Sunday, August 03, 2008

18th Sunday A

Bread is a physical reality. But as all created physical reality, it is a metaphor of divine Life (Zoë) in the flesh. Two observations: Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu: “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.” This is Aristotle and St. Thomas. St. Thomas did more than Aristotle. One of his supreme acts of genius was to understand man as “Anima forma Corporis:” “The Soul is the form of the Body.” Ratzinger says: “If this is so – if, on the one hand, it pertains to the nature of the human spirit to be able to exist only as the form of the body, and if, on the other hand, it pertains to the nature of human corporality to be the expression of spirit – then it follows that the way of human cognition always requires the combination of corporal instrument and spiritual appropriation. Of necessity, then, all human knowledge must have a sensory structure: it must have its beginning in experience, in the perception of the senses. Thomas extended this view (which was shocking from the point of view of the then reigning Augustinian-Platonic tradition) to the knowledge of God as well. In fact, he had no choice but to do so. For if it is correct to say that in man spirit exists only as incarnate, then this epistemological theory cannot be limited to a particular realm of thought: it is valid for every kind of human knowledge.”[1]

Hence the parables
: “Jesus states explicitly that he parable is the way in which knowledge of the faith is to be realized in this world (Jn. 16, 25); in the Synoptics, too, the parable appears as the structure by which access is to be had to the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mk. 4, 10-11).”[2] The parable has two functions: a) to transcend the realm of creation in order, by this transcendence, to draw it above itself to the Creator [Synchronic]; b) to accept the past historical experience of faith – to prolong the parables that have grown up with the history of Israel [Diachronic].

Second Level of Experience: the "I"

Having established the temporal priority of sense experience, it is now critical to understand that there is cotemporaneous with it and overarching it another level of experience that is not subjectivist or idealist but supremely realist and ontological: the experience of the "I" in the free, moral act of self-transcendence. This is the ontological self, determining itself (subduing and mastering self) to get possession of self to make the gift of self. This is the supreme, unmediated (by "mediating" is meant sensible perception or the abstractive objectification of the concept) experience of the being of the "I" in the act of imaging the divine Persons. This act is "conversion" as prayer. Say "Yes" to vocation!! It is here that the direct - let us say "Pauline" - experience of God in Jesus Christ takes place in historical time and place, on the road to Damascus or in the Eucharist. It is here that that the im-mediate access to Being takes place for the fullness of metaphysical encounter. Recall: "In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry" (Fides et ratio # 83). It is only here that we enter into full realism.

Ratzinger says: “Reality is self-transcendence, and when man is led to transcend it, he not only comprehends God but, for the first time, also understands reality and enables himself and creation to be what they were meant to be. Only because creation is parable can it become the word of parable.”[3]

The “life” of man as image of God is bread. Bread is the image of human life. And the point of today’s Gospel is that Christ wants to feed the people who have come to follow him into the wilderness to listen to the Word and be cured. Notice that the people did not come to be fed. They came to hear and listen. But to hear and listen is transcend self. It means to become relation by making the gift of self. It is costly to leave the physical bread of Egypt to “schlep” through the desert without the security of food and drink. They have to relinquish control over reality and trust another: Moses. Then, and only then, are the fed the bread from heaven.

In today’s Gospel, the people came like the Jews: in trust and at personal cost. The state they enter into by exercising that relationality is divine life that is sensibly invisible. The Lord gives them physical bread multiplied beyond all expectation: twelve baskets of fragments from five loaves after feeding five thousand men, not counting women and children.

The same occurs in the temptation of Christ in the desert as commented by Ratzinger: “’If you are the Son God’ – what a challenge! And should we not say the same thing to the Church? If you claim to be the Church of God, then start by making sure the world has bread – the rest comes later. It is hard to answer this challenge, precisely because the cry of the hungry penetrates so deeply into the ears and into the soul – as well it should. Jesus’ answer cannot be understood in light of the temptation story alone. The bread motif pervades the entire Gospel and has to be looked at in its full breadth.”[4]

The answer in depth is that Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life: Eternal Life, Pure Self-Gift. It is not enough to feed the world with material bread. “Not by bread alone does man live, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4, 4). Benedict accuses the West of precisely creating the “Third World” by exporting bread alone and the technology to make it. By so doing, we leave the rest of the world turned back toward itself. He said: “The aid offered by the West to developing countries has been purely technically and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God. And this aid, proudly claiming to ‘know better,’ is itself what first turned the ‘third world’ into what we mean today by that term. It has thrust aside indigenous religious, ethical, and social structures and filled the resulting vacuum with its technocratic mind-set. The idea was that we could turn stones into bread: instead, out ‘aid’ has only given stones in place of bread. The issue is the primacy of God. The issue is acknowledging that he is a reality, that he is the reality, without which nothing else can be good. History cannot be detached from God and then run smoothly on purely material lines. If man’s heart is not good, then nothing else can turn out good, either.”[5]

What’s More Real: God or Bread?

Brazil: Benedict XVI at CELAM 2007 (Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean)

Benedict asks if the question of God is not a “flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?
“As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this "reality"? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems "reality"? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and Capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of "reality" and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.

“The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God.

“Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth. God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face; he is God-with-us, the God who loves even to the Cross. When the disciple arrives at an understanding of this love of Christ "to the end", he cannot fail to respond to this love with a similar love: "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57).

We can ask ourselves a further question: what does faith in this God give us? The first response is: it gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church. Faith releases us from the isolation of the "I", because it leads us to communion: the encounter with God is, in itself and as such, an encounter with our brothers and sisters, an act of convocation, of unification, of responsibility towards the other and towards others. In this sense, the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

The first reading of the Mass (18th Sunday) sets the motif: “Oh, come to the water all you who are thirst; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk. Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy? Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.”[6]

This is the Sabbath structure of Creation. The Jews failed to live the Sabbath. As a result, they were taken from the Promised Land and taken into exile in Babylon where they were to give the land 70 years of Sabbath rest. “What this means is that the people had rejected God’s rest, its leisure, its worship, its peace, and its freedom, and so they fell into the slavery of activity. They brought the earth into the slavery of their activity and thereby enslaved themselves. Therefore God had to give them the Sabbath that they denied themselves. In their ‘no’ to the God-given rhythm of freedom and leisure they departed from their likeness to God and so did damage to the earth. Therefore, they had to be snatched from their obstinate attachment to their own work. God had to begin afresh to make them his very own, and he had to free them from the domination of activity. Operi Dei Nihil praeponatur: The worship of God, his freedom, and his rest come first. Thus and only thus can the human being truly live.”[7]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 333-334.
[2] Ibid 344
[3] Ibid 345.
[4] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 31-32.
[5] Ibid 33-34.
[6] Isaiah, 55, 1-3.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “’In the Beginning…’” Eerdmans, 1995) 32.

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