Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cho Seung-Hui, Epistemological Casualty

The New York Times of Wednesday, April 18, 2007 begins its center front page story: “Cho Seung-Hui rarely spoke to his own dormitory roommate.” The New York Post of the same day expatiates: “Incredibly, some of the other male students who lived with Cho , John and Andy in the dorm suite didn’t even know his name.” The Post went on: “John said the girl’s parents called cops after Cho found her at her dorm, introduced himself as ‘Question Mark’ and began leaving messages on a dry-erase board outside her door.

“Question Mark’ was the nickname other students on campus had given the increasingly isolated loner because he refused to pout his name down on a roster for an English-literature class last semester – instead of writing a question mark in its place.”

Further on, The Post said, “Cho spent his spare time playing video games, particularly ‘Counter-Strike,’ in which players join terror groups and try to shoot each other.”


It seems that this boy was trapped within himself. Such entrapment has the makings of hell, and hence implies the presence of the demonic. If God is three Persons Who are Relations, then to be alone for a being made in the image of these Relations is an internal ontological contradiction. Hence, it is “not good” for man to be alone. The suffering involved here is not that of developing “muscles” but of decomposition.

I would hazard the guess that this entrapment is aided and abetted by the cyber-technology that has been created for communication and relationality, but in fact hermetically seals the person into a virtual state of self-absorption. The relationality achieved on the cell phone and e-mail seems to be more informational than inter-personal; particularly on the cell-phone which by definition is almost always an adjunct to “multi-tasking.” You always –by definition – find the person doing something else while talking to you. Your call has interrupted them. I always find myself asking the person where they are and what they’re doing so as to situate them in the horizon of subjectivity where we can exchange “I” to “Thou.” It really is a change of epistemological horizons, concretely from object to subject. I try to locate myself in their subjective situation and mental and emotional involvement at the moment, and then, letting them know that I am respectful of it, invite them freely into a subjective exchange. I am trying to draw them into a personal, and therefore, subjective interchange. I think we all experience that e-mail is a “cool” medium in comparison to the fixed, wired phone which tends to be “hot,” or at least, “hotter.” Concerning e-mail, when I want to test the waters on a particular topic, it feels much safer – because “cooler” - to enter with e-mail rather than the phone, which, being confrontational, is “hot.”

I personally find myself viscerally annoyed by seeing more than half the people I encounter on street and bus – not to speak of following a person in a car who is speaking on the cell-phone – talking away and oblivious of me and the here and now of what they are doing. It visually renders street or bus what I most fear: a landscape, no, a desert, of isolated individuals. I am not only alone, but I am positively excluded from a relationship with them. We don’t have this place and this activity in common. And somehow, I need that. Just to be with people makes the city a great place where we share weather, street, traffic, delays, parking. The suburbs slay me with their bucolic indifference. I am singularly depressed in beautiful suburbs where nobody knows anybody, and no one is on the street. This, apart from the person walking down the street with the ear piece and carrying on a conversation with - from a visual take - nobody. From a perception point of view, they are either talking to me (which they are not), or they have completely shut me out from the relationality that I seem to need and crave, or they are crazy. Not being the latter, I am offended. They are not walking on my street. They are not in my world. They are not driving on the same road that I am. They are not in the here and now. They and I are not in the same epistemological horizon. Nor are they in the here and now. We are each alone. They are communicating from behind a control panel where the self reigns supreme. They are into self and are in control. They are God.

Which means that they are in Hell. They are imprisoned. They are bored, and they don’t know it. This opens the way to consider the origin of the word “bored.” Walker Percy nails it in his “Lost in the Cosmos:”

“(10) The Bored Self: Why the Self is the only Object in the Cosmos which Gets Bored

The word boredom did not enter the language until the eighteenth century. No one knows its etymology. One guess is that "bored" may derive from the French verb bourrer, to stuff - concretely, to be "stuffed" with the self.

Question: Why was there no such word before the eighteenth century?

(a) Was it because people were not bored before the eighteenth century? (But wasn’t Caligula bored?)
(b) Was it because people were bored but didn’t have a word for it?
(c) Was it because people were to busy trying to stay alive to get bored? (But what about the idle English royalty and noblemen?)
(d) Is it because there is a special sense in which for the past two or three hundred years the self has perceived itself as a leftover [me: reductionism/objectification by conceptualizing] which cannot be accounted for by its own objective view of the world and that in spite of an ever heightened self-consciousness, increased leisure, ever more access to cultural and recreational facilities, ever more instruction on self-help, self-growth, self-enrichment, the self feels ever more imprisoned in itself – no, worse than imprisoned because a prisoner at least knows he is imprisoned and sets store by the freedom awaiting him and the world to be open, when in fact the self is not and it is not – a state of affairs which has to be called something besides imprisonment – e.g., boredom. Boredom is the self being stuffed with itself.”

I Repeat From Yesterday: The Great Danger: To Live on the Surface of Ourselves

The real danger is not to engage the self in action. The real danger is to extrinsically “perform.” We tend not to experience our own depth, our own meaning and ontological density and weight. We tend not to engage the inner self – the “I.” This great weakness consists in turning back on self, doing everything our way, and being trapped therein. As we have seen, Tolkien’s Ring of Power is a powerful icon and metaphor.

Benedict said to the Swiss bishops last November (paraphrasing St. Gregory the Great): “When man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.

“When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St. Gregory says, no longer perceives God’s gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!

“I maintain that St. Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time – in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

“I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us…, and which St. Paul cries to us in God’s Name: ‘Your attitude must be Christ’s…”
[2] And that attitude is service and self-gift to death.

Cyber-Technology (Tolkien’s Ring) and The Self

Robert Wright: New York Times, op-ed, 4/17/07 A 27

“I have a theory: the more e-mail there is, the more Prozac there will be, and the more Prozac there is, the more e-mail there will be….

“It’s an old story. Technological change makes society more efficient and less personal. We know more people more shallowly. The sociologist David Riesman’s 1950 book about his era’s part in this process was called ‘The Lonely Crowd’…

“The reason we’ve always carved out a place for deep human contact is because we deeply need it. Some contours of the mind are so firm they lead us to selectively defy the imperative of growing efficiency. Ultimately, technological evolution hoes had to accommodate human nature.

“Until now. Now we enter the age of pharmacology and approach the age of genetic engineering. We can, in effect, change human nature to accommodate technological evolution. If the deft use of e-mail makes each of us more successful, we may, one by one, amend the structure of our selves until we are the optimal e-mail animals. And so, too, with the next empowering information technology: bend us, shape us, anyway it wants us.

“If we’re indeed already entering this era, I can’t say I’m especially enjoying it. Then again, I haven’t tried Prozac. Yet.”

* * * * * * *

Hans Urs Von Balthasar

The Flowing Stream

“Prisons of FINITUDE! Like every other being, man is born in many prisons. Soul, body, thought, intuition, endeavor: everything about him has a limit, is itself tangible limitation; everything is a This and a That, different from other things and shunned by them. From the grilled windows of the sense each person looks out to the alien things which he will never be Even if his spirit could fly through the spaces of the world like a bird, he himself will never be this space, and the furrow which he traces in the air vanishes immediately and leaves no lasting impression. How far it is from one being to its closest neighbor! And even if they love each other and wave to one another from island to island, even if they attempt to exchange solitudes and pretend they have unity, how much more painfully does disappointment then fall upon them when they touch the invisible bars – the cold glass pane against which they hurl themselves like captive birds. No on e can tear down his own dungeon; no one knows who inhabits the next cell. Conjecture can grope its way from man to woman, from child to adult, even less than it can from human being to animal. Beings are alien to one another, even if they do stand beautifully by one another and complement one another like colors, like water and stone, like sun and fog: even if they do communally perfect the resounding harmony of the universe. Variegation pays the price of a bitter separation. The mere fact of existing as an individual constitutes renunciation. The limpid mirror has been shattered, the infinite image has been shattered over the face of the world, the world has become a heap of fragments. But every single splinter remains precious, and from each fragment there flashes a ray of the mystery of its origin. And infinite good can be detected in the finite good: the promise of greater things, the possibility of breaking through, an enticement so sweet the our pulse falters for keen delight, when the marvel – conferring a boundless bliss – suddenly discloses itself for a few moments, free of its concealment, and presents itself open and naked, stripped of the ashen garment of custom.”[3]

Jailhouse and Cocoon

“You are in prison and I am in prison. I know, Lord, that you are in your prison for my sake and that you remain in yours only because I remain in mine. Both of them belong together; both are one and the same dungeon. If you could succeed in freeing me from my confinement, you too would be free. The dividing wall between us would topple and we would both enjoy the same freedom. I, too, could perhaps free you by freeing myself, and in this case as well we would both be freed. But that’s just it! This is precisely what you can’t do and what I myself can’t do.

“I know your secret; you want to share my destiny. But I am deeply buried within myself and I cannot burst open the gates to this hell. Yu thought it would be easier for two, and you offered to help me. You buried yourself in my cave. But, because my solitude is lonely, yours also became lonely. And now we wait one for the other, separated by this wall. I well know that the fault lies with me, and not at all with you. You have done everything that was possible. You have suffered, Made atonement in my place, paid for everything in advance down to the last drop. But there is one thing you can’t do, and this is something I can’t do either. I should… but I cannot. I should want to, but I don’t. I wish I could want to, but I don’t want to want to. How do things stand then?” How can this be? I don’t understand it. They say you blotted out sin and made atonement for it. They say you effaced sin, not just covered it over, and that henceforth it no longer exists in the eyes of God. And yet sin is precisely this: that I do not want what God wants. And I can’t see how this opposition on my part could be broken. I can’t see how this prison wall which holds me captive could be pierced through….”[4]

The Solution

Since the hard-wiring of the human person images the divine Persons, there is an ontological tendency in us to be like God by becoming relational. That means that we yearn to escape from ourselves, to give ourselves radically. We are awaiting the call from without to take the leap of generosity to give it all, the whole self.

We have been loved from before the creation of the world, and we are loved now. This is called “grace.” It is the supreme affirmation. It gives us an identity as person and empowers us to make the gift of ourselves. But someone must call. It is Christ standing – risen- from the tomb calling us Lazarus-like from our tomb. It is the call to greatness, to give the whole self.

Those who act in the person of Christ, and fathers of families who stand in His place, must call the young person to give all. Rohr says: “We are wired for transcendence and greatness, it seems. Watch it on the faces or high school students at pep rallies, sports events, and any group gathering. They are wanting and expecting and looking for greatness, significance, a compelling vision for life, a challenge, holiness, even God. Children and teenagers are unbelievably hopeful by nature; all of their life is out in front of them. If that big picture is not given to them – through contact with bigger people and at special windows of opportunity – young people will seek to fulfill the expectation in other ways: big crowds, loud music, marching armies, totally unrealistic fantasies, fame (or infamy!), money, and popularity. Anything loud, large, or socially admired becomes the substitute for the cosmic and the transcendent that they are really longing for. Someone needs to tell them that, even if they only half-believe it.

“If there is no contact with greatness, there is an almost cosmic disappointment inside of us, a deep sadness, a capacity for cynical dismissal and sullen coldness, exactly as we see in so many or our young today. The visionary gleam is lost. It is as if they are saying, ‘There are no great people or great patterns. I will not believe in anything/ I will not be disappointed again.’ It is called postmodernism, and it is the general assumption of our jaded an uninitiated society. But do note that it is not the presence of pain or suffering that destroys the brain; rather it is the lack of larger-than-life people around us.”[5]

[1] Walker Percy, “Lost in the Cosmos,” Noonday Press (1983) 70-71.
[2] November 7 Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops, published December 10, 2006.
[3] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, “Heart of the World, Ignatius (1979) 19-20.
[4] Ibid 133-134.
[5] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return,” Crossroad (2004) 20.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"The Lamb is Stronger than the Dragon"


Love as Self-Gift is Power

Benedict’s 80th and St. Faustina’s Mercy Sunday

Benedict XVI’s strategy of exercising authority in the Church has been receptivity, i.e., to wait and listen to the Spirit with the Church. The power deployed by Benedict consists in mastery over self in order to make the self gift as love in the unique way revealed by Jesus Christ: obedience to death.

The Power of the Powerless is the same as the power of suffering-for-love. The power of suffering is to draw out love in self and in others. John Paul II said: “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man.”[2]

Consider the following two examples: (1) Christopher de Vinck’s brother Oliver and (2) Kent Gilges’s daughter Elie.


(1) “I grew up in the house where my brother was on his back in his bed for thirty-two years, in the same corner of his room, under the same window, beside the same yellow walls. He was blind, mute. His legs were twisted. He didn’t have the strength to lift his head or the intelligence to learn anything.
“Oliver was born with severe brain damage which left him and his body in a permanent state of helplessness.
“Today I am an English teacher, and each time I introduce my class to the play about Helen Keller, “The Miracle Worker,” I tell my students the story about Oliver.
“One day, during my first year of teaching, I was trying to describe Oliver’s lack of response, how he had been spoon-fed every morsel he ever ate, how he never spoke. A boy in the last row raised his hand and said, `Oh, Mr. de Vinck. You mean he was a vegetable.’
“I stammered for a few seconds. My family and I fed Oliver. We changed his diapers, hung his clothes and bed linens on the basement line in winter, and spread them out white and clean to dry on the sawn in the summer…
“’Well, I guess you could call him a vegetable. I called him Oliver, my brother. You would have loved him.’
“One October day in 1946, while my mother was pregnant withy Oliver, her second son, my father rose from bed, shaved, dressed, and went to work. At the train station he realized he had forgotten something, so he returned to the house and discovered the smell of gas leaking from the coal-burning stove.
“My mother was unconscious in her bed. My oldest brother was sleepoing in his crib which was quite high off the ground so the did not affect him. My father pulled them out of the room, through the hall, and outside where my mother revived quickly. And that was that.
“Six months later, on April 20, 1947, Oliver was born. A healthy-looking, plump, beautiful boy.
“`Oliver seemed like any other newborn,’ my mother and father told my sisters and brothers and me over the years, as they repeated the story with their deep love and joy. ‘There was no sign that anything was amiss.’
“One afternoon, a few months after he was born, my mother brought Oliver to a window. She held him there in the sun, the bright good sun, and there Oliver rested in his mother’s arms, and there Oliver looked and looked directly into the sunlight, which was the first moment my mother realized that Oliver was blind.
“My parents, the true heroes of this story, learned with the passing months that Oliver could not hold up his head, could not crawl, walk, sing; he could not hold anything in his hand; he could not speak…
“Oliver could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.
“For me, to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into a joy, explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband, writer and teacher I have become.
“I remember my mother saying when I was small, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?’ And once she said, ‘When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is “Thank you.”’ That leaves an impression on a boy.”[3]
De Vinck goes on how Oliver’s power was able to reveal to him the inner workings of the hearts of two women. He recalled:
“When I was in my early twenties I met a girl and I fell in love. After a few months I brough her home for dinner to meet my family.
“After the introductions, the small talk, my mother went ot the kitchen to check the meal, and I asked the girl, ‘Would you lie to see Oliver?’ for I had, of course, told her about my brother.
‘No,’ she answered. She did not want to see him. It was as if she slapped me in the face, yet I just said something polite and walked to the dining room.
“Soon after, I met … Rosemary, a dark-haired, dark-eyed, lovely gift. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She bought me a copy of The Little Prince. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful.
“I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. The introduction. The small talk. We ate dinner; then it was time for me to feed Oliver.
“I walked into the kitchen, reached for the red bowl and the egg and the cereal and the milk and the banana and prepared Oliver’s meal. Then, I remember, I sheepishly asked Rosemary if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. ‘Sure,’ she said, and up the stairs we went.
“I sat at Oliver’s bedside as Rosemary stood and watched over my shoulder. I have him his first spoonful, his second. ‘Can I do that?’ Rosemary asked. ‘Can I do that?’ she asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion, so I gave her the bowl, and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time.
“The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? Today Rosemary and I have three children.”[4]
Drawing his conclusions, de Vinck wrote: “Oliver created a certain power around us which changed all our lives. I cannot explain Oliver’s influence except to say that the powerless in our world do hold great power. The weak do confound the mighty.”[5]


(Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges)

From the unpublished manuscript “The Gift of Life”[6]
(From the Introduction)

“I wish I could put the lessons that Elie has taught me at the beginning. I want the reader to know early what I have learned from her, from her tiny, insignificant, monumental life. I want these conclusions first so that I can draw the reader into the learning process itself. How she has taught me is at least as important as what she has taught me. Yet the lessons are in the learning. I do not believe anymore that wisdom is a point we reach but an understanding of the process we follow.

“As I write this introduction, I sit a Saturday afternoon beside my wife in our pediatrician's waiting room. Liz holds twenty-eight pound Elie on her lap, a child with a scarlet flush brushed on the silken cream of her cheeks, strawberry blond hair, lovely green eyes, red socks. Her feet are crossed and dangle against my wife's leg. Her hands twist awkwardly inward, a result of the tone that affects her musculature. Were she able to clap she would smack the backs of her hands together. But she will never be able to clap; a brain tumor and a stroke make that impossible.

‘Elie is peaceful and beautiful when she sleeps and often catches the eye of passers-by, but her disabilities are apparent to one who looks closely. Her eyes move independently of each other. Her head tilts back at an unusual angle. Beneath her dress, she has a tube in her stomach. Many people ask questions when they notice these differences. Some are afraid to. It is awkward for people to discuss serious illness in a child, much less to broach the idea of a limited future. Children are our symbol of hope in life. Hopelessness in a child is a painful anomaly. Hopeless hope. It is something we do not want to think about because it forces us to question ourselves, our lives, even God.
Today Elie has a 102.4 degree fever and we are fighting the most recent of a series of infections that strings back behind us nearly two years to the day a neurosurgeon in a hospital in the lower east side of Manhattan removed part of a tumor in the center of her brain. That she is still alive at all is due to him. And to Liz, who has kept her alive on love as only a mother could.

“This story is about more than Elie. Yes, it is about others too. Part of the learning is that the story enfolds all those whom Elie has touched. It is about a Roman princess and the Pope. It is about the woman in a wheelchair, splashed through the window of a boat. It is about the prayer chain in Minnesota. It is about a four-pound girl's open-heart surgery and her mother's fight to keep her in a good hospital. It is about the Catholic priests that surround and pray for Elie. It is about me and my father, and Liz. It is about Elie's family. All of them, wide and near. That is why it is about hope. Because they are all her family. She has drawn them together; tied spiritual knots between their disparate lives.

“There is a difference between death and dying. Montaigne said, "It is not death, it is dying that alarms me." Death is a result, dying is a process. We spend our lives dying, but the process of dying is what gives life its poignancy, its beauty, even its joy.
In one sense, death is easy to deal with. It happens. It is over. We, the living, are forced by life to let death go and we accomplish that through grief. But it isn't until we have grappled with dying, the long, slow dying of a loved one, that we are able to really see the remarkable beauty of life.

“And a child dying. One's own precious, breathing child. I could never hope to describe that, nor impart a modicum of the desolation that bears down upon us who experience it. Perhaps I should not try. The future dies with the child, and yet the dying is a passport to life. The indomitable spirit rises up. Life bursts out of the dying process. Even with one's own child, life comes bubbling, searchingly to the surface. And life is different, raw, stripped, pure, clean. It is elemental. One comes up from drowning, baptized in the beauty of life.

“Richter said, "The darkness of death is like the evening twilight; it makes all objects appear more lovely to the dying." Until we face loss, until we feel loss, we cannot fully understand beauty. Beauty is the handmaiden of loss, and the joy that transcends loss.

“Pearl Buck wrote of her severely disabled daughter, "There must be acceptance and the knowledge that sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness." Just so. And yet the joy is there. Irrational as it sounds, time and our willingness to see sorrow as a hidden blessing are the key to the alchemy of joy. There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow. There is hope in that, hope even in a dying child.
“This is the story of Elie and of joy and most of all of hope.”

What Love Permits Us to See Inside the Powerless

“I slept in late this morning. I’m only three and a half so I don’t know how to tell time, but the sun was already coming through the window and shining on my face when I finally woke up. The sun is one of my favorite things; I can’t see it, but I can feel warmth on my face and it heats my skin up in a different way than other things. Not just on the surface but down underneath, like the inside of my cheeks was getting warm as well.
Beth was here when I woke up, and she moved me down to a blanket on the floor so that I could have my whole body in the sun. Beth has a big lap. I just sink into her lap and lean my head against her, and it’s very easy to fall asleep. Sometimes they don’t want me to sleep, so they put me on the floor and make me do exercises.
I like some of the exercises because my legs are sore from lying a certain way for a long time. The only part I don’t like is when they put me on my tummy. I get scared because I can’t turn my head and my nose gets pressed into the blanket. Beth rubs my back and sometimes I can push up.

“I smelled my mommy a few times this morning, but I think I was still sleeping and just dreamed it maybe. She comes out to check on me a lot during the night. When I’m awake, mommy likes to pick me up and kiss my cheeks, and I like that too. Most of the time, I can’t do anything to let her know I like it, but every once in a while when I’m thinking about how much I like being picked up by mommy, all of the sudden a noise comes out. She says I’m sighing.

“Our house is small. I can tell because no matter where mommy goes, I can hear her. She talks a lot and is usually happy. I wish I could say things back to her, but nothing comes out-- except for sighs.

“I live on the couch. We have a wood stove that daddy fills with logs each day. It keeps me warm. I don’t know why, but my hands and feet are really cold sometimes. Usually they are cold when I wake up, so someone puts me on the carpet and rubs my legs, which they say are thin and beautiful, and my hands, which they say are pudgy and fat, to warm them up.

“Beth massages me, then she makes me do work. It’s very hard and hurts me a little. I have to sit straight up and lift my arms over my head. I can’t do that myself, so Beth cradles me between her legs and holds my arms up for me. I lower them down again myself, sometimes one more than the other. I never really know what’s going to happen until it’s happened.

“After we’re finished on the floor, I go straight to my standing table. They strap my legs to it, then turn the handle and slowly raise me up so that I’m standing. They say it’s good to have weight on my bones, but I think it hurts so I usually cry. Mommy sets a timer, Beth reads me a story from Winnie the Pooh, and I cry. If I don’t cry, then I hold my breath and get tense. I don’t know why, it just happens that way.

“I like all the stories from Winnie the Pooh, especially the one when Piglet gets rescued by Pooh because Pooh is a hero and they say he is very smart. Daddy calls me Pooh. He says I am a bear of very little brain, just like Pooh. He calls me his little Pooh bear and his koala. I also like the stories about Madeline in Paris and I like Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is mommy’s favorite story as well, so we read it a lot together. Madeline is like me because she is little.

“After the standing table, Beth feeds me. I don’t get to taste anything, since it all goes straight into my stomach, but I like feeling full anyway. When I’m hungry, my stomach growls, and it makes me unhappy. Usually I get stiff when I’m hungry, but sometimes I cry. Mommy and daddy always know what I need, though, so they feed me. I try not to throw up because that tastes bad and scares me. I feel like I can’t breathe for a while, and sometimes I cough a lot.

“I smell mommy now. I think she’s standing next to Beth. I can move my lips and, even though no sound comes out, mommy likes it. If I move my lips sometimes I cry for no reason. If I cry, mommy usually picks me up.

“I was right. Mommy picked me up and I’m lying in her lap now. She holds my hand and brushes my hair. She’s telling me all about her day and asking how I feel. I like to listen to the sound of mommy’s voice, especially when it’s so close that the words brush against my ear and her lips touch my cheek. I can feel the sound on the side of my face before I even hear it. Daddy’s voice is deep on my cheek and tickles. Mommy’s voice is high and feels like a kiss. She is stroking my temples.
I love mommy.


“I fell asleep for a long time. When I woke up, my chest was sore and I had a coughing fit. I coughed until my throat didn’t feel so clogged, and then my chest felt better but I was tired again. I don’t like coughing. Sometimes it makes me throw up.
A bell rang and then mommy talked to someone while she held me on her lap. She was happy. I think she was talking to daddy, because she talks a different way when she talks to him. She was holding me against her so that my knees were in her lap. Sometimes it’s hard for me to sit that way because my whole body curls up and I can’t straighten out. My tummy hurt on the inside for a long time, and while mommy was talking, I had to poopy, so I did. I did a big poopy, and mommy heard it and laughed.
She called me a stinky girl, then she kissed me.

“While they were changing me, I had another coughing fit. I coughed only a few times and felt better, but my legs were cold because mommy pulled off my pants and diaper. I cried and they put on my pants again. Mommy brought a hot water bottle and laid that across my legs as she held me. It was very warm, just like the sun, and I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I was very sleepy even though I had just woken up. It’s like that for me. Sometimes the more I sleep, the sleepier I feel.

“After another feeding, Beth dressed me in very warm clothes and my favorite white hat, and they carried me outside to my chair. Then Beth walked me up the road. The chair bounces a lot on the gravel. I like that. It’s sort of like when they give me a leg massage. I also like the sun in my face and the wind. Wind is almost better than sun because it is a lot like constant kisses from mommy and daddy. I like wind best when it comes with the sun. The warm sun and the kissing wind feel good. I sighed three times on my walk.

“The cars go by every now and then. I used to get scared by them, but they’re not as scary anymore. They sneak up slowly, then all of the sudden there is a great roar, and then they’re gone again. To me, a car seems like a big hole in the ground that you walk over and hear the noise from a waterfall when you’re right over it, but then it goes away when you pass the hole.

“We walked for a long time, and when I came home, daddy was there. He picked me up out of the chair and tucked me against his chest. He has a big lap like Beth, but he holds my hand in his and puts my other hand under his arm so that they’re both warm. He wraps me in a blanket and puts his one arm between my legs so that I feel like I’m being held from all directions at once. I’m comfiest in daddy’s arms, and I think I might go to sleep before he puts me down.


“Cheryl came sometime while I was sleeping. She is another nurse who comes all the way from Canada each day. Cheryl has a little daughter who is sick too, but she comes anyway to help mommy and daddy with me. I think Cheryl’s daughter may be nearly as sick as I am. She’s a very nice lady, but she makes me work harder than anyone else. When I do my exercises with Cheryl, I’m the most tired of all.

“Tonight, Cheryl didn’t make me do exercises. Instead, mommy took me in the bath with her. I love the bath. Mommy and I get in together, and it is always very hot. At first, it stings my bottom but I like the warm feeling it gives my feet. A bath is like having sunshine hit every part of my body at once. I yawn a few times, then I start to fall asleep. Mommy thinks I fall asleep immediately, but I don’t. I usually stay awake with my eyes closed for a while and think. Mommy lets me stretch out and float. My hands bob at the surface and mommy only has to hold up my head. She says I’m so fat that I float.

“You might wonder what I think about when I’m floating in the bathtub with my eyes closed. That’s the best part of the story. I think about God. I try to imagine what it will be like when God holds me. You see, since my eyes don’t work like everyone else’s, I see different things than most kids. Mommy and daddy think that when I tilt my head back and look at the ceiling, it has something to do with my brain not working. It doesn’t though. Up high above us, I see angels dancing. Sometimes they come down close and talk to me and sometimes they are very far away, but they always seem to be dancing. And when they talk to me, they tell me that God is waiting for a little while yet to see me, and that I have a very good reason for being here. They say that when I visit God, I will sit on His lap and talk to Him for a long time, and when I fall asleep, He’s going to give me to the angels to hold while I wait for mommy and daddy.

“I like to think about that in the bathtub because I think being held by God is a lot like being held by daddy, except better.”

Anticipated Eulogy for Elie

“This is a moment for which I have prepared hundreds of times, which I have rehearsed, which I have spoken to myself over ten years and in many different ways. I have delivered my daughter's eulogy hundreds of times. I have imagined her gone as much as I have realized she is still here.

“This daydream comes upon me unexpectedly; imagination is uncontrollable. I find myself thinking about Elie, or living without Elie, mostly when I am alone. I have lived many times what it will be like never again to kiss her cheek or smell her sweet skin, to bury my face in her neck, to stroke her hair as she lies on my lap.

“I have spoken this eulogy in cars, in the woods, in a boat. I have spoken it mainly when I was alone, out loud with the tears streaming down my face. But I have also prepared it in my head at a party or as I sat with a crowd of friends at dinner, my thoughts drifting far beyond the conversation until I have had to stop my train of thought because I knew that within moments I would choke up and start crying and nobody would have any idea why.

“I have delivered the words with love, with pathos, with anger. I have looked for hope. I have spoken of despair.

“God has, at various times, been a merciful God who gave me my child for longer than He had originally planned. At others, I have complained about God snatching away my first child’s promise.

“I have spoken words like these so many times that it should come easily. But it doesn't. It has never come easily-- how could it. I have always realized the finality of this moment. That is when my heart begins to tear. The desolation of finality follows. Her death is final. It is monstrous. And it is desolate.

“I've often laughed that Elie had three goals in life. One was to remain my little baby girl forever. One was to avoid the pain of teething. And the last was never to be put down, to be held by someone continuously through life.

“She has done quite well except for the teeth. She has always been our little baby. Even when we had a baby who was smaller by far, Elie was the baby.

“It amazes me that so many people have touched her, held her, rocked her. So much family. Dozens of the most caring nurses we could hope for. Many priests have held her and all have prayed for her continuously since her illness. She has been comforted and loved by more people in her few short years than many of us in a lifetime. And being held, being touched, has been her way of touching others in turn. We touched her physically. She touched us spiritually.

“We hold in greatest honor those who have cared for her on a daily basis. Let their names spoken offer them the honor and gratitude they deserve.

Bob and Donna Smith
Laurie Lewis
Jean Steiner
Marilyn Miraglia
Drs. David Ragonesi and Gregory Liptak, whom we recognize with particular distinction for their compassion and commitment
Linda Gavigan
Linda Foster
Theresa Kimball
Christine Kennedy
Father William Delaney
Beth Ygeal.
Carrie Barry
Dr. Bernd Holler
Sue Potosak
Margaret Burroughs
Father Michael Steber

“Her greatest caregiver, of course, I hold in greatest honor. Her mother, Liz, who single-handedly kept Elie with us for 10 years purely through a devoted mother’s love and fierce tenacity.
And we release her.

“Of her death, what good can be said: It was short and merciful. It only lasted ten years.

“Of her life, what good can be said: I feel I could write a book about it, and yet it is like the whisper of wind on a single blade in the tall grass prairie.

“I cannot point to many things that I have done which were wholly good, but caring for Elie is one. She was a burden, yes, but she was also a gift.
And it is my great hope that if I ever make it to heaven and stand before God, I will be greeted there by a little girl with blond hair and a sweet smile who welcomes me and introduces me to God. And God will laugh and say, “Don’t worry. It wasn’t ever really as close a call as you thought. Anyone who cared for Elie got a free pass.”
Goodbye my beautiful girl. God’s speed.”

That is what I would say, at least today, if Elie were to die.

(From Chapter 20: “Requiem – Straight from My Arms to God’s”)

“Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges died on March 11, 2004 on my lap, cradled between Liz and me.

“She died quietly, peacefully. As she breathed her last few breaths, Liz said a Hail Mary and cried out, “Jesus come!” I whispered in her small ear, “Elie. Go, beautiful. Go to God. Go.” She took a half breath, shuddered once almost imperceptibly as if her body held very lightly now to her soul, took another half breath, and then she breathed no more.
“We bathed her, combed out her hair, dressed her in a blue Easter dress that Liz’s brother had bought for her, and placed her in the coffin which we as a family had made.
It was built of ash, painted white with a black inlaid cross on the cover. The inside was lined with white satin. The children each placed two hand prints in bright colors on the side of the coffin and wrote underneath in black marker, “I love you, Elie,” and their name.
“In the morning, Liz’s mother and her sister bought a tiara made of yellow and blue flowers and we placed it on her forehead before the wake. Never have I seen anything more beautiful than her face in the dim twilight of her room.
Requiem in Pace. Is Elie resting in peace? I guess I hope not. I hope that for the first time, a little girl who was never able to walk finally has the use of her legs and is running through fields filled with the yellow and blue flowers that adorned her pale brow as she lay in her coffin.

“The night Elie died, we tried to explain to our children again what death meant. They all listened solemnly. When we were done with our explanation, there were a few moments of quiet, then four year-old Hannah asked us: “Mom, can Elie do a cartwheel now?”

Vanquishing Persistent Adolescence: The Radiation of Fatherhood

Richard Rohr points to the state of affairs that we could call persistent adolescence, particularly in the male.[7] His thesis is that boys at present do not become men because they do not become sons initiated into manhood. Insofar as they are not sons, they do not know how to become fathers as images of God. The process of becoming a son is a process of being initiated via suffering. St. Paul says: “Continue under discipline. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not correct? But if you are without discipline, in which all have had a share, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”[8]

Karol Wojtyla: In order “become men” that is equivalent to being fathers, adolescents must become sons and undergo the initiation into fatherhood. Karol Wojtyla in his dramatic “Radiation of Fatherhood,” wrote in the person of Adam: “After a long time I came to understand that you do not want me to be a father unless I become a child. That is why Your Son came into the world. He is entirely Yours. In Him the word ‘mine’ finds complete justification; it can be spoken credibly by Him. Without such a justification and credibility this word is a risk – love is a risk, too. Why did you inflect on me the love that in me must be a risk? And now Your Son takes on Himself all the risk of love.” Further down he says: “Could I too become a son? I did not want to be one. I did not want to accept the suffering caused by risking love. I thought I would not be equal to it. My eyes were too fixed on myself, and in such a situation love is most difficult.

“When Your Son came, I remained the common denominator of man’s inner loneliness. Your Son wants to enter it. He wants to because He loves. Loneliness opposes love. On the borderline of loneliness, love must become suffering: Your Son has suffered.”[9]
Louis Evely: “Do you know what it is to be a Father? [me: It is to become a man]

“To be a Father is precisely to suffer; to become a father is to become vulnerable. As long as one is young, one is hard, selfish, protected. No doubt, one has terrible blues, emotions, melancholies, but one holds one’s own pretty well, one withdraws easily, one suffers only for oneself. Our compassion for others is gratuitous, generous, superfluous.

“But when one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail, being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart. Oh, we really depend on people who depend on us! The strong person who loves a weak person has put his happiness at his mercy. He depends on him henceforth. He is without any defense against him. To love a person is inevitably to depend on him, to give him power over us. God loved us freely; God have us power over him. God wanted to have need of us. The passion is the revelation of our terrible power over God. He surrendered himself to us, we had him at our disposal, we did with him what we wanted. On a plaque in Normandy one can read this cruel sentence: ‘It is always the one who loves the least who is the strongest.’ It is always he who is least in love who gets his way with the other, who keeps a cool head and stays in control of the situation. God, in regard to us, will always be the weakest, for he loves. God can be denied, forgotten; he cannot deny us, forget us. We can be without God. God cannot be without men.[10] We can stop being sons; he cannot stop being a Father. ‘Man in revolt against God is like the bird in the storm which dashes itself against the cliff. But God, in his mercy, became flesh so that the violence of the impact might be endured by him and not by us.’ Thus, God will always be the weakest against us for he loves us. We are of Jacob’s race, we are the true Israel, he who fought against the angel all night and who deserved his name: ‘mighty against God.’”[11]

Benedict XVI: Love Destroys Death. The Lamb Is Stronger Than the Dragon: Easter Vigil 2007:
“Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.”

Immortality: Being Indestructible (Greek Philosophy) or Being Loved (Divine Revelation)?

“But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.”[12]

My comment: What is profound here is the disclosure of the meaning of “immortal soul.” In a metaphysics where “being” is substance and the way to know “formally” is through intellectual abstraction, the immateriality of the soul is the reason for the man’s survival after death. St. Thomas, in question 75, article 2 of the Summa Theologiae says: “this intellectual principle, which is called mind or intellect, has an operation on its own (per se) that the body does not share in. But nothing can operate on its own unless it subsists on its own, because every operation belongs to something actually existent, and so a thing operates in the same manner that it exists. (For this reason we say not that heat heats, but that the thing that is hot does so.) We can conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called intellect or mind, is something nonbodily and subsistent.”

In other words, if a faculty is capable of immaterial acts not involving the body in that very act - which in our case is understanding universally and abstractly - and since agere sequitur esse (doing follows on being, type of doing follows on type of being), then if the soul is ontological support for the accident of the intellect understanding, then if the intellect is immaterial, then the soul must be immaterial. And if this is so, then the death of the body cannot mean the death of the soul.

This is Aristotelian, substantialist metaphysics. It is Greek philosophy. It is not Revelation.

Benedict says: “To the soul as conceived by the Greeks the body, and so history too, is completely exterior; the soul goes on existing apart from them and needs no other being in order to do so. For man understood as a unity, on the other hand, fellowship with his fellow men is constitutive; if he is to live on, then this dimension cannot be excluded. Thus on the biblical premise the much-discussed question whether after death there can be any fellowship between men seems to be solved; at bottom it could only arise at all through a preponderance of the Greek element in the intellectual premises: where the ‘communion of saints’ is an article of faith, the idea of the anima separate (the ‘separate soul’ of scholastic theology) has in the last analysis become obsolete.”

Benedict continues: “only with Christ, the man who is ‘one with the Father,’ the man through whom the being ‘man’ has entered into God’s eternity, does the future of man finally appear open. Only in him, the ‘second Adam,’ is the question of man’s identity finally answered. Christ is man, completely; to that extent the question who we men are is present in him.”[13]

He contrasts Greek and Revealed Truth: The essential content of biblical pronouncements about the resurrection “is not the conception of a restoration of bodies to souls after a long interval; their aim is to tell men that they, they themselves, live on; not by virtue of their own power but because they are known and loved by God in such a way that they can no longer perish. In contrasts to the dualistic conception of immortality expressed in the Greek body-soul schema, the biblical formula of immortality through awakening is trying to impart a collective and dialogic conceptions of immortality: the essential part of man, the person, remains; that which has ripened in the course of this earthly existence of corporeal spirituality and spiritualize corporeality goes on existing in a different fashion. It goes on existing because it lives in God’s memory. And because it is the man who will live, not an isolated soul, the element of human fellowship is also part of the future; for this reason the future of the individual man will only then be full when the future of humanity is fulfilled.”[14]

He concludes: “’Having a spiritual soul’ means precisely being willed, known and loved by god in a special way; it means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue and therefore capable for its own part of knowing God and of replying to him. What we call in substantialist language ‘having a soul’ will be described in a more historical actual language as ‘being God’s partner in a dialogue.’” Then-Joseph Ratzinger concludes that the Greek body-soul schema is not false, but “must…be continually pout back in the biblical perspective and corrected by it in order to remain serviceable to the view of man’s future opened up by faith. For the rest, it becomes evident once again at this point that in the last analysis one cannot make a clear distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural:’ the basic dialogue which irst makes man into man moves over without a break into the dialogue of grace known as Jesus Christ. How could it be otherwise if Christ actually is the ‘second Adam,’ the real fulfillment of that infinite longing which ascends from the first Adam – from man in general?”

The Great Danger: To Live on the Surface of Ourselves

The real danger is not to engage the self in action, in a word, “to perform.” We tend not to experience our own depth, our own meaning and ontological density and weight. We tend not to engage the inner self – the “I.” This great weakness consists in turning back on self, doing everything our way, and being trapped therein. As we have seen, Tolkien’s Ring of Power is a powerful icon and metaphor.

Benedict said to the Swiss bishops last November (paraphrasing St. Gregory the Great): “When man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.

“When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St. Gregory says, no longer perceives God’s gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!

[In this regard, think of the entrapment of the self in the virtual reality of cyber-relations: the constant and whimsical use of the cell phone, the internet, the video-game, the ubiquitous TV. Even when dealing with others, the encounter is never the involvement of the whole self. It is always electronically mediated, and therefore limited by the abstraction and distortion of the medium.]

“I maintain that St. Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time – in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

“I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us…, and which St. Paul cries to us in God’s Name: ‘Your attitude must be Christ’s…”[15] And that attitude is service and self-gift to death.

E-mail, the Self and Prozac

Robert Wright: New York Times, op-ed, 4/17/07 A 27

“I have a theory: the more e-mail there is, the more Prozac there will be, and the more Prozac there is, the more e-mail there will be….

“It’s an old story. Technological change makes society more efficient and less personal. We know more people more shallowly. The sociologist David Riesman’s 1950 book about his era’s part in this process was called ‘The Lonely Crowd’…

“The reason we’ve always carved out a place for deep human contact is because we deeply need it. Some contours of the mind are so firm they lead us to selectively defy the imperative of growing efficiency. Ultimately, technological evolution hoes had to accommodate human nature.

“Until now. Now we enter the age of pharmacology and approach the age of genetic engineering. We can, in effect, change human nature to accommodate technological evolution. If the
deft use of e-mail makes each of us more successful, we may, one by one, amend the structure of our selves until we are the optimal e-mail animals. And so, too, with the next empowering information technology: bend us, shape us, anyway it wants us.

“If we’re indeed already entering this era, I can’t say I’m especially enjoying it. Then again, I haven’t tried Prozac. Yet.”

[1] Benedict XVI, ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA Thursday, 22 December 2005.
[2] John Paul II, “Salvifici Doloris,” #12.
[3] Christopher de Vinck, “The Power of the Powerless,” Doubleday, (1988) 9-12.
[4] Ibid 14.
[5] Ibid
[6] Kent Gilges, “The Gift of Life.”
[7] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return” Crossroad (2004) 12-13.
[8] St. Paul, Hebrews 12, 7-10.
[9] Karol Wojtyla, “Radiation of Fatherhood,” The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater * Karol Wojtyla University of California Press [Berkeley] (1987) 339.
[10] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[11] Louis Evely, “Suffering,” Herder and Herder (1967) 126-128.
[12] Benedict XVI, “Easter Vigil Homily,” April 8, 2007.
[13] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 272.
[14] Ibid 274.
[15] November 7 Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops, published December 10, 2006.
[16] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[17] Louis Evely, Ibid 126-128

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mary, First to See the Risen Christ!

Mary was witness to whole paschal mystery

After Jesus had been laid in the tomb, Mary "alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection" (Address at the General Audience, 3 April 1996; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 10 April 1996, p. 7). The expectation felt on Holy Saturday is one of the loftiest moments of faith for the Mother of the Lord: in the darkness that envelops the world, she entrusts herself fully to the God of life, and thinking back to the words of her Son, she hopes in the fulfilment of the divine promises.

The Gospels mention various appearances of the risen Christ, but not a meeting between Jesus and his Mother. This silence must not lead to the conclusion that after the Resurrection Christ did not appear to Mary; rather it invites us to seek the reasons why the Evangelists made such a choice.

On the supposition of an "omission", this silence could be attributed to the fact that what is necessary for our saving knowledge was entrusted to the word of those "chosen by God as witnesses" (Acts 10:41), that is, the Apostles, who gave their testimony of the Lord Jesus' Resurrection "with great power" (cf. Acts 4:33). Before appearing to them, the Risen One had appeared to several faithful women because of their ecclesial function: "Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" (Mt 28:10).

If the authors of the New Testament do not speak of the Mother's encounter with her risen Son, this can perhaps be attributed to the fact that such a witness would have been considered too biased by those who denied the Lord's Resurrection, and therefore not worthy of belief.
Furthermore, the Gospels report a small number of appearances by the risen Jesus and certainly not a complete summary of all that happened during the 40 days after Easter. St Paul recalls that he appeared "to more than 500 brethren at one time" (1 Cor 15:6). How do we explain the fact that an exceptional event known to so many is not mentioned by the Evangelists? It is an obvious sign that other appearances of the Risen One were not recorded, although they were among the well-known events that occurred.

How could the Blessed Virgin, present in the first community of disciples (cf. Acts 1:14), be excluded from those who met her divine Son after he had risen from the dead?
Indeed, it is legitimate to think that the Mother was probably the first person to whom the risen Jesus appeared. Could not Mary's absence from the group of women who went to the tomb at dawn (cf. Mk 16:1; Mt 28:1) indicate that she had already met Jesus? This inference would also be confirmed by the fact that the first witnesses of the Resurrection, by Jesus' will, were the women who had remained faithful at the foot of the Cross and therefore were more steadfast in faith.

Indeed, the Risen One entrusts to one of them, Mary Magdalene, the message to be passed on to the Apostles (cf. Jn 20:17-18). Perhaps this fact too allows us to think that Jesus showed himself first to his Mother, who had been the most faithful and had kept her faith intact when put to the test.

Lastly, the unique and special character of the Blessed Virgin's presence at Calvary and her perfect union with the Son in his suffering on the Cross seem to postulate a very particular sharing on her part in the mystery of the Resurrection.

A fifth-century author, Sedulius, maintains that in the splendour of his risen life Christ first showed himself to his mother. In fact, she, who at the Annunciation was the way he entered the world, was called to spread the marvellous news of the Resurrection in order to become the herald of his glorious coming. Thus bathed in the glory of the Risen One, she anticipates the Church's splendour (cf. Sedulius, Paschale carmen, 5, 357-364, CSEL 10, 140f).

It seems reasonable to think that Mary, as the image and model of the Church which waits for the Risen One and meets him in the group of disciples during his Easter appearances, had had a personal contact with her risen Son, so that she too could delight in the fullness of paschal joy.
Present at Calvary on Good Friday (cf. Jn 19:25) and in the Upper Room on Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14), the Blessed Virgin too was probably a privileged witness of Christ's Resurrection, completing in this way her participation in all the essential moments of the paschal mystery. Welcoming the risen Jesus, Mary is also a sign and an anticipation of humanity, which hopes to achieve its fulfilment through the resurrection of the dead.

In the Easter season, the Christian community addresses the Mother of the Lord and invites her to rejoice: "Regina Caeli, laetare. Alleluia!". "Queen of heaven, rejoice. Alleluia!". Thus it recalls Mary's joy at Jesus' Resurrection, prolonging in time the "rejoice" that the Angel addressed to her at the Annunciation, so that she might become a cause of "great joy" for all people.

Not a Resurrected Corpse! Therefore, Not Re-Cognized

“First of all it is quite clear that after his resurrection Christ did not go back to his previous earthly life, as we are told the young man of Naim and Lazarus did. He rose again to definitive life, which is no longer governed by the chemical and biological laws and therefore stands outside the possibility of death, in the eternity conferred by love. That is why the encounters with him are ‘appearances;’ that is why he with whom people had sat at table two days earlier is not recognized by his best friends and, even when recognized, remains alien: only where he grants vision is he seen; only when he opens men’s eyes and makes their hearts open up can the countenance of the eternal love that conquers death become recognizable in our mortal world, and in the new, different world, the world of him who is to come.”[1]

There are three words for “life” in the New Testament: βιος, ψυχη and ζωη. Bios and Psyche refer to biological and mental/emotional life in and of this world. Zoë refers to Trinitarian life, a life of pure relation that is out of this world and yet incarnated in it uniquely by Christ and extended to us sacramentally. And we called to raise all of creation to it.

Because of the radical divinization of the man Jesus by his obedience to death to become total relation to the Father, the body of Jesus Christ is relational in a different way after than before the death and destruction on the Cross. It is a real and physical body – “Feel me and see, a spirit does not flesh and bones as you see I have” – but it is totally and radically of the Person of the Logos to the extent that it transcends chemistry, physics, physiology, time, space… as does the divine Person.

And, since like is known by like – knowing being a result of being one with another – that risen body of Christ cannot be recognized unless the likeness of self-gift is exercised by the perceiver. Self-gift must take place in the potential knower in order to cognize in himself what is to be re-cognized in Christ. Self-gift can only be known by some one making the gift of himself.

Thus, Magdalene (who buried the body and should have recognized him if he were a resuscitated corpse) recognized him only after she said “’Sir, if thou has removed him, tell me where thou hast laid him and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ Turning, she said to him, ‘Rabboni!’ (Jn. 20, 15).

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus said: “Art thou the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’… And they drew near to the village to which they were going, and he acted as though he were going on. And they urged him, saying. ‘Stay with us, for it is getting towards evening, and the day is now far spent.’ And he went in with them. And it came to pass when he reclined at table with them, that he took the bread and blessed and broke and began handing it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…’” (Lk. 24, 28-31).
So also, the seven apostles, after the resurrection, “went out and got into the boat. And that night they caught nothing. But when day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Young men, have you any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them ‘Cast the net to the right of the boat and you will find them.’ They cast therefore, and now they were unable to draw it up for the great number of fishes. The disciple whom Jesus loved said therefore to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’” (Jn. 21, 1-7).

In each case, there had to be a giving of self in order to enter into the epistemological horizon of the Person of Christ as Trinitarian relation to the Father. This applies much to ourselves at this moment when the risen Christ is not recognizable, and for this very same reason. In so far as we are one by one and culturally into ourselves and turned back on self as the Ring of “The Lord of the Rings,” we are not able to see Christ, and therefore not understand ourselves, nor perceive the meaning of things and events. At the same time, as Stratford Caldecott remarks, the Ring “makes the wearer invisible to normal sight. What is the connection that Tolkien is hinting at here between the lust foro power and the ability to become invisible? The person who places himself within the golden circle of the Ring seeks not to be seen, and thereby to have power over others. Through the magic power of the Ring we escape the limitations of matter to enter the world of spiritual forces, but in the very act of doing so we become horribly visible to the forces of evil… The Ring is partly a symbol of the sin of pride. It draws us towards the Dark Lord by tempting us to become like him. Its circular shape is an image of the will closed in upon itself. Its empty center suggests the void into which we thrust ourselves by using the ring.”[2]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 235.
[2] S. Caldecott, “The Horns of Hope… A Hidden Presence, The Catholic Imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chesterton Press (2003) 15.

Benedict XVI, Easter 2007: "I, But No Longer I!"

"You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here" ( Mk 16:6). With these words, God’s messenger, robed in light, spoke to the women who were looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb.

But the Evangelist says the same thing to us on this holy night: Jesus is not a character from the past. He lives, and he walks before us as one who is alive, he calls us to follow him, the living one, and in this way to discover for ourselves too the path of life.

What does "Rising From the Dead Mean"?

"He has risen, he is not here." When Jesus spoke for the first time to the disciples about the Cross and the Resurrection, as they were coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration, they questioned what "rising from the dead" meant ( Mk 9:10).

At Easter we rejoice because Christ did not remain in the tomb, his body did not see corruption; he belongs to the world of the living, not to the world of the dead; we rejoice because he is the Alpha and also the Omega, as we proclaim in the rite of the Paschal Candle; he lives not only yesterday, but today and for eternity (cf. Heb 13:8).

What does 'rising' mean? But somehow the Resurrection is situated so far beyond our horizon, so far outside all our experience that, returning to ourselves, we find ourselves continuing the argument of the disciples: Of what exactly does this "rising" consist? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and the whole of history?

What Does a Risen Corpse Have To Do With Us?

A famous German theologian once said ironically that the miracle of a corpse returning to life — if it really happened, which he did not actually believe — would be ultimately irrelevant precisely because it would not concern us. In fact, if it were simply that somebody was once brought back to life, and no more than that, in what way should this concern us?

The Greatest Mutation

But the point is that Christ’s Resurrection is something more, something different. If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest "mutation", absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.

The discussion, that began with the disciples, would therefore include the following questions: What happened there? What does it mean for us, for the whole world and for me personally? Above all: what happened? Jesus is no longer in the tomb. He is in a totally new life. But how could this happen? What forces were in operation?

To Be = To Be In Relation

The crucial point is that this man Jesus was not alone, he was not an "I" closed in upon itself. He was one single reality with the living God, so closely united with him as to form one person with him. He found himself, so to speak, in an embrace with him who is life itself, an embrace not just on the emotional level, but one which included and permeated his being. His own life was not just his own, it was an existential communion with God, a "being taken up" into God, and hence it could not in reality be taken away from him.

Out of love, he could allow himself to be killed, but precisely by doing so he broke the definitiveness of death, because in him the definitiveness of life was present. He was one single reality with indestructible life, in such a way that it burst forth anew through death.

Let us express the same thing once again from another angle. His death was an act of love.
At the Last Supper he anticipated death and transformed it into self-giving. His existential communion with God was concretely an existential communion with God’s love, and this love is the real power against death, it is stronger than death.

"A New Dimension of Being" - "Explosion of light, An Explosion of Love"

The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of "dying and becoming". It ushered in a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which a new world emerges.

"Qualitative Leap" in History: Starting From Christ

It is clear that this event is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us. It is a qualitative leap in the history of "evolution" and of life in general towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself.

How Does This Qualitative Leap Reach Me? Baptism

But how does this happen? How can this event effectively reach me and draw my life upwards towards itself? The answer, perhaps surprising at first but totally real, is: this event comes to me through faith and Baptism.

For this reason Baptism is part of the Easter Vigil, as we see clearly in our celebration today, when the sacraments of Christian initiation will be conferred on a group of adults from various countries.

Baptism means precisely this, that we are not dealing with an event in the past, but that a qualitative leap in world history comes to me, seizing hold of me in order to draw me on. Baptism is something quite different from an act of ecclesial socialization, from a slightly old-fashioned and complicated rite for receiving people into the Church.

Baptism is also more than a simple washing, more than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul. It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life.
'No longer I who live' How can we understand this?
I think that what happens in Baptism can be more easily explained for us if we consider the final part of the short spiritual autobiography that Saint Paul gave us in his Letter to the Galatians. Its concluding words contain the heart of this biography: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" ( Gal 2:20).

The "I" Becomes Relation

I live, but I am no longer I. The "I", the essential identity of man — of this man, Paul — has been changed. He still exists, and he no longer exists. He has passed through a "not" and he now finds himself continually in this "not": I, but no longer I. With these words, Paul is not describing some mystical experience which could perhaps have been granted him, and could be of interest to us from a historical point of view, if at all. No, this phrase is an expression of what happened at Baptism.

My "I" is taken away from me and is incorporated into a new and greater subject. This means that my "I" is back again, but now transformed, broken up, opened through incorporation into the other, in whom it acquires its new breadth of existence.

Paul explains the same thing to us once again from another angle when, in Chapter Three of the Letter to the Galatians, he speaks of the "promise", saying that it was given to an individual — to one person: to Christ. He alone carries within himself the whole "promise". But what then happens with us? Paul answers: You have become one in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28).

Not just one thing, but one, one only, one single new subject. This liberation of our "I" from its isolation, this finding oneself in a new subject means finding oneself within the vastness of God and being drawn into a life which has now moved out of the context of "dying and becoming".

Seized by the Explosion of the Resurrection

Easter joy: Christ lies in us. The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in Baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live one’s own life as a continual entry into this open space: this is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil. The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another’s hands, and we become one single subject, not just one thing.

I, but no longer I: this is the formula of Christian life rooted in Baptism, the formula of the Resurrection within time. I, but no longer I: if we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a programme opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and possession.

" I live and you will live also", says Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel (14:19) to his disciples, that is, to us. We will live through our existential communion with him, through being taken up into him who is life itself.

Eternal life, blessed immortality, we have not by ourselves or in ourselves, but through a relation — through existential communion with him who is Truth and Love and is therefore eternal: God himself.

[The key of immortality in Scripture is not the survival of the soul as an immaterial principle. This is Greek philosophy that contrues man to be composed of two intrinsically alien substances, body and soul. In the Bible, the whole person survives because of the relation of being loved by God, and continuing to be loved by God. "Immortality as conceived by the Bible proceeds not from the personal force of what is in itself indestructible but from being drawn into the dialogue with the Creator; that is why it must be called awakening. Because the Creatoar means not just the soul but the man physically existing in the midst of history and gives him immortality, it must be called 'awakening of the dead' = 'of men.' It should be noted here that even in the formula of the Creed, which speaks of the 'resurrectionof the body,' the word 'body' means in effect 'the world of man' (...); even here the word is not meant in the sense of a corporality isolated from the soul" {J. Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity Ignatius (1990)271}. Ratzinger is trying to clarify what is the meaning of "soul:" "For 'having a spiritual soul means precisely being willed, known and loved by God in a special way; it means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue and therefore capable for its own part of knowing God and of replying to him. What we call in substantialist language 'having a soul will be described in a more historical actual language as 'being God's partner in a dialogue.'" Talk of "soul" is not false, but it needs to be "complemented if we are not to fall back into a dualistic conception which cannot do justice to the dialogic and personalistic view of the Bible;" ibid. 275]

[Therefore], simple indestructibility of the soul by itself could not give meaning to eternal life, it could not make it a true life. Life comes to us from being loved by him who is Life; it comes to us from living-with and loving-with him. I, but no longer I: this is the way of the Cross, the way that "crosses over" a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.

Thus we can sing full of joy, together with the Church, in the words of the Exsultet: "Sing, choirs of angels . . . rejoice, O earth!" The Resurrection is a cosmic event, which includes heaven and earth and links them together.

In the words of the Exsultet once again, we can proclaim: "Christ . . . who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever". Amen!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Palm Sunday 2007

1) Kingship of Christ = Priesthood of Christ:

Jesus Christ comes as king into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey: a symbol of humility. The Kingship of Jesus Christ is the newtestamentarian meaning of priesthood. To be king is to be priest. But to be Christ, the priest, who is mediator as God-man, the mediation is not between this and that, but between Himself and the Father. This introduces the "new" anthropology of Jesus Christ as the revelation of the meaning of man. That anthropology is not the object "individual substance of a rational nature," but the subject "I" who masters self to become self-gift. This is the import of the Second Vatican Council's "Gaudium et spes" #22 and #24.

The Person of Jesus Christ is literally “out of this world” (transcendent) while incarnated in it. The Person of Jesus Christ is the divine Son Who is the Logos of the Father. He is constitutively a Relation. The Son of the Father does not relate to the Father. He is Relation. This relationality is the meaning of personhood, and priesthood – and it is in the world.

Hence, Christ masters and subdues His own human will such that the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth is the willing and being of the divine Person of the Son. This is all Constantinople III which, in the mouth of Benedict XVI, does the exegesis of Jn. 6, 38:
“The Council’s answer is this: the ontological union of two faculties of will which remain independent within the unity of the Person means that, at the existential level, there is a communion (κοινωνία) of the two wills. With this interpretation of union as communion, the Council sketches an ontology of freedom. The two `wills’ are united in the way in which two wills can be united, namely, in a common affirmation of a shared value. In other words, what unites the two wills is the “Yes” of Christ’s human will to the divine will of the Logos. Thus, in concrete terms - `existentially’ – the two wills become a single will while remaining, at the ontological level, two independent realities. The Council adds that, just as the Lord’s flesh may be called the flesh of the Logos, his human will may also be termed the Logos’ own will. In practice the Council is here applying the Trinitarian model (with the mandatory ever-greater difference in the analogy) to Christology: the highest unity there is – the unity of God – is not the unity of unstructured, amorphous substance[1] but unity by communion, a unity which both creates and is love. Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: `For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills become one in a single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The `wondrous exchange,’ the `alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange, and only here, that that fundamental change takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world. Here community is born, here the Church comes into being. The act whereby we participate in the son’s obedience, which involves man’s genuine transformation, is also the only really effective contribution toward renewing and transforming society and the world as a whole. Only where this act takes place is there a change for good – in the direction of the kingdom of God.”[2]

The inevitable conclusion is that God wills humanly and suffers as divine Person. Remember, human nature does not suffer. The divine Person suffers. If Jesus Christ is the revelation and meaning of the human person, then what we have just described as “Christology” must now be what we mean by “anthropology.” That is, we must master ourselves in order to make the gift of ourselves.

2) The Olive Branch is the Self: Therefore, we must throw down not olive branches, but ourselves: The Church speaks with the words of St. Andrew of Crete on this feast:

“Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish….

“Let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then with, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in Him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.”

3) The Goal: To Suffer. “The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seemed to lend color to the Jewish hopes of national deliverance; the people acclaimed Him as their king and gave Him a public reception of such enthusiasm that it only needed a definite sign from Him to start a general movement for national deliverance.

“To us, it might seem that this was the opportune occasion to seize temporal power as a means to building up a spiritual empire. Such was not our Lord’s plan… The kingdom of God, He preached, is within you. In fact, when one remembers who our Lord really was, and what infinite power was at his disposal, the whole wonder of His public life is not the marvelous works He actually did, but the many and more wonderful works which He could have done and did not do. And one gets the impression that, throughout all this period, His chief desire was to press onto the final stage of His life – that the works of His public ministry formed but a small part of His plan, a part perfectly performed, but still something He seemed to have far less at hear than the final stage, - the baptism wherewith He was to be baptized, and to which He hurries on, if one may say so, with the impatience of a lover.

“Our standards cannot be adopted to measure this period, of which certain things are noteworthy. He wrote nothing with His pen; He shared the work of preaching with His disciples and eventually left the whole of that ministry to them; great as were the works which He performed, His disciples were to do still greater; the one pre-eminence He seemed determined to reserve for Himself was that of suffering. Looking at His work as it appeared on the day of His death, it seemed to have been a complete failure. The crowds, who had acclaimed Him on the previous Sunday, are replaced on Friday by a mob who clamors for His death….

“All this is part of a plan, but the plan is one which shatters our standards of value. On that very end of our lord’s life, which material standards condemn as a complete failure, the whole history of the human race hangs in eternal dependence.”

4) The priestly gift of self always means suffering: When Love falls into sinful humanity, it becomes suffering!

John Paul II
: “Suffering must serve… for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject… The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God (Salvifici Doloris #12-13).

“But in order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the why of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”

Louis Evely: “'When the eternal fall into the sea, it becomes a fish,’ a Japanese proverb says. When love fell into human nature, it became suffering. In God, love is a joyful mutual gift. In us, it is the renunciation of self-love.

“And we know well that there is no means of loving without beginning to suffer, without having to control oneself, to forgive, to be disappointed, to be faithful even so, to believe beyond appearances, to believe in spite of appearances, to give creid sometimes `against all hope,’ so start again always, painfully, to hope for everything, to wait for everything. (`Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…,’ untiringly). There is no profound affection which is not painful, excruciating. ‘When one gives oneself, one has oneself no loner.’

The sin, the only sin (from which all the others derive) is to be incapable of loving.

“Every man desires to know this exchange, this natural gift, this comprehension. And with his own strength, none is able to. Anatole France remarked that, in human affections, only the beginnings are delightful,. This is why, he added, one always begins again!

“When it lasts, it becomes painful. Why?

Louis Evely remarked: “God, as for him, is what theologians call ‘subsistent relation.’ This means that his very being is to be ‘related’ to, to be in relation with another. The Father is all motion of love towards the Son, as the Son is all motion of love towards the Father. God is all ‘elan,’ towards another…

“Man, on the contrary, always tends to retire, to suffice unto himself, to prefer to manage by himself, to send all the others to the devil. And to send oneself to the devil which is not better.

“Pride is not to have a good opinion of oneself (that’s vanity). Pride, on the contrary, is to want to suffice unto oneself, to isolate oneself, to manage with one’s own bad material, while hating oneself. To be at least independent since there is no means of being happy. Pride and despair cover the same resignation to stifle that thirst for happiness which would continue to draw us out so painfully towards others.”

5) The Cleansing of the Temple. Let’s call it: “Liminal Space” (Threshold-Desert Space) and The Call to Conversion. “And Jesus entered the temple of God, and cast out all those who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold the doves. And he said to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves’” (Matt, 21, 12-14).

“Liminal space will almost always feel counterintuitive, like a waste of time and not logical or rational at all. In fact, it must break your sense of practicality and function and move you into the nonfunctional world for a time. Suffering and disease have that effect. Vacations achieve their purpose only if we enter into some kind of vacuum of genuine detachment from our regular conveyor belt of life. [Convalescence the same. Think of St. Ignatius of Loyola healing from war wounds or Walker Percy from Tuberculosis in a sanatorium). Remember, it is the things that we cannot do anything about, the fateful things, and the things we cannot do anything with, the useless things, that invariably do something with us…
“The bubble of usual order has to be broken by a bit of whimsy, holy uselessness, deliberate disruption or displacement, learning to walk in the opposite direction. In liminal space we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. We actually need to fail, fast, and deliberately falter to understand the other dimension of life. We need to fast instead of eating, maintain silence instead of talking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, pennilessness instead of plentifulness. What could break more assuredly our addiction to ourselves?”

[1] Join this affirmation to Ratzinger’s other repudiations of the ontological category of “substance:” “Introduction to Christianity” Ignatius (1990) p. 132; “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall, 1990) 444-445; “Many Religions – One Covenant” Ignatius (1999) 76.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1984) 90-93. Here Ratzinger remarks: “It was Maximus the Confessor who explored theologically the Third Council of Constantinople… giving bibliography in German [footnote on 93].
[3] From a Sermon by Saint Andrew of Crete, Office of Readings, Palm Sunday.
[4] Eugene Boylan, “This Tremendous Lover,” 24-25.
[5] Louis Evely, “Suffering” Herder and Herder (1967) 78-79.
[6] Richard Rohr, “Adam’’s Return” Crossroad (2004) 136-137.