Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross - September 14, 2008

The Challenge of the Moment: To understand that the divine Person of the man Jesus of Nazareth is revealed before our eyes only on the Cross. It is true that Simon, by praying with Jesus (Lk. 9, 18) was able to re-cognize Christ's divine Self in the man Jesus sensibly positioned before him, but that was not visible, sensible perception. The sensible perception of the relational dynamic of the divine “I” of Jesus could be “seen” by the eye only when stretched on the Cross as gift to death in obedience to the Father. In a word, Jesus reveals His divinity in His humanity on the Cross, and only on the Cross. Of course, if there is no inner dynamic where one has escaped from the tyranny of self-enclosure, one may see with the eyes and hear with the ears, and not re-cognize the Trinitarian dynamic of the Second Person as relation to the Father. The ontology of knowing stands up: if you are not one being with another, then you must be “like” the other. This likeness to “another being” is “knowing.”

Ratzinger speaks of the completion of the theology of the incarnation by the theology of the cross. This is the same topic as "broadening reason." It is the passage of the metaphysical prius from "substance" to "person." Theology of the incarnation is the ontological account of the Person of Christ in Hellenic terms. Theology of the Cross, that broke through with the Protestant Reformers, until Vatican II and Josef Ratzinger would “have nothing to do with ontology of this kind; it speaks instead of the event; it follows the testimony of the early days, when people did not yet enquire about being but about the activity of God in the cross and resurrection, an activity which conquered death and pointed to Jesus as the Lord and as the hope of humanity.. The differing tendencies of these two theologies result from their respective approaches. Theology of the incarnation tends towards a static, optimistic view. The sin of man appears quite easily as a transitional stage of fairly minor importance. The decisive factor is then not that man is in a state of sin and must be saved; the aim goes far beyond any such atonement for the past and lies in making progress towards the convergence of man and God. The theology of the cross, on the other hand, leads rather to a dynamic, topical, anti-world conception of Christianity, a conception which understands Christianity only as a discontinuously but constantly appearing breach in the self-confidence and self-assurance of man and of his institutions, including the Church.”[1]

Being Static/Being Dynamic

To experience and therefore become consciousness that to be = to be in relation. The “being” – “substance” - of the Greeks which came into Christian revelation to give an account of it had to be purified and elevated to the dynamic of being “for” the other. This is the 2nd "axial" (See Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age") moment (the 1st was the 5th-6th centuries b.c.) that we are passing through now. The two theologies, theology of incarnation and theology of the cross must become one in our experience and consciousness.

Ratzinger offers his insight:
“Our reflections may have given us a glimpse of that unity which makes these polarities possible and prevents them from falling apart as contradictions. For we have found that the being of Christ (‘incarnation’ theology!) is actualitas, stepping beyond and out of oneself, the exodus of departure from self; it is not a being that rests in itself, but the act of being sent, of being son, of serving. Conversely, this ‘doing’ is not just ‘doing’ but ‘being;’ it reaches down into the depths of being and coincides with it. This being is exodus, transformation. So at this point a properly understood theology being and of the incarnation must pass over into a theology of the cross and become one with it; conversely, a theology of the cross that gives its full measure must pass over into the theology of the Son and of being.”[2]

Our State of Confusion and Contradiction

Having not crossed the experiential threshold of going out of self and discovering that is who we are as person imaging the divine Person of the Son, we are quite confused concerning the Person of Christ and the meaning of the Cross.

“Most Americans worship in churches where the bloodied body of Jesus is absent from sanctuary crosses or else styled in ways so abstract that there is no hint of suffering.

“In American sermons, too, the emphasis all too often is on the smoothly therapeutic: what Jesus can do for me. More than 60 years ago, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: ‘A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.”

In the same vein, Joseph Ratzinger writes: “Today in broad circles, even among believers, an image has prevailed of a Jesus who demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us: the perfect opposite of the Church, to the extent that she still dares to make demands and regulations…. The presence of the figure of Jesus itself is becoming diminished… the figure is transformed from the ‘Lord’ (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than the advocate of all men. The Jesus of the Gospels is quite different, demanding, bold. The Jesus who makes everything okay for everyone is a phantom, a dream, not a real figure. The Jesus of the Gospels is certainly not convenient for us. But it is precisely in this way that he answers the deepest questions of our existence, which - whether we want to or not – keeps us on the lookout for God, for a gratification that is limitless, for the infinite. We must again set out on the way to this real Jesus.”[4]

In another place, and in the same vein, Ratzinger wrote: “A Jesus who is in agreement with everybody and anybody, a Jesus without his holy wrath, without the toughness of the truth and of true love, is not the true Jesus as Scripture shows him but a miserable caricature. A presentation of the ‘gospel’ in which the seriousness of God’s wrath no longer exists has nothing to do with the biblical gospel. True forgiveness is something quite other than weakly letting things be. Forgiveness is exacting and makes demands on both the person who forgives and the person who receives forgiveness int hat person’s whole being. A Jesus who approves of everything is a Jesus without the cross, because the tribulation of the cross would not then be needed to bring men and women salvation. In fact to a noticeable extent the cross is being interpreted out of theology and its meaning changed so as to become merely an unpleasant accident or a purely political affair.

“The cross as atonement, the cross as a way of forgiving and redeeming, does not fit into a certain modern pattern of thought. It is only when the connection of truth and love is seen properly that the cross becomes understandable in its true theological depth. Forgiveness has to do with truth, and for that reason it requires the cross of the Son and it requires our conversion. Forgiveness is indeed the restoration of truth, the renewal of being, and the overcoming of the lie that lurks in every sin: of its nature sin is always a departure from the truth of one’s own being and thus from the truth of the creator, God.”

The crucifixion is the sensible revelation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jesus the Christ, Messiah

· Jesus never proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah
· The proclamation was done by Pilate at the Crucifixion

“Today we can establish with some certainty that the birthplace of the faith in Jesus as the Christ, that is, the birthplace of `Christ’ –ian faith as a whole, is the cross. Jesus himself had not proclaimed himself directly as the Christ (`Messiah’). This certainly somewhat – to us – surprising assertion now emerges with some clarity from the frequently confusing quarrels of the historians; it cannot be eluded even if, indeed especially if, on e faces with an appropriately critical attitude the hasty process of subtraction current in present-day research into Jesus. So Jesus did not call himself unequivocally the Messiah (Christ); the man who gave him this name was Pilate, who for his part associated himself with the accusation of the Jews by yielding to this accusation and proclaiming Jesus on the cross, in an execution notice drawn up in all the international languages of the day, as the executed king (=Messiah, Christus) of the Jews. This execution notice, the death sentence of history, became with paradoxical unity the `confession of faith,’ the real starting-point and rooting-point of the Christian faith, which holds Jesus to be the Christ: as the crucified criminal this Jesus is the Christ, the king. His crucifixion is his coronation; his coronation or kingship is his surrender of himself to men, the identification of word, mission and existence in the yielding up of this very existence. His existence is thus his word. He is word because he is love. From the cross faith understands in increasing measure that this Jesus did not just do and say something; that in him message and person are identical, that he always already is what he says. John needed only to draw the final straightforward inference: if that is so – and this is the Christological basis of his gospel – then this Jesus Christ is `word;’ but a person who not only has words but is his word and his work is the logos (`the Word,’ meaning, mind) itself; that person has always existed and will always exist; he is the ground on which the world stands – if we ever meet such a person, then he is the meaning which sustains us all and by which we are all sustained.
The unfolding of the understanding that we call faith thus happens in such a way that Christians first hit upon the identification of person, word and work through the cross. Through it they recognized the really and finally decisive factor, before which all else becomes of secondary importance. For this reason their confession of faith could be restricted to the simple association of the words Jesus and Christ – this combination said it all. Jesus is seen from the cross, which speaks louder than any words: he is the Christ – no more need be said. The crucified `I’ of the Lord is such an abundant reality that all else can retire into the background. A second step was then taken and from the understanding of Jesus thus acquired people looked back at his words. When the community began to think back like this it was forced to note, to its amazement, that the same concentration on his `I’ was to be found in the words of Jesus; that his message itself, studied retrospectively, is such that it always leas to and flows into this `I,’ into the identity of word and person. Finally John was able to take one last step and link the two movements. His gospel is, as it were, the thorough reading of the words of Jesus from the angle of the person and of the person from the words. That he treats `Christology,’ the assertion of faith in the Christ, as the message of the story of Jesus and, vice-versa, the story of Jesus as Christology indicates the complete unity of Christ and Jesus, a unity which is and remains formative for the whole further history of faith.”

Ascetical Consideration: Live Outside Yourself by Serving in Small Things

We do not have to do great mortification. What we need to do is change our attitude from being at the center of our life, to being in relation to the Person of Christ in the small and the ordinary of life.
St. Josemaria suggests: “We want to be like the child who comes up to his mother and, as proof of his affection, instead of offering her precious toys, which he doesn’t consider his own, puts his hand into his pocket and gives her what is of most value to him, his treasure: a spool without thread, a marble, a button, a smooth polished rock. Strangers may smile at the scene, but the mother’s heart is moved by her son’s childlike ways. Mother of mine, we have given you everything we have, like the child who shows his great and pure love for his mother. And we also bring you our desires to be holy while we live here below.

And then: “Now is the moment, perhaps, to hear in the depths of your heart some motherly indications, spoken with gentleness and not strong words: ‘The reason you don’t attain this, that and the other is because you don’t use the means, and not because I don’t protect you and gain graces for you.’ You and I sense her motherly reproach in the depths of our soul, in so many details that are the light and salt of our life that give our life human grace, which I’m convinced is always united to divine grace….” We promise her that we will not only fulfill our ascetical plan of life, “but to lovingly take care of the small details of prayer and mortification that form the fabric of our life…. Our gifrt is our work done out of love for God and our moritification , our smile to make God’s path more attractive to souls, drawing very close to our Mother in heaven.”


[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 170-171.
[2] Ibid 172.
[3] Kenneth L. Woodward, “Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’” International Herald Tribune, Thursday, February 26, 2004, 6.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “On the Way to Jesus Christ” Ignatius (2004) 7-8.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “To Look on Christ” [Aus Christus Schauen: Einubung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe”] Crossroad, (1991) 88.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 151-153
[7] St. Josemaria Escriva, 8 September 1966.

No comments: