Friday, July 25, 2008

July 25, 2008: St. James and "Humanae Vitae"

The 40th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae coincides with the feast of St. James who was martyred by beheading by the hand of Herod Agrippa himself in the year 44.King Herod had James executed by sword,[5] making him the first of the Twelve Apostles to be martyred.

His relics are said to be in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Spain). Saint James is the patron saint of Spain. His burial town, Santiago de Compostela, is considered the third most holy town of Roman Catholicism[6] (after Jerusalem and Rome). The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as the "Way of St. James," has become the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics from the early Middle Ages onwards; making him one of the patron saints of pilgrimage.

According to ancient local tradition, on 2 January of the year AD 40, the Virgin Mary appeared to James on the bank of the Ebro River at Caesaraugusta, while he was preaching the Gospel in Spain. She appeared upon a pillar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, and that pillar is conserved and venerated within the present Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain. Following that apparition, St James returned to Judea, where he was beheaded.

Called by Our Lord in midst of his secular, professional work – fishing – with his brother John, the two sons of Zebedee, they followed Him. What is outstanding in Judeo-Christianity is its distinction to the great mysticisms of Asia. There, the religious figures are great mystical, solitary figures who stand head and shoulders above the personalities of Western Monotheism. Joseph Ratzinger offered that “If we set the principal actors in the covenant-event of Israel against the religious personalities of Asia, then first of all we feel remarkably uncomfortable. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, with all their wiles and tricks with their ill-temper and their inclination to violence, seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tzu, but even such treat prophetic characters as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not entirely persuasive in such a comparison.” He goes on: “From the point of view of the history of religions, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really are not ‘great religious personalities.’”[1]

The point Ratzinger is about enters deep into the theological epistemology that he is always presenting, i.e. Divine and human persons are relationalities and cannot be “seen” by the eye nor conceptualized in thought. They must be experienced and become consciousness by an act of self-transcendence. That means that the God (Monotheism) of the Bible “is not seen, as by the great mystics, but is experienced as one who acts and who remains (for the inner as for the outer eye) in the dark. And this in turn is because man does not, here, make his own attempts to rise, passing through the various levels of being to the innermost and most spiritual level, thus to seek out the divine in its own place, but the opposite happens: God seeks out man in the midst of his worldly and earthly connectinos and relationshisps; God, whom no one, not even the purest of men, can discover for himself, comes to man of his own volition and enters into relationship with him. We could say that biblical ‘mysticism’ is not a mysticism of images but of words and that its revelation is not a contemplation by man but the word and the act of God. It is not primarily the discovery of some truth; rather, it is the activity of God himself making history. Its meaning is, not that divine reality becomes visible to man, but that it makes the person who receives the revelation into an actor in divine history.”[2]

Ratzinger then quotes J. Danielou:

“A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics. ‘We are not great religious personalities,’ Guardini once said; ‘we are servants of the Word.’ Christ himself had said that Saint John the Baptist might well be ‘the greatest among the children of men,’ but that ‘the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he’ (see Lk. 7, 28). It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ.”[3]

Our point here is that which St. Josemaria Escriva makes: “Few followed Him out of love, my children. Do you recall that telling scene narrated by the Evangelist? Do you remember the petition made by the mother of two of the Apostles, with a pardonable motherly affection, but that shows she has been scheming with her ambitious sons? Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom (Mt. 20,21). And they were Apostles, who were holy, especially afterwards.”

The response of Jesus Christ is: “Can you drink the cup that I am to drink?" (Mt. 20, 22). Their response is : “Possumus”We can! The point is to be in relation. The point is to accept the gift of the Cross and to make the gift of self in executing the response to the divine call. Ratzinger’s mind is: “the decisive thing is, not one’s own religious experience, but the divine call.”[4] And if the key is to be in relation responding to the divine call, then there are no “greats,” but rather an equality of all of us responding to the vocation, “while in mystical religion the mystic has ‘firsthand’ and the believer ‘secondhand’ religion, here just God alone deals at ‘first hand.’ All men without exception are dealing at second hand: servants of the divine call.”[5]

This ultimately means that religion as living faith is not an experience isolated in the never changing consciousness of some “greats,” but an historical reality that has a direction we call “progress” “and “an attitude we call hope.”[6]

Hence, the point of the feast being Christ’s “Can you drink from the chalice that I am about to drink from?” is Newman’s point: How much are we willing to risk on the reality we hear - the Word of God - but cannot see?

Newman: “Consider for an instant. Let everyone who hears me ask himself the question, What stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to him on a belief of his promise? The Apostle said that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves?... This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolved, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, notching we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolved, and do, and not do, and avid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, wherever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”[7]

Can we say that we have risked becoming the sign of contradiction – and our necks - by teaching the content of Humanae Vitae to a society that has wanted no part of it for the last 40 years?

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Truth and Tolerance” Ignatius (2004)41-42.
[2] Ibid 42.
[3] Ibid 43; Danielou, “Vom Geheimnis der Geshichte,” 133f.
[4] Ibid 44.
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid
[7] John Henry Newman, “Parochial and Plain Sermons,” Ignatius (1987) 917-918

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