Thursday, May 08, 2008



To not see the Kingdom of God here and project it as a heaven “up there” = to lose hope here!!

Benedict XVI’s perceives the state of hopelessness in a world that is disillusioned because there are not supernatural fireworks in the quotidian secular. As John the Baptist sent messengers because Jesus of Nazareth was not the Christ he had expected, so we substitute ideology for the faith that is intimacy with Christ. That is, faith as experience of Christ as personal event becomes reduced to “dogma, worship and Church.”[1]

What is Hopeless?

a) There is an inner ontological urge for the absolute; b) The God-man revealed Himself to be present in time and space, and therefore there was the expectation that the Kingdom of God would be made present. The good would be rewarded, and the evil punished.

But nothing extraordinary happened. The absolute as we understand it did not appear; evil continued to prosper and the good punished.

John the Baptist is the perfect example: John had experienced the Christ in the womb and saw him at the Baptism which he conferred. Interestingly, he said: “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world... And I did not know him.... I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him. And I did not know him….. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1, 30-34).

Ratzinger: Hope: John presented hope about knowing God in the world. God’s presence had begun in the world.

“In words of burning power John had prophesied the coming of the judge and had painted in fiery colors the great day of the Lord. He had portrayed the Messiah as the judge with the winnowing fan in his hand that would separate the chaff from the grain and throw the chaff once and for all into eternal fire. He had portrayed him as one who would cast out this adulterous generation and, if need by, raise up children of Abraham from the very stones to replace the faithless people who called themselves the children of Abraham. Above all, amid the fearful ambivalence of this world where we are constantly waiting and hoping in darkness, John had expected and proclaimed a clear message: that the day would finally come when the hopeless darkness would be dispelled in which human beings wander to and fro and know not where they are going. The ambiguity would disappear, and men would no longer have to grope theipr way in the endless mist abut would know for certain that this and no other is God’s unequivocal claim on them, that his and no other is their situation in relation to God.”[2]

2) The Scandal: But nothing extraordinary such as this happened: John is put in prison. Evil prevails. John is scandalized and loses hope in the extraordinary fulfillment of the Kingdom of God by the presence of the God-man. Life goes on usual and seems not to be any Kingdom of God. God, if He is present in the world, seems to be hidden, or playing hide and seek while John (and we) tire of the game.

We tire of the game and are tormented by the “inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world: rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us. And if, after all our labor and efforts to live on the basis of what is Christian, we draw up the final balance sheet, then often enough the feeling comes over us that the reality has been taken away from us, dissolved, and all that remains in the end is just an appeal to the feeble light of our goodwill. And then in moments of discouragement like that, when we look back on the path we have traveled, the question forces its way into our minds: What is all this array of dogma and worship and Church, if at the end of it all we are still thrown back onto our own poor resources?”[3]

The Effect of the Scandal: The removal of the Kingdom of Heaven from earth and after time, while men are transmogrified into disincarnate “souls.”

Because of the failure to confront the scandal produced by carnal unconverted intelligences “Christian theology, which was very soon confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this live, after death. But theology did not thereby provide an answer. For what is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history. As marvelous as the knowledge is that has been opened up for us by biblical scholarship in our century (that is, that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people), it can also disappoint and unsettle us when we look at real history, which is in truth no kingdom of God.”[4]

3) Christ’s Revelation as Love: John sends messengers who ask: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus responds: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blond receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.” (Lk. 7, 22-23).

The Meaning: “Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live – an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty – in contact with the whole historical ‘human condition,’ which in various ways manifests man’s limitation and frailty, both physical and moral.” [5] Christ is an event to be experienced, not an idea to be thought.

God Is Hidden: John the Baptist must yet go through another conversion within himself in order to be able to “see” and “re-cognize” the divine Person of the Logos in the external sensible perception of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus the Christ, Son of the living God is right before John’s eyes (and ours) but invisible and hidden until we transform ourselves into gift in order to be able to cognize Him in ourselves (Augustine’s “Late have I loved Thee...”) and therefore re-cognize Him in the external event.

Recall Benedict’s habilitation thesis of 1956: the actual revelation of the divinity is the Person of Jesus Christ as crucified and resurrected (hence, as self-gift). Therefore, the ability to receive that revelation is to resonate in ourselves with it. There has to be something in us that is the self-given Christ outside of us. It turns out to be our very selves – not concepts nor sensible perceptions. Only then is the veil of re-vel-ation removed and we see, re-cognizing.[6]

Hence, Ratzinger’s announcement that John the Baptist has yet to go through that last conversion of self-gift. Perhaps it was his martyrdom:

“This was probably the final task set the Baptist as he lay in prison: to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. In point of fact, we cannot see God as we see an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment (underline mine). We can see him only by becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists – [this is the reality of being pure relation “For” the other]; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. In the final analysis it is usually the self that stands between us and God. We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills, and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.”[7]

“John, then, even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist. ‘Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.’” [8]

The Kingdom of God: A Person. The Kingdom of God was the core concept of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk. 1, 15). The phrase occurs 122 times in the New Testament; 99 in the Synoptics and 90 of these are the ipsissima vox of Jesus. The Kingdom, then, is a person, the Person of Christ. Benedict says: “Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he... ‘Kingdom of God’ is itself a veiled Christology. By the way in which he speaks of the Kingdom of God, Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God’s presence.”[9] Benedict continues paraphrasing Origen’s (c. 250) thought: “The basic idea is clear: The ‘Kingdom of God’ is not to be found on any map. It is not a kingdom after the fashion of worldly kingdoms; it is located in man’s inner being. It grows and radiates outward from that inner space…”[10]
However, there is the danger of dumbing the Kingdom of God down to a common task of all the religions such as peace, justice, overcoming world hunger and respect for creation. The danger is that God has disappeared! “Man is the only actor left on the stage.”[11] The Kingdom of God is dumbed-down to sets of customs and tasks of justice that are apparently religious in motivation but, in the end, they are political goals.” [12] “Only the organization of the world counts.”[13]

The Kingdom of God is “in” this world as well as beyond it: Benedict says: “(T)he phrase ‘Kingdom of heaven’ is not a one-sided declaration of something ‘beyond;’ it speaks of God who is as much in this world as he is beyond it – who infinitely transcends our world, but is also totally interior to it.”
Benedict then introduces a powerful insight: The Hebrew word for Kingdom is “malkut” which is an action word and means “the regal function, the active lordship of the king.”[14] “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act, concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and ‘God is really God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world.”[15]

God is acting “Now:” “Our [Benedict’s] main criticism of the secular-utopian idea of the Kingdom has been that it pushes God off the stage. He is no longer needed, or else he is a downright nuisance…. It is true that Matthew weeks of the ‘Kingdom of the heavens,’ but the word heavens is an alternative expression for the word God, which the Jews, with an eye to the second commandment, largely avoided out of reverence for the mystery of God. Accordingly, the phrase ‘Kingdom of heaven’ is not a one-sided declaration of something ‘beyond;’ it speaks of God, who is as much in this world as he is beyond it – who infinitely transcends our world, but is also totally interior to it.”[16]

Besides, in the Hebrew phrase, “Kingdom of God ,” the phrase “of God ” is a subjective genitive mean God “kinging ” as in reigning. “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting.” [17] In a word, the meaning is that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, is now, after the Exile, understood to be “Lord” as acting agent in the world. The great task is to perceive that action by a change in the sensitivity and receptivity of the mind. If we only work with categories that are the result of abstraction from the world, then that action, which we perceive with our senses, will not be “understood” as in “intellectum:” lectum ab intra: read from within. There will be no resonation within us to correspond to the reality outside of us, and we will not “know” it.

The Temptations of Christ: “At the heart of all temptations... is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters... Constructing a world by our own lights, without reference to God, building on our own foundation; refusing to acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material, while setting God aside as an illusion...

“Moral posturing is part and parcel of temptation. It does not invite us directly to do evil… It pretends to show us a better way, where we finally abandon our illusions and throw ourselves into the work of actually making the world a better place. It claims... to speak for true realism [realpolitik – appeasement with Communism – that was rejected by John Paul II]. What’s real is what is right there in front of us – power and bread. By comparison, the things of God fade into unreality, into a secondary world that no one really needs.

“God is the issue: Is he real, reality itself, or isn’t he? Is he good, or do we have to invent the good ourselves? The God question is the fundamental question, it sets us down right at the crossroads of human existence. What must the Savior of the world do or not do? That is the question the temptations of Jesus are about.” [18]

Two pages later, Benedict insists on the same point: “‘If you exist, God,’ we say, ‘then you’ll just have to show yourself. You’ll have to part the clouds that conceal you and give us the clarity that we deserve. If you, Christ, are really the Son of God, and not just another one of the enlightened individuals who keep appearing in the course of history, then you’ll just have to prove it more clearly than you are doing not. And the Church is really supposed to be yours, you’ll have to make that much more obvious than it is at present.’”[19]

The Beatitudes: are paradoxes expressing the real situation of man in the world because that the real world must turned upside down to be seen correctly. Quite literally, the meaning of “to be ” is “ to-be-for.” Again, if the meaning of human person is divine Person because of the revelation of imaging, and divine Person is relation to Other as “to-be-for,” then the human person must be “to-be-for.” And, going further, if “all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,” (1 Cor. 3, 23), then the extended ontological meaning of all reality will not really be as it appears – i.e. as individual things-in-themselves - but relational.

This profound relationality of all being will take on a paradoxical character. Hence, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart [restraint of sight], for they shall see God, etc.” (Mt. 5, 3-9). Benedict says: “The Beatitudes... are paradoxes – the standards of the world are turned upside down as soon as things are seen in the right perspective, which is to say, in terms of God’s values, so different from those of the world. It is precisely those who are poor in worldly terms, those thought of as lost souls, who are the truly fortunate ones, the blessed, who have =every reason to rejoice and exult I the midst of their sufferings. The Beatitudes are promises resplendent with the new image of the world and of man inaugurated by Jesus, his ‘transformation of values.’ They are eschatological promises. This must not, however, be taken to mean that the joy they proclaim is postponed until some infinitely remote future or applies exclusively to the next world. When man begins to see and to live from God’s perspective, when he is a companion on Jesus’ sway, then he lives by new standards, and something of the Eschaton, of the reality to come, is already present. Jesus brings joy into the midst of affliction.”[20]

The Above is The Overriding Theological-Epistemological Context for the Two Encyclicals, The Book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and the Trip to the United States in April 2008

“Hope, like love, is one of the simple primordial dispositions of the living person.”[21] They are missing in modern culture. Benedict re-proposes them.

1) “Deus Caritas Est:” “1. We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Notice that being a Christian is not an idea nor an ethical choice, but the encounter with a person who is Love. Love does not fit into the metaphysical category of substance; but then again, neither is it an accident. It is something we have experienced in spousal love (including celibacy) which involves our whole selves. Since “like is known by like” (and this since “knowing” means becoming one being in some way with what is “known”), we can “know” Him Who is Love only by loving. This opening burden of the encyclical is Benedict’s attempt to reset the entire epistemological horizon of reality. Everything he has said, and will say, is in terms of the ultimate reality being a Relation, and we as created unfinished relations,
2) “Spe Salvi:” 1. “SPE SALVI facti sumus” — In hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption ” — salvation — is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey. Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?”
This demands comment. As we saw in Ratzinger’s presentation of John the Baptist, unless one can perceive Christ as Love in the world giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, there is collapse into self and the loss of hope. One does not go forth lovingly into the world to love the least of these and discover that he is dealing with Christ. And once that happens, the actual presence of the kingdom of God is denied and dispossessed as relegated into the wild blue yonder and after this life while men are dematerialized into “souls.” In a word, we creat a fictitious religion and dissolve real people as we crawl for the hills to save ourselves and await the Final Coming (Parousia).

Benedict’s point is that hope saves us. But hope can only come from the recognition of love. And we cannot recognize love unless we love. And that doesn’t happen unless we go through a conversion.

The Trip to the United States 2008:

The Challenge:

1) Cultural Change from “Ghetto” to “a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church’s living tradition.” Therefore, at the moment, “quiet attrition,” “quiet apostasy:”

“The Holy Father is asked about ‘a certain quiet attrition’ by which Catholics by which Catholics are abandoning the practice of the faith, sometimes by an explicit decision, but often by distancing themselves quietly and gradually from attendance at Mass and identification with the Church.

“Certainly, much of this has to do with the passing away of a religious culture sometimes disparagingly referred to as a ‘ghetto,’ which reinforeced participation and identification with the Church. As I just mentioned, one of the great challenges facing the Church in this country is that of cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church’s living tradition.” (April 16, 2008 National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception).

2) “I pray, then, that this significant anniversary in the life of the Church in the United States, and the presence of the Successor of Peter in your midst, will be an occasion for all Catholics to reaffirm their unity in the apostolic faith, to offer their contemporaries a convincing account of the hope which inspires them (cf. 1 Pet. 3, 15), and to be renewed in missionary zeal for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

“The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole?” (Nationals Park Stadium, April 17, 2008).

3) “And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of Saint Peter sets before you today. As ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,’ follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy.” (Yankee Stadium, April 20, 2008).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 26.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 75.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 26.
[4] Ibid 28-29.
[5] John Paul II, “Dives et Misericordia,” #3 DSP 12.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1997) 108-109.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” op. cit. 76.
[8] Ibid. 77.
[9] Ibid 49.
[10] Ibid.50.
[11] Ibid. 54.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid. 55.
[15] Ibid 56.
[16] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” op. cit. 55.
[17] Ibid 56.
[18] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 28
[19] Ibid 30.
[20] Ibid 72
[21] Joseph Pieper, “Faith, Hope, Love.” Ignatius (1997) 100.

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