Monday, August 04, 2008

Cure d'Ars August 4, 2008

AUGUST 1, 1959

All that remains for Us to do is to recall at a little greater length the pastoral ministry of St. John M. Vianney, which was a kind of steady martyrdom for a long period of his life, and especially his administration of the sacrament of Penance, which calls for special praise for it brought forth the richest and most salutary fruits.
86. "For almost fifteen hours each day, he lent a patient ear to penitents. This work began early in the morning and continued well on into the night." (89) And when he was completely worn out and broken five days before his death and had no strength left, the final penitents came to his bed. Toward the end of his life, the number of those who came to see him each year reached eighty thousand according to the accounts. (90)


The Sacrament of Penance and the Pauline Experience of Christ

The Crisis: GOD

We know about God, but we have lost the experience of God

The feast of the Cure of Ars and the beginning of the Year of St. Paul coincide. The coincidence is dynamic in that St. John Vianney as apostle of the confessional is the protagonist of the experience of the Person of Jesus Christ Who is the enfleshment of the mercy of God. Benedict XVI’s persistent theme is the absence of God as crisis, a crisis that can only be overcome by experience, not by thought, books or abstractions.

The cause of this marginalization of God is not an outright denial, but a sense of self-sufficiency and control over physical reality aided and enhanced by technology. God is not denied, but hidden in the invisibility of love in a world in which only the extraordinary and the spectacular can be seen by sensible perception. As Joseph Ratzinger said: “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. We can see him only by becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves…. 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.”[1] I would dare to inject here that what Ratzinger is talking about is the entire philosophical edifice of Karol Wojtyla. Wojtyla’s principal insight and work is the achievement of expanding the experience of Being to the “I,” the “I” that had been taken to be, not Being and reality, but thought as consciousness. Wojtyla’s whole endeavor in his work,” The Acting Person,” is to do a modest phenomenology of the experience of self-determination showing that in every experience of free action, including the exercise of the external senses, there is an experience of the self, not as consciousness, but as being. In a word, Wojtyla has expanded the entire horizon of being as experience from what we sense to who we are in free doing: “Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with experience of himself, he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”[2] And this is not merely a homogeneous expansion, but the most exciting excursion into heterogeneity of object and subject as Being. For once, finally, we are able to cross the San Andreas Fault line that has been set up since Descartes between object and subject - but as being. Many have been at this in the past, not least of whom was Hegel himself in his attempt to coalesce the experiential Romanticism of a Herder with the autonomous freedom of Kant. Ratzinger has been at this from the beginning of his intellectual life in his attempt to understand the immersion of the Logos in human history whereby the revelation of the Absolute is a historical Self-Gift to death on the Cross, and faith is the conversion of the believer – the believing “I” – into the object of belief that is the very Person-Subject of the enfleshed Logos.

In an address on the internal forum entitled “The Priest Is the Instrument of This Merciful Love of God” on March 16, 2007, Benedict said: “The contemporary world continues to present contradictions so clearly outlined by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Gaudium et Spes, mm. 4, 10): we see a humanity that would like to be self-sufficient (my emphasis), where more than a few consider it almost possible (my emphasis) to do without God in order to live well; and yet how many seem sadly condemned to face the dramatic situations of an empty existence, how much violence there still is on the earth, how much solitude weighs on the soul of the humanity of the communications era!

“The priest in the Sacrament of Confession is the instrument of this merciful love of God, whom he invokes in the formula of the absolution of sins: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace". ”The New Testament speaks on every page of God's love and mercy, which are made visible in Christ. Jesus, in fact, who "receives sinners and eats with them" (Lk 15:2), and with authority affirms: "Man, your sins are forgiven you" (Lk 5:20), says: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:31-32). ”The duty of the priest and the confessor is primarily this: to bring every person to experience the love of Christ, encountering him on the path of their own lives as Paul met him on the road to Damascus. We know the impassioned declaration of the Apostle to the Gentiles after that meeting which changed his life: "[he] loved me and gave himself for me"
(Gal 2:20).

The Confessional: the Road to Damascus

”This is his personal experience on the way to Damascus: the Lord Jesus loved Paul and gave himself for him. And in Confession this is also our way, our way to Damascus, our experience: Jesus has loved me and has given himself for me. ”May every person have this same spiritual experience and, as the Servant of God John Paul II said, rediscover "Christ as mysterium pietatis, the one in whom God shows us his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself. It is this face of Christ that must be rediscovered through the Sacrament of Penance" (John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 37). ”The priest, minister of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, must always consider it his duty to make transpire, in words and in drawing near to the penitent, the merciful love of God. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, to welcome the penitent sinner, to help him rise again from sin, to encourage him to amend himself, never making pacts with evil but always taking up again the way of evangelical perfection. May this beautiful experience of the prodigal son, who finds the fullness of divine mercy in the father, be the experience of whoever confesses in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Dear brothers, all this means that the priest engaged in the ministry of the Sacrament of Penance is himself motivated by a constant tending to holiness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church aims high in this demand when it affirms: "The confessor... should have a proven knowledge of Christian behaviour, experience of human affairs, respect and sensitivity toward the one who has fallen; he must love the truth, be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and lead the penitent with patience toward healing and full maturity. He must pray and do penance for his penitent, entrusting him to the Lord's mercy" (n. 1466).”

Zacchaeus as Pauline Experience

"We conquer souls," he said, "on our knees."

In the footsteps of John Paul II, Benedict remarked at an Angelus in 2007: “Who was Zacchaeus? A rich "publican," that is, a tax collector for the Roman authorities, and precisely for this he was regarded as a public sinner.Knowing that Jesus was passing through Jericho, this man was seized by a great desire to see him but, being small of stature, he climbed a tree. Jesus stopped beneath the tree and turned to him, calling him by name: "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5).What a message in this simple phrase! "Zacchaeus": Jesus calls by name a man who is despised by all. "Today": Yes, his moment of salvation is now. "I must stay": Why "must"? Because the Father, who is rich in mercy, wants Jesus to go and "seek out and save what was lost" (Luke 19:10).

The grace of that unforeseeable moment was such that it completely changed Zacchaeus' life: "Behold," he confesses to Jesus, "half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over" (19:8). Once more the Gospel tells us that love, flowing from the heart of God and working through the heart of man, is the force that renews the world.
The grace of that unforeseeable moment was such that it completely changed Zacchaeus' life: "Behold," he confesses to Jesus, "half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over" (19:8). Once more the Gospel tells us that love, flowing from the heart of God and working through the heart of man, is the force that renews the world.

The Great Work of the Church “is the Confessional”

To bring about the conversion experience of St. Paul in the sacrament of Penance, i.e. to universalize the colossal apostolate of the Cure of Ars, the equal but dissimilar sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ must be activated in layman and ministerial priest. The layman is Jesus Christ – priest – walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He is the layman – whose mission is to the world - engaging the two disciples in conversation and explaining the references of the Old Testament referring to himself. With his friendship, he burns their hearts within them and they engage him to stay with them: “Mane Nobiscum” (Lk 24, 29). The ministerial priest – whose mission is to the layman - is in the upper room where the Lord says to him: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (Jn. 20, 23). These two irreducible participations in the one priesthood of Christ are equal but not the same since one is to the world and the other is to serve the laity. The layman is never, properly speaking, “minister” which pertains to the sacrament of Order, whereas the layman is such by the sacrament of Baptism. Each imparts “character” which is the ontological reality of the relational orientations of their respective missions. To confuse them is to reduce the ontological structure of the Church to “functions” which begin and end by clericalizing the laity and laicizing the priest.

The Need for the Apostolate of Friendship and Trust in order to Exercise the Sacrament of Penance:

“We never really face ourselves, until we face someone else as well, some other human being. This is, for example, at the heart of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. You must not only face your faults and the harm they have caused, but you must face someone else and admit this to him. The very existence of the Sacrament of Penance is psychologically sound. This is why we need confession of our sins before another human being.”

Of course, we need to confess our sins to another human being because Jesus Christ is the unique God-man. There is no other access to God except through God. And since I am not God, I need to be touched by one who has been touched and empowered by God in the touch – the laying on of hands. This is objectively true.

But there is the subjective reality. I need to make the gift of myself to another by a radical sincerity, in the same line as the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus that – when asked to bring her husband – she had no husband. And with that liberation of herself from a false personalism, Jesus revealed himself to her as the Messiah.

The above text continues: “It is all too easy to try to console ourselves by thinking that we need only go to God. In fact, this really means that we simply stay inside ourselves. I can speak of this with a good deal of certainty, because it is part of my own experience. For a long time I preached on penance and spoke of the necessity of it, but I was not really using it. There were parts of me that I did not want anyone to see, and I was convinced that I could handle them myself somehow, and then come before God or another human being with the satisfaction of being repentant, but having done a good job at self-rehabilitation. It did not work” (Msgr James Murray).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Franciscan Herald Press” (1985) 76.
[2] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 3.

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