Sunday, December 14, 2008

Musings on the Third Sunday of Advent

It’s hard not to just write this stuff right off. While doing the breviary for the 3d Sunday of Advent, one runs across the antiphon for the Benedictus of Morning Prayer: Ioannes autem cum audisset in vinculis opera Christi, mittens duos ex discipulis suis, ait illi: Tu es qui venturus es, an alium exspectamus? That is, “When John, being in chains, heard of the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples to ask him: “Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another?” (L. 7, 19). And the answer comes back from Christ: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me” (Lk. 7, 22-23).

The problem is that John cannot re-cognize the figure of Jesus Christ. He is looking for the sensibly extraordinary. He is not yet "blessed."


The term “blessed” is interesting. Notice the contrast between Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary at the Visitation, “Blessed is she who believed” and Christ’s rejection of the shouted praise of the woman in the crowd cried out after hearing him speak: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that gave you suck” (Lk. 11, 27). He rejected his mother’s “blessedness” because she is the womb that bore him and breasts that nursed him. He countered: “Yeah rather, blessed are those who hear the world of God and keep it” (Lk. 11, 28). Notice further that the apostle Thomas was not blessed precisely because he demanded to see the risen body of Christ and touch the wounds. He became blessed in martyrdom, but not in demanding proof that would satisfy his curiosity. Such is reminiscent of the devil’s tempting Christ to turn stones into bread and leap from the pinnacle of the temple where Scripture states that he would be saved by the angels. In like manner, the Jews shouted, “Come down from the Cross and we will believe” (Matt. 27, 42).

The point is that John is not blessed for proclaiming the Word of God, or for being shut up in prison. He is scandalized at Christ’s hiddenness. He wants extraordinary evidence of the truth that God Himself has become man. Some extraordinary evidence should be seen. There should be an imposition of justice where the good will be rewarded and the bad punished. It should be evident to all that God has entered the world and has become man. It is scandalous that it be hidden.

Yet the word that comes back is that God, indeed, is in the world and is actively acting: the blind see, “the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” The difficulty is that this is not outstanding to the eye. It is not humanly extraordinary. It isn’t front page news, nor perhaps easily discerned. The “sign” that God has become man is the child in Bethlehem. “In other words, the sign for the shepherds is that they will meet, not with any sign, but simply the God who has become a child – and they will have to believe in the presence of God in this hiddenness. Their “sign” demands that they learn to discover God in the incognity in which he is hidden. Their “sign” demands that they recognize that God is not to be found in the comprehensible systems of this world but can only be found at times when we grow beyond them.

“Certainly, God has given a sign of himself in the greatness and power of the cosmos, from which we may dimly perceive something of the power of the Creator. But the real sign that he chose is hiddenness, from the wretched people of Israel to the child at Bethlehem to the man who died on the Cross with the words, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mt. 27, 46). This sign of hiddenness points us toward the fact that the reality y of truth and love, the actual reality of God, is not to be met within the world of quantities but can be found only if we rise above that into a new order. Pascal expressed this idea in his marvelous doctrine of the three orders. According to him, there is first of all the order of quantities – and that is enormous and infinite, the inexhaustible object of natural science. Beside that, the order of mind, the second great realm of reality, appears, on the basis of quantity, as simply nothing, since quantitatively it takes up no space whatever. And nonetheless, a single mind (Pascal mentions the mathematical mind of Archimedes as an example) – a single mind, as we were saying, is greater than the entire order of the quantitative cosmos; because mind, which has neither weight nor length nor breadth, is able to measure the entire cosmos. Yet above that, again, stands the order of love. That, too, is, in the first instance, simply nothing in the order of
Mind,’ of scientific intelligence, as represented by Archimedes, since it cannot be the object of scientific demonstration and itself contributes nothing to any such demonstration. And nonetheless, a single motion of love is infinitely greater than the entire order of ‘Mind,’ because only that represents what is a truly creative, life-giving, and saving power. God’s incognito is intended to leas us onward into this ‘nothing’ of truth and love, which is nevertheless in reality the true, single, and all embracing absolute, and that is why in this would he is the hidden One and cannot be found anywhere else but in hiddenness.

“It is Advent. All our answers remain fragmentary. The first thing we have to accept is, ever and again, this reality of an enduring Advent. If we do that, we shall begin to realize that the borderline between ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’ does not run through historical time, in an outward sense, and cannot be drawn on any map; it runs through our own hearts. Insofar as we are living on a basis of selfishness, of egoism, then even today we are ‘before Christ.’ But in this time of Advent, let us ask the Lord to grant that we may live less and less ‘before Christ,’ and certainly not ‘after Christ,’ but truly with Christ and in Christ: with him who is indeed Christ yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13, 8).”

And what imposes itself on the mind is the epistemological shift that must take place in all of us, culturally. Basically, what we see with our eyes, touch with our hands, smell with our noses, hear with our ears is not the really real. The really real is the self in the act of going out of itself. It cannot begin this metaphysical exodus without sensing the sensible, but one is in contact with what is really real – Being itself – only when we experience ourselves going out to donate (if we are masculine), or going out to receive (if we are feminine).

Recall from the Synod of October on the Word of God that Benedict gave the epistemology of a life time. It is a revolution of and in metaphysics. He proclaimed in the most apodictic terms that the meaning of reality is the Word of God. It is not the physical cosmos. That is an effect of the Word. “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn. 1, 1). He said: “It begins like this: 'In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo... firmasti terram, et permanet”. This refers to the solidity of the Word. It is solid, it is the true reality on which we must base our life. Let us remember the words of Jesus who continues the words of this Psalm: “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. Humanly speaking, the word, my human word, is almost nothing in reality, but a breath. As soon as it is pronounced, it disappears. It seems like nothing. But already the human word has incredible force. It is words that create history, it is words that form thoughts, the thoughts that create the word. It is the word that forms history, reality.”Even more, the Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our notion that matter, solid things, things we can touch, is the most solid, the most certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one’s life: sand and rock. He who builds on sand only builds on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will vanish. We can see this now with the fall of two large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. Who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism. The realist is he who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is he who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.The following verse says: “Omnia serviunt tibi”. All things come from the Word, they are products of the Word. “In the beginning was the Word”. In the beginning the heavens spoke. And thus reality was born of the Word, it is “creatura Verbi”. All is created from the Word and all is called to serve the Word. This means that all of creation, in the end, is thought to create the meeting place between God and His creature, a place where the history of love between God and His creature can develop. “Omnia serviunt tibi”. The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing, which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motivation for everything, the motivation for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and His creature. In this sense, the history of salvation, Covenant, precedes creation.”

The above is a revolution of the mind. It is an overturning of our entire reductive culture. And by “reductive,” I means turning everything into an object of our way of know that is conceptual. What I mean is that we have turned everything into an object of a concept. Ultimate, this is the meaning of “rationalism.” Hence, the meaning of “Being” is “substance” – that which stands in itself as an “individual.” Once, that is done, we leave out the person as that which is experienced continually, but is “hidden” from conceptual objectifying. I would suggest that the sway that “substance” has held in the West as the prius of metaphysics is due to the insistence that things are the way we conceptualize them. St. Thomas saw this clearly. That is, since we form a mental image, a medium between ourselves and the exterior reality, we tend to think that things are the way we abstract, categorize and mediate them to ourselves. Which is obviously not true, as we have seen in modern physics; the breakthrough to particle physics demanded that we enter into the experience as part of it rather than holding ourselves outside and conceptualizing it “at a distance.” The difference is experiential: there is the experience of the external and internal senses. But there is also an experience of the self as “Being” that is distinct from “consciousness.” This has been the great philosophical work of Karol Wojtyla. The self is not consciousness but real “being” that is experienced in the free, moral action.

This is what Ratzinger was talking about in “Introduction to Christianity” when he said “Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended; relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality. It becomes possible to surmount what we call today ‘objectifying thought;’ a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say tha the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable” (132).

Therefore, the correction that Jesus makes to the question of John the Baptist implies all of the above. And much more. Some of which is the understanding that the Kingdom of God is already here in the Person of Christ, and will grow to its fullness in that we as persons become “other Christ.” We cannot see it with our eyes, but we are experiencing it now in the collapse of Marxism and now the selfishness of an abstract capitalism, If you want to see the critique John Paul II does of Capitalism, consider the following: “©an it perhaps be said that , after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching of the path to true economic and civil progress?

“The answer is obviously complex. If by ‘capitalism’ is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it should perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘business economy,’ ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy.’ But if by ‘capitalism’ is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

“The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priorii belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure, and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.”

And then John Paul II suggests the proposal of the Church. It offers no models. It points to the working person. “The integral development of the human person through work does not impede but rather promotes the greater productivity and efficiency of work itself, even though it may weaken consolidated power structures. A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods;’ it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities, whether they supply the necessary capital for the company’s activities or take part in such activities through their labor. To achieve these goals there is still need for broad associated workers’ movement, directed toward the liberation and promotion of the whole person.”

The point here is: It is not the objective economic system or the objective economic model that is the engine of a country or global world economy. It is the working person. It was most interesting to read in the Wall Street Journal of Wednesday December 10, 2008, B3: “It is not just a supply shock,’ Mr. Timmer said. ‘It is not just a reduction in demand, but it is the lack of availability of credit.’ Deutsche Bank, in a forecast issued this week was even more pessimistic. It said global growth would drop to 0.2 percent in 2009, with the United States, Europe, and Japan in recessions of roughly equal severity.

“China, which grew 11.9 percent in 2007, will slow to 7 percent next year, the bank projects, and 6.6 percent in 2010, when the rest of the world is slowly recovering. It’s not going to be the spark that reignites global demand,’ said Thomas Mayer, the chief European economist for deutsche Bank. ‘We’re almost in an air pocket, where we don’t have a new global driver of growth.”
The suggestion of both popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI – is that the “driver of growth” is development of human culture – a culture of trust and confidence - by the development of the cult of the working Person, Jesus of Nazareth. But to see the face of that Person, there must be a “proclamation of the Kingdom” which, as the third luminous mystery of the Rosary bids, is a call to conversion, which is an interior revolution.

Broaden Reason

Let me go back. Benedict has been calling the Church to “broaden reason” from Regensburg, to two discourses to European professors, to the unpresented talk to the Roman University “La Sapienza.” I refer you back to those talks that I have posted in September or October. Everything above is on that theme of establishing the two levels of reason based on the two levels of experience: the sensible and the self in moral act. He is also calling for heavy work on the “natural law” which is not the law of nature, but the law of the self as experienced in the above. The world society cannot build now on a defunct Marxism and waning Capitalism. The ground has been scorched with Nihilism as we have seen last week in Mumbai. Something new has to be generated as the global truth on which global freedom find its direction. If not, freedom is lost. The response to the brutal nihilism of Mumbai, our own 9/11, Somalia pirating, the continuing middle East, etc. is the beginning of a conversion to the truth of the existential person in his giftedness of self in work. The restraint has to come from the self on the self. If not the restraint will be imposed from without in a new and yet more brutal (yet sutble) totalitarianism. Work must be gift to become a true and flourishing economy. The Japanese have simply made the world splendid gifts of automobiles, and their industry prospers because of the quality. The quality is the creativity of the self given who is prototypically Christ on the Cross. If it is driven solely for profit (self), it decays!

[1] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006).37-40.
[2] Benedict’s Reflection at Synod on Word of God, "The Foundation of Everything, It Is the True Reality," Vatican City, October 7, 2008.
[3] John Paul II, Centesimus Annus , ##42.1, 42.2; 42,3; 43.1.

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