Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 2, 2007 Opus Dei and Benedict XVI

October 2, 2007

In the mind of BenedictXVI, the great crisis facing the third millennium is the challenge of discovering the metaphysical absolute in the historical contingent. His answer is the historical individual, Jesus of Nazareth being the divine Person, Jesus Christ.

A window that looks in on the workings of this answer is Benedict’s theology of the kingdom of God. John Paul II, with Ratzinger at his side, wrote in Redemptoris Missio #18: “Christ not only proclaimed the kingdom, but in him the kingdom itself became present and was fulfilled. This happened not only through his words and his deeds: ‘Above all…. The kingdom is made manifest in the very person of Christ, Son of God and Son of Man, who came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10, 45). 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.”

In his new “Jesus of Nazareth” [note that the book is not entitled “Jesus Christ” as divine transcendent Absolute but as the contingent historical individual “Jesus of Nazareth”], Benedict insists that “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting. He is telling us: ‘God exists’ and “God is really God,’ which means that he holds in his hands the threads of the world. In this sense, Jesus’ message is very simply and thoroughly God-centered. The new and totally specific thing about his message is that he is telling us: God is acting now – this is the hour when God is showing himself in history as its Lord, as the living God, in a way that goes beyond anything seen before. ‘Kingdom of God’ is therefore an inadequate translation. It would be better to speak of God’s being-Lord, of his lordship.”

The logic is inexorable. If the Person of Jesus of Nazareth is the Kingdom of God, and He is God Himself as “Son” of the Father to Whom He is uniquely able to say “Abba,” and yet, at the same time, He is this individual man (not human person) Jesus of Nazareth as an individual cipher in time and place, and if He has given authorization to His disciples – human historical persons in time and space - also to say “Abba” because of their ontological identification with Him through the Baptism and Eucharist, then wherever they are, Jesus the Son of the living God is, and there is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Person of Christ, and wherever there is “another Christ.”

This is the verbal founding of Opus Dei. St. Josemaria Escriva recalls August 7, 1931: “At that moment of elevating the Sacred Host, without losing paper recollection, without being distracted… there came to my mind, with extraordinary force and clarity, the phrase of Scripture ‘et si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad me ipsum’ [And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself] (Jn. 12, 32). Ordinarily, in the face of the supernatural, I am afraid. Afterward comes the ne timeas [do not be afraid], it is I. And I understood that it would be the men and women of God who would lift the Cross with the doctrines of Christ over the pinnacle of all human activity. And I saw our Lord triumph, drawing to himself all things.”

John Coverdale recounts: “Reflecting years later on this experience, Escriva said that he understood our Lord to be saying those words to him ‘not in the sense in which the Scripture says them. I say it to you in the sense that you are to raise me up in all human activities, in the sense that all over the world there should be Christians with a personal and very free dedication, who will be other Christs.’”

One month later “on October 16, 1931, he experienced an even more intense and prolonged sense of being a son of God. Once again, this period of sublime prayer (which he later described as the most elevated prayer God ever gave him) occurred not in church but on the street.” He was in a street car. “Suddenly, in the midst of that bitterness that was so great, these words: “you are my son, you are Christ. And I only knew how to repeat: Abba, Pater! Abba, Pater! Abba!, Abba!, Abba! Now I see it with a new light, as a new discovery: as one sees, when the years pass, the hand of the Lord, of the divine Wisdom, of the All Powerful One. Lord, you have made me understand that to have the Cross is to find happiness, joy. And the reason – I see it with more clarity than ever – is this: to have the Cross is to be identified with Christ, it is to be Christ and, therefore, to be a son of God.”

Keep in mind the studied observation of Joachim Jeremias: “When we turn to Jesus’ preaching, the answer must be: Yes, here there is something quite new, absolutely new – the word abba. From the prayer in Gethsemane, Mark 14, 36, we learn that Jesus addressed God with this word, and this point is confirmed not only by Rom. 8, 15 and Gal. 4, 6, but also by the striking oscillation of the forms for the vocative ‘O father’ in the Greek text of the gospels, an oscillation which is to be explained only through the fact that the Aramaic term abba lies behind all such passages. With the help of my assistants I have examined the prayer literature of ancient Judaism – a large, rich literature, all too little explored. The result of this examination was that in no place in this immense literature is this invocation of God as abba to be found. How is this to be explained? The church fathers Chrysostom, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyrus who originated from Antioch (where the populace spoke the West Syrian dialect of Aramaic) and who probably had Aramaic-speaking nurses, testify unanimously that abba was the address of the small child to his father. And the Talmud confirms this when it says: ‘When a child experiences the taste of wheat [i.e. when it is weaned], it learns to say abba and imam [‘dear father’ and ‘dear mother’].” Abba and imam are thus originally the first sounds which the child stammers. In Jesus’ days they were no longer restricted to children’s talk; they were also used by grown-up sons and daughters to address their parents. Yet their humble origin was not forgotten. Abba was an everyday word, a homely family-word. No Jew would have dared to address God in this manner. Jesus did it always, in all his prayers which are handed down to us, with one single exception, the cry from the cross: ‘

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15, 34; Matt. 27, 46); here the term of address for God was prescribed by the fact that Jesus was quoting Ps. 22, 1. Jesus thus spoke with God as a child speaks with his father, simply, intimately, securely. But his invocation of God as abba is not to be understood merely psychologically, as a step toward growing apprehension of God. Rather we learn from Matt. 11, 27 that Jesus himself viewed this form of address for God as the heart of that revelation which had been granted him by the Father. IN this term abba the ultimate mystery of his mission and his authority is expressed. He, to whom the Father had granted full knowledge of God, has the messianic prerogative of addressing him with the familiar address of a son. This term abba is an ipsissima vox of Jesus and contains in nuce his message and his claim to have been sent from the Father.”

That St. Josemaria Escriva was overcome in a profusion of spilling it forth on the street was the confirmation of what he saw on October 2, 1928 and heard on August 7 and October 16, 1931: that he was, son of God and another Christ and, on the trolley and in the street, the instantiation of the Kingdom of God insofar as he was “Christ Passing By.”

Notice in the founding of Opus Dei the this-worldly intensification of the Kingdom of God in history here and now. Historically, there has not been a lack of affirmation concerning the supernatural character of the Kingdom of God. But what has been lacking is that this supernatural Kingdom will come not only in parousia as an eschatological end term at the end of the completion of history, but must take place now. The goal is not to take place as an objective structure or “thing” as a politicized “Christendom,” but as the instantiation of a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Son of the living God into Whom each one of us is grafted as branch to vine. The Kingdom becomes a reality with each person staying in his/her place in the world and converting again and again into self gift in the exercise of work and family life, and thus become “another Christ.” This is the apostolic burden of Opus Dei and its secular “character.” And this is the burden of the first volume of Ratzinger-Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth.”

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