Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Resolution of Morality and Sanctity in the Person of Christ:

Christ’s moral teaching is Himself. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust… You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5, 43-48).

                Recall the conversation between the Rabbi Jacob Neusner[1] and Jesus about the rich young man. Neusner  writes,  speaking to Christ: “When the young man asked what he had to do to ‘enter the life of the world to come,’ you told him to keep the commandments. Well and good. And when I heard what you said, I thought of why I am taught by the Torah to keep those commandments, and that is, because I want to be holy, because God is holy… Isn’t that enough?”

                “The crowd comes closer, ‘Who said it wasn’t enough?’

                “I remind him, ‘The young man asked that very question: All these I have observed, what do I still lack?’ “And you answered him quite clearly. He still lacks something. ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.’ So there we have it again, sir.”

                “What I hear you saying is, the Ten Commandments are not enough, the Great Commandment, Golden Rule – these, too, are not enough. Perfection consists in poverty and obedience to Christ.”

  (I skip – and the quotation marks are inconsistent)

p. 96: “So,” the master says, ”is this what the sage, Jesus, had to say?”

I: “Not exactly, but close.”

He: “What did he leave out?”

I: “Nothing.”

He:  “Then what did he add?”

I: “Himself.”

He: “Oh.”

I: “But the righteous shall live by his faith. And what is that? It has been told you, man, what is good, and what the Lord demands from you, only to do justly and  to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.”

He: “Would Jesus agree?”

I: “I think so.”

He: “Well, why so troubled this evening?”

I: “Because I really believe there is a difference between ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy and, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell all you have and come, follow me.’”

He: “I guess then it really depends on who the ‘me’ is.”

I: “Yes, it depends.”

* * * * * * * * *

Let me preface the development here with Ratzinger's theology of the Person of the Son, and his take on the  relation of Person and action in Christ:

1) Son As Son

“The Son as Son, and in so far as he is Son, does not proceed in any way from himself and so is completely one with the Father; since he is nothing beside him, claims no special position of his own, confronts the Father with nothing belonging only to him, retains no room for his own individuality, therefore he is completely equal to the Father. The logic is compelling: if there is nothing in which he is just he, no kind of fenced-off private ground, then he coincides with the Father, is ‘one’ with him. It is precisely this totality of interplay that the word ‘Son’ aims at expressing. To John ‘Son’ means being-from-another; thus with this word he defines the being of this man as being from another and for others, as a being that is completely open on both sides, knows no reserved area of the mere ‘I.’ When it thus becomes clear that the being of Jesus as Christ is a completely open being, a being ‘from’ and ‘towards,’ that nowhere clings to itself and nowhere stands on its own, then it is also clear at the same time that this being is pure relation (not substantiality0 and, as pure relation, pure unity. This fundamental statement about Christ becomes, as we have seen, at the same time the explanation of Christian existence. To John, being a Christian means being like the Son, becoming a son; that is, not standing on one’s own and in oneself, but living completely open in the ‘from’ and ‘towards.’ In so far as the Christian is a ‘Christian,’ this is true of him. And certainly such utterances will make him aware to how small an extent he is a Christian.”[1]

2) "For what faith really states is precisely that with Jesus it is not possible to distinguish office and person; with him, this differentiation simply becomes inapplicable. The person is the office, the office is the person. The two are no longer divisible. Here there is no private area reserved for an 'I' which remains in the background behind the deeds and actions and thus at some time or other can be 'off duty;' here there is no 'I' separate from the work; the 'I' is the work and the work is the 'I.'" (J. Ratzinger, Introduction  to Christianity Ignatius (1990) 149).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 134.
 The Word of Jesus Christ in the conversation with the rich young man, and in  the sermon on the mount is  His very Self.

                After the Vatican II, while the understanding of the episcopacy was enhanced ontologically in relation to the papacy in the exercise of magisterium and authority clarifying ordination in becoming bishop, the same was not true with regard to the ministerial priest. There was doubt as to the primary mission of the ministerial priest: to preach the Word, or celebrated Mass.

Ratzinger comments that after Vatican II, the meaning of the Catholic concept of priesthood "was no longer self-evident, even in the consciousness of the Church. To be sure, the crisis over that concept, which would quickly come into the open after the Council, and lead to further crises concerning the very existence of the priesthood and the priestly vocation, was at the moment only in its first stages, what is the relationship between these two statements: a priest is “ordained . . . for the purpose of offering up gifts and sacrifices”; and his “first task” (primum . . . officium) is to “preach the Gospel” (Evangelium . . . evangelizandi)”? [Ratzinger: "Ministry and Life of Priests" 1995].

I insert: to get an answer also to pope Francis’ observation that “the dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” It is the same point that Cardinal Ratzinger addresses concerning the very nature of the Catholic priesthood, in this address on life and ministry of priests ( see my blog: “Ministry and Life of Priests” Sept 30, 2013)He discloses to us is that “the offering of gifts and sacrifices” and “preaching the Gospel” are the same act of self-gift in the priest. That is, preaching the Word (morality) and the sacrifice of the Cross in the Mass are both the person given, just as Christ is Person-Gift.

The point: if we can get an insight here as to Who is Jesus Christ, we will have an insight into who is the human person as well as the relation of sanctity and morality (since Christ is  the prototype of man - GS #22).

From Ratzinger’s “Ministry and Life of Priests” (1995).

“1.1 The Christological Foundation

To find a solution to this problem, we should first ask ourselves, What does it mean to “evangelize”? What really happens when someone does this? And just what is this Gospel? The Council could certainly have referred to the Gospels to establish the primacy of preaching. I have in mind here a short but significant episode from the beginning of Mark. Everyone was seeking out our Lord for his miraculous powers, but he goes off to a remote place to pray (Mark 1:35-39); when he is pressed by “Simon and those who were with him,” our Lord says, “Let us go on to the nearby villages, so that I may preach there also, for this is what I have come out to do” (1:38). Jesus says that the purpose of his coming is to preach the Kingdom of God. Therefore this should also be the defining priority of all his ministers: they come out to proclaim the Kingdom, and that means, to make the living, powerful and ever-present God take first place in our lives. Now, for the correct understanding of this priority, two further insights can be gained from this brief pericope. First, this evangelization is to go hand in hand with a withdrawal into the solitude of personal prayer—such interior recollection appears, in fact, to be a necessary pre-condition for the preaching. Second, the preaching is connected with the “casting out of devils” (1:39): it is a matter not just of speech, but of effective action. And the preaching takes shape in no bright, happy world, but in a world tyrannized by demons, into which it intervenes, to liberate.

But we must take a further step, beyond the brief but meaningful passage of Mark, and take a look over the entire Gospel, for a correct understanding of Jesus’ own priority. He preaches the Kingdom of God, and he does so especially with parables, but also with signs, in which the living presence of the Kingdom draws near to men. Word and sign are inseparable. Whenever the signs are seen merely as wonders, but without meaning, Jesus ceases to perform them. But no more does he allow his evangelizing to be taken for a merely intellectual affair, a matter for discussion alone. His words demand decision; they bring reality. In this sense, his word is “incarnate”: the mutual relation of word and sign expresses a “sacramental” structure.

 2 But we must go a step further. Jesus does not convey a knowledge that is independent from his own person, as any teacher or storyteller would do. He is something different from, and more than, a Rabbi. As his preaching unfolds, it becomes ever clearer that his parables refer to himself, that the “Kingdom” and his person belong together, that the Kingdom comes in his person. The decision that he demands is a decision about how one stands toward him, as with Peter, who said, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Ultimately, the message of his preaching about the Kingdom of God turns out to be quite clearly Jesus’ own Paschal mystery, his destiny of death and resurrection. We see this, for example, in the parable of the murderous vine-dressers (Mark 12:1-11). Word and reality are here intertwined in a new way: the parable arouses the anger of his adversaries, who do everything the parable says. They kill the son. This means that the parables would be void of meaning, were it not for the living person of the incarnate Son who has “come out [ex¯elthon] for this” (Mark 1:38), who “was sent” from the Father (Mark 12:6). The parables would be empty without a confirmation of his word by the Cross and the Resurrection. We now understand that Jesus’ preaching can be called “sacramental” in a deeper sense than we could have seen before. His word contains in itself the reality of the Incarnation and the theme of the Cross and the Resurrection. It is “deed/word” in this very profound sense, instructing the Church in the mutual dependence of preaching and the Eucharist, and in the mutual dependence, as well, of preaching and an authentic, living witness.

We take yet another step forward with the Paschal vision St. John presents us in his Gospel. Peter had said that Jesus is the Christ. John now adds that Jesus Christ is the Logos. He himself is the eternal Word of the Father, who is with God and who is God (John 1:1). In him, this Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). In Christian preaching, one is not dealing with words, but with the Word. “When we speak of the ministry of the word of God, the inter-Trinitarian relation is also understood.” 3 Yet at the same time, “this ministry participates in the function of the Incarnation.” 4 It has rightly been pointed out that the fundamental difference between the preaching of Jesus and the lessons of the Rabbis consists precisely in the fact that the “I” of Jesus—that is, he himself—is at the center of his message. 5 But we must also remember that Jesus himself understood that what especially characterized his speaking, was that he was not speaking “in his own name” (cf. John 5:43 & 7:16). His “I” is totally open to the “Thou” of the Father; it does not remain in itself, but takes us inside the very life of the Trinity. This means that the Christian preacher will not speak about himself, but will become Christ’s own voice, by making way for the Logos, and leading, through communion with the Man Jesus, to communion with the living God.

This brings us back to the Vatican II Decree on the Priesthood. It emphasizes a common characteristic found in all forms of preaching. The priest should never teach his own wisdom. What always matters is the word of God that impels towards truth and holiness (no. 4). With St. Paul as a model, the ministry of the word demands that the priest divest himself profoundly of his own self: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

I would like to recall now an episode from the early days of Opus Dei, which illustrates the point. A young woman had the opportunity to listen for the first time to a talk given by Fr. Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. She was very curious to hear a famous preacher. But after participating in a Mass he celebrated, she no longer wanted to listen to a human orator. She recounted later that from that moment on, her only interest was to discover the word and will of God (my italics).

The ministry of the word requires that the priest share in the kenosis of Christ, in his “increasing and decreasing.” The fact that the priest does not speak about himself, but bears the message of another, certainly does not mean that he is not personally involved, but precisely the opposite: it is a giving-away-of-the-self in Christ that takes up the path of his Easter mystery, and leads to a true finding-of-the-self, and communion with him who is the Word of God in person. This Paschal structure of the “not-self” that turns out to be the “true self” after all, shows, in the last analysis, that the ministry of the Word reaches beyond all “functions” to penetrate the priest’s very being, and presupposes that the priesthood is a sacrament.”

[1] Jacob Neusner, “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus” Doubleday (1993) 75-99.

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