Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Mission of the Holy Spirit: Incarnate God - Divinize Man

The mission of the Spirit is not to do “great things” in the world, but to effect “the great work:” the Incarnation of God and the divinization of man. All else derives from this.

Like John the Baptist, we are driven to look for great religious achievements in the world as a result of Christ’s having come. If God has come among us as one of us, then that should become evident to the senses – we think - and we should be able to see the difference after 2000 years. Driven by the culture of sensation, positivism, objectification and success, we hanker after a kind of “theocracy” not totally unlike the religious culture of Islam. And so, the question: “Are you really he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Lk. 7, 19) “Are you really he: the Redeemer of the world? Are you really here now as the Redeemer? Was that all that God had to say to us?”[1]We search for a sensible and provable certainty to our measure and liking that we can hold in our hand and offer to any and all comers.

Of course, the response of Christ to John the Baptist was: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them, and blessed is he who is not scandalized in me” (Lk. 7, 22-23). Christ reveals the supernatural dimension of His “I” and the works that He performs. They are not sensible perceptions on the same level of experience as we would find “street signs and dollar bills.”[2] As the face of the risen Christ was sensibly perceived but not recognizable except by an interior conversion, so also these events could not be recognized for what they were except by a conversion to the relational. The supreme axiom of epistemology is, “like is known by like.” And so Benedict declares rather early on in his book: “The great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did He [Christ] bring? The answer is very simple: God!!

Hence, to see Christ for John – as for us now – consisted in going through conversion. He had “to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead of discovering God as we an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him by becoming like him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists.”[3]

The Leitmotif of Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” and the Whole of Benedict’s Mission as Pope

Benedict explicitates the above with “the great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?

“The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in Wisdom Literature – the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the nations of the earth.

“He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little.[4] Yes indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have al passed away. Their glory, their doxa, has proven to be a mere semblance. But the glory of Christ, the humble[5], self-sacrificing glory of his love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.[6]

This is the profile of the true eschatology. It fits with Benedict’s early remarks in his “What It Means to Be a Christian:”[7]

“Í believe the real temptation for someone who is a Christian, as we experience it today, does not just consist in the theoretical question of whether God exists; or even the question of whether he is three or one; or even the question of whether Christ is God and man in one person. What really torments us today, what bothers us much more is the inefficacy of Christianity: after two thousand years of Christian history, we can see nothing that might be a new reality in the world; rather, we find it sunk in the same old horrors, the same despair, and the same hopes as ever. And in our own lives, too, we inevitably experience time and again how Christian reality is powerless against all the other forces that influence us and make demands on us. And if, after all our labor and efforts to live on the basis of what is Christian, we draw up the final balance sheet, then often enough the feeling comes over us that the reality has been taken away from us, dissolved, and all that remains in t he end is just an appeal to the feeble light of our goodwill. And then in moments of discouragement like that, when we look back on the path we have traveled, the question forces its way into our minds: What is all this array of dogma and worship and Church, if at the end of it all we are still thrown back onto our own poor resources? That in turn brings us back again, in the end, to the question about the gospel of the Lord: What did he actually proclaim and bring among men?”[8]

We have the reality of the Incarnation of the God-man. He speaks of himself as the Kingdom in Person.[9] We expect the achievement of the Kingdom; and yet everything stays the same and continues as it always has: a discrepancy.

“Christian theology, which was very soon confronted by this discrepancy between expectation and fulfillment in the course of time turned the kingdom of God into a kingdom of heaven that is beyond this mortal life; the well-being of men became a salvation of souls, which again comes to pass beyond this life, after death. But theology did not thereby provide an answer. For what is sublime in this message is precisely that the Lord was talking not just about another life, not just about men’s souls, but was addressing the body, the whole man, in his embodied form, with his involvement in history and society; that he promised the kingdom of God to the man who lives bodily with other men in this history. As marvelous as the knowledge is that has been opened up for us by biblical scholarship in our century ( that is, that Christ was not just looking forward to another life, but was talking about real people), it can also disappoint and unsettle us when we look at real history, which is in truth no kingdom of God.”[10]

Answer: Christ lives. He is present in time and space, but as resurrected. He works even now. The question consists in whether we have faith and live it. That is the challenge. And it must be kept in mind: Revelation is the very Person of Jesus Christ as the action of self-gift. Faith is the action of the receiving subject who becomes “another Christ” by a reciprocating self-gift.. The result is the experience of “being another Christ” whereby there is a consciousness of Who Christ is. That consciousness is the mystical/contemplative life that is the meaning of “Tradition” and the “sensus fidelium.” The mission of the Spirit is to incarnate God in us which is our divinization. The prototype of this action of faith is our Lady. Everything else derives from this.

[1] J. Ratzinger, Dogma and Preaching Franciscan Herald Press (1985) 75-76.

[2] Ibid 76.

[3] Ibid 76.

[4] Here now is the problem that needs conversion for there to be a correct apologetic and restore the world to hope.

[5] Ibid 44.

[6] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Doubleday (2007) 44-45.

[7] J. Ratzinger, “What It Means to Be a Christian,” Ignatius (2006) 25-28

[8] Ibid 25-26.

[9] “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11,20).

[10] Ibid 28-29.

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