Tuesday, August 12, 2008

St. Maximilian Kolbe - August 14, 2008

1) The Crisis of Our Time: God! The ultimate question is: Is God real and the key to all reality. If there is no God, is anything real? I repeat Benedict’s remarks in Brazil in 2007:

“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? (…) 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. Notice that the point now is that God must be experienced to be adequately known, and the pivotal experience that is at once twofold – of senses and the self in conversion - must begin in the sensible- historical of Jesus Christ: God-with-us.

“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).

2) The Provocation of the crisis is the loss of the sensitivity of discernment: Benedict says: “when a man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing.”[1]

The successor to Luigi Giussani, Julian Carrion is most persuasive: His topic is the same as Benedict’s: the broadening of reason. This means the deployment of one’s “I” in going out of self and entering into a new horizon of experience and consciousness. “It is very important for us to stick to experience without disconnecting ourselves from it for even an instant. As soon as we disconnect ourselves, we begin a discourse that is ‘pasted on’ to life, and we no longer understand anything. What Fr. Giussani taught us is a look that passes from appearances to the You, the ultimate depth of everything, of reality, and therefore it is through what you do that you realize that you are lacking something, that the desire for Something Other is reawakened. This is what I mean when I say that the idea of Mystery is lacking.” Before that, Carron said: “In listening to someone who works in the city, who earns loads of money and who, after working a fourteen hour day, goes home dissatisfied, the question arose: So what is life? Without the Mystery, without the deep perception of the Mystery, nothing gives satisfaction. You will have seen it during vacation, during leisure times: without the perception of the Mystery, everything becomes a bore. So, either we help each other, accompany each other, to perceive the Mystery, or inevitably we, too, sooner or later, will become skeptical.”[2] Why boredom? “We are imprisoned or bored when the awareness of the totality, of the Mystery is missing.” “I feel imprisoned or bored because I am not made for anything less than the Infinite (it’s like a shoe that doesn’t fit). If we don’t take a step forward in the conception of our ‘I,’ in the way we look at ourselves, we are ultimately like everyone else, with the same mentality. We may add some pious exercise, organize meetings, to whatever we like, but we have the same mentality as all the others. Since the ‘I’ is relationship with the Mystery, if this does not become familiar, then we are prisoners.”[3]

- On June 8, 1978, Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn remarked in an address at a Harvard graduation: “Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” The operative words are: “spiritual exhaustion.”

3) The Transcendent Self: Kolbe steps forward: “Suddenly, there is movement in the still ranks. A prisoner several rows back has broken out and is pushing his way toward the front. The SS guards watching this Block raise their automatic rifles, while the dogs at their heels tense for the order to spring. Fritsch and Palitsch too reach toward their holsters. The prisoner steps past the first row.“It is Kolbe. His step is firm, his face peaceful. Angrily, the Block capo shouts at him to stop or be shot. Kolbe answers calmly, ‘I want to talk to the commander,’ and keeps on walking while the cap, oddly enough, neither shoots nor clubs him. Then, still at a respectful distance, Kolbe stops, his cap in his hands. Standing at attention like an officer so some sort himself, he looks Fritsch straight in the eye.‘Herr Kommandant, I wish to make a request, please,’ he says politely in flawless German.Survivors will later say it is a miracle that n one shoots him. Instead, Fritsch asks, ‘What do you want?’‘I want to die in place of this prisoner,’ and Kolbe points toward the sobbing Gajowniczek. He presents this audacious request without a stammer. Fritsch looks stupefied, irritated. Everyone notes how the German lord of life and death, suddenly nervous, actually steps back a pace.The prisoner explains coolly, as if they were discussing some everyday matter, that the man over there has a family.‘I have no wife or children. Besides, I’m old and not good for anything. He’s in better condition,’ he adds, adroitly playing on the Nazi line that only the fit should live.‘Who are you?’ Fritsch croaks.‘A Catholic priest.’Fritsch is silent. The stunned Block, audience to this drama, expect him in usual Auschwitz fashion to show no mercy but sneer, and take both men. Instead, after a moment, the deputy-commander snaps, ‘Request granted.’ As if he needs to expel some fury, he kicks Gajowniczek, snarling, ‘Back to ranks, you!’”[4]

4) John Paul II Canonizes Kolbe as Martyr for the Fatih, not only Confessor: What is at Stake here: A violation of the human person is a violation against the revelation of the human person: Jesus Christ.

“On October 10, 1982, a magnificent autumn morning, found a quarter of a million people in St. Peter’s Square, where they saw a great banner, a portrait of Father Kolbe, draped from the central loggia. Still, the question hung in the air: Would Kolbe be recognized as a martyr? The answer came when John Paul II processed out of the basilica and into the square wearing red vestments, the liturgical color of martyrs. He had overridden the counsel of his advisory commission, and in his homily he declared that ‘in virtue of my apostolic authority, I have decreed that Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who following his beatification was venerated as a confessor, will henceforth be venerated also as a martyr.“John Paul II was making an important theological point in deciding that St. Maximilian Kolbe was indeed a martyr – systematic hatred for the human person (systematic odium hominis, so to speak) was a contemporary equivalent of the traditional criterion for martyrdom, odium fidei. Because Christian faith affirmed the truth about the inalienable dignity of the human person, anyone who hated that truth hated, implicitly, the Christian faith. Modern totalitarianism was an implicit form of odium fidei, because it reduced persons to things.”[5]

5) Benedict XVI is re-starting the Church by presenting it with the experience of St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ. He said in 2006: “Before his conversion, Paul had not been a man distant from God and from his Law. On the contrary, he had been observant, with an observance faithful to the point of fanaticism. In the light of the encounter with Christ, however, he understood that with this he had sought to build up himself and his own justice, and that with all this justice he had lived for himself.

“He realized that a new approach in his life was absolutely essential. And we find this new approach expressed in his words: "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2: 20).

“Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself, for his own justice. He lives for Christ and with Christ: in giving of himself, he is no longer seeking and building himself up. This is the new justice, the new orientation given to us by the Lord, given to us by faith.”

[1] Benedict XVI, Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops, November 7, 2006.
[2] Julian Carron, “Friends, That is, Witnesses,” Traces Booklets 16.
[3] Ibid 24.
[4] Patricia Treece, “A Man for Others,” OSV (1982) 170-171.
[5] George Weigel, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” Cliffside Books (1999 (447-448.

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