid, productive, dignified, admirable, and even influential lifestyle. In fact, every detail -- whether seemingly important or insignificant, whether painful or joyful -- in the life of each one of us has but a single purpose, namely to prepare us for the ultimate act of sharing and sacrifice. I would say that the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death, which is the ultimate loss.

Q: What unifies the desert fathers and mothers?

Chryssavgis: If there is one element that unites the desert fathers and mothers, in my mind it is their realism. The unpretentious dimension of their life and experience, of their practice as well as their preaching, is something they share with one another and with all the communion of saints through the centuries. And precisely because they are truthful and down-to-earth, the desert fathers and mothers are not afraid to be who they are. They do not endeavor to present a false image; and they do not accept any picture of themselves that does not reflect who they really are. "Stay in your cell," they advise us. Because so often we are tempted to move outside, to stray away from who and what we are. Learning to face who and what we are -- without any facade, without any make-up, without any false expectations -- is one of the hardest and at the same time, one of the finest lessons of the desert. Putting up with ourselves is the first and necessary step of learning to put up with others. And it is the basis for recognizing how all of us -- each of us and the entire world alike -- are unconditionally embraced and loved by God.

Q: Is there another kind of "desert" nowadays?

Chryssavgis: In our day, the desert is not necessarily to be found in the natural wilderness, although it may certainly be located there for some. The institutional church and the institutional parish have their place; and the natural desert has its place. But there is more to the spiritual life than these could ever provide alone. Alongside the institutional, there must be room for inspiration. The two are not necessarily opposed, but they must work together integrally if the Body of Christ is to function in all its fullness. We need to discern the mystery in life. And we can only appreciate the mystical dimension of our world and our soul if we go through the stage of the desert, if we experience that contemplative dimension of life. Yet the desert today is found in the marginal places of the world and the church, where the prophetic and critical word is spoken in response to the cry of suffering in human beings and in the natural environment. Those who put themselves on the edge of the conventional church or society in order to see clearly what is happening in our world are contemporary desert fathers and mothers.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Second Circle: Faith and Modern Science

Three Circles of Questions Answered by Vatican II:

1- The Relation of Church and the Modern State (seen on the July 4, 2006 blog)
2- Epistemology of Faith and Modern Science
3- Catholicism as the One Church of Jesus Christ, and Tolerance of World Religions


Vatican II: Not Yet Understood and Assimilated by the Church:

The acknowledged goal of Benedict XVI is the understanding and assimilation of Vatican II with and through the 14 encyclicals of John Paul II. He remarked on Polish television, October 16, 2005: “I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.”

In Murcia, Spain, December 4, 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger was asked:

Q: It has been said that it is necessary to convoke a Vatican III so that the Church will adapt to the new times. What do you think?
Cardinal Ratzinger: "First of all, I would say it is a practical problem. We have not implemented sufficiently the legacy of Vatican II. We are still working to assimilate and interpret this legacy, as vital processes take time. A technical measure can be applied rapidly, but life has paths that are much longer. Time is needed to grow a forest; time is needed for a man to grow. Thus, these spiritual realities, such as the assimilation of a council, are ways of life, which have need of a certain duration and cannot be completed from one day to the next. That is why the time has not yet arrived for a new council."

From Subjectivism (Consciousness) to Subjectivity (Being)

"2- Epistemology of Faith and Modern Science:"

Benedict XVI offered that “three circles of questions had formed which then, at the time of the Second Vatican Council, were expecting an answer. First of all, the relationship between faith and modern science had to be redefined. Furthermore, this did not only concern the natural sciences but also historical science for in a certain school the historical-critical method claimed to have the last word on the interpretation of the Bible and, demanding total exclusivity for its interpretation of sacred Scripture, was opposed to important points in the interpretation elaborated by the faith of the Church.”[1]


The Similarity between the New Physics and Theological Epistemology

The Subject Knowing is Part of What is Known

Ratzinger observed:

“When one looks at the history of the dogma of the Trinity as it is reflected in a present-day manual of theology, it looks like a graveyard of heresies, whose emblems theology still carries round wit it, like the trophies from battles fought and won. But such a view does not represent a proper understanding of the matter, for all the attempted solutions which in the course of a long struggle were finally thrown out as dead-ends and hence heresies are not just mere gravestones to the vanity of human endeavor, monuments which confirm how often thinking has come to grief and at which we can now look back in retrospective – and in the last analysis fruitless – curiosity. On the contrary, every heresy is at the same time the cipher for an abiding truth, a cipher which we must now preserve with other simultaneously valid statements, separated from which it produces a false impression. In other words, all these statements are not so much gravestones as the bricks of a cathedral, which are of course only useful when they do not remain alone but are inserted n something bigger, just as even the positively accepted formulas are only valid if they are at the same time aware of their own inadequacy.

“The Jansenist Saint-Cyran once made the thought-provoking remark that faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace. He thereby expressed in the realm of theology a discovery which today in physics, as the law of complementarity, belongs to the realm of scientific thought. The physicist is becoming increasingly aware today that we cannot embrace given realities – the structure of light, for example, or matter as a whole – in one form of experiment and so in one form of statement; that on the contrary from different sides we glimpse different aspects, which cannot be traced back to each other. We have to take the two together – say the structure of corpuscle and wave – without being able to find any all-embracing aspect – as a provisional assessment of the whole, which is not accessible to us as a unified whole because of the limitations implicit in our point to of view. What is true here in the physical realm as a result of the deficiencies in our vision is true in an incomparably greater degree of the spiritual realities and of God. Here too we can always look from one side and so grasp only one particular aspect, which seems to contradict the other, yet only when combined with it is a pointer to the whole which we are incapable of stating or grasping. Only by circling round, by looking and describing from different, apparently contrary angles can we succeed in alluding to the truth, which is never visible to us in its totality.

“The intellectual approach of modern physics may offer us more help here than the Aristotelian philosophy was able to give. Physicists know today that one can only talk about the structure of matter I approximations starting from various different angles. They know that the position of the beholder at any one time affects the result of his questioning of nature. Why should we not be able to understand afresh, on this basis, that in the question of God we must not look, in Aristotelian fashion, for an ultimate concept encompassing the whole, but must be prepared to find a multitude of aspects which depend on the position of the observer and which we can no longer survey as a whole but only accept alongside each other, without being able to make any statement about the ultimate truth? We meet here the hidden interplay of faith and modern thought. That present-day physicists are stepping outside the structure of Aristotelian logic and thinking in this way is surely an effect already of the new dimension which Christian theology has opened up, of its need to think in `complementarities.’
“In this connection I should like to mention briefly two other aids to thought provided by physics. E. Schrödinger has defined the structure of matter as `parcels of waves’ and thereby fallen upon the idea of a being that has no substance but is purely actual, whose apparent `substantiality’ really results only from the pattern of movement of superimposed waves.
[2] In the realm of matter such a suggestion may well be physically, and in any case philosophically, highly contestable. But it remains an exciting simile for the actualitas divine, for the absolute `being-act’ of God, and for the idea that the densest being – God- can subsist only in a multitude of relations, which are not substances by simply `waves,’ and therein form a perfect unity and also the fullness of being….

“But first let me mention the second aid to understanding provided by science. We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject.”

Let’s stop here for a moment. Let’s recall the initial insight of Josef Ratzinger in his thesis on St. Bonaventure that was criticized and partly rejected by Michael Schmaus. With regard to understanding of Christian faith, we find an almost exact parallel with what he is describing here in the new physics. To wit:

“I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologicans of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of `revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as `revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, `revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is o, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of `revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive `revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because, if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as sola scripture (`by Scripture alone’), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition as already given.”[4]

Ratzinger goes on in “Introduction to Christianity:”

“There is not such thing as pure objectivity [emphasis mine].One can even say that the higher an object stands in human terms, the more it penetrates the centre of individuality, and the more it engages the beholder’s individuality, then the smaller the possibility of the mere distancing involved in pure objectivity. Thus, wherever an answer is presented as unemotionally objective, as a statement that finally goes beyond the prejudices of the pious and provides purely factual, scientific information, then it has to be said that the speaker has here fallen a victim to self-deception. This kind of objectivity is quite simply denied to man. He cannot ask and exists as a merge observer. He who tries to be a mere observer experiences nothing. Even the reality `God’ can only impinge on the vision of him who enters into the experiment with God – the experiment that we call faith. Only by entering does one experience; only by co-operating in the experiment does one ask at all, and only he who asks receives an answer.”[5]

To confirm this entrance of the “observer” or “believer” into the “experiment” to be known, consider the “theological epistemology”[6] presented in many previous blogs, including that of St. Gregory of Nyssa:

“I do not think these words mean that God will be seen face to face by the man who purifies the eye of his soul. Their sublime import is brought out more clearly perhaps in that other saying of the Lord’s: The kingdom of God is within you. This teaches us that the man who cleanses his heart of every created thing and every evil desire will see the image of the divine nature I the beauty of his own soul. I believe the lesson summed up by the Word in that short sentence was this: You men have within you a desire to behold the supreme Good. Now when you are told that he majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible, his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do not despair because you cannot behold the object of your desire. If by a diligent life of virtue you wash away the film of dirt that covers your heart, then the divine beauty will shine forth in you."[7]

Then, reconsider Ratzinger’s presentation of “theological epistemology.” That is, we can know the Person of the Logos, who is pure relation to the Father, only by becoming relational ourselves, and this because “like is known by like.” If the incarnation of the “Word” reveals that the Person of Christ is prayer, and that “we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer,”[8] then “The Christian confession of faith (“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Mt. 16, 15]) comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”[9]

It must be kept in mind that God experientially transcends our facultative powers of knowing through sensation and reason. Hence, Nyssa, Bonaventure and Benedict are at pains to insist that knowledge of God must come from the experience of self-transcendence as God is Self-transcendence. One must become Christ in order to know Christ, and one must know Christ in order to know the Father. And “to know” means Intellegere = ab intus legere (to read from within oneself).

This resonates with remarks of Heisenberg and Bohr on the new physics. Heisenberg remarked: “We know from the stability of matter that Newtonian physics does not apply to the interior of the atom; at best it can occasionally offer us a guideline. It follows that there can be no descriptive account of the structure of the atom; all such accounts must necessarily be based on classical concepts which, as we saw, no longer apply. You see that anyone trying to develop such a theory is really trying the impossible. For we intend to say something about the structure of the atom but lack a language in which we can make ourselves understood.”[10] Heisenberg continued: “Bohr’s remark reminded me… that atoms were not things. For although Bohr believed that he knew a great many details about the inner structure of atoms, he did not look upon the electrons in the atomic shell as 'things,’ in any case not as things in the sense of classical physics, which worked with such concepts as position, velocity, energy and extension. I therefore asked him: `If the inner structure of the atom is as closed to descriptive accounts as you say, if we really lack a language for dealing with it, how can we ever hope to understand atoms?’
“Bohr hesitated for a moment, and then said: `I think we may yet be able to do so. But in the process we may have to learn what the word `understanding’ really means’”[11] (bold mine).

This applies to what Cardinal Ratzinger remarked in New York in 1988 with regard to the "scientific" interpretation of Sacred Scripture:

“At the heart of the historico-critical method lies the effort to establish in the field of history a level of methodological precision which would yield conclusions of the same certainty as in the field of the natural sciences. But what one exegete takes as definite can only be called in question by other exegetes. This is a practical rule which is presupposed as plainly and self-evidently valid. Now, if the natural science model is to be followed without hesitation, then the importance of the Heisenburg principle should be applied to the historical-critical method as well. Heisenburg has shown that the outcome of a given experiment is heavily influenced by the point of view of the observer. So much is this the case that both the observer’s questions and observations continue to change themselves in the natural course of events. When applied to the witness of history, this means that interpretation can never be just a simple reproduction of history’s being, `as it was.’ The word inter-pretation gives us a clue to the question itself: Every exegesis requires an `inter,’ an entering in and a being `inter’ or between things; this is the involvement of the interpreter himself. Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming to know.

“Here, then, is the question: How does one come to be interested, not so that the self drowns out the voice of the other, but in such a way that one develops a kind of inner understanding for things of the past, and ears to listen to the word they speak to us today?

“This principle which Heisenburg enunciated for experiments in the natural sciences has a very important application to the subject-object relationship. The subject is not to be neatly isolated n a world of its own apart from any interaction.”

Overarching Preface to the above: Vatican II

The Crisis of the Age: The Absence of God. Since God is existing Subject, and we have abstracted out the subject as unreal consciousness in the cartesian "cogito," and all the rest of which we call "reality" to be object and material, then God becomes methodologically unreal.

God is “absent” because He cannot be sensed exteriorly, and we are permitted to accept as real only what can be sensed. Hence, we are caught in a dualism of measured sensation where “knowledge” only admits of probabilities of fact, and abstract consciousness that is untethered to reality and hence relativist. The total picture is called “subjectivism.” There are no absolutes and “knowledge” is about probabilities of fact and opinion. Cardinal Ratzinger called this “the dictatorship of relativism.” On the one hand, there are data bases of fact; on the other, there is the subject as consciousness. This subjectivism leads to nihilism with regard to God, the absoluteness of the human person, and values. Freedom in such a society, national or global, has no ordering truth, and can be ultimately contained only by an extrinsic, totalitarian force.

Causes of Subjectivism: The progressive loss of the experience of the self in the act of self-transcendence that is living faith. When we lose the experience of the anthropology of self-mastery that is the preliminary operation to self-possession and therefore to self-gift, the self becomes imprisoned in a static and languid self-complacency that was called acedia. It is basically the loss of the experience and therefore consciousness of the self, and, since the self is the image and likeness of God Who is ever in act as Self-gift, there is the loss of the consciousness of God. This is the basic reason why to know self truly is to know God, and vice versa. Hence, in this languid state of non-giftedness that is the result ultimately of disobedience, the self has ensconced itself as “god” in a kind of practical atheism. The self is then “beyond good and evil” being the whimsical arbiter of value insofar as it “pleases” self.
This is the basic reason why the loss of experience of radical self-gift in the laity has left the Church without the consciousness of sanctity for them, and thus the absence of the conceptual theology and legal canonical structures prior to the Second Vatican Council. Hence, St. Josemaria Escriva remarked: “For those who knew how to read the Gospel, how clear was that general call to holiness in ordinary life, in one’s profession, without leaving one’s own environment! But for many centuries most Christians did not understand this: there was no evidence of the ascetical phenomenon of many people seeking sanctity in this way, staying where they were, sanctifying their work and sanctifying themselves in their work. And soon, by dint of not practicing it, the doctrine was forgotten.”[13]
This lack of experience of self-mastery, self-possession, self-gift has left (at least) the West in a state of abstraction where consciousness, and not Being, has enveloped the meaning of the self. Not only is the self exercising itself by activities that are only accidental performances, and not self-gifts (there is a huge difference in the relation of persons), but the relatively easy success in the mastery of matter by science and technology - where knowing has been reduced to abstract conceptualization - has directed our attention and hope exclusively to the experience of the external senses, leaving the self as totally identical with a vapid consciousness and unencumbered by any “truth” beyond itself.

Karol Wojtyla on Cartesian Subjectivism:
The human person is "disguised" as consciousness. Wojtyla's thrust: See through it, consider the inner consciousness of freedom, responsibility, peace, guilt, anxiety, etc., describe these inner experiences realizing that we are dealing with an acting, and therefore existing person, and become aware that we are in direct and unmediated contact with the self as Being and the meaning of all meanings. Wojtyla remarked:

“A hallmark of Descartes’[14] view in his splitting of the human being into an extended substance (the body) and a thinking substance (the soul), which are related to one another in a parallel way do not form an undivided whole, one substantial compositum humanum. We can observe in philosophy a gradual process of a kind of hypostatization of consciousness: consciousness becomes an independent subject of activity, and indirectly of existence, occurring somehow alongside the body, which is a material structure subject to the laws of nature, to natural determinism. Against the background of such parallelism, combined with a simultaneous hypostatization of consciousness, the tendency arises to identify the person with consciousness. The person is primarily – if not exclusively – consciousness, a consciousness that is in some way subsistent, existing against the background of the organism, which Descartes regarded as a special kind of mechanism. Consciousness is an object of inner experience, of introspection, whereas the body, like all other bodies in the natural world, is accessible to observation and external experience. This view lacks a sufficient basis for including the body, the organism, within the structural whole of the person’s life and activity; it lacks the notion of a spiritual soul as the substantial form of that body and as the principle of the whole life and activity of the human being.

“The modern view of the person proceeds by way of an analysis of the consciousness, and particularly the self-consciousness, that belongs to the human being. Along with consciousness, freedom is also emphasized, but this freedom, which is conceived in an indeterministic way as total independence, is more of a postulate than a property. Freedom as a property of the person, freedom as an attribute of the will, disappears completely from the subjectivistic view of the person that, in various forms, we encounter in modern philosophy. And this is perhaps the most characteristic feature of such philosophy: its subjectivism, its absolutizing of the subjective element, namely, lived experience, together with consciousness as a permanent component of such experience. The person is not a substance, an objective being with its own proper subsistence – subsistence in a rational nature. The person is merely a certain property of lived experiences and can be distinguished by means of those experiences, for they are conscious and self-conscious experiences; hence, consciousness and self-consciousness constitute the essence of the person.”

The Achievement of Wojtyla:
He perceives the human person through the “disguise” and “camouflage” of consciousness as Being by considering the person not from the perspective of thought, but from the experience of the moral act. He discovers the person to be subject and being by means of the consciousness[16] of the experience of self-determination.[17] This is Wojtyla’s supreme contribution to philosophy. It makes possible the recovery of the person-subject, now not as consciousness, but as Being, in fact, the “privileged locus for the encounter with actu essendi.”[18] This is the absolute core of the contribution of reason to the development of doctrine that took place in the Second Vatican Council. The meaning of person as subject and being is faith seeking understanding. The meaning of person as relation – self-gift – is understanding seeking faith (as revelation). Wojtyla had declared that the supreme focus of the Father of Vatican II was the following: “If we study the Conciliar magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like `What should men believe?’ `What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and member of the Church?”[19]
This means that the question was not discover objective truth as concept, but to discover the truth of the subject as acting person. The former is intellectual, abstract and objectified. The latter is existential, concrete as subject: “I” making the gift of myself as faith.
This philosophic achievement is a critical part of what Benedict XVI has outlined as the task of Vatican II which has not been understood nor assimilated. I repeat the challenge of Benedict from a previous blog concerning the recovery of the subject from the entire Enlightenment period, but, purifying it = ontologizing it by discovering the experience of the "I" as acting (relational) person. He is speaking here particularly about the Enlightenment’s turn to the subject:

“Here is the problem: Ought we to accept modernity in full, or in part? Is there a real contribution? Can this modern way of thinking be a contribution, or offer a contribution, or not? And if there is a contribution from the modern, critical way of thinking, in line with the Enlightenment, how can it be reconciled with the great intuitions and the great gifts of the faith?
“Or ought we, in the name of the faith, to reject modernity? You see? There always seems to be this dilemma: either we must reject the whole of the tradition, all the exegesis of the Fathers, relegate it to the library as historically unsustainable, or we must reject modernity.
“And I think that the gift, the light of the faith, must e dominant, but the light of the faith has also the capacity to take up into itself the true human lights, and for this reason the struggles over exegesis and the liturgy for me must be inserted into this great, let us call it epochal, struggle over how Christianity, over how the Christian responds to modernity, to the challenge of modernity”…
“And it seems to me… that his was the true intention of the Second Vatican Council, to g beyond an unfruitful and overly narrow apologetic to a true synthesis with the positive elements of modernity, but at the same time, let us say, to transform modernity, to heal it of its illnesses, by means of the light and strength of the faith.
“Because it was the Council Fathers’ intention to heal and transform modernity, and not simply to succumb to it or merge with it, the interpretations which interpret the Second Vatican Council in the sense of de-sacralization or profanation are erroneous.”[20]

Cardinal Ratzinger then gave a most apposite example in Augustine’s relation to Plato and Virgil as to what we have to do with regard to the Enlightenment:

“Augustine, as you know, was a man who, on the one hand, had studied in great depth the great philosophies, the profane literature of the ancient world.
“On the other hand, he was also very critical of the pagan authors, even with regard to Plato, to Virgil, those great authors whom he loved so much.
“He criticized them, and with a penetrating sense, purified them.
“This was his way of using the great pre-Christian culture: purify it, heal it, and in this way, also, healing it, he gave true greatness to this culture. Because in this way, it entered into the fact of the incarnation, no? And became part of the Word’s incarnation.
“But only by means of the difficult process of purification, of transformation, of conversion.
“I would say the word `conversion’ is the key word, one of the key words, of St. Augustine, and our culture also has a need for conversion. Without conversion one does not arrive at the Lord. This is true of the individual, and this is true of the culture as well…”

The Cause of the Absence of God: The Abstractive Epistemology of the Enlightenment

The great discovery of the Enlightenment was subjectivity. Its great misfortune was to miss the experience of subjectivity as real moral being and get lost in the consciousness that makes the experience possible, but disguises it if one is not perceptive. Once lost, the subject is identified and confused with consciousness, with no other north than itself. This results in that the only objective reality the self can know is the empiricism of the external senses. The philosophic positivism of the scientific method becomes supreme and the irresolvable dualism – the San Andreas fault line of Walker Percy – is established between abstract thought, that is intrinsically relativistic because subjectivistic, and the hard data of the sensible, and therefore, measurable, real.

[1] Benedict XVI, “Interpreting Vatican II,” Origins January 26, 2006 Vol. 35, No. 32, 537.
[2] “An idea that appeared again in our century in modern physics is here anticipated: that there is pure act-being. We know that in our century the attempt has been made to reduce matter to a wave, to a pure act of streaming. What may be a questionable idea in the context f physics was asserted by theology in the fourth and fifth century about the person in God, namely that they are noting but the act of relativity toward each other. In God, person is the pure relativity of being turned toward the other; it does not lie on the level of substance – the substance is one – but on the level of dialogical reality, of relativity toward the other…. Relation is here recognized as third specific fundamental category between substance and accident, the two great categorical form of thought in Antiquity. Again we encounter the Christian newness of the personalistic idea in all its sharpness and clarity. The contribution offered by faith to human thought becomes especially clear and palpable here. It was faith that gave birth to this idea of pure act, of pure relativity, which does not lie on the level of substance and does not touch or divide substance; and it was faith that thereby brought the personal phenomenon into view;” J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 444-445.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius, (1990) 122-125.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” Ignatius (1997) 108-109.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction…” op. cit. 125.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One:” Thesis 3: Ignatius (1986) 25-27.
[7] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily, Orat. 6 De Beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1270-1271.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[9] Ibid. 19.
[10] W. Heisenberg, “`Understanding’ in Modern Physics,” Physics and Beyond, 40-41.
[11] Ibid. 41
[12] J. Ratzinger, “Foundations and Approaches of Biblical Exegesis,” Origins February 11, 1988, vol. 17: No. 35. 596.
[13] Fernando Ocariz, “Vocation to Opus Dei as a Vocation in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church, Scepter (1994) 91.
[14] Recall Karl Stern’s observation that Descartes, in effect, had no mother (she having died when he was one), and therefore, no loving affirmation as a child and adolescent: “Our search leads us still further into the past. And there we find that Descartes lost his mother when he was little more than a year old. She died in childbirth, and her newborn baby died with her. We can visualize the sickly schoolboy, with his chronic chest ailments, his need for prolonged sleep… and his general melancholia, which he later claimed to have overcome by an optimistic philosophy. The bereavement and grief of infancy impregnated his life with the permanence of a scent.” As a result, “Descartes’ celebrated friendships with women were lofty, intellectual and platonic. But he kept a life-long affection, an attachment of the heart, for his wet-nurse, to whom he paid a yearly allowance and for whom he secured in his will continued support after his death. And the only woman with whom we know he had an affair, Helena Jans, seems to have been a domestic servant. From her he had a daughter, Francine, who died at the age of five. Thus we see in his life something which we shall encounter again in Goethe… something not infrequent in the lives of great men – the apparently total cleavage between the carnal and the spiritual in the image of woman…. The certainty of the flesh which is the foundation of all certainty had to be conjured away – because it was here where the terror and pain of abandonment lurked. To the man who was to make an act of doubt the basis of all inquiry, doubt had supplanted trust a long time before conceptual thinking…. Reality, perceived primarily through the flesh, meant dread, and therefore ratiocination, the pure cogito, became an impenetrable armor… `As we have once upon a time been children and have judged the things presented ot our senses in various ways, while we had not the entire use of our reason, many judgements thus precipitately formed prevent us from arriving at the knowledge of the truth, and apparently there seems to be no way in which we can deliver ourselves from these, unless we undertake once in our lives to doubt all things in which the slightest trace of uncertitude can be found’” (bold mine); Karl Stern, “Flight From Woman,” Paragon House (1985) 91-101.
[15] Karol Wojtyla, “Thomistic Personalism,” Person and Community (1993) 169-170.
[16] Consciousness for Wojtyla is not “concept” as intentional knowing since the former grasps the experience of the “I” as “I” while the latter objectifies the “I” as object. See “The Acting Person” pp. 41-50: “In fact, the essential function of consciousness is to form man’s experience and thus to allow him to experience in a special way his own subjectiveness… Consciousness allows us not only to have an inner view of our actions (immanent perception) and of their dynamic dependence on the ego, but also to experience these actions as actions and as our own.
“It is in this sense that we say man owes to consciousness the subjectivation of the objective. Subjectivation is to some extent identifiable with experiencing; at least it is in experience that we become aware of it… (T)he acting person, owing to his consciousness, also becomes `subjectified’ to the extent to which consciousness conditions his experience of the action being performed by him as the person, and thereby secures the experience had of the person in its dynamically efficacious relation to action” (43).
[17] It is Seifert, in reviewing The Acting Person, who extols the originality of the non-reductive character of the book and the entire intellectual achievement of John Paul. He remarked, “The philosophical originality of the work manifests itself especially in the deliberate attempt to overcome a one-sidedness in the philosophical approach to the person which has dominated philosophy since Descartes, but which actually goes back to Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. The one-sidedness in question lies in approaching the person primarily through knowledge and cognition. The book `The Acting Person’ tries to correct this one-sidedness by viewing the person primarily as he manifests himself in action, and action as it reveals the person. This approach itself is highly original; so are those philosophical investigations in the book which elucidate the essence of freedom and of `man-acts;’” (Josef Seifert, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla [Pope John Paul II] As Philosopher And The Cracow/Lublin School Of Philosophy, Aletheia Vol. II [1981] 134).
[18] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio,” #83.
[19] Karol Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” Harper and Row (1981) 17.
[20] “The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI `Let God’s Light Shine Forth,’” ed. Robert Moynihan, Doubleday (2005) 34-35.
[21] Ibid. 35-36.