Sunday, December 15, 2013

3d Sunday of Advent - A


The Scandal: There have been no visual sightings of The Lord since the Ascension. Therefore, the Theologians Gave Up On Him and Consigned Him to Heaven Beyond the Stars and the Judgment at the End of the World. However, He is Present and Visible to Those Small Enough to be Like Him. 

   The Gospel of today is about John the Baptist in jail who has heard of the recent miracles of the Lord. Obviously (if not strangely for one who is the last of the Old Testament prophets and the greatest born of woman), he is disbelieving. He sends messengers to Him asking: "'Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?' And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Go and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in me" (Mt. 11, 3).

   The import of the gospel is that Christ is, indeed, present; and the evidence of  this are the miracles that have been performed. But John, like all of us, moves in and out of faith - and this precisely because faith is a voluntary act of the whole person, and not simply an act of the intelligence. It is an  act of  conversion away from the self and  the empiricism of the senses (particularly sight) to a transcending of the self, as Christ is the transcendence of His Self.
   Recall how Simon entered into prayer with Christ to the Father (Lk. 9, 18) and in that context was asked: "who do men say that I am?" and then, "who do you say that I am?" And the response: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt. 16, 16). The epistemological import is that "like is known  by like," or "only God knows God." That is, one must become "Ipse Christus" to be able to know - read "re-cognize" - Christ in His miracles.

   The Hidden Life and St. Joseph

   A like approach to understanding this is Pope Francis' words to the bishops of Spain in a retreat during Holy Week (year ?): "Nazareth is a permanent dimension of the apostolic man." Tellingly, he says: "We should not consider the hidden life of Jesus as a preparatory stage to the public life. Rather, it is the very synthesis of the whole life  of the Lord" (Jorge Mario Bergoglio, "In Him Alone Is Our Hope - The Church According to the Heart of Pope Francis," pp. 61-67. www. 
   What's more, it is the very core of the spirit of St. Josemaria Escriva (cf. Christ is Passing By, #22). It is also the grounding of the true eschatology, particularly of the second millennium which has become bereft of the presence of Christ and hence secularized into a non-transcendent secularism that has morphed from the ideologies of communism and capitalism into the burgeoning nihilism of the present moment. Pope Francis is exercising the parrhesia of great prophecy denouncing the virulent consumerism of capitalist possessive individualism which can be answered only by the working Christ in Nazareth.
   This is the great answer for all times: Work as the action of a person who becomes ipse Christus by the pain of mastering himself to make the gift of himself in the work that is obedience to God and that itself becomes  gift to others. 

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Benedict XVI and St. Josemaria Escriva

Our Scandal

Ratzinger (1964): “I believe the real temptation for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three or one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us. And if, after all our labor and efforts to live on the basis of what is Christian, we draw up the final balance sheet [and, of course, this is on the level of empirically discernible successes], then often enough the feeling comes over us that the reality has been taken away from us, dissolved, and all that remains in the end is just an appeal to the feeble light of our goodwill. And then in moments of discouragement like that, when we look back on the path we have traveled, the question forces its way into our minds: What is all this array of dogma and worship and Church, if at the end of it all we are still thrown back onto our own poor resources? That in turn brings us back again, in the end, to the question about the gospel of the Lord: What did he actually proclaim and bring among men?”[1]

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Escriva Before the Same Scandal

“Let me tell you about an even of my own personal life which happened many years ago. One day I was with a friend of mine, a man with a good heart but who did not have faith. Pointing toward a globe he said, ‘Look, from North to South, from East to West.’ ‘What do you want me to look at?’ I asked. His answer was: ‘The failure of Christ. For twenty centuries people have been trying to bring his doctrine to men’s lives, and look at the result.’ I was filled with sadness. It is painful to think that many people still don’t know our Lord, and that among those who do know him, many live as though they did not. But that feeling lasted only a moment. It was shortly overcome by love and thankfulness, because Jesus has wanted every man to cooperate freely in the work of redemption. He has not failed. His doctrine and life are effective in the world at all times. The redemption carried out by him is sufficient, and more than sufficient.”[2]

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What Did Christ Bring? The Kingdom of God!

            But what is the Kingdom of God? “The kingdom of God is not a concept, a doctrine, or a program subject to free interpretation, but it is before all else a person with the face and name of Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the invisible God.”[3]

            The Kingdom of God, in Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth is (t)he core content of the Gospel…The center of this announcement is the message that God’s Kingdom is at hand. A look at the statistics underscores this. The phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ occurs 122 times in the New Testament as whole; 99 of these passages are found in the three Synoptic Gospels, and 90 of these texts report words of Jesus.”[4]

            Benedict’s basic point is that Jesus Himself – divine Person - is the Kingdom. He says: “Jesus is speaking in the present tense: the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, yet, unobserved, it is among those to whom he is speaking. It stands among them – in his own person… In him the future is present, God’s Kingdom at hand, but in such a way that a mere observer, concerned with recording symptoms or plotting the movements of the stars, might well overlook the fact. In a splendid coinage of Origen’s, Jesus is he autobasileia, ‘the Kingdom in person.’ This leads on to another text about the Kingdom whose reference to the present is (even less debatable. In Luke and Matthew we read: “If it is by the finger God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11, 20).  This verse carries the above reflections to a deeper level and clarifies them in the light of the Gospel’s own inner logic. Jesus is the Kingdom, not simply by virtue of his physical presence but through the Holy Spirit’s radiant power flowing forth from him. In his Spirit-filled activity smashing the demonic enslavement of man, the Kingdom of God becomes reality, God taking the government of this world into his own hands. Let us remember that God’s Kingdom is an event not a sphere. Jesus’ actions, words, sufferings break the power of that alienation which lies so heavily on human life. In liberating people, they establish God’s Kingdom. Jesus is that Kingdom since through him the Spirit of God acts in the world.”[5]

Kingdom of God = Kingdom of Heaven

The large point to be made here is that the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are here and now insofar as they are determined christologically. Ratzinger states: “It (Heaven) is not an extra-historical place into which one goes. Heaven’s existence depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself. One is in heaven when, and to the degree, that one is in Christ. It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings in God. Heaven is thus primarily a personal reality and one that remains forever shaped by its historical origin in the paschal mystery of death and resurrection. From this Christological center, al other elements which belong to the tradition’s concept of heaven may be inferred. And, in pride of place, from this Christological foundation there follows a theological affirmation: the glorified Christ stands in a continuous posture of self-giving to his Father. Indeed, he is that self-giving. The paschal sacrifice abides in him as an enduring presence [the action of Calvary as instantiated as act of self-gift wherever there is transubstantiation of bread and wine into His Body and Blood].[6]

            And so, Heaven is here and now, and the believer, before his development through successive conversions, might expect that the divine power of Jesus Christ as God would transform the society into a res publica of law and order as well as peace and justice where the good would be rewarded and the bad punished. But the huge point that must be made is that the action of God cannot be perceived by our senses, nor perhaps by our understanding until we go through the necessary conversion to become like Him to be able to so recognize Him; that is, recognize His face.

The Clericalization of the Secular Humanity of Christ

“But We Don’t See the Kingdom of God. Therefore, We Project It Beyond the Stars and After the End of the World”

The genius and honesty of Benedict come forth here. He explains: “Christian theology, which was very soon confronted by this discrepancy between expectation [of the fulfillment of the Kingdom here on earth by the Incarnation such that we could recognize it with our senses] and fulfillment in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But theology did not thereby provide an answer. For what is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in hi embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom o God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history. As marvelous as the knowledge is that has been opened up for us by biblical scholarship in our century (that is, that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people), it can also disappoint and unsettle us when we look at real history, which is in truth no kingdom of God.”[7]

The Solution: The Experience of Giftedness

The will of Jesus Christ is the “conversion” of each person in the deep ontological sense of “metanoia” into “another Christ.” The following are the foundational moments of Opus Dei:

- August 7, 1931: Locution: “Et si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum” (Ioann. 12, 32). “A voice, as always, perfect, clear:… And the precise concept: it is not in the sense in which Scripture says it; I say it to you in the sense that you put me at the summit of all human activities, so that in all the places of the world, there may be
Christians with a personal and most free dedication, that they be other Christs.”

- October 16, 1931: Locution: “You are my son, you are Christ.” And I only knew how to repeat: Abba, Pater!, Abba, Pater! Abba!, Abba!, Abba!

The Spirit of Opus Dei: To become Christ, the Kingdom, in the Exercise of Ordinary work

Escriva: “We are celebrating, therefore, the most sacred and transcendent act which we, men and women, with God’s grace can carry out in this life: receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord is, in a certain sense, like loosening our ties with earth and time, so as to be already with God in Heaven, where Christ himself will wipe the tears from our eyes and where there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor cries of distress, because the old world will have passed away.

            “This profound and consoling truth, which theologians usually call the eschatological meaning of the Eucharist, could, however, be misunderstood. Indeed, this has happened whenever people have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively spiritual – or better, spiritualistic – something reserved for pure, extraordinary people who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world, or at most tolerate them as something that the spirit just has to live alongside, while we are on this earth.

            “When people take this approach, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian way of life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, getting into an ecclesiastical mentality, in a special kind of world, considered the ante-chamber to Heaven, while the ordinary world follows it own separate course. In this case, Christian teaching and the life of grace would pass by, brushing very lightly against the turbulent advance of human history but never coming into proper contact with it.

Encounter Christ in Everyday Life

            “On this October morning, as we prepare to enter upon the memorial of our Lord’s Pasch, we flatly reject this deformed vision of Christianity. Reflect for a moment on the setting of our Eucharist, of our Act of Thanksgiving. We find ourselves in a unique temple; we might say that the nave is the University campus: the altarpiece, the University library; over there, the machinery for constructing new buildings; above us, the sky of Navarre
“Surely this confirms in your minds, in a tangible and unforgettable way, the fact that everyday life is the true setting for your lives as Christians. Your daily encounter with Christ takes place where your fellow men, your yearnings, your work, and your affections are. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind….

            “Don’t doubt it, my children: any attempt to escape from the noble reality of daily life is, for you men and women of the world, something opposed to the will of God.
God and the Ordinary

            “On the contrary, you must realize now, more clearly than ever, that God is calling you to serve him in and from the ordinary secular and civil activities of human life. He waits for us everyday, in the laboratory, in the operating theatre, in the army barracks, in the university chair, in the factory, in the workshop, in the fields, in the home, and in all the immense panorama of work. Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”[8]

[1] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means To Be A Christian,” Ignatius (1965-2005)25-26.
[2] Josemaria Escriva, “Christ is Passing By,” Scepter #129.
[3] John Paul II, “Mission of the Redeemer,” #18.
[4] Benedict XVI “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 47.
[5] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 34-35.
[6] Ibid 234.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian” Ignatius (2006) 28-29.
[8] Josemaria Escriva, “Passionately Loving the World,” Scepter 3-5.

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