Monday, August 25, 2008

21st Sunday A: The Experience of God

Matt. 16, 13-20

8 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi 9 he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, 10 others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
11 Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood 12 has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, 13 and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 14 Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
15 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

In his “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” John Paul spoke of the “experience” of God. “It is… possible to speak from a solid foundation about human experience, moral experience, or religious experience. And if it is possible to speak of such experience, it is difficult to deny that, in the realm of human experience, one also finds good and evil, truth and beauty, and God. God Himself certainly is not an object of human empiricism; the Sacred Scripture, in its own way, emphasizes this: ‘No on has ever seen God’ (cf. Jn. 1, 18). If God is a knowable object as both the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Romans teach – He is such on the basis of man’s experience both of the visible world and of his interior world. This is the point of departure for Immanuel Kant’s study of ethical experience in which he abandons the old approach found in the writings of the Bible and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Man recognizes himself as an ethical being, capable of acting according to criteria of good and evil, and not only those of profit and pleasure. He also recognizes himself as a religious being, capable of putting himself in contact with God. Prayer… is in a certain sense the first verification of such a reality.”

Joseph Ratzinger presented the “theological epistemology” that must be deployed in the experience of the unseen God (the Father) by achieving an “identity” with Jesus Christ – who is prayer – by prayer. In his "Behold the Pierced One," Benedict scripturally establishes the Trinitarian action of the Logos as relation to the Father to appear before us as prayer: “Thesis 1: According to the testimony of Holy Scripture,. The center of the life and person of Jesus is his constant communication with the Father.”[1]Hence, “The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”[2] Following that, there is: “Thesis 3: Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.”[3] The metaphysical underpinnings of this is: to “know” another one must “be” another. Because of the freedom of self-determination of each “I,” it is impossible to “know” another “I” – as “intellegere” = ab intus legere (to read from within) – because it is impossible to “be” another’s freedom. However, I can freely determine myself in a manner “like” another, and therefore experience in my own autonomous freedom what the other experience in his or hers. Transference is then possible of the consciousness from one to another. This is the phenomenological and metaphysical underpinnings to Ratzinger’s theological epistemology whereby we come to know God experientially by entering into Christ’s prayer to the Father (Lk. 9, 18).

With regard to today’s text of Matthew 16, Benedict XVI writes:

“We are at a decisive milestone: Jesus is setting out on the journey to the Cross and issuing a call to decision that now clearly distinguishes the group of disciples from the people who merely listen, without accompanying him in his way – a decision that clearly shapes the disciples into the beginning of Jesus’ new family, the future Church. It is characteristic of this community to be ‘on the way’ with Jesus – what that way involves is about to be made clear. It is also characteristic that this community’s decision to accompany Jesus rests upon a realization – on a ‘knowledge’ of Jesus that at the same time gives them a new insight into God, the one God in whom they believe as children of Israel.”[4]

Exegesis of John Paul II:

“Regardless of how much his body was seen or touched, only faith could fully enter the mystery of that face. This was an experience [consciousness] which the disciples must have already had during the historical life of Christ, in the questions which came to their minds whenever they felt challenged by his actions and his words. One can never really reach Jesus except by the path of faith, on a journey of which the stages seem to be indicated to us by the Gospel itself in the well known scene at Caesarea Philippi (cf. Mt 16:13-20). Engaging in a kind of first evaluation of his mission, Jesus asks his disciples what "people" think [conceptually] of him, and they answer him: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Mt 16:14). A lofty response to be sure, but still a long way — by far — from the truth. The crowds are able to sense [experientially] a definitely exceptional religious dimension to this rabbi who speaks in such a spellbinding way, but they are not able to put him above those men of God who had distinguished the history of Israel. Jesus is really far different! It is precisely this further step of awareness [consciousness], concerning as it does the deeper level of his being, which he expects from those who are close to him: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Only the faith proclaimed by Peter, and with him by the Church in every age, truly goes to the heart, and touches the depth of the mystery: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).
“20. How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps with ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter's confession: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (16:17). The expression "flesh and blood" is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things [sensible perception and intellectual abstraction]. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough [emphasis mine]. A grace of "revelation" [the experience of the “I” of Jesus through prayer] is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus "was praying alone" (Lk 9:18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord's face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father" (1:14).”

What is This Experiential Faith? As indicated above: Prayer. And when am I to pray? In the secular work I have before me. It is most important to know the exegesis of the “Kingdom of God” to be the very Person of Christ. As Escriva proclaimed in “Passionately Loving the World:” “He waits for us everyday, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” The encounter with the Person of the God-man is in the secular affairs of the present world – now. Exercise yourself as free gift.

Benedict writes: “We can put it even more simply: 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 threads of the world. In this sense, Jesus’ message is very simply and thoroughly God-centered. The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour when God is showing himself in history as it Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship.”[6]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 15
[2] Ibid 19.
[3] Ibid 25.
[4] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 290.
[5] John Paul II, “Novo Millennio Ineunte” January 6, 2001.
[6] Benedict XVI, op. cit. 55-56.

No comments: