Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Epiphany (2014)

Epiphany (2014)

The Covenant with Abram: “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in vision. ‘Fear not, Abram, I am our shield; your reward shall be very great.’ And Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me? I am childless, and the steward of my house, Eliezer, is my heir. Abram also said, ‘To me you have given no descendants; the slave born in my house will be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘He shall not be your heir; your heir shall be one of your own flesh.’ The Lord led him outside and said, ‘Look at the heavens and if you can, count the stars.’ And he said to him, ‘So shall your posterity be. Abram believed the Lord, who credited the act to him as justice. He said to him, ‘I am the Lord, who brought you from Ur in Chaldea, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ [1] 
Then, the actual Covenant followed by its liturgy.[2] 

Then, God said:  “This my covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations; you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings shall descend from you. I will establish my covenant between you and me and your descendants after you throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant, that I may be a God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give you and your descendants after you this land in which you are immigrants, al the land of Canaan as a perpetual possession; and I will be their God.”[3]

The Epiphany: The Promise to Abraham Extended to the Gentiles in the Wise Men:

St. Leo the Great on the Epiphany:

The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.

A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.

Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.

Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.

This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.

This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.

This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognise and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.

Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

 St. Leo the Great was pope during the middle of the fifth century, a troubled time when barbarian armies were ravaging the once mighty Roman Empire.  He is perhaps most famous for persuading Attila the Hun to abandon his plans to sack the city of Rome.  Leo, one of the Early Church Fathers, was such an extraordinary teacher that he is one of the few Popes of history to have been dubbed "the Great." 

Remarks of Joseph Ratzinger on Jews and Pagans in the Account of the Magi from the Orient (Mt. 2, 1-12) (Epiphany).

            “I begin with the text of the Catechism explaining the significance of the account of the journey of the Magi from the East. It sees in the Magi the origin of the Church formed out of the pagans; the Magi afford an enduring reflection on the way of the pagans. The Catechism says the following:

            “The Magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that the pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning toward the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that the ‘full number of the nations’ now takes its ‘place in the family of the patriarchs,’ and acquires Israelitic dignitas (are made worthy of the heritage of Israel’) (258).
Jesus’s Mission: To Unite Jews and Pagans:

                “In this text, we can see how the Catechism views that relationship between Jews and the nations of the world as communicated by Jesus; in addition, it offers at the same time a first presentation of the mission of Jesus. Accordingly, we say that the mission of Jesus is to unite Jews and pagans into a single People of God in which the universalist promises of the Scriptures are fulfilled that speak again and again of the nations worshipping the God of Israel – to the point where  in  Trito-Isaiah we no longer read merely of the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion but of the proclamation of the mission of ambassadors to the nations ‘that have not heard my fame  or seen my glory…. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord (Is. 66, 19, 21).
            “In order to present this unification of Israel, and the nations, the brief text – still interpreting Matthew 2 – gives a lesson on the relationship of the world religions, the faith of Israel, and the mission of Jesus: the world religions can become the star that enlightens men’s path that leads them in search of the kingdom of God. The star of the religions points to Jerusalem, it is extinguished and lights up anew in the Word of God, in the Sacred Scripture of Israel. The Word of God preserved herein shows itself to be the true star without which or bypassing which the goal cannot be found.
            “When the Catechism designates the star as the ‘star of David,’ it links the account of the Magi, furthermore, with the Balaam prophecy of the star that shall come forth out of Jacob (Num. 24, 17), seeing this prophecy for its part connected to Jacob’s blessing of Judah, which promised the ruler’s staff and scepter to him who is owed ‘the obedience of the peoples’ (Gen. 49, 10). The Catechism sees Jesus as the promised shoot of Judah, who unites Israel and the nations in the kingdom of God.

Abraham’s history is to be the history of all:
(i.e. a history that is a faith experience)

            “What does all this mean? The mission of Jesus consists in bringing together the histories of the nations in the community of the history of Abraham, the history of Israel. His mission is unification. Reconciliation, as the Letter to the Ephesians (w, 18-22) will then present it. The history of Israel should become the history of all, Abraham’s sonship is to be extended to the ‘many.’ This course of events has two aspects to it: the nations can enter into the community of the promises of Israel in entering into the community of the one God, who now becomes and must become the way of all because there is only one God and because his will is therefore truth for all. Conversely, this means that all nations, without the abolishment of the special mission of Israel, become brothers and receivers of the promises of the Chosen People; they become People of God with through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom. 

Salvation is from the Jews’ (Jn. 4, 22: Jesus to the SamaritanWoman)
          “Yet another observation can be important here. If the account of the Magi, as the Catechism interprets it, presents the answer of the sacred books of Israel as the decisive and indispensable guide for the nations, in doing so, it varies the same theme we encounter in John’s Gospel in the formula: ‘Salvation is from the Jews’ (4, 22). This heritage remains abidingly vital and contemporary in the sense that there is not access to Jesus, the People of God, without the acceptance in faith of the revelation of God who speaks in the Sacred Scripture that Christians term the Old Testament.
            “By way of summary, we can say: Old and New Testaments, Jesus and the Sacred Scripture of Israel, appear here as indivisible. The new thrust of his mission to unify Israel and the nations corresponds to the prophetic thrust of the Old Testament itself. Reconciliation in the common  recognition of the kingdom of God, recognition of his will as the way, is the nucleus of Jesus’ mission,  in which person and  message are indivisible. This mission is efficacious already at the moment when he lies silent in the crib. One understands nothing about him if one does not enter with him into the dynamic of reconciliation.”[4]

The Promise to Abraham of Universal Fatherhood Fulfilled in Escriva’s Universal Call to Holiness through Work:

   When asked about the future of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria remarked: "Opus Dei is still very young. Thirty-nine years is barely a beginning for an institution. Our aim is to collaborate with all other Christians in the great mission of being witnesses of Christ's gospel, to recall that it can vivipfy any human situation. The task that awaits us is immense. It is a sea without shores, for as long as there are men on earth, no matter how much the techniques of production may change, they will have some type of work that can be offered to God and sanctified. With God's grace, Opus Dei wants to teach them how to make their work an act of service to all men of every condition, race, and religion. Serving men in this way, they will serve God" (Conversations with Saint Josemaria Escriva, Scepter (1968) #57.

It is daring to suggest that the promise to Abraham that he will be the “Father in faith” to all nations and the experience and consciousness of St. Paul to be another Christ, find their fulfillment in St. Josemaria Escriva as the last link of the universal call to sanctity (and therefore, to be Christ) by the exercise of ordinary secular work. But it is clear that if it is possible to become Christ by the exercise of ordinary work as revealed in Genesis 2, 15 (“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden keep it”), then the exegesis of Jn. 12, 32 given to Escriva (“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things/men to myself”), and this, not by taking people from the world in the canonical sense of the religious vocation, but by calling them to be Christ in the exercise of ordinary work, then we are dealing with the final goal of the promise to Abraham: “‘Look at the heavens and, if you can, count the stars.’ And he said to him, ‘So shall your posterity be’” (Gen. 15, 5).  This is what is new[5] in Escriva's proposal: the radical call to be "Christ Himself" in ordinary secular life by engaging in the ordinariness of work and family life, and this for everyone. The call to the radical holiness of being Christ becomes eminently practical, and therefore universal in an asceticism of ordinary secular work.
 And since the context is ordinary, and becoming a divine Person is extraordinary, there is something extraordinary going on in the internal dynamics. Ordinary also is the sacramental entre into this radical life. Baptism has the extraordinary character of effecting a "death event,” the "exchange of the old subject for another. The 'I' ceases to be an autonomous subject standing in itself.  It is snatched away from itself and fitted into a new subject. The 'I' is not simply submerged  but it must really release its grip on itself in order then to receive itself anew in and together with a greater 'I.'” [6] Contrary to the normal understanding, Baptism as the sacrament of death to self (three drownings) is enough for radical holiness. The "consecrated life” with the characteristics of stepping out of the secular world and the taking of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, does not increase the radicality of the call to holiness which is already there in the sacrament of Baptism. Pope Francis is quite insistent on this understanding of Baptism. What is radical in Escriva's experience of the vocation to live Baptism is the gift of self. And what is new is that it is for everyone. The novelty of the “Ipse Christus” is that, in spite of being radical, it is the universal call for everyone, and that it is achievable in the secular world through ordinary work.

This is not explainable by any kind of anthropology "from below." That is, it cannot be explained by a Greek anthropology but a Christian one, i.e. by a Christology, and in particular, by the Christology of Chalcedon and perfected by the Council of Constantinople III. The latter is the grounding of a Christological anthropology of the subject (“I”).

The Explanation Takes Place on the Level of the Person as Subject:  

 The vocation that Escriva received in 1928 found voice, as we saw above,  in the locution of 8/7/1931 which took place in the first person singular "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth...". It was interpreted as staying in the world, working, becoming "other Christs" and confirmed two months later that, indeed, by so doing, one becomes Ipse Christus: "You are my son, you are Christ." But this takes place in the first and second person.

   Escriva had experienced becoming Christ (and told so) in living out his vocation to found Opus Dei in the arduous years of 1928 to 1931. They were years of suffering (
the Lord was giving me those blows around the year 31, and I did not understand. And suddenly (de pronto), in the midst of that great bitterness, these words: 'You are my Son (Psalm 2, 7), you are Christ.'"). They were years of his experience of mastering his will (his entire self as a subject) in order to obey the vocation received on October 2, 1928. We can see the parallel here between the passion of Christ and the founding of Opus Dei, and we can see how the subjective Council of Constantinople III can be the theological account of Escriva mastering his will to obey that divine command. The grace received was a call to give his entire self to fulfill the divine Will. Constantinople III, grounded on Jn. 6, 38: "I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me" (Jn. 6, 38) gives us the theological prototype to understand the radicality of total self-giving even to death. The subjectivity of "I" and the call to self-mastery, self-gift asks for a phenomenological anthropology to account for this. 

The Philosophical Account:

Wojtyla's "The Personal Structure of Self -Determination" (Person and Community [Lang) [1993] 190-193). reads: "Self-determination takes place through acts of will, through this central power of the human soul. And yet self-determination is not identical with these acts in any of their forms, since it is a property of the person as such... (S)elf-determination is a property of the person, who, as the familiar definition says, is a naturae rationalis individual substantia. This property is realized through the will, which is an accident. Self-determination -or, in other  words, freedom - is not limited to the accidental dimension, but belongs to the substantial dimension of the person: it is the person's freedom, and not just the will's freedom, although it is undeniably the person's freedom through the will."

   The large development here, and germane to the topic of the "Ipse Christus," is that self determination is not simply the subject orienting itself to a value, or a good, but that "I simultaneously determine myself as well." Wojtyla goes on:  "I am not only the efficient cause of my acts, but through them I am also in some sense the 'creator of myself (191).'" 

Here we have the ontological/phenomenological grounding of the meaning of the "good," not simply as an abstract conclusion of metaphysical/psychological reasoning, but as theexperience of the self as imaging the divine Person of the Son, determining itself along the lines of the dynamic of the Son toward the Father. And if this very act of determining the self (affirmed by grace [Love]) is radical in its generosity in response to the call, we have the experience of being made in the image of the Prototype: Ipse Christus.

The root of the radicality - to be Christ - is to be found in the fact the gestalt of the interplay of the divine and the human in Christ is a divine Person who is nothing but Relation to the Father.[7]  That totally transcendent Trinitarian modality can only be imaged by the mystical (but world-immanent) experience of self-gift (mastering self to get control and possession of self to make the gift). Escriva experienced this to be the vocation to found Opus Dei, the meaning of the vocation to Opus Dei, and the meaning of all baptized and yet-to-be-baptized human existence. Man is called by the very imaging of the divine Persons and the reality of the Incarnation of God Himself in Jesus Christ, to be Christ Himself,and to be so by living out the giving of himself.

Escriva wrote prodigiously on this experience: "We really have to give ourselves, my children. And that's something we're always in time to do. We have to get off the omnibus and travel the world without attachments, ready to be nothing and to have nothing, for the love of Jesus Christ.

   "Our self-giving gives us a great feeling of peace and confidence. That is why I usually say that Opus Dei, without the omnibus, is a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to die. We are not afraid either of life or of death." 


            This identification with the Person of Christ as Son of God through ordinary life and work in the secular world is what Escriva understood to be the vocation and charism that was given to him on October 2, 1928, and which he understood the Lord to be asking him to communicate throughout the Church and the world. It seems to be the last piece in the dynamic to fulfill the promises made to Abraham by the Lord.

[1] Genesis 15, 1-8.
[2] Ibid 9-20.
[3] Ibid 17, 4-8.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant,” Ignatius (1999) 25-28.
[5] “It is not new to affirm that the Christian ‘is Christ’ or that he must be ‘identified with Christ’… The ‘novelty’ …is that he preaches this identification with Christ for all Christians (underline), that he shows that it is accessible in ordinary life and teaches that one can found the spiritual life on the awareness of being a son of God: of being Christ,” Burkhart and Lopez,  “La Vida Cotidiana y Santidad…” op. cit 85.
[6] J. Ratzinger, "The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology," op. cit 51.
[7]              “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 won 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 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 substantiality) 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;” J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 134.
[8]              J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 149.
[9]          “Christ is  Passing By” #106.
[10]         J. Ratzinger "Introduction to Christianity," Ignatius [1990] 149.
[11]         L'Osservatore Romano, May 28, 1992.

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