Sunday, April 10, 2011
Eternal Life Within History
1) 5th Sunday of Lent: Resurrection of Lazarus. Confrontation with the ultimate mystery of existence: “I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this? (Jn. 11, 25-26).” Martha says: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world (Jn. 11, 27).” “God created men and women for resurrection and life [Zoë], and this truth gives an authentic and definitive meaning to human history, to the personal and social lives of men and women, to culture, politics and the economy. Without the light of faith, the entire universe finishes shut within a tomb devoid of any future, any hope.” 2) Eternal Life: That for which we yearn without knowing what it is: Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi #11: “On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view. So what do we really want? Our paradoxical attitude gives rise to a deeper question: what in fact is “life”? And what does “eternity” really mean? There are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us: yes, this is what true “life” is—this is what it should be like. Besides, what we call “life” in our everyday language is not real “life” at all. Saint Augustine, in the extended letter on prayer which he addressed to Proba, a wealthy Roman widow and mother of three consuls, once wrote this: ultimately we want only one thing—”the blessed life”, the life which is simply life, simply “happiness”. In the final analysis, there is nothing else that we ask for in prayer. Our journey has no other goal—it is about this alone. But then Augustine also says: looking more closely, we have no idea what we ultimately desire, what we would really like. We do not know this reality at all; even in those moments when we think we can reach out and touch it, it eludes us. “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought,” he says, quoting Saint Paul (Rom 8:26). All we know is that it is not this. Yet in not knowing, we know that this reality must exist. “There is therefore in us a certain learned ignorance (docta ignorantia), so to speak”, he writes. We do not know what we would really like; we do not know this “true life”; and yet we know that there must be something we do not know towards which we feel driven.” #12: “Augustine is describing man's essential situation, the situation that gives rise to all his contradictions and hopes. In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown “thing” is the true “hope” which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity. The term “eternal life” is intended to give a name to this known “unknown”. Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion. “Eternal”, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; “life” makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it. To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. This is how Jesus expresses it in Saint John's Gospel: “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). We must think along these lines if we want to understand the object of Christian hope, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.” 3) Eternal Life Now in This Life: Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth II: “‘Eternal life’ is not – as the modern reader might immediately assume – life after death in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal. ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death. This is the pont: to seize ‘life’ here and now, real life that can no longer be destroyed by anything or anyone. “This is the meaning of ‘eternal life’ appears very clearly in the account of the raising of Lazarus: ‘He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die’ (Jn. 11, 25-26). ‘Because I live, you will live also,’ says Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper (Jn. 14 19), and he thereby reveals once again that a distinguishing feature of the disciple of Jesus is the fact that he ‘lives:’ beyond the mere fact of existing, he has found and embraced the real life that everyone is seeking. On the basis of such texts, the early Christians called themselves simply ‘the living’ (hoi zontes). They had found what all are seeking – life itself, full and, hence, indestructible life.” “Yet how does one obtain it? … ‘(R)ecognition,’… recognizing creates communion; it is union of being with the one recognized. But…the key to life is not any kind of recognition, but to ‘know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (Jn. 17, 3). This is … the recognition granted to us by faith. The Christian does not believe in a multiplicity of things. Ultimately he believes, quite simply, in God: he believes that there is only one true God. “This God becomes accessible to us through the one he sent, Jesus Christ: it is in the encounter with him that we experience the recognition of God that leads to communion and thus to ‘life’…” “‘Eternal life’ is thus a relational event. Man did not acquire it from himself or for himself alone. Through relationship with the one who is himself life, man too comes alive”… “What these ideas explore only tentatively shines forth without a hint of ambiguity in the words of Jesus. Man has found life when he adheres to him who is himself Life. Then much that pertains to him can be destroyed. Death may remove him from the biosphere, but the life that reaches beyond it – real life – remains. This life, which John calls Zoë as opposed to bios, is man’s goal. The relationship to God in Jesus Christ is the source of a life that no death can take away. “Clearly, this ‘life in relation’ refers to a thoroughly concrete manner of existence: faith and recognition are not like any other kind of human knowledge; rather, they are the very form of man’s existence. Even if we are not yet speaking of love, it is clear that the ‘recognition’ of him who is himself Love leads in turn to live, with all that it gives and all that it demands.” Now, consider Benedict’s thesis on Revelation and Faith. Revelation is the very Person of Christ as Word of the Father. Faith is the action whereby I, the believer, received the Person of Christ into me by hearing the Word and doing it. By hearing the Word and doing it, I become the Word in that I am transforming myself into relation as the Word Himself is relation to the Father and to me. Of course, I cannot do this without being related to by Love from Which my “I” proceeds by being created by the Word in the image of the Word. But my free act of self-determination gives me the identity needed to receive the Other into me and to become Him. Hence, I “live” His very Life myself in the experience of a living faith in this present age of history. As Benedict remarked to Peter Seewald: “Indicating the people gathered around him, he said ‘He who does the will of my Father is mother, brother, and sister to me.’ IN saying this, he also transmitted the mission of maternity to us, so that we might, as it were, give God a new chance to be born in our time, too. The birth of God was one of the major themes for the Church Fathers. They said that God was born once in Bethlehem, but that athere is also a very significant and perofound way in which he must be born again in every new generation, and it is to this, they thought, that every Christian is called.”  As opposed to Bios and Psuche, the other two Greek words for “life.” All four evangelists reserved Zoë for trinitarian life = faith in time. Both are self-gift.  Benedict XVI “Message For Lent 2011” Nov. 4, 2010.  Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth II Ignatius (2011) 82-83.  Ibid 84.  Ibid 85.  Benedict XVI “Light of the World,” Ignatius (2010) 159.