Thursday, May 28, 2009

First Steps To Penetrate “The Year of the Priest”

Layfaithful and Ministers are Equally Priests [as “Other Christs”] yet Irreducibly Different [as Bridegroom (male) and Bride (female)] 

The equality of laity and ministerial priests is grounded in their sacramental sharing in the one priesthood of Christ. The priesthood of Christ is presented in St. Paul’s Hebrews 9-11. It consists in the divine “I” of the Logos mastering “His” human will of Jesus of Nazareth, and by the medium of it making the gift of Himself to the Father. Since the human person is made in the image and likeness of the Logos, he/she is capable of that same self-mastery and the same self-gift. Hence, it could be expressed in terms of being “priests of their own existence” in that they are able to be mediators between themselves as subjects – “I’s” - and God. If priesthood means mediation, then priesthood is part and parcel of the ontological topology of the human person.

This, of course, means that anthropology is fundamentally Christological and a radical departure from the received Aristotelian anthropology of “individual substance of a rational nature.” This is a huge novelty which is not a break with tradition but, let’s say, complementary to it. What it does is introduce the “deeper” subjective dimension of the human person as more real. It discloses that there is an ontological reality to subjectivity as subjectivity that was hitherto considered to be “thought” and the locus of subjectivism as relativism. John Paul II affirms as much when he states: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry” (Fides et Ratio #83). Let me supplement that with this other remark of Wojtyla: “I am convinced that the line of demarcation between the subjectivistic (idealistic) and objectivistic (realistic) views in anthropology and ethics must break down and is in fact breaking down on the basis of the experience of the human being. This experience automatically frees us from pure consciousness as the subject conceived and assumed a priori and leads us to the full concrete existence of the human being, to the reality of the conscious subject.”  

Thanks to the growth like this in philosophic sensitivity, there has been the disclosure of the self as ontological reality, in fact, the supreme ontological reality – the “privileged locus” - that has hitherto been hidden by and in consciousness, but which has been disclosed “phenomenologically” in the free activity of self-determination which has never been named specifically as epistemological “experience” although we have forever been experiencing it. Wojtyla has done the heavy lifting here in “The Acting Person” disclosing the “experience” of the “I” in the act of self-determination as opposed to the case when something merely “happens” within the subject. He says: “When I act the ego is the cause that dynamizes the subject. It is the attitude of the ego that is then dominant, whereas subjectiveness seems to be indicating something opposite – it shows the ego as if it were subjacent in the fact of its own dynamization. Such is the case when something happens within the ego. Efficacy and subjectiveness seem to split the field of human experiences into two mutually irreducible factors. Experiences are associated with structures. The structure of ‘man-acts’ and the structure of ‘something-happens-in-man’ seem to divide the human being as if they were two separate levels.”
This achievement of identifying the self as the grounding ontological reality is fundamental in being able to appreciate that both laity and priest are equally priests insofar as equally Christs by their sacramental incorporation into Him. The essential difference, like that between male and female is the orientation, “direction,” or “attitude” of the self-giving. But that’s what has to be developed below.

Lumen Gentium #10 reads: “Though they differ essentially and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are none the less ordered one to another, each in its own proper way shares in the one priesthood of Christ.” Using precise terminology, the Church is saying that the ministerial priest and the layfaithful of the common priesthood are equal as identical in their sharing in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Their identity and relation to each other – as equal but different – is analogical to the identity and relation of male and female. Consider “Dominus Iesus:” “Jesus Christ continues his presence and his work of salvation in the Church and by means of the Church (cf. Col 1:24-27), which is his body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27; Col 1:18). And thus, just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute a single “whole Christ”. This same inseparability is also expressed in the New Testament by the analogy of the Church as the Bride of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-29; Rev 21:2,9)(Lumen Gentium #6).

Because of the ontological nature of the sacraments as real sources of identity with Christ, laity and ministers are one (“unum”) as Christ, yet essentially different. They are to be understood as the identity and essential difference that obtains between male and female. Jesus Christ is Bridegroom; the Church is Bride. Their enfleshment in the Eucharist makes them One Whole Christ. This can only be understood if the being of laity and minister are understood as constitutively relational. The laity as Bride-female is equal to Bridegroom, but oriented in an essentially different way as relation. The one is total self-gift as donation; the other is total self-gift as reception. The giftedness of the Bride is to the world; the giftedness of the Bridegroom is to the Bride.

Let’s consider the ministerial priest. The orientation or direction of the relation of the ministerial priest is to be totally in the service of the layfaithful to activate their priesthood. They celebrate Mass, preach the revealed Word and administer the sacraments, above all, Penance. John Paul II put it best when he said: “This Marian profile is also – even perhaps more so – fundamental and characteristic for the Church as is the apostolic and Petrine profile to which it is profoundly united… The Marian dimension of the Church is antecedent to that of the Petrine, without being in any way divided from it or being less complementary. Mary Immaculate precedes all others, including obviously Peter himself and the Apostles. This is so… because their triple function has not other purpose except to form the Church in line with the ideal of sanctity already programmed and prefigured in Mary.”

Using common parlance, laymen and priests form the communio of the Church – the Body of the One Christ - by the mutual gift of self. Priesthood means “mediation” and it takes place by mediating between self and God in the service of others. Laymen do it on the occasion and exercise of their professional, secular work in the world. Priests do it by acting in the Person of Christ serving the layman. The direction of the relationality is different, and therefore irreducible. Yet they are both total self-gift and relational, and therefore priests of Christ.

In the parlance of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, everybody must live out the “priestly soul,” which is the “lay mentality.” The priestly soul is the self-mastery that comes from subduing the self as one subdues the earth in order to take it as private property. The prototype of the priestly soul is the Divine Person of the Logos subduing and mastering the human will of the man (not person), Jesus of Nazareth, thus making that human will His own. You own the earth that you subdue. That act of self-mastery is the supreme act of freedom that differentiates the human person from a merely cosmic stimulus-response organism working out of sheer necessity. That freedom is what St. Josemaria understood to be the “lay mentality,” i.e. the freedom with which each one decides about himself in all that pertains to what is open to opinion. What is not open to opinion is the Revelation of Jesus Christ and the morality consequent to it.

This anecdote of Malcolm Muggeridge could help us:

“… Some forty years ago, shortly before the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, the person whom I have most loved in this world, my wife Kitty, was desperately ill, and, as I was informed by the doctor attending her, had only an outside chance of surviving. The medical details are unimportant; probably today, with the great advances that have taken place in curative medicine, her state would not be so serious. But as the situation presented itself then, she was hovering between life and death, though, needless to say, there was no voice, as there might well be nowadays, to suggest that it might be better to let her go.

“The doctor explained that an emergency operation was essential, and, in honesty, felt bound to tell me that it would be something of a gamble. Her blood, it appeared, was so thin as a result of a long spell of jaundice that before he operated a blood-transfusion was desperately needed – this was before the days of plasma. As he said this, an incredible happiness amounting to ecstasy surged up inside me. If I could be the donor! My blood group was established, and found to suitable; the necessary gear was brought in, very primitive by contemporary standards – just a glass tube one end of which was inserted in her arm and the other end in mine, with a pump in the middle drawing out my blood and sending it into her. I would watch the flow, shouting out absurdly to the doctor: `Don’t stint yourself, take all you want!’ and noting delightedly the immediate effect in bringing back life into her face that before had seemed grey and lifeless. It was the turning point; from that moment she began to mend.

At no point in our long relationship has there been a more ecstatic moment than when I thus saw my life-blood pouring into hers to revivify it. We were at one, blood to blood, as no other kind of union could make us. To give life – this was what love was for; to give it in all circumstances and eventualities; whether God creating the universe, or a male and female creating another human being…” or Malcolm Muggeridge giving lots of his blood to his wife.

Priestly Total Self-Gift Means to “Taste God”

Benedict XVI remarked: God “failed” in Adam and therefore started the human race over again in Himself. God “failed” in the parable of the Banquet where the first guests invited failed to come. Benedict XVI asks why did this happen, and what is one to do? – because this is precisely the situation we are in today in the Church. He responds:

“St Gregory the Great in his explanation of this text sought to delve into it further and wondered: how can a man say "no" to the greatest thing that exists; that he has no time for what is most important; that he can lock himself into his own existence?

And he answers: in reality, they have never had an experience of God; they have never acquired a "taste" for God; they have never experienced how delightful it is to be "touched" by God! They lack this "contact" -- and with it, the "taste for God". And only if we, so to speak, taste him, only then can we come to the banquet.

St Gregory cites the Psalm from which today's Communion Antiphon is taken: Taste, try it and see; taste and then you will see and be enlightened! Our task is to help people so they can taste the flavor for God anew.

In another homily, St Gregory the Great deepened further the same question and asked himself: how can it be that man does not even want to "taste" God?

And he responds: when 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.

When he overuses all the other organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St Gregory says, no longer perceives God's gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me!

I maintain that St Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time -- in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us today in the First Reading, and which St Paul cries to us in God's Name: "Your attitude must be Christ's -- 'Touto phroneite en hymin ho kai en Christo Iesou'".

Learn to think as Christ thought, learn to think with him! And this thinking is not only the thinking of the mind, but also a thinking of the heart.

We learn Jesus Christ's sentiments when we learn to think with him and thus, when we learn to think also of his failure, of his passage through failure and of the growth of his love in failure.

If we enter into these sentiments of his, if we begin to practice thinking like him and with him, then joy for God is awakened within us, confident that he is the strongest; yes, we can say that love for him is reawakened within us. We feel how beautiful it is that he is there and that we can know him -- that we know him in the face of Jesus Christ who suffered for us.

I think this is the first thing: that we ourselves enter into vital contact with God -- with the Lord Jesus, the living God; that in us the organ directed to God be strengthened; that we bear within us a perception of his "exquisiteness".

This also gives life to our work, but we also run a risk: one can do much, many things in the ecclesiastical field, all for God ..., and yet remain totally taken up with oneself, without encountering God. Work replaces faith, but then one becomes empty within.

I therefore believe that we must make an effort above all to listen to the Lord in prayer, in deep interior participation in the sacraments, in learning the sentiments of God in the faces and the suffering of others, in order to be infected by his joy, his zeal and his love, and to look at the world with him and starting from him.

If we can succeed in doing this, even in the midst of the many "noes", we will once again find people waiting for him who may perhaps often be odd -- the parable clearly says so -- but who are nevertheless called to enter his hall.

Once again, in other words: it is a matter of the centrality of God, and not just any god but the God with the Face of Jesus Christ. Today, this is crucial.

There are so many problems one could list that must be solved, but none of them can be solved unless God is put at the centre, if God does not become once again visible to the world, if he does not become the determining factor in our lives and also enters the world in a decisive way through us.”

To “taste God” is to experience God in yourself. This is possible because the metaphysical anthropology of the human person is the image of the divine Persons. The only person I can experience in the use of my freedom in the act of self-determination is myself. If I master myself to give myself in prayer as Jesus Christ is prayer to the Father (being a pure relation to the Father which reveals itself when incarnate as prayer), I can experience within myself – in some way – what Christ experiences in Himself as a divine Person. The more gift I make of myself, the more gift I experience; the more gift I experience, the greater the actual consciousness I have of what it means to be the Son of God; the greater that consciousness, the more able I will be to be able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

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