Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday 2007

The message of Benedict XVI for Lent 2007 is: “They Shall Look on Him Whom They Have Pierced.” In a book of his by the same name, Benedict says, amidst profundities that are marvelously accessible, that “man needs to see, he needs this kind of silent beholding which becomes a touching, if he is to become aware of the mysteries of God. He must set his foot on the `ladder’ of the body in order to climb it and so find the path along which faith invites him. From the point of view of our contemporary problems, we could pout it like this: the so-called objective spirituality, which is based on participation in the celebration of the liturgy, is not enough. The extraordinary spiritual dept which resulted from medieval mysticism and the ecclesially based piety of modern times cannot be abandoned as obsolete (let alone deviant) in the name of a rediscovery of the Bible and the Fathers. The liturgy itself can only be celebrated properly if it is prepared for, and accompanied by, that meditative `abiding’ in which the heart begins to see and to understand, drawing the senses too into its beholding. For `you only see properly with your heart,’ as Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince says. (And the Little Prince can be taken as a symbol for that childlikeness which we must regain if we are to find our way back out of the clever foolishness of the adult world and into man’s true nature, which is beyond mere reason).[1]

“Behold the Pierced One” and The Wound in the Right Hand: St. Josemaria Escriva

Burgos, June 6, 1938
+ May Jesus safeguard you, for himself.

Dear Juanito,

This morning, on my way to Las Huelgas, where I went to do my prayer, I discovered a new world: the Most Holy Wound of our Lord’s right hand. I was there all day long, kissing and adoring. How truly lovable is the sacred humanity of our God! Pray that he give me that real love of his and with completely purify all my other affections. It’s not enough to say, `Heart on the cross!’ Because if one of Christ’s wounds cleans, heals, soothes, strengthens, enkindles, and enraptures, what wouldn’t the five do as they lie open on the cross? Heart on the cross! O my Jesus, what more could I ask for? I realize that if I continue contemplating in this way (Saint Joseph, my father and lord, is the one who led me there, after I asked him to enkindle me), I’ll end up crazier than ever. Try it yourself!...

“I’m quite jealous of hose on the battlefronts, in spite of everything. It has occurred to me that, if my path were not so clearly marked out, it would be wonderful to outdo Father Doyle. But… that would suit me quite well, since doing penance has never been very hard for me. That, I’m sure, is the reason I’m being led by another path: Love. And the fact is it suits me even better. If only I weren’t such a donkey!

“Take care, my son. Dominus sit in corde tuo!

Much love. From the Wound of the right hand, your Father blesses you.

(Andres Vazquez de Prada, "The Founder of Opus Dei, God and Daring," Scepter [2002] 214).

Stoic – Abstract - Reason is Insufficient to “Know” God

Benedict marks the inadequacy of thinking without blood and the gut. He remarks that “for the Fathers [of the Church], who were brought up with the moral ideal of the Stoa, the ideal of the wise man’s impassivity, where insight and the will govern and master the irrational emotions, this was one of the places where it proved most difficult to achieve a synthesis of Greek inheritance and biblical faith. The God of the Old Testament, with his wrath, compassion and love, often seemed nearer to the gods of the obsolete religions than to the lofty concept of God of the ancient philosophy, a concept which had facilitated the breakthrough of monotheism in the Mediterranean world. From the vantage point of Cicero’s Hortensius, Augustine could not find the way back to the Bible; thus there was a very strong temptation to adopt the Gnosticism which separated the God the Old Testament from the God of the New Covenant.”[2]

“It is only With the Heart that One Knows Rightly”
(The Little Prince: Antoine Saint-Exupery)

“On the other hand, whoever, it was plain enough that the figure of Jesus, who experiences anguish and anger, joy, hope and despair, is in the Old Testament tradition of God; in him who is the incarnate Logos, the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are radicalized and attain their ultimate depth of meaning. The Docetic[3] attempt to make Jesus’ sufferings a mere surface illusion was an option congenial to Stoic thought. But it must be clear to every unprejudiced reader of the Bible that such an option would attack the very heart of the biblical testimony to Christ, i.e., the mystery of Easter. It was impossible to excise Christ’s sufferings, but there can be no Passion without passions: suffering presupposes the ability to suffer; it presupposes the faculty of the emotions. In the period of the Fathers it was doubtless Origen who grasped most profoundly the idea of the suffering God and made bold to say it could not be restricted to the suffering humanity of Jesus but also affected the Christian picture of God.[4] The Father suffers in allowing the Son to suffer, and the Spirit shares in this suffering, for Paul says that he groans within us, yearning in us and on our behalf for full redemption (Rom. 8, 26). And it was Origen also who gve the normative definition of the way in which the theme of the suffering God is to be interpreted: When you hear someone speak of God’s passions, always apply what is said to love. So God is a sufferer because he is a lover; the entire theme of the suffering God flows from that of the loving God and always points back to it. The actual advance registered by the Christian idea of god over that of the ancient world lies in its recognition that God is love.
“The topic of the suffering God has become almost fashionable today, not without reason, as a result of the abandonment of a theology which was one-sidedly rationalist and as a result of the rejection of a portrait of Jesus and a concept of God which had been emasculated, where the love of God had degenerated into the cheap platitude of a God who was merely kind, and hence `harmless.’ Against such a backdrop Christianity is diminished to the level of philanthropic world improvement, and Eucharist becomes a brotherly meal. The theme of the suffering God can only stay sound if it is anchored in love for God and in prayerful attention to his love. The encyclical Haurietis aquas sees the passions of Jesus, which are summed up and set forth in the Heart, as the basis, as the reason why, the human heart, i.e., the capacity for feeling, the emotional side of love, must be drawn into man’s relationship with God. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a spirituality of `heart to heart;’ in that way, precisely, it is an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter, the mystery of suffering, is of its very nature a mystery of the heart.
“Developments since the Council have confirmed this view on the part of the encyclical. Theology today is certainly no longer confronted with a Stoic ethos of apatheia, but it faced with a technological rationalism which pushes man’s emotional side to the irrational periphery and allots a merely instrumental role to the body. Accordingly, the emotions are placed under a kind of taboo in spirituality, only to be followed by a wave of emotionalism which is, however, largely chaotic and incapable of commitment. We could say that the taboo on pathos renders it pathological, whereas the real issue is how to integrate it into the totality of human existence, the totality of our life as we stand before God. (…)
“All this shows that Christian spirituality involves the senses, which are structured by and united in the heart, and the emotions, which are focused on the heart. We have shown that this kind of heart-centered spirituality corresponds to the picture of the Christian God who has a heart.”

Muggeridge’s Blood Transfusion

“… Some forty years ago, shortly before the outbreak of the 1939-45 war, the person whom I have most loved in this world, my wife Kitty, was desperately ill, and, as I was informed by the doctor attending her, had only an outside chance of surviving. The medical details are unimportant; probably today, with the great advances that have taken place in curative medicine, her state would not be so serious. But as the situation presented itself then, she was hovering between life and death, though, needless to say, there was no voice, as there might well be nowadays, to suggest that it might be better to let he go.
“The doctor explained that an emergency operation was essential, and, in honesty, felt bound to tell me that it would be something of a gamble. Her blood, it appeared, was so thin as a result of a long spell of jaundice that before he operated a blood-transfusion was desperately needed – this was before the days of plasma. As he said this, an incredible happiness amounting to ecstasy surged up inside me. If I could be the donor! My blood group was established, and found to suitable; the necessary gear was brought in, very primitive by contemporary standards – just a glass tube one end of which was inserted in her arm and the other end in mine, with a pump in the middle drawing out my blood and sending it into her. I would watch the flow, shouting out absurdly to the doctor: `Don’t stint yourself, take all you want!’ and noting delightedly the immediate effect in bringing back life into her face that before had seemed grey and lifeless. It was the turning point; from that moment she began to mend.”At no point in our long relationship has there been a more ecstatic moment than when I thus saw my life-blood pouring into hers to revivify it. We were at one, blood to blood, as no other kind of union could make us."

Agape and Eros: Again

The epistemological conundrum of the Magisterium of Vatican II through the 14 encyclicals of John Paul II and the heretofore magisterium of Benedict XVI is the meaning of Being in God as pure relation. This has not been understood because the received metaphysic of Being has been “substance” being-in-self-and-not-in-other. After passing through the past 400 years of Enlightenment rationalism, the meaning of substantial being has been reduced to “fact” as object and all empirical values experienced in the subject (person) are dumbed down to the positivism of objective fact.
Hence, the program of Benedict is to climb back across the threshold of the experience of self as gift. He does this not by deploying any kind of philosophy but by correctly directing the Church to experience the Love of God in the wounds of Christ Crucified. The whole attempt transcends conceptualization because it works on the horizon of the experience of the self (subject, as empirical) as in relation. We are working with Being not as experienced through sensible perception and symbolized in concepts that act as signs “quo” [by means of which the real is known], but as experienced directly by the self and intellectualized as “consciousness.” Revelation through Scripture is the guide, and we find it Hellenized as agape as in “God is Love (agape) (I John 4, 16), eros and philein as in John 21, 15-18.
The Love of God, and therefore all love, is presented as mysterious to the rationalized mind. Agape is “self-giving love of one who looks exclusively for the good of the other. The word eros on the other hand, denotes the love of one who desires to possess what he or she lacks and yearns for union with the beloved.”
The great surprise is to discover that “God’s love is also eros… [The] biblical texts indicate that eros is part of God’s very heart: the Almighty awaits the `yes’ of His creatures as a young bridegroom that of his bride.”
In a word, God, who is the creator of all that is, and there is nothing beyond His creation, does not possess one thing in His own creation: our love. He has created us like Himself with freedom and autonomy that is really “theonomy” (because it cannot even be nor be free without his creative power) that can be given to Him only if we so will. We can deny it to Him. And he desires our freedom “erotically” – as a loving bridegroom wants the requited love of the bride.
And so, the Love of God is mysterious to us. It is both total self-gift and it is also desire for gift back. And it has an even more peculiar and marvelous twist. The love that we are “commanded” to give back (“commanded” because it has first been given) is to be the very Love of God since God has become man to re-start the human race, and He has sacramentally inserted us into Him by Baptism and the other sacraments such that we can and must love “not with our heart only, but with His” (Forge 809).
And since we have been made in the image of the Son, we must first be loved to give us identity as persons such that we have the sufficient subjectivity to master ourselves in the true and proper meaning of freedom of autonomy (theonomy) so as to possess ourselves to make the gift of ourselves to him, for which He is erotic.
What is at stake here is crossing a threshold from an understanding of Being as substance to a grasp of Being as Relation.

The Desert Experience

In order to cross this threshold we need to go through a conversion in silence and detached from the world of sensual titillation. In “Introduction to Christianity,” Benedict spoke of the “attitude” signified by the word “Credo.” He said: “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 he world… It signifies the deliberate view that 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 represents true reality, the element that supports and makes possible all the rest of reality.”[7]

Commenting on Lent, he says the Church must go through those “forties” of years in the desert or days of journey to Mount Horeb (Elijah), which is in reality Sinai where the faith has to be recovered. “Jesus’s fasted in the desert for forty days. These forties point to a spiritual context and continuity that cannot be valid solely for the Bible but remain significant in pos-Biblical times as well."

Benedict said to the Swiss Bishops on November 7, 2006: “When a man is entirely caught up in his own world, with material things, with what he can do, with all that is feasible and brings him success, with all that he can produce or understand by himself, then his capacity to perceive God weakens, the organ sensitive to God deteriorates, it becomes unable to perceive and sense, it no longer perceives the Divine, because the corresponding inner organ has withered, it has stopped developing. When he overuses all the othr organs, the empirical ones, it can happen that it is precisely the sense of God that suffers, that this organ dies, and man, as St Gregory says, no longer perceives God’s gaze, to be looked at by him, the fact that his precious gaze touches me.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 54-55.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 54-58.
[3] In Christianity, Docetism (from the Greek δοκέω [dokeō], "to seem") is the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. This belief treats the sentence "the Word was made Flesh" (John 1:14) as merely figurative and has historically been regarded as heretical by most Christian theologians[1].This belief is most commonly attributed to the Gnostics, who believed that matter was evil, and hence that God would not take on a material body. This statement is rooted in the idea that a divine spark is imprisoned within the material body, and that the material body is in itself an obstacle, deliberately created by an evil lesser god (the demiurge) to prevent man from seeing his divine origin. Humanity is, in essence, asleep. Docetism could be further explained as the view that, because the human body is temporary and the spirit is eternal, the body of Jesus therefore must have been an illusion and his crucifixion as well. Even so, saying that the human body is temporary has a tendency to undercut the importance of the belief in resurrection of the dead and the goodness of created matter, and is in opposition to this orthodox view. Docetism was rejected by the ecumenical councils and mainstream Christianity, and largely died out during the first millennium A.D. Catharism, and other surviving gnostic movements, incorporated docetism into their beliefs, but the movement was destroyed by the Albigensian Crusade, though its teachings still exist today, for example see [2]. Islam also teaches that Jesus's crucifixion was an illusion. The Qur'an says, "They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them..." Wikepedia.
[4] The epistemology of the neo-scholastic manuals have insisted that God as God cannot suffer since suffering involves diminution of being. If God suffered, then in that diminution, He would cease to be God. Hence, it is impossible for God to suffer as God. Thomas Weinandy remarks: “Here we enter into the heart of the mystery. While the mystery of the Incarnation, by its very nature, remains, the answer lies in the fact that as God the Son is not deprived of any good which would cause him to suffer as God. If the Son of God, as God, were deprived of some good which would cause him to suffer as God, it would mean, as I argued in previous chapters, that he is actually no longer God. Strange as it may seem, but not paradoxically, one must maintain the unchangeable impassibility of the Son of God as God in order to guarantee that it is actually the divine Son of God, one in being with the Father, who truly suffers as man. As man the divine Son of God was deprived, as are we, of human goods which did cause him, like us, to suffer.” (Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., “Does God Suffer?” UNDP (2000) 205).

[5] Ibid. 54-58.
[6] Papal Message For Lent 2007, February 13, 2007.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 24.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 81.

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