Sunday, February 28, 2010

Transfiguration - 2010: Second Sunday of Lent C

1) Genesis 15, 5-12, 17-18. The beginning of the dialogic relationship with God. “The Lord God took Abram outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,’ he added, ‘shall your descendants be.’ Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

He then said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.’ ‘O Lord God,’ asked, ‘how am I to know that I shall possess it?’

Important is the question: “”How am I to know…” And the answer is the Covenant: Heifer, she-goat, ram, turtledove, pigeon. Cut the animals in two, and I will pass between the halves as fire promising you that such and so will I subject myself to as assurance that you will have the entire world as your progeny. Of course, this is what took place on the Cross.

And Abram will live out his side of the Covenant with the existential faith of leaving Ur and traveling to a foreign land, and then, after engendering Isaac from Sarah, he will be asked to kill him, the only reasonable possibility that Abram will be the Father of all nations of faith. And so, the point: Abram will know because God has given His Word – literally, and Abram will become Abraham by giving his very self in leaving his home and then being willing to kill his only son as key to universal fatherhood. In reality, he will have to kill his very self. The self-gift must be complete on both sides. This is the faith of Abraham, and the faith asked of us in Jesus Christ.

Notice, the “knowledge” is the result of the experience of mutual self-giving. In the act of self-gift, there is knowledge and light. “As he prayed, hie face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white…” There is a glimpse of paradise, the universal progeny of faith.

Here is a 1970 text of Joseph Ratzinger on the nature of the faith of Abraham. He describes a conversion experience.

“For the sake of this promise he left the world of his ancestors and set off into the unknown, into apparent uncertainty, led on by the certainty that this was precisely how the future would become his…. He gave up the present for the sake of what was to come. He let go of what was safe, comprehensible, calculable, for the sake of what was unknown. And he did this in response to a single word from God. He had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands; he dared to accept a new future that began in darkness. The word he had heard was more real to him than all the calculable things he could hold in his hand. He trusted in that which he could not yet see, and thus became capable of new life, of breaking out of rigidity. The center of gravity of reality, indeed the concept of reality itself, changed. The future took precedence over the present, the word heard over comprehensible things. God had become more important to him than himself and than the things he could understand. Imprisonment within the calculable and among the goods with which a man surrounds himself, was broken, and a new, limitless horizon opened up – a horizon towards the Eternal, towards the Creator. Attachment to the accustomed world around came to an end, and man’s true destination appeared – not his immediate environment, but the whole world, the whole of creation that knows no frontiers, but allows itself to be explored until the ultimate foundation of everything has been discovered.”[1] Benedict concluded: “What, in the light of the Bible, is ‘faith?’ And let us again affirm clearly: it is not a system of semi-knowledge, but an existential decision – it is life in terms of the future that God grants us, even beyond the frontier of death. This is the attitude and orientation that gives life its weights and measures, its ordinances, and its very freedom. Certainly a life lived by faith resembles more an expedition oup a mountain than a quiet evening spent reading in front of the fire; but anyone who embarks upon this expedition knows and feels more and more, that the adventure to which it invites us is well worthwhile.” [2]

“A Second Mode of Access to Reality”

I first read the following this morning on a Lenten take by Benedict on the Transfiguration. I then went back to re-read from his “Introduction to Christianity” on the meaning of faith. I became astonished at the light it lit in me.

"Astonished in the presence of the transfigured Lord, who was speaking with Moses and Elias, Peter, James, and John were suddenly enveloped in a cloud from which a voice arose that proclaimed: ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him’ (Mk. 9, 7). When one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: For a moment they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials. However, no one lives on Tabor while on earth. Human existence is a journey of faith and, as such, goes forward more in darkness than in full light, with moments of obscurity and even profound darkness. While we are here, our relationship with God develops more with listening than with seeing; and even contemplation takes place, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light lit in us by the word of God…. This is the gift and commitment for each one of us in the Lenten season: To listen to Christ, like Mary. To listen to him in the word, preserved in Sacred Scripture. To listen to him in the very events of our lives, trying to read in them the messages of providence. To listen to him, finally, in our brothers, especially in the little ones and the poor, for whom Jesus himself asked our concrete love. To listen to Christ and to obey his voice. This is the only way that leads to joy and love.”[3]

The Second Mode of Access to Reality

Having read the above, it is now most profitable to return to Benedict’s “Introduction to Christianity” to enter into the level of reality where one can encounter and experience the Word of God. It is the level that is called “faith.” I have the read what follows several times since 1989 and have understood it with varying steps of insight. But this morning was particularly illuminating. I offer it again so you may perhaps see it with deeper insight:

“We now begin to discern a first vague outline of the attitude signified by the word ‘Credo.’ It means that man does not regard seeing, hearing and touching as the totality of what concerns him, that he does not see the area of his world as marked off by what he can see and touch, but seeks a second mode of access to reality, a mode which he calls in fact belief, and in such a way that he finds in it the decisive enlargement of his whole view of the world. If this is so, then the little word ‘Credo’ contains a basic option vis-à-vis reality as such; is signifies not the observation of this or that fact but a fundamental mode of behaviour towards being, towards existence, towards one’s own sector of reality and towards reality as a whole. It signifies the deliberate view t hat what cannot be seen, what can in no wise move into the field of vision, is not unreal’ that on the contrary what cannot be seen in fact represent s true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality. And it signifies the view that this element which makes reality as a whole possible is also what grants man a truly human existence, what makes him possible as a human being existing in a human way. In other words, belief signifies the decision that the very core of human existence there is a point which cannot be nourished and supported on the visible and tangible, which encounters and comes into contact with what cannot be seen and finds that it is a necessity for its own existence.

“Such an attitude is certainly to be attained only by what the language of the Bible calls ‘reversal,’ ‘con-version.’ Man’s natural center of gravity draws him to the visible, to what he can take in his hand and hold as his own. He has to turn round inwardly in order to see how badly he is neglecting his own interests by letting himself be drawn along in this way by his natural enter of gravity. He must turn round to recognize how blind he is if he trusts only what he sees with his eyes. Without this change of direction, without this resistance t o the natural center of gravity, there can be no belief. Indeed belief is the con-version in which man discovers that he is following an illusion if he devotes himself only to the tangible. This is at the same time the fundamental reason why belief is not demonstrable: it is an about-turn; only he who turns about is receptive to it; and because our center of gravity does not cease to incline us in another `direction it remains a turn that is new every day; only in a life-long conversion can we become aware of what it means to say ‘I believe.’

“From this we can see that it is not just today, in the specific conditions of our modern situation, that belief or faith is problematical, indeed almost something that seems impossible, but that it has always meant a leap, a somewhat less obvious and less easily recognizable one perhaps, across an infinite gulf, a leap namely out of the tangible world that presses on man from every side. Belief has always had something of an adventurous break or leap about it, because in every age it represents the risky enterprise of accepting what plainly cannot be seen as the truly real and fundamental. Belief was never simply the attitude obviously corresponding t the whole slant of human life; it has always been a decision calling on the depths of existence, a decision that tin every age demanded a turnabout by man that can only be achieved by an effort of will.”[4]

The Reality That Benedict is Talking About : The “Word of God That is An Action (Person-Gift-Donating)To An Action (Person-Gift Receiving). Re-vel-ation to Faith

The Word of God is relational reality, a Divine Person Who can only be received by a total gift of self of the believer whereby he becomes the Word. That is, in order to “know”God, one must become God. Hearing the Word determines the anthropology that is man. Man is “hearer of the Word” and experiences the Word with his whole being.

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 idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more 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. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of 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. The one 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 the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is the one 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.”

Benedict ends his address with the words: "I am yours". The Word of God is like a stairway that we can climb and, with Christ, even descend into the depths of his love. It is a stairway to reach the Word in the words. "I am yours". The word has a Face, it is a person, Christ. Before we can say "I am yours", he has already told us "I am yours". The Letter to the Hebrews, quoting Psalm 39, says: "You gave me a body.... Then I said, "Here I am, I am coming'". The Lord prepared a body to come. With his Incarnation he said: I am yours. And in Baptism he said to me: I am yours. In the Holy Eucharist, he say ever anew: I am yours, so that we may respond: Lord, I am yours. In the way of the Word, entering the mystery of his Incarnation, of his being among us, we want to appropriate his being, we want expropriate our existence, giving ourselves to him who gave Himself to us.

"’I am yours’. Let us pray the Lord that we may learn to say this word with our whole being. Thus we will be in the heart of the Word. Thus we will be saved.”

Now consider that Revelation is the Person of Christ and faith is the removal of the “veil” in us that prevents revelation from taking place – because Revelation takes place in us, insofar as we become “other Christs.” And this experience is not perception of the sensible world, but the experience of ourselves.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1970) 30-31.

[2] Ibid. 50.

[3] “Benedictus, Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI – Magnificat” p. 79Zenit, ZE06031201

[4] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990)24-25.

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