Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"The Lamb is Stronger than the Dragon"


Love as Self-Gift is Power

Benedict’s 80th and St. Faustina’s Mercy Sunday

Benedict XVI’s strategy of exercising authority in the Church has been receptivity, i.e., to wait and listen to the Spirit with the Church. The power deployed by Benedict consists in mastery over self in order to make the self gift as love in the unique way revealed by Jesus Christ: obedience to death.

The Power of the Powerless is the same as the power of suffering-for-love. The power of suffering is to draw out love in self and in others. John Paul II said: “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man.”[2]

Consider the following two examples: (1) Christopher de Vinck’s brother Oliver and (2) Kent Gilges’s daughter Elie.


(1) “I grew up in the house where my brother was on his back in his bed for thirty-two years, in the same corner of his room, under the same window, beside the same yellow walls. He was blind, mute. His legs were twisted. He didn’t have the strength to lift his head or the intelligence to learn anything.
“Oliver was born with severe brain damage which left him and his body in a permanent state of helplessness.
“Today I am an English teacher, and each time I introduce my class to the play about Helen Keller, “The Miracle Worker,” I tell my students the story about Oliver.
“One day, during my first year of teaching, I was trying to describe Oliver’s lack of response, how he had been spoon-fed every morsel he ever ate, how he never spoke. A boy in the last row raised his hand and said, `Oh, Mr. de Vinck. You mean he was a vegetable.’
“I stammered for a few seconds. My family and I fed Oliver. We changed his diapers, hung his clothes and bed linens on the basement line in winter, and spread them out white and clean to dry on the sawn in the summer…
“’Well, I guess you could call him a vegetable. I called him Oliver, my brother. You would have loved him.’
“One October day in 1946, while my mother was pregnant withy Oliver, her second son, my father rose from bed, shaved, dressed, and went to work. At the train station he realized he had forgotten something, so he returned to the house and discovered the smell of gas leaking from the coal-burning stove.
“My mother was unconscious in her bed. My oldest brother was sleepoing in his crib which was quite high off the ground so the did not affect him. My father pulled them out of the room, through the hall, and outside where my mother revived quickly. And that was that.
“Six months later, on April 20, 1947, Oliver was born. A healthy-looking, plump, beautiful boy.
“`Oliver seemed like any other newborn,’ my mother and father told my sisters and brothers and me over the years, as they repeated the story with their deep love and joy. ‘There was no sign that anything was amiss.’
“One afternoon, a few months after he was born, my mother brought Oliver to a window. She held him there in the sun, the bright good sun, and there Oliver rested in his mother’s arms, and there Oliver looked and looked directly into the sunlight, which was the first moment my mother realized that Oliver was blind.
“My parents, the true heroes of this story, learned with the passing months that Oliver could not hold up his head, could not crawl, walk, sing; he could not hold anything in his hand; he could not speak…
“Oliver could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.
“For me, to have been brought up in a house where a tragedy was turned into a joy, explains to a great degree why I am the type of husband, writer and teacher I have become.
“I remember my mother saying when I was small, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you can see?’ And once she said, ‘When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is “Thank you.”’ That leaves an impression on a boy.”[3]
De Vinck goes on how Oliver’s power was able to reveal to him the inner workings of the hearts of two women. He recalled:
“When I was in my early twenties I met a girl and I fell in love. After a few months I brough her home for dinner to meet my family.
“After the introductions, the small talk, my mother went ot the kitchen to check the meal, and I asked the girl, ‘Would you lie to see Oliver?’ for I had, of course, told her about my brother.
‘No,’ she answered. She did not want to see him. It was as if she slapped me in the face, yet I just said something polite and walked to the dining room.
“Soon after, I met … Rosemary, a dark-haired, dark-eyed, lovely gift. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She bought me a copy of The Little Prince. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful.
“I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. The introduction. The small talk. We ate dinner; then it was time for me to feed Oliver.
“I walked into the kitchen, reached for the red bowl and the egg and the cereal and the milk and the banana and prepared Oliver’s meal. Then, I remember, I sheepishly asked Rosemary if she’d like to come upstairs and see Oliver. ‘Sure,’ she said, and up the stairs we went.
“I sat at Oliver’s bedside as Rosemary stood and watched over my shoulder. I have him his first spoonful, his second. ‘Can I do that?’ Rosemary asked. ‘Can I do that?’ she asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion, so I gave her the bowl, and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time.
“The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? Today Rosemary and I have three children.”[4]
Drawing his conclusions, de Vinck wrote: “Oliver created a certain power around us which changed all our lives. I cannot explain Oliver’s influence except to say that the powerless in our world do hold great power. The weak do confound the mighty.”[5]


(Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges)

From the unpublished manuscript “The Gift of Life”[6]
(From the Introduction)

“I wish I could put the lessons that Elie has taught me at the beginning. I want the reader to know early what I have learned from her, from her tiny, insignificant, monumental life. I want these conclusions first so that I can draw the reader into the learning process itself. How she has taught me is at least as important as what she has taught me. Yet the lessons are in the learning. I do not believe anymore that wisdom is a point we reach but an understanding of the process we follow.

“As I write this introduction, I sit a Saturday afternoon beside my wife in our pediatrician's waiting room. Liz holds twenty-eight pound Elie on her lap, a child with a scarlet flush brushed on the silken cream of her cheeks, strawberry blond hair, lovely green eyes, red socks. Her feet are crossed and dangle against my wife's leg. Her hands twist awkwardly inward, a result of the tone that affects her musculature. Were she able to clap she would smack the backs of her hands together. But she will never be able to clap; a brain tumor and a stroke make that impossible.

‘Elie is peaceful and beautiful when she sleeps and often catches the eye of passers-by, but her disabilities are apparent to one who looks closely. Her eyes move independently of each other. Her head tilts back at an unusual angle. Beneath her dress, she has a tube in her stomach. Many people ask questions when they notice these differences. Some are afraid to. It is awkward for people to discuss serious illness in a child, much less to broach the idea of a limited future. Children are our symbol of hope in life. Hopelessness in a child is a painful anomaly. Hopeless hope. It is something we do not want to think about because it forces us to question ourselves, our lives, even God.
Today Elie has a 102.4 degree fever and we are fighting the most recent of a series of infections that strings back behind us nearly two years to the day a neurosurgeon in a hospital in the lower east side of Manhattan removed part of a tumor in the center of her brain. That she is still alive at all is due to him. And to Liz, who has kept her alive on love as only a mother could.

“This story is about more than Elie. Yes, it is about others too. Part of the learning is that the story enfolds all those whom Elie has touched. It is about a Roman princess and the Pope. It is about the woman in a wheelchair, splashed through the window of a boat. It is about the prayer chain in Minnesota. It is about a four-pound girl's open-heart surgery and her mother's fight to keep her in a good hospital. It is about the Catholic priests that surround and pray for Elie. It is about me and my father, and Liz. It is about Elie's family. All of them, wide and near. That is why it is about hope. Because they are all her family. She has drawn them together; tied spiritual knots between their disparate lives.

“There is a difference between death and dying. Montaigne said, "It is not death, it is dying that alarms me." Death is a result, dying is a process. We spend our lives dying, but the process of dying is what gives life its poignancy, its beauty, even its joy.
In one sense, death is easy to deal with. It happens. It is over. We, the living, are forced by life to let death go and we accomplish that through grief. But it isn't until we have grappled with dying, the long, slow dying of a loved one, that we are able to really see the remarkable beauty of life.

“And a child dying. One's own precious, breathing child. I could never hope to describe that, nor impart a modicum of the desolation that bears down upon us who experience it. Perhaps I should not try. The future dies with the child, and yet the dying is a passport to life. The indomitable spirit rises up. Life bursts out of the dying process. Even with one's own child, life comes bubbling, searchingly to the surface. And life is different, raw, stripped, pure, clean. It is elemental. One comes up from drowning, baptized in the beauty of life.

“Richter said, "The darkness of death is like the evening twilight; it makes all objects appear more lovely to the dying." Until we face loss, until we feel loss, we cannot fully understand beauty. Beauty is the handmaiden of loss, and the joy that transcends loss.

“Pearl Buck wrote of her severely disabled daughter, "There must be acceptance and the knowledge that sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness." Just so. And yet the joy is there. Irrational as it sounds, time and our willingness to see sorrow as a hidden blessing are the key to the alchemy of joy. There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow. There is hope in that, hope even in a dying child.
“This is the story of Elie and of joy and most of all of hope.”

What Love Permits Us to See Inside the Powerless

“I slept in late this morning. I’m only three and a half so I don’t know how to tell time, but the sun was already coming through the window and shining on my face when I finally woke up. The sun is one of my favorite things; I can’t see it, but I can feel warmth on my face and it heats my skin up in a different way than other things. Not just on the surface but down underneath, like the inside of my cheeks was getting warm as well.
Beth was here when I woke up, and she moved me down to a blanket on the floor so that I could have my whole body in the sun. Beth has a big lap. I just sink into her lap and lean my head against her, and it’s very easy to fall asleep. Sometimes they don’t want me to sleep, so they put me on the floor and make me do exercises.
I like some of the exercises because my legs are sore from lying a certain way for a long time. The only part I don’t like is when they put me on my tummy. I get scared because I can’t turn my head and my nose gets pressed into the blanket. Beth rubs my back and sometimes I can push up.

“I smelled my mommy a few times this morning, but I think I was still sleeping and just dreamed it maybe. She comes out to check on me a lot during the night. When I’m awake, mommy likes to pick me up and kiss my cheeks, and I like that too. Most of the time, I can’t do anything to let her know I like it, but every once in a while when I’m thinking about how much I like being picked up by mommy, all of the sudden a noise comes out. She says I’m sighing.

“Our house is small. I can tell because no matter where mommy goes, I can hear her. She talks a lot and is usually happy. I wish I could say things back to her, but nothing comes out-- except for sighs.

“I live on the couch. We have a wood stove that daddy fills with logs each day. It keeps me warm. I don’t know why, but my hands and feet are really cold sometimes. Usually they are cold when I wake up, so someone puts me on the carpet and rubs my legs, which they say are thin and beautiful, and my hands, which they say are pudgy and fat, to warm them up.

“Beth massages me, then she makes me do work. It’s very hard and hurts me a little. I have to sit straight up and lift my arms over my head. I can’t do that myself, so Beth cradles me between her legs and holds my arms up for me. I lower them down again myself, sometimes one more than the other. I never really know what’s going to happen until it’s happened.

“After we’re finished on the floor, I go straight to my standing table. They strap my legs to it, then turn the handle and slowly raise me up so that I’m standing. They say it’s good to have weight on my bones, but I think it hurts so I usually cry. Mommy sets a timer, Beth reads me a story from Winnie the Pooh, and I cry. If I don’t cry, then I hold my breath and get tense. I don’t know why, it just happens that way.

“I like all the stories from Winnie the Pooh, especially the one when Piglet gets rescued by Pooh because Pooh is a hero and they say he is very smart. Daddy calls me Pooh. He says I am a bear of very little brain, just like Pooh. He calls me his little Pooh bear and his koala. I also like the stories about Madeline in Paris and I like Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is mommy’s favorite story as well, so we read it a lot together. Madeline is like me because she is little.

“After the standing table, Beth feeds me. I don’t get to taste anything, since it all goes straight into my stomach, but I like feeling full anyway. When I’m hungry, my stomach growls, and it makes me unhappy. Usually I get stiff when I’m hungry, but sometimes I cry. Mommy and daddy always know what I need, though, so they feed me. I try not to throw up because that tastes bad and scares me. I feel like I can’t breathe for a while, and sometimes I cough a lot.

“I smell mommy now. I think she’s standing next to Beth. I can move my lips and, even though no sound comes out, mommy likes it. If I move my lips sometimes I cry for no reason. If I cry, mommy usually picks me up.

“I was right. Mommy picked me up and I’m lying in her lap now. She holds my hand and brushes my hair. She’s telling me all about her day and asking how I feel. I like to listen to the sound of mommy’s voice, especially when it’s so close that the words brush against my ear and her lips touch my cheek. I can feel the sound on the side of my face before I even hear it. Daddy’s voice is deep on my cheek and tickles. Mommy’s voice is high and feels like a kiss. She is stroking my temples.
I love mommy.


“I fell asleep for a long time. When I woke up, my chest was sore and I had a coughing fit. I coughed until my throat didn’t feel so clogged, and then my chest felt better but I was tired again. I don’t like coughing. Sometimes it makes me throw up.
A bell rang and then mommy talked to someone while she held me on her lap. She was happy. I think she was talking to daddy, because she talks a different way when she talks to him. She was holding me against her so that my knees were in her lap. Sometimes it’s hard for me to sit that way because my whole body curls up and I can’t straighten out. My tummy hurt on the inside for a long time, and while mommy was talking, I had to poopy, so I did. I did a big poopy, and mommy heard it and laughed.
She called me a stinky girl, then she kissed me.

“While they were changing me, I had another coughing fit. I coughed only a few times and felt better, but my legs were cold because mommy pulled off my pants and diaper. I cried and they put on my pants again. Mommy brought a hot water bottle and laid that across my legs as she held me. It was very warm, just like the sun, and I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I was very sleepy even though I had just woken up. It’s like that for me. Sometimes the more I sleep, the sleepier I feel.

“After another feeding, Beth dressed me in very warm clothes and my favorite white hat, and they carried me outside to my chair. Then Beth walked me up the road. The chair bounces a lot on the gravel. I like that. It’s sort of like when they give me a leg massage. I also like the sun in my face and the wind. Wind is almost better than sun because it is a lot like constant kisses from mommy and daddy. I like wind best when it comes with the sun. The warm sun and the kissing wind feel good. I sighed three times on my walk.

“The cars go by every now and then. I used to get scared by them, but they’re not as scary anymore. They sneak up slowly, then all of the sudden there is a great roar, and then they’re gone again. To me, a car seems like a big hole in the ground that you walk over and hear the noise from a waterfall when you’re right over it, but then it goes away when you pass the hole.

“We walked for a long time, and when I came home, daddy was there. He picked me up out of the chair and tucked me against his chest. He has a big lap like Beth, but he holds my hand in his and puts my other hand under his arm so that they’re both warm. He wraps me in a blanket and puts his one arm between my legs so that I feel like I’m being held from all directions at once. I’m comfiest in daddy’s arms, and I think I might go to sleep before he puts me down.


“Cheryl came sometime while I was sleeping. She is another nurse who comes all the way from Canada each day. Cheryl has a little daughter who is sick too, but she comes anyway to help mommy and daddy with me. I think Cheryl’s daughter may be nearly as sick as I am. She’s a very nice lady, but she makes me work harder than anyone else. When I do my exercises with Cheryl, I’m the most tired of all.

“Tonight, Cheryl didn’t make me do exercises. Instead, mommy took me in the bath with her. I love the bath. Mommy and I get in together, and it is always very hot. At first, it stings my bottom but I like the warm feeling it gives my feet. A bath is like having sunshine hit every part of my body at once. I yawn a few times, then I start to fall asleep. Mommy thinks I fall asleep immediately, but I don’t. I usually stay awake with my eyes closed for a while and think. Mommy lets me stretch out and float. My hands bob at the surface and mommy only has to hold up my head. She says I’m so fat that I float.

“You might wonder what I think about when I’m floating in the bathtub with my eyes closed. That’s the best part of the story. I think about God. I try to imagine what it will be like when God holds me. You see, since my eyes don’t work like everyone else’s, I see different things than most kids. Mommy and daddy think that when I tilt my head back and look at the ceiling, it has something to do with my brain not working. It doesn’t though. Up high above us, I see angels dancing. Sometimes they come down close and talk to me and sometimes they are very far away, but they always seem to be dancing. And when they talk to me, they tell me that God is waiting for a little while yet to see me, and that I have a very good reason for being here. They say that when I visit God, I will sit on His lap and talk to Him for a long time, and when I fall asleep, He’s going to give me to the angels to hold while I wait for mommy and daddy.

“I like to think about that in the bathtub because I think being held by God is a lot like being held by daddy, except better.”

Anticipated Eulogy for Elie

“This is a moment for which I have prepared hundreds of times, which I have rehearsed, which I have spoken to myself over ten years and in many different ways. I have delivered my daughter's eulogy hundreds of times. I have imagined her gone as much as I have realized she is still here.

“This daydream comes upon me unexpectedly; imagination is uncontrollable. I find myself thinking about Elie, or living without Elie, mostly when I am alone. I have lived many times what it will be like never again to kiss her cheek or smell her sweet skin, to bury my face in her neck, to stroke her hair as she lies on my lap.

“I have spoken this eulogy in cars, in the woods, in a boat. I have spoken it mainly when I was alone, out loud with the tears streaming down my face. But I have also prepared it in my head at a party or as I sat with a crowd of friends at dinner, my thoughts drifting far beyond the conversation until I have had to stop my train of thought because I knew that within moments I would choke up and start crying and nobody would have any idea why.

“I have delivered the words with love, with pathos, with anger. I have looked for hope. I have spoken of despair.

“God has, at various times, been a merciful God who gave me my child for longer than He had originally planned. At others, I have complained about God snatching away my first child’s promise.

“I have spoken words like these so many times that it should come easily. But it doesn't. It has never come easily-- how could it. I have always realized the finality of this moment. That is when my heart begins to tear. The desolation of finality follows. Her death is final. It is monstrous. And it is desolate.

“I've often laughed that Elie had three goals in life. One was to remain my little baby girl forever. One was to avoid the pain of teething. And the last was never to be put down, to be held by someone continuously through life.

“She has done quite well except for the teeth. She has always been our little baby. Even when we had a baby who was smaller by far, Elie was the baby.

“It amazes me that so many people have touched her, held her, rocked her. So much family. Dozens of the most caring nurses we could hope for. Many priests have held her and all have prayed for her continuously since her illness. She has been comforted and loved by more people in her few short years than many of us in a lifetime. And being held, being touched, has been her way of touching others in turn. We touched her physically. She touched us spiritually.

“We hold in greatest honor those who have cared for her on a daily basis. Let their names spoken offer them the honor and gratitude they deserve.

Bob and Donna Smith
Laurie Lewis
Jean Steiner
Marilyn Miraglia
Drs. David Ragonesi and Gregory Liptak, whom we recognize with particular distinction for their compassion and commitment
Linda Gavigan
Linda Foster
Theresa Kimball
Christine Kennedy
Father William Delaney
Beth Ygeal.
Carrie Barry
Dr. Bernd Holler
Sue Potosak
Margaret Burroughs
Father Michael Steber

“Her greatest caregiver, of course, I hold in greatest honor. Her mother, Liz, who single-handedly kept Elie with us for 10 years purely through a devoted mother’s love and fierce tenacity.
And we release her.

“Of her death, what good can be said: It was short and merciful. It only lasted ten years.

“Of her life, what good can be said: I feel I could write a book about it, and yet it is like the whisper of wind on a single blade in the tall grass prairie.

“I cannot point to many things that I have done which were wholly good, but caring for Elie is one. She was a burden, yes, but she was also a gift.
And it is my great hope that if I ever make it to heaven and stand before God, I will be greeted there by a little girl with blond hair and a sweet smile who welcomes me and introduces me to God. And God will laugh and say, “Don’t worry. It wasn’t ever really as close a call as you thought. Anyone who cared for Elie got a free pass.”
Goodbye my beautiful girl. God’s speed.”

That is what I would say, at least today, if Elie were to die.

(From Chapter 20: “Requiem – Straight from My Arms to God’s”)

“Elizabeth Nyanga Gilges died on March 11, 2004 on my lap, cradled between Liz and me.

“She died quietly, peacefully. As she breathed her last few breaths, Liz said a Hail Mary and cried out, “Jesus come!” I whispered in her small ear, “Elie. Go, beautiful. Go to God. Go.” She took a half breath, shuddered once almost imperceptibly as if her body held very lightly now to her soul, took another half breath, and then she breathed no more.
“We bathed her, combed out her hair, dressed her in a blue Easter dress that Liz’s brother had bought for her, and placed her in the coffin which we as a family had made.
It was built of ash, painted white with a black inlaid cross on the cover. The inside was lined with white satin. The children each placed two hand prints in bright colors on the side of the coffin and wrote underneath in black marker, “I love you, Elie,” and their name.
“In the morning, Liz’s mother and her sister bought a tiara made of yellow and blue flowers and we placed it on her forehead before the wake. Never have I seen anything more beautiful than her face in the dim twilight of her room.
Requiem in Pace. Is Elie resting in peace? I guess I hope not. I hope that for the first time, a little girl who was never able to walk finally has the use of her legs and is running through fields filled with the yellow and blue flowers that adorned her pale brow as she lay in her coffin.

“The night Elie died, we tried to explain to our children again what death meant. They all listened solemnly. When we were done with our explanation, there were a few moments of quiet, then four year-old Hannah asked us: “Mom, can Elie do a cartwheel now?”

Vanquishing Persistent Adolescence: The Radiation of Fatherhood

Richard Rohr points to the state of affairs that we could call persistent adolescence, particularly in the male.[7] His thesis is that boys at present do not become men because they do not become sons initiated into manhood. Insofar as they are not sons, they do not know how to become fathers as images of God. The process of becoming a son is a process of being initiated via suffering. St. Paul says: “Continue under discipline. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not correct? But if you are without discipline, in which all have had a share, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”[8]

Karol Wojtyla: In order “become men” that is equivalent to being fathers, adolescents must become sons and undergo the initiation into fatherhood. Karol Wojtyla in his dramatic “Radiation of Fatherhood,” wrote in the person of Adam: “After a long time I came to understand that you do not want me to be a father unless I become a child. That is why Your Son came into the world. He is entirely Yours. In Him the word ‘mine’ finds complete justification; it can be spoken credibly by Him. Without such a justification and credibility this word is a risk – love is a risk, too. Why did you inflect on me the love that in me must be a risk? And now Your Son takes on Himself all the risk of love.” Further down he says: “Could I too become a son? I did not want to be one. I did not want to accept the suffering caused by risking love. I thought I would not be equal to it. My eyes were too fixed on myself, and in such a situation love is most difficult.

“When Your Son came, I remained the common denominator of man’s inner loneliness. Your Son wants to enter it. He wants to because He loves. Loneliness opposes love. On the borderline of loneliness, love must become suffering: Your Son has suffered.”[9]
Louis Evely: “Do you know what it is to be a Father? [me: It is to become a man]

“To be a Father is precisely to suffer; to become a father is to become vulnerable. As long as one is young, one is hard, selfish, protected. No doubt, one has terrible blues, emotions, melancholies, but one holds one’s own pretty well, one withdraws easily, one suffers only for oneself. Our compassion for others is gratuitous, generous, superfluous.

“But when one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail, being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart. Oh, we really depend on people who depend on us! The strong person who loves a weak person has put his happiness at his mercy. He depends on him henceforth. He is without any defense against him. To love a person is inevitably to depend on him, to give him power over us. God loved us freely; God have us power over him. God wanted to have need of us. The passion is the revelation of our terrible power over God. He surrendered himself to us, we had him at our disposal, we did with him what we wanted. On a plaque in Normandy one can read this cruel sentence: ‘It is always the one who loves the least who is the strongest.’ It is always he who is least in love who gets his way with the other, who keeps a cool head and stays in control of the situation. God, in regard to us, will always be the weakest, for he loves. God can be denied, forgotten; he cannot deny us, forget us. We can be without God. God cannot be without men.[10] We can stop being sons; he cannot stop being a Father. ‘Man in revolt against God is like the bird in the storm which dashes itself against the cliff. But God, in his mercy, became flesh so that the violence of the impact might be endured by him and not by us.’ Thus, God will always be the weakest against us for he loves us. We are of Jacob’s race, we are the true Israel, he who fought against the angel all night and who deserved his name: ‘mighty against God.’”[11]

Benedict XVI: Love Destroys Death. The Lamb Is Stronger Than the Dragon: Easter Vigil 2007:
“Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.”

Immortality: Being Indestructible (Greek Philosophy) or Being Loved (Divine Revelation)?

“But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.”[12]

My comment: What is profound here is the disclosure of the meaning of “immortal soul.” In a metaphysics where “being” is substance and the way to know “formally” is through intellectual abstraction, the immateriality of the soul is the reason for the man’s survival after death. St. Thomas, in question 75, article 2 of the Summa Theologiae says: “this intellectual principle, which is called mind or intellect, has an operation on its own (per se) that the body does not share in. But nothing can operate on its own unless it subsists on its own, because every operation belongs to something actually existent, and so a thing operates in the same manner that it exists. (For this reason we say not that heat heats, but that the thing that is hot does so.) We can conclude, therefore, that the human soul, which is called intellect or mind, is something nonbodily and subsistent.”

In other words, if a faculty is capable of immaterial acts not involving the body in that very act - which in our case is understanding universally and abstractly - and since agere sequitur esse (doing follows on being, type of doing follows on type of being), then if the soul is ontological support for the accident of the intellect understanding, then if the intellect is immaterial, then the soul must be immaterial. And if this is so, then the death of the body cannot mean the death of the soul.

This is Aristotelian, substantialist metaphysics. It is Greek philosophy. It is not Revelation.

Benedict says: “To the soul as conceived by the Greeks the body, and so history too, is completely exterior; the soul goes on existing apart from them and needs no other being in order to do so. For man understood as a unity, on the other hand, fellowship with his fellow men is constitutive; if he is to live on, then this dimension cannot be excluded. Thus on the biblical premise the much-discussed question whether after death there can be any fellowship between men seems to be solved; at bottom it could only arise at all through a preponderance of the Greek element in the intellectual premises: where the ‘communion of saints’ is an article of faith, the idea of the anima separate (the ‘separate soul’ of scholastic theology) has in the last analysis become obsolete.”

Benedict continues: “only with Christ, the man who is ‘one with the Father,’ the man through whom the being ‘man’ has entered into God’s eternity, does the future of man finally appear open. Only in him, the ‘second Adam,’ is the question of man’s identity finally answered. Christ is man, completely; to that extent the question who we men are is present in him.”[13]

He contrasts Greek and Revealed Truth: The essential content of biblical pronouncements about the resurrection “is not the conception of a restoration of bodies to souls after a long interval; their aim is to tell men that they, they themselves, live on; not by virtue of their own power but because they are known and loved by God in such a way that they can no longer perish. In contrasts to the dualistic conception of immortality expressed in the Greek body-soul schema, the biblical formula of immortality through awakening is trying to impart a collective and dialogic conceptions of immortality: the essential part of man, the person, remains; that which has ripened in the course of this earthly existence of corporeal spirituality and spiritualize corporeality goes on existing in a different fashion. It goes on existing because it lives in God’s memory. And because it is the man who will live, not an isolated soul, the element of human fellowship is also part of the future; for this reason the future of the individual man will only then be full when the future of humanity is fulfilled.”[14]

He concludes: “’Having a spiritual soul’ means precisely being willed, known and loved by god in a special way; it means being a creature called by God to an eternal dialogue and therefore capable for its own part of knowing God and of replying to him. What we call in substantialist language ‘having a soul’ will be described in a more historical actual language as ‘being God’s partner in a dialogue.’” Then-Joseph Ratzinger concludes that the Greek body-soul schema is not false, but “must…be continually pout back in the biblical perspective and corrected by it in order to remain serviceable to the view of man’s future opened up by faith. For the rest, it becomes evident once again at this point that in the last analysis one cannot make a clear distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural:’ the basic dialogue which irst makes man into man moves over without a break into the dialogue of grace known as Jesus Christ. How could it be otherwise if Christ actually is the ‘second Adam,’ the real fulfillment of that infinite longing which ascends from the first Adam – from man in general?”

The Great Danger: To Live on the Surface of Ourselves

The real danger is not to engage the self in action, in a word, “to perform.” We tend not to experience our own depth, our own meaning and ontological density and weight. We tend not to engage the inner self – the “I.” This great weakness consists in turning back on self, doing everything our way, and being trapped therein. As we have seen, Tolkien’s Ring of Power is a powerful icon and metaphor.

Benedict said to the Swiss bishops last November (paraphrasing St. Gregory the Great): “When 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 other 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!

[In this regard, think of the entrapment of the self in the virtual reality of cyber-relations: the constant and whimsical use of the cell phone, the internet, the video-game, the ubiquitous TV. Even when dealing with others, the encounter is never the involvement of the whole self. It is always electronically mediated, and therefore limited by the abstraction and distortion of the medium.]

“I maintain that St. Gregory the Great has described exactly the situation of our time – in fact, his was an age very similar to ours. And the question still arises: what should we do?

“I hold that the first thing to do is what the Lord tells us…, and which St. Paul cries to us in God’s Name: ‘Your attitude must be Christ’s…”[15] And that attitude is service and self-gift to death.

E-mail, the Self and Prozac

Robert Wright: New York Times, op-ed, 4/17/07 A 27

“I have a theory: the more e-mail there is, the more Prozac there will be, and the more Prozac there is, the more e-mail there will be….

“It’s an old story. Technological change makes society more efficient and less personal. We know more people more shallowly. The sociologist David Riesman’s 1950 book about his era’s part in this process was called ‘The Lonely Crowd’…

“The reason we’ve always carved out a place for deep human contact is because we deeply need it. Some contours of the mind are so firm they lead us to selectively defy the imperative of growing efficiency. Ultimately, technological evolution hoes had to accommodate human nature.

“Until now. Now we enter the age of pharmacology and approach the age of genetic engineering. We can, in effect, change human nature to accommodate technological evolution. If the
deft use of e-mail makes each of us more successful, we may, one by one, amend the structure of our selves until we are the optimal e-mail animals. And so, too, with the next empowering information technology: bend us, shape us, anyway it wants us.

“If we’re indeed already entering this era, I can’t say I’m especially enjoying it. Then again, I haven’t tried Prozac. Yet.”

[1] Benedict XVI, ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA Thursday, 22 December 2005.
[2] John Paul II, “Salvifici Doloris,” #12.
[3] Christopher de Vinck, “The Power of the Powerless,” Doubleday, (1988) 9-12.
[4] Ibid 14.
[5] Ibid
[6] Kent Gilges, “The Gift of Life.”
[7] Richard Rohr, “Adam’s Return” Crossroad (2004) 12-13.
[8] St. Paul, Hebrews 12, 7-10.
[9] Karol Wojtyla, “Radiation of Fatherhood,” The Collected Plays and Writings on Theater * Karol Wojtyla University of California Press [Berkeley] (1987) 339.
[10] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[11] Louis Evely, “Suffering,” Herder and Herder (1967) 126-128.
[12] Benedict XVI, “Easter Vigil Homily,” April 8, 2007.
[13] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 272.
[14] Ibid 274.
[15] November 7 Papal Homily to Swiss Bishops, published December 10, 2006.
[16] This is not a statement of pantheistic emanationism but the “erotic” dimension of God’s Love that is both Agape and eros. See Benedict XVI’s “Deus Charitas Est:” “The one God in whom Israel believes… loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: … God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape…. Hosea above all shows us that this agape dimension of God’s love for man goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed ‘adultery’ and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: ‘How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I had you over, O Israel!... My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst’ (Hos. 11, 8-9);” (Deus Charitas Est #9-10).
[17] Louis Evely, Ibid 126-128

No comments: