Saturday, May 29, 2010
Political oppression is not the only threat to freedom today. As a Bishop, Wojtyla discovered a "freedom based on truth, [which truth] frees man from what curtails, diminishes and as it were breaks off this freedom at its root, in man's soul, his heart and his conscience." (§12)
Friday, May 28, 2010
Indeed, in his work on Reconciliation and penance, John Paul said that one reason we have lost a sense of sin is that we approach personal existence by way of social science. There are "errors made in evaluating certain findings of the human sciences. Thus on the basis of certain affirmations of psychology, concern to avoid creating feelings of guilt or to place limits on freedom leads to a refusal ever to admit any shortcoming. Through an undue extrapolation of the criteria of the science of sociology, it finally happens that all failings are blamed upon society, and the individual is declared innocent of them. Again, a certain cultural anthropology so emphasizes the undeniable environmental and historical conditioning and influences which act upon man, that it reduces his responsibility to the point of not acknowledging his ability to perform truly human acts and therefore his ability to sin.” (§18) Freedom disappears; virtue is forgotten.
We must approach the person with fresh eyes, through a philosophy of personalism. And ultimately we must acknowledge the mystery of the person before God. When Pope John Paul II visited the Unites States in 1987 he made some remarks about the need to find a proper approach to understanding the human person. He expressed concern that the use of social science data alone leads to relativism. We need metaphysics and theology, he proclaimed.
"Today there exists an increasingly evident need for philosophical reflection concerning the truth about the human person. A metaphysical approach is needed as an antidote to intellectual and moral relativism. But what is required even more is fidelity to the word of God, to ensure that human progress takes into account the entire revealed truth of the eternal act of love in which the universe and especially the human person acquire ultimate meaning. The more one seeks to unravel the mystery of the human person, the more open one becomes to the mystery of transcendence. The more deeply one penetrates the divine mystery, the more one discovers the true greatness and dignity of human beings." (Sept 12, 1987 New Orleans, LA)
The relationship of faith and reason is not a simple one of imposition of theology upon the study of the person; nor do we simply reason from propositions of philosophy to affirmations about morality. We must re-discover the mystery of existence, and the dignity of the person. Faith is an aid in this journey, for the relationship of faith and reason is one of mutual influence and a spiral of self-discovery -- of discovering the divine through the human and the human through the divine. This approach must be kept in mind as we study Redeemer of Man.
"He must with his unrest, uncertainty and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death, draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into him with all his own self, he must 'appropriate' and assimilate the whole of the reality of the Incarnation and Redemption in order to find himself. If this profound process takes place within him, he then bears fruit not only of adoration of God but also of deep wonder at himself." (§10)
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The futility of creation may first appear to us as a malaise of spirit, concerning the fragility of life and the confusion or disappointment in the course of a single life, project, or community; and it can sharpen into a definite fear of harm, or general dread of death. Pope John Paul II describes the signs of crisis and probes the deeper causes. But he reaches the foundation with the idea from St. Paul concerning the futility of creation and he picks up a proper theological argument. Men have forgotten God. Christ returns us to God the father. John Paul puts it this way -- we are subject to futility because we have lost the link with "the original source of Wisdom and Love," namely God. In our actions and projects we are without wisdom and devoid of love. "As this link was broken in the man Adam, so in the man Christ it is reforged." (Rom. 5:12-21)
In the twentieth century the broken link with wisdom and love, the alienation from God and others, has become magnified because of the pace and the intensity of the projects of man. There is a very concrete point of reference for the rock bottom of futility, sin, and alienation. Its picture is show here, perhaps not recognizable, even though the roads or tracks of memory, especially for a Pole or a Jew, must return there to take stock of human existence. In Polish the place is called Oswiecim; in English, Auschwitz. It is the end of the line for man in his mastery of nature, now sweeping in all humans as potential objects; it is the end of the line for totalitarian rule and control; and it is the end of the line for ultimate degradation of the human in both prisoner and guard. Metaphorically, the tracks are still on the ground and box cars are still in service. Life without God is a life in hell.
In the Redeemer of Man, John Paul II does not directly reference it; but he speaks about the protection of rights against totalitarian degradation. One must read his homily (a link here) given three months after the publication of Redeemer of Man when he returned to his native Poland and spoke at the Brzezinka Concentration Camp.
"I have come to pray with all of you who have come here today and with the whole of Poland and the whole of Europe. Christ wishes that I who have become the Successor of Peter should give witness before the world to what constitutes the greatness and the misery of contemporary man, to what is his defeat and his victory. I have come and I kneel on this Golgotha of the modern world." (June 7, 1979)
At the very place where the human was destroyed in body and spirit, John Paul looks to Maximilian Mary Kolbe as a man who lived a life of service, a man who "reforged the link" with wisdom and love through faith. I can only ask you to read the homily. I cannot adequately summarize it; I am not in a position to even speak about this evil without glibness or unknowing -- but the Polish Pope could do so. I would also recommend the first chapter of Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtya: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,1997) in order to better understand the special role of Poland in the modern world of power, force and national identity.
At the very bottom then, the crisis is the age-old crisis of sin and redemption, but now intensified by the power unleashed in the last century. There is a two-fold progress of both good and evil in history. We need Christ to reforge the link to the goodness and wisdom of God, broken by Adam and all men. John Paul II ends section 8 by recalling Col. 1:15, Christ as the "image of the invisible God," who has "restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin." (Gaudium et spes §22).
So yes, we need the restoration of philosophy and political moderation, but first of all we need the restoration of our humanity from the grace of God. We need the redeemer of man. Then we can see the victory rising out defeat. Even here, "love is greater than sin, than weakness, than the 'futility of creation,' it is stronger than death." (§9) How often John Paul would repeat these lines throughout his pontificate. He would often look back to the life and deeds of Saint Maximilian Kolbe for testimony to the possibility of love: "The victory through faith and love was won by him in this place, which was built for the negation of faith—faith in God and faith in man—and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, of humanity."
Even in the Gulag did Solzhenitsyn's "Zek" discover the truth of the "ascent." (Part II, "The Ascent) At he end of the day, Ivan Denisovich discovers Alyoska and the true meaning of prayer in the Our Father.
The ascent is possible for us all, personally and communally; we do need to have taken a true sounding of the depth of the crisis of our times as have Wojtyla and Solzhenitsyn.
And now we move on to understand this summons of love. Pope John Paul devotes the central portion of his encyclical Redeemer of Man to the philosophical and theological exposition of personalism and its central notions of freedom and love.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The signs of crisis, namely the recoil and threat of technology, the totalitarian attempts to eradicate liberty, and the self-degradation of man, raise profound philosophical issues, not to mention complex economic and sociological questions. Some important philosophers read these signs of the time as a reason to raise the question of "modernity" or to re-visit the issue of ancients versus moderns.
The modern philosophers, and the modern revolutions that were stirred up in their wakes, appealed to liberty under one guise or another. Liberty of thought and conscience, political liberty and rights of man, economic liberty, real or concrete liberty through socialism. But now liberty seems at an impasse: liberty frustrated by the technological manipulation; liberty curtailed by social planning; liberty squandered and made trivial by consumerism; liberty reduced by scientific theory. So the philosophical issue could be - are human beings free and why does it matter? And politically, what is the value of liberty and why is it worth defending?
The questions in turn point to the debate between the ancients and moderns. For modern philosophy circles around the Cartesian dream of becoming "masters and owners of nature" through the new science and technology. The real purpose of human existence seemed to be pushed aside. The totalitarian temptation arose out a combination of Machiavellian expediency and a new psychology of mass man and the ardent pursuit of equality. And the self-degradation opened up as a possibility through Locke's reduction of political purpose to protection of property and the encouragement of wealth production.
Ancient philosophy held out the contemplative ideal in philosophy as an alternative to making and doing. Ancient political philosophy shunned tyranny most of all and held to its aristocratic bias and the pursuit of excellence. The life of virtue in one degree or another and friendship constituted the stuff of human flourishing all around. The re-discovery or recovery of these philosophical truths would now serve as a check on the unbounded pursuit of liberty and quest for mastery. For nestled in the ancient love of the good and noble we find a deeper liberty, however limited by conditions of scarcity and inequality.
Pope John Paul II shares to some extent in this "recovery of the ancient" or pre-modern tradition. But he does not stop there. He digs more relentlessly to the true depth of the crisis. As mentioned previously we must acknowledge how weak reason is, how ineffectual to really sustain a life of contemplation and virtue. Augustine teaches this lesson through his bitter self-discovery. Like Augustine, we must go beyond reason and listen to the apostle to the gentiles. Revelation yields the deepest account of the meaning of these signs of the times. In sections 8 and 9 of Redeemer of Man John Paul II cites Romans 8 on the "futility of creation." Let us end this blog with the suggestive application of the writing of St Paul to the present day:
"Are we of the twentieth century not convinced of the overpoweringly eloquent words of the Apostle of the Gentiles concerning the 'creation (that) has been groaning in travail together until now' and 'waits with eager longing for the revelation of the sons of God', the creation that 'was subjected to futility'? Does not the previously unknown immense progress-which has taken place especially in the course of this century-in the field of man's dominion over the world itself reveal-to a previously unknown degree-that manifold subjection 'to futility'?" Redeemer of Man §8
Let that question raised by St Paul rattle around and we shall pick it up tomorrow.
I have always admired the image above by Rembrandt found in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. The Apostle Paul. c. 1657. Oil on canvas. As a graduate student at CAtholic University I would go to the National Gallery and ponder this -- St. Paul meditates on the mystery beyond reason.
Monday, May 24, 2010
To understand the crisis of our time according to Pope John Paul II we must begin with the signs of our times -- those events and trends indicating a crisis. The signs are encountered in daily life and in the trends of history. These are a source for fear and anxiety for most people in the world today.
Here are some of the signs. The first is the expansion of technology throughout the world and into every aspect of life. John Paul is not the first to observe that the expansion of technology is ambivalent. (§15) It opens up possibilities for good and evil, it depends upon proper use of the technology. But we are now more aware of the potential dangers and threats to human well being from technology. At present we await the flow of an oil spill onto the Gulf coasts and the destruction of fishing, boating, wildlife preserves etc. Scientists have invented new medical technologies and new organic forms. For what purpose will these be used? There is the obvious threat of scientific weapons which have already been used to slaughter and maim thousands and millions of people. That is the first sign of the crisis of our time.
A second sign of a crisis is the rise of political violence and oppression on a vast scale. (§17) We saw totalitarianism on the right and the left, Nazism and Stalinism both used modern techniques of propaganda, social control, and violence to enslave entire peoples and classes. Those forms of political regime endure or emerge as possibilities only to be outdone now by political and religious terrorism organized on a global scale. The crisis consists not only in the actual threat of the modern ideologies of power and violence, but the turning of many individuals to the fanatical embrace of such creeds and the apparent failure of the regimes of liberty to give a coherent and persuasive account of their way of life.
A third sign of the crisis of our time is the widespread and sometimes novel forms of degradation of the human. Some of these forms are old – economic exploitation, forced prostitution etc; but the sheer volume and scope of the degradation is novel. The massive scale of the kidnapping and trafficking of thousands of women world wide, the starvation and genocide of peoples – matched by the apparent indifference and complicity of so many – it is a sign of a very deep and tragic crisis of our times. And then we can add the voluntary self-degradation of man – through drug and alcohol abuse, pornography and sexual addictions, consumerism and debt filled spending – all made possible by economic expansion, free time, and free choices.
These are palpable signs of evil and they indicate a deep disorder in social organization and personal life. We are so inundated with the signs of disorder and evil we can read about them daily, listen to well groomed and handsome TV personalities describe them and decry them -- and we continue to pour the milk on our cereal and adjust the air conditioner. What can we do?
Pope John Paul II proposes that we must establish in our own life and in society and the world the priority of ethics over technology, the respect for persons more than things, and a recognition of the superiority of spirit over matter. (§16) These three priorities hearken to philosophical inquiries going back to Socrates and the Apology. But why then are unheeded? Why is reason so weak and ineffectual? Is there a deeper origin of the crisis?
Previously we have taken a clue from Solzhenitsyn -- men have forgotten God. Pope John Paul II also believes the signs point to the turning from God. Solzhenitsyn works through the political signs of the times to arrive at this core truth. Pope John Paul II develops an experiential and phenomenological account of personal existence that arrives at this truth. And like Solzhenitsyn he sees signs and glimmers of hope. A tremendous responsibility falls upon the Church and the believer, and a distinct but weighty responsibility falls upon the political community and the citizen.
There is a message. There is a path. It begins with the Redeemer of Man. And the message is amplified and developed for the subsequent 26 years of John Paul's leadership. The path is "the way of man." It involves a proper understanding of conscience, education, rights. But at the heart of it all, it is the path of love. It is the path of Christ and the saints. It is the universal call to holiness and the sanctification of everyday life.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
We have begun some meditations upon Redemptor hominis, about Christ revealing "man to himself" and about the crisis of our time in the degradation of the image of man. To commemorate the Feast of Pentecost we should look to Pope John Paul II's encyclical on the Holy Spirit to appreciate the full scope of the nature and destiny of man as it is unfolded in Redemptor hominis. Christian life transforms human existence so that rationality and freedom open out to a higher goal. Thomas Aquinas states tersely, "Man was made to see God: to this end God made his creature rational, so that he could participate in his likeness, which consists in the vision of God." (De veritate q 18, a. 1,5) Pope John Paul II emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the reception of "image and likeness" to God:
"Man in his own humanity receives as a gift a special 'image and likeness' to God. This means not only rationality and freedom as constitutive properties of human nature, but also, from the very beginning, the capacity of having a personal relationship with God, as 'I' and 'you', and therefore the capacity of having a covenant, which will take place in God's salvific communication with man. Against the background of the 'image and likeness' of God, 'the gift of the Spirit' ultimately means a call to friendship, in which the transcendent 'depths of God' become in some way opened to participation on the part of man. The Second Vatican Council teaches: 'The invisible God out of the abundance of his love speaks to men as friends and lives among them, so that he may invite and take them into fellowship with himself.'" DOMINUM ET VIVIFICANTEM §34
The Incarnation of Christ made manifest this call from God to friendship with Him. He lived among us. The apostles were witness to his life, they became his friends. After his departure from this earth he promised the gift Holy Spirit so that we could continue to live with him. Cardinal Newman states: "He comes to us as Christ came, by a real and personal visitation . . . both in the Church and in the souls of individual Christians." (The Indwelling Spirit) Newman says that by the Holy Spirit we are regenerated and we can receive back "a portion of that freedom in willing and doing, of that uprightness and innocence, in which Adam was created." Indeed, he says further "It is plain that such an inhabitation brings the Christian into a state altogether new and marvelous, far above the possession of mere gifts, exalts him inconceivably in the scale of beings, and gives him a place and an office which he had not before. In St. Peter's forcible language, he becomes 'partaker of the Divine Nature,' and has 'power' or authority, as St. John says, 'to become the son of God.'"
Newman's idea of our being "exalted inconceivably in the scale of beings" helps us understand why Pope John Paul II started his pontificate with Redemptor hominis. It is part of his "peering into the Gospel" and seeing the beauty of redemption. This gift of the Spirit comes to us with Baptism. Yet we do not begin to live up to our new found "place and office" as a son or daughter of God. That is why we need the witness of the saints. They make manifest in every age the personal visitation of the Spirit and the effects of this visitation; the dramatic signs of their sanctity should not mislead us into thinking that they did not cooperate with God through the normal means offered by the Church for sanctification. The became holy though the same sacraments given to us. But still, the drama can often startle us into greater devotion. So I come to the case of St. Philip Neri whose Feast we celebrate on Wednesday, May 26. To ready ourselves for celebrating his Feast day, it may be helpful to recall his special connection to Pentecost.
As a young man he spent hours in prayer beseeching the Holy Spirit to grant him gifts to know and love God. Once on the Eve of the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered into Philip's being as a ball of fire which knocked him down and enlarged his heart. The fire in his heart persisted through his life. Fr Bouyer in his short book, Roman Socrates, (find it here) explains it this way:
"This astonishingly human saint was saturated in the supernatural; this Florentine, while being truly a man of his times, seems to have stepped out of the Acts of the Apostles. Even the fire of Pentecost was for him a personal experience as we shall explain; certainly his astonishing serenity in the midst of the world can only be explained in the last analysis by the interior presence of an inextinguishable flame. This experience of the Holy Spirit's presence in his soul remains profoundly mysterious; it seems to have overflowed from his soul upon his body, foreshadowing the promised transfiguration of the resurrection. The heavenly fire seems, moreover, to have made itself felt through his heart to the extent of producing an inexplicable yet perceptible heat, while the marks of its presence remained within his breast, for it was revealed by the autopsy that the violent action of the heart had displaced two ribs. He described the experience briefly, on the eve of his death, to Consolirmi; it seems that about the year 1544, while praying in the catacombs, he had the vision of a ball of fire which entered his mouth and settled in his heart."
I found a fuller account in a book I picked up at a used bookstore in Dublin for 50p, The Life of Philip Neri, by Mrs. Hope (Burns and Oates, 1891):
"Throughout his whole life Philip had a special devotion to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. As a layman, he was in the habit of praying daily for the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit; and when he came to be a priest, he never omitted to use the collect beginning with, 'Deus cui omne cor patet,' whenever he could. In the year 1544, shortly before Pentecost, he was in the usual catacomb, praying with more than ordinary fervour to be filled with the Holy Spirit, when suddenly there appeared to him a luminous sphere, like a globe of fire, which, entering his lips, passed into his breast. At the same moment he felt within him a flame of rapturous love. . . . he threw himself to the ground and tore open his dress. After a time . . . he arose , when an unusual joy thrilled through his soul, and at the same time his whole body was agitated by a strange palpitation; and as he placed his hand on his side just over his heart, he felt it was swollen, though it did not give him the slightest pain." (p. 12)
At the end of her book, Mrs. Hope reported that, after he died, "the body was opened in te presence of the first physicians of Rome; and then was seen, what has already been told, that the swelling which had existed since the day when he had so miraculously received the Holy Spirit, was caused by two of the ribs over the heart being broken and elevated in the form of an arch. It was no small subject of wonder to the physicians that the ribs should never have reunited, and that he should have lived thus for fifty years without suffering any pain; and . . . they affirmed . . . under oath, that the case was supernatural and miraculous." (pp. 198-199)
Fr. Bouyer points out that Cardinal Newman's Litany to St Philip has a reference to this experience: In the Litany composed in his honor by Newman we find an invocation which sums up everything, "Cor flammigerum, ora pro nobis!" [Fiery Heart, Pray for Us!]
We must not pray for sensible manifestations or consolations, of course. But like Philip, do we pray every day for the grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Do we take to heart the Letter of James: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him." (1:5) And "Every good endowment and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of Lights." (1:17)
In speaking of lay apostolate, the Council Fathers said: "each one has received suitable talents and these should be cultivated, as should also the personal gifts he has received from the Holy Spirit." (Lay Apostolate §4)
Friday, May 21, 2010
He turns to the situation of "concrete man" to see the obstacles to good human living and to see the challenges which we face to live a life in keeping with human dignity and vocation.
In some respect we have lost the notion of a "crisis of our time." Every day has become a crisis mode for the news cycles. And in fact, there are continual crises that bring uncertainty and fear into our lives -- economic, political, educational, social. We are so inundated with the crisis mentality, we can barely think of an enduring crisis or "the crisis" of our times of which some classic authors would speak. But there is a crisis under the "crises." Pope John Paul II will track a number of issues that persistently cause concern and alarm in the modern world. And he will track them to some basic principles -- and discover a fundamental issue of a spiritual nature. Much like C. S. Lewis in Abolition of Man, John Paul will confront the fundamental challenges to human beings.
To begin with, he poses a series of questions already "being asked with greater or lesser explicitness by the thousands of millions of people living in the world today."
"Do all the conquests attained until now and those projected for the future for technology accord with man's moral and spiritual progress? In this context is man, as man, developing and progressing or is he regressing and being degraded in his humanity? In men and 'in man's world', which in itself is a world of moral good and evil, does good prevail over evil? In men and among men is there a growth of social love, of respect for the rights of others-for every man, nation and people-or on the contrary is there an increase of various degrees of selfishness, exaggerated nationalism instead of authentic love of country, and also the propensity to dominate others beyond the limits of one's legitimate rights and merits and the propensity to exploit the whole of material progress and that in the technology of production for the exclusive purpose of dominating others or of favoring this or that imperialism?" Redemptor hominis §15
Thursday, May 20, 2010
The Redeemer of Man, the first encyclical, follows the way of faith and reason; but faith must take a priority in the opening of the theme and the ultimate resolution. But reason in its turn will be needed to highlight the crisis of our time and provide the analysis of the human person that leads back to faith. As John Paul said in Fides et ratio -- "each without the other is impoverished and enfeebled. Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. " §48
The central motif is "Redeemer." For this term to be more than a sentimental term, we must understand the central claims of Christianity upon which the Church is built and about which the Pope fashions his message for the modern age. The facts upon which we must begin are the Incarnation and the Passion of Jesus Christ. Man is redeemed because of the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ. Now the Pope would have us enter the mystery of redemption through faith, of course, but he will take us back to the human condition and the historical situation so that we may grasp the full significance and meaning of our redemption.
I should like to step back further and borrow from Newman to understand the notion of fact that grounds the Church's approach to man and the world.
In his work, Difficulties of Anglicans (1850) Newman discusses how the liturgy and external trappings of Catholic faith protect a mystery; not only this, he says, "they [also] defend a dogma; they represent an idea; they preach good tidings; they are the channels of grace. They are the outward shape of an inward reality or fact, which no Catholic doubts, which is assumed as a first principle, which is not an inference of reason, but the object of a spiritual sense. Herein is the strength of the Church . . . . She professes to be built upon facts, not opinions; on objective truths, not on variable sentiments; on immemorial testimony, not on private judgment; on convictions or perceptions, not on conclusions."
John Paul II says that the the mystery of redemption is the sphere in which the Church dwells; it is "the principle of her life and mission." (§7) He agrees with Newman here, faith provides a "principle." So he rightly will focus on Christ -- his intellect, will and heart -- and "follow him" dwelling on his words and the details of his life. But herewith is the great discovery -- Christ as man "reveals man to himself." (§8) As mentioned in the previous blog we have here the touchstone of Wojtyla's thought and the key to the Vatican Council, found in §22 of Gaudium et spes. Friends, copy this out, refer to it frequently, commit it to heart: "Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. . . . Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (§22)
Peering into the Gospel we discover our Redeemer, and we discover our true and better self. In an age of despair, with its on-going "self-belittlement of man" (as Nietszche said in his Genealogy of Morals) and its secret self-accusation of worthlessness, Christ restores the true image of man and dignifies human life. Each human life bears this dignity. For we read in GS §22 the simple but moving passage that he, Christ, "worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, loved with a human heart." He did all things well, and we can enter into his way, and strive to live his teaching, the beatitudes. This, namely Incarnation, is true redemption. And there is more.
Jesus Christ lived from a mysterious depth of love, in relationship to his Father (Abba); he reconciled his brothers and sisters with the Father, after human beings had abandoned and spurned him. (Redemptor §9) In the words and life of Jesus we see the truth of sonship set against the lies told about the Father as tyrant. Yes, peering into the Gospel of Christ we see the liberating truth that "God is love." Love is greater than sin, love is greater than weakness, love is stronger than death. The passion and death and resurrection of Christ tells it all, this triumph of love. It cannot fail to stir a hope beyond hope, if we but look, if we but peer into that book, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The love and enthusiasm for Jesus reverberates throughout ones whole being, when one learns of the unbounded love of the Father "always ready to raise up and forgive, always ready to go to meet the prodigal son." (§9) Oh, but peer into the Gospel, into that mystery as did Rembrandt, Tolstoy, Bach, Gorecki, Herbert, Shakespeare, Rouault and Dante -- there are songs in there, and brilliant light and colors; there are stories that ring so true; there is a way and a life. But peer in and you shall behold the truth of Wojtyla's primary fact: "Christ fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear."
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Kenneth D. Whitehead has recently published an excellent book about Vatican II entitled The Renewed Church: The Second Vatican Council's Enduring Teaching about the Church (Sapientia Press, 2010). (amazon link) Mr. Whitehead has produced a number of excellent books on the Church and he has edited the proceedings of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars for years. He served as Assistant Secretary of Education under Bill Bennett. I will disclose that he is a friend of mine and I have the deepest admiration for his quiet and steady work. He shared with me the story that he came to be a Catholic (from a Morman background) after he read E. Gilson's L'esprit de la philosophie medievale (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, one of my top ten books) during his graduate studies in France.
His books on Vatican II, culminating with this one, provide a much needed balance of critical examination with a willingness to listen, and a balance of looking at the interminable and political debates during the Council with a grasp of the significance of the Council and its documents as whole. There are many valuable details, insights, judgments, and arguments in this book. I may return to them for later blogs. I would like to focus on Mr. Whitehead's account of Cardinal Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II's involvement with Gaudium et Spes and his subsequent use of the document during his pontificate.
Whitehead notes that of all the misunderstandings of the Council, the misunderstanding of Gaudium et spes ranks high on the list. The fiasco of the "call to Action" in Detroit 1976 is the prime example of where things went wrong. He looks instead to the legacy of Pope John Paul II. He summarizes John Paul's two favorite passages from Gaudium et spes: §22 and §24: "The dual teaching that the mystery of man can be understood only in the light of the mystery of Christ and that man is the only creature created by God for its own sake." (174) The chapter of The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes) is the best I have yet seen in getting things right about the council and this document.
Of interest is a quotation he discovered by Pope John Paul II in which he admitted the great debt he owed to this document for the major themes of his pontificate. "It is precisely my intimate knowledge of the origin of Gaudium et spes that has enable me to appreciate its prophetic value and to make wide use of its content in my magisterium, starting with my first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis." (169)
As a way into the thought of Pope John Paul II, I always take this approach. Begin by reading Gaudium et spes, and then read Redemptor hominis. Focus on section 22 of GS and see how that theme provides the backbone for his reflections on the crisis of our time and the Christian response.
Monday, May 17, 2010
In my last post I quoted from Newman's sermon on the Ascension -- "It is enough that our Redeemer liveth; that he has been on earth and will come again. On Him we venture our all!"
At the left I stand in the pulpit at St. Mary the Virgin Church where Blessed John Cardinal Newman spoke these words and delivered his many powerful Plain and Parochial Sermons. The sexton of the Church was a former RAF pilot who allowed a professor from the US Air Force Academy to scramble up in the pulpit for a photo. It was part of a Newman pilgrimage in Oxford I took one spring with Peter Hodgson of Corpus Christi College during my sabbatical at St. Andrews in 2001.
That spring of 2001 I spent much time reading Newman's sermons, and I continue to read them whenever I get an opportunity. Each one is like a finely crafted stained glass window through which the light of faith shines out so colorfully, so intricately, so mysteriously. To read the Plain and Parochial Sermons is to wander through a magnificent Cathedral of the Christian heart and mind beholding a manifold of stain glass and icons of the faith. Newman’s “Ventures of Faith” is one of his very best and continues to stir the faithful to this day. Read it here.
Faith is often invoked as a by line for a Catholic university. Faith is a constant theme in recent documents on Catholic education such as Ex corde and finds its best expression in Fides et ratio. But I say after reading Newman that the invocation of faith must go beyond the glossy brochures and ceremonial speeches. Faith -- the very term should rouse up in all the faculty and students of a great Catholic university the joy of the Ascension and the sublime mandate of the mission.
Newman helps us to see the deeper reason why faith should be a watch word for the Catholic university. It is primarily about an interior disposition -- faith is a virtue as much or perhaps more than it is a matter of doctrine and propositions. It is a response to the mystery of God's revelation. Without getting into technical detail about the virtue of faith, I shall rely upon Newman’s great insight that “in this consists the excellence and nobleness of faith; this is the very reason why faith is singled out from other graces, and honoured as the especial means of our justification, because its presence implies that we have the heart to make a venture.”
And it is a supernatural virtue, yes, for Newman has in mind the fundamental “venture” for heaven. Now I see why he mentions "ventures" at the end of the sermon on the Ascension. The very term "venture" has many analogies in the secular and natural sphere, of which Newman does well to remind us. Venture, by the very meaning of the word, has no guarantee of success. Newman says “that is a strange venture which has nothing in it of fear, risk, danger, anxiety, uncertainty.” Newman lived at the time of the great Victorian expansion of England across the entire globe. England was a huge venture for the empire, an empire by treaty perhaps, but a massive and daring enterprise. These ventures were for power and profit, so where are the ventures for faith, Newman queries.
Newman invokes as a model, the father of faith, Abraham, who "’went out, not knowing whither he went.’ He and the rest died ‘not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.’”
We can see the venture of faith in the apostles, the great saints, the missionaries. We can see the venture of faith in the Basilian Fathers who founded our university, after a sojourn from France, to Canada, Detroit and Texas. The Pope John Paul II Forum is a venture for faith. Think of Pope John Paul II's great ventures for faith. I hope by this Forum to join his venture and invite you readers to be a part of it. I am grateful to Mr. Strake for assisting in the venture.
I hope that Newman’s challenge rings in your heart. We do not want to be part of what Newman calls “this sad infirmity of men, called Christians," who venture nothing. So he challenges us -- "who does not at once admit that faith consists in venturing on Christ's word without seeing? Yet in spite of this, may it not be seriously questioned, whether men in general, even those of the better sort, venture any thing upon His truth at all?”
What have we ventured for the kingdom? Somewhat like the Victorian England of Newman's day, we see so much energy, money, commitment go into worldly ventures, many good and right activities, buildings, programs for the city of man. But all the more does that highlight our need as Christians to venture for faith, for heaven.
We cannot doubt, says Newman, that the ventures of the Lord’s servants “must be returned to them at the Last Day with abundant increase.”
Sunday, May 16, 2010
"Why are you looking up to heaven?" (Acts 1:10-11) "They returned with great joy and were continually in the Temple blessing God. "(Luke 24:52-53)
The Ascension has a special role in Christian life. It marks the last time the apostles saw Jesus on earth. Often our last visits with people are surrounded by uncertainty or sadness, but we still cherish the memory of the last visit. For example, I last saw my father at Dulles Airport as he went off to war and never returned. I have an aging photograph of my younger brother and I standing with him at the gate prior to his boarding. But Our Lord's departure did not involve uncertainty or death, but rather it was explained from the time of the last supper to the post-resurrection discourses. And the disciples left that place outside of Bethany with great joy. The gathered in prayer waiting to take on the world, indeed Christians embody in the deepest sense the phrase "contra mundum."
Thomas Aquinas in his Short Catechism has a beautiful and succinct account of the Ascension, articulating the certainty of doctrine about the Lord's departure. In the edition made available by Sophia Institute Press (ISBN 1-928832105), Ralph McInerny wrote the forward and pointed out "the sermons are remarkable for their clarity, their depth, their holiness, and wealth of scriptural quotations." They were preached during the last year of his life (1273).
Thomas Aquinas explains the Ascension with three main points, each of which gets three points of exposition. His three main points are: (1) Christ's Ascension was sublime; (2) it was reasonable; (3) it was profitable. In the first point, Aquinas explains how it is our Lord is "in the heavens." It is sublime, because its meaning goes beyond whatever limited scientific accounts we may have about the structure of the cosmos. Wherever, however, God dwells, it is a mystery beyond our ken. It is reasonable, primarily because of Lord's merit. For this blog, I would like to go over his elaboration for the third point - why Christ's Ascension is profitable. There are three aspects to this account:
A. He is our Leader, so he shows us the way: "I go to prepare a place for you." (Jn 14:8)
B. To increase our confidence in Him: He will now intercede for us (Heb. 7:25 and 1 Jn 2:1)
C. "To draw our hearts to Him: where your treasure is, there also is thy heart" (Matt. 6:21; see also Col. 3:1-2)
Each one of these points is worth pondering -- for the certitude of faith and for the joy which each should inspire in us. No wonder the apostles left and headed back for Jerusalem "with great joy." He is preparing a place for us. He is with the Father and interceding on our behalf! And our longing for the supreme good, the true treasure, grows daily.
Cardinal Newman in the second set of Parochial Sermons writes about the Ascension on "Mysteries in Religion" (click here)
He also speaks about the Ascension of Our Lord being "sublime" and argues that the event must remain shrouded in a mystery and serve as an incentive to "wonder and awe, humility, implicit faith and adoration." He says that science is here not adequate to the task of plumbing the sublimity of the scripture concerning our Lord's departure and return "from the clouds on high." "Attempt to solve this prediction, according to the received theories of science, and you will discover their shallowness. They are unequal to the depth of the problem." Rather we must understand the truth to be a Mystery, a "Truth Sacramental" or a "high invisible grace lodged in an outward form, a precious possession to be piously and thankfully guarded." Hence, the apostles returned to the Temple and blessed God continually. The nub of the truth is the same one Aquinas stresses -- it is expedient that the Lord departs, so as to be our advocate in heaven. "Christ went to intercede with the Father." That is the simple truth.
Newman concludes: "We are in a world of mystery, with one bright light before us, sufficient for proceeding forward through all difficulties. Take away this light, and we are utterly wretched, -- we know not where we are, how we are sustained, what will become of us, and of all that is dear to us, what we are to believe, and why we are in being." But with it, he says, "we have all and abound." I take Newman to be saying that, in a way, the Ascension is the focal point of our Christian life -- for "It is enough that our Redeemer liveth; that he has been on earth and will come again. On Him we venture our all . . . ."
For Newman, a venture for God is the sign of a living faith. In a future blog I will discuss Newman's sermon on the venture of faith (it is one of his very best).
So today let's make resolutions to venture our lives, fortunes and honor for Jesus Christ. Between Easter and Pentecost, this day marks a literal high point of the apostolic experience, and a high point for our experience as the faithful believers who desire to be apostolic. No fading photograph, but a living memory, a high expectation, and a present advocate in Heaven. In all things, friends, "Cum Gaudio Magno."
Saturday, May 15, 2010
George Foreman was the commencement speaker for the graduation ceremonies at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. Yes, the boxer and businessman, George Foreman. Well, he is from Houston, a successful businessman, and a preacher. And, of course, he was two time world heavy weight champion and 1968 Olympian gold medalist.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Through the Church's consciousness, which the Council considerably developed, through all the fields of activity in which the Church expresses, finds and confirms herself, we must constantly aim at Him "who is the head," (Eph 1:10, 22; 4:25; Col. 1:18) through whom are all things and through whom we exist," (1 Cor. 8:6; cf. Col. 1:17) who is both "the way, and the truth" (Jn 14:6) and " the resurrection and the life," (Jn 11:25) seeing whom, we see the Father (Jn 14:9), and who had to go away from us (Jn 16:7) - that is, by His death on the cross and then by His ascension into heaven - in order that the Counsellor should come to us and should keep coming to us as the Spirit of truth. (Jn 16:7, 13) In Him are "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," (Col 2:3) and the Church is His Body. (Rom. 12:5: 1 Cor. 6:15, 10:17; 12:12, 27; Eph. 1:23; 2:16: 4:4; Col. 1:24; 3:15) "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign and means of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind," (Lumen Gentium §1) and the source of this is He, He Himself, He the Redeemer. From The Redeemer of Man §7
Thursday, May 13, 2010
"If I am not dead, it is thanks to God's mercy," said Pope John Paul II. According to Cardinal Bertone and Giuseppe de Carli, The Last Secret of Fatima, John Paul II was so close to death after the shooting in St Peter's that a death certificate could have been issued. He suffered cardiac arrest; sixty six centimeters of intestine were perforated; much blood was lost. Thank God Professor Crucitti happened to return to the Gemilli Hospital and undertook the four hour surgery that restored John Paul's life.
The Pope was convinced that Mary had saved his life. (75) He applied the "third secret of Fatima" to himself. I share it with you, taken from a Vatican website which you should visit:
"After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God."
While still in the hospital John Paul II said: "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path and in his throes the pope halted at the threshold of death." Cardinal Bertone comments: "Wojtyla's Marian piety becomes Christocentric. It becomes the very suffering of Christ on the cross." (49)
And he elaborated as follows: "Sister Lucia had reinforced his conviction of having been called to a mission of suffering. Wasn't his greatest encyclical on the mystery of suffering? Although he didn't die, in some sense he experienced death, because day after day he offered his life for the good of the Church. In a way, he did undergo a daily death on account of the shooting. In all likelihood, even the Parkinson's was a result of the assassination attempt. It also left Wojtyla feeling even more closely connected with Our Lady of Fatima. He had the bullet set inside Our Lady's crown in the Cova da Iria." (69)
The Legacy of Pope John Paul II, the reason for the being of this Pope John Paul II Forum, is a legacy of love of Mary, the mother of God. There is a simple reason for love of Mary according to John Paul II-- "The story of every human being is written first of all in the heart of his own mother. No wonder, then, that the same thing was true of the earthly life-story of the Son of God."
And Pope Benedict XVI said: "we remember . . . [John Paul II] on his knees, his rosary beads in hands, immersed in the contemplation of Christ as he himself invited us to do in his apostolic letter on the rosary." (found here)
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Pope John Paul II argued that we must understand the human condition in light of these mysteries of sin and piety. We must see how human beings suffer an attraction towards these two poles of existence, essentially religious in terms. "The terms or poles of contrast are, on man's part, his limitation and sinfulness, which are essential elements of his psychological and ethical reality; and on God's part, the mystery of the gift, that unceasing self-giving of divine life in the Holy Spirit. Who will win? The one who welcomes the gift." §55
Pope John Paul II’s takes the phrase “mysterium iniquitatis” from St. Paul concerning the mystery of sin (2 Thess 2.7). The text from St. Paul is an obscure reference to a man of rebellion who will brought under judgment at the end of time. John Paul claims to “echo” this phrase to signify “the obscure and intangible element hidden in sin.” Although a function of human freedom, sin touches on a something “beyond the merely human, in the border area where man's conscience, will and sensitivity are in contact with the dark forces.” It is precisely the depth of evil and death that modern culture in its progressive and ideological aspects refuses to face; we refuse to face the shuddering depth of our own complicity and capacity with evil. We need the Spirit of Truth to "convince us of sin" in this depth.
As for the "mysterium pietatis," John Paul gets this term from a passage in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, 3.15 ff. As if to emphasize the profound mission of the Church, the bulwark of truth, St. Paul exclaims “Great is the mystery of our religion.” So what is the mystery of piety? Piety is the latin term for a basic gratitude to parents and country, and it is extended to mean gratitude and right relationship towards God. It is part of what we call “religion” or the binding of the self to God. The Greek term is eusebia – it means to be well disposed towards something, with proper respect and awe; hence again it could mean religion. St Paul does not leave us in suspense – he says that Christ himself is the mystery of our religion – and he repeats a hymn to Christ -- whereby:
· He was made manifest in the reality of human flesh and was constituted by the Holy Spirit as the Just One who offers himself for the unjust.
· He appeared to the angels, having been made greater than them, and he was preached to the nations as the bearer of salvation.
· He was believed in, in the world, as the one sent by the Father, and by the same Father assumed into heaven as Lord.
The mystery of Piety is essentially the "righteousness" of Christ about which the Holy Spirit is led to testify and convince us. It is the mystery of his redemption of mankind through the cross and resurrection. It is the continued mystery of his presence in word and sacrament -- "Mysterium fidei." The idea of mystery invites response and participation. We cannot be neutral observers; the mystery of our religion is greater than a “historical Jesus”. We must look upon him whom we have pierced. We are not mere passive recipients of this grace, legal imputation fails utterly to capture the “mystery of our religion.” The Christian becomes what he loves -- John Paul said "the Christian accepts the mystery, contemplates it and draws from it the spiritual strength necessary for living according to the Gospel."
The Holy Spirit will convince us about sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16.8-11). These convictions, if you will, define the mission of the Church in the world. In Augustinian mode, John Paul said"The Church constantly lifts up her prayer and renders her service in order that the history of consciences and the history of societies in the great human family will not descend towards the pole of sin, by the rejection of God's commandments 'to the point of contempt of God,' but rather will rise towards the love in which the Spirit that gives life is revealed. Those who let themselves be 'convinced concerning sin' by the Holy Spirit, also allow themselves to be convinced 'concerning righteousness and judgment.'" §48
In his earlier work on Reconciliation and Penance, Pope John Paul II also used the polarity of "mystery of sin" and "mystery of piety." As we read above, "who will win? The one who accepts the gift." In this previous work, Pope John Paul II said that the Mystery of Piety “penetrates to the roots our iniquity” and “evokes in the soul a movement of conversion.”
Secularism remains confidently on the surface of life and imagines a flattened human existence. The abyss opens and widens ominously on the edges of society, in the secrets of the heart, and when lawlessness prevails. The "mysterium iniquitatis" emerges right before our eyes and continually looms up under our denials. The previous century was the era of unprecedented evil and the demons rode as high as the sky. And yet secularism still trumpets it false notes throughout the West. "And though the last lights off the black West went" . . . "the Holy Ghost over the bent /World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings."
Pope John Paul II would ask us -- do we accept the gift? "the mystery of the gift, that unceasing self-giving of divine life in the Holy Spirit. Who will win? The one who welcomes the gift."
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Pope John Paul II chooses these stark and enigmatic words for the focus of meditation in the central section of his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, mentioned yesterday. He explains the meaning of the terms in their juxtaposition, and he shows their meaning for the Church in the modern world. It is a very insightful and gripping account. I will attempt but a brief summary.
Why must the Spirit convince the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment? John Paul pairs the phrases "sin and righteousness" and sets them off from judgment. He said: "Convincing about sin and righteousness has as its purpose the salvation of the world, the salvation of men. Precisely this truth seems to be emphasized by the assertion that 'judgment' concerns only the 'prince of this world,' Satan, the one who from the beginning has been exploiting the work of creation against salvation, against the covenant and the union of man with God: he is 'already judged' from the start. If the Spirit-Counsellor is to convince the world precisely concerning judgment, it is in order to continue in the world the salvific work of Christ." §27 In other words, the judgment of the Prince of the World frees us from his reign; but we must be convinced about sin and righteousness, that is, about the paschal mystery of the sin of the crucifixion and the righteousness of the resurrection.
Pope John Paul II claims that this is the teaching of Gaudium et spes, in the very opening, section 2. "The Council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which that family lives. It gazes upon the world which is the theater of man's history, and carries the marks of his energies, his tragedies, and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ. He was crucified and rose again to break the stranglehold of personified Evil, so that this world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment." Yes, there it is in the bold phrase -- sin (they crucified the Lord), righteousness (he rose!), judgment (the Prince of this world is cast out). John Paul II said that the council Fathers (including himself) spoke frequently with the "realism of faith" to show the "situation of sin" in the modern world (Gaudium et spes §§10, 13, 27, 37, 63, 73, 79, 80).
Why then does the Spirit convince the world of sin and righteousness? John Paul said: "every sin wherever and whenever committed has a reference to the Cross of Christ--and therefore indirectly also to the sin of those who 'have not believed in him,' and who condemned Jesus Christ to death on the Cross." §31 My sins, and your sins, my friend, all refer to the Cross of Christ. And our consciences should be roused and convicted. My anger, my pride, my greed, my lust -- all would lead to such violence. How could I abide such truth and such purity? Away with him. I would choose Barabbas, for that conniving rebel suits my style. So do I (we) stand condemned? No exactly, not in the full mystery of Easter and Pentecost. This reference to the Paschal mystery "is a 'convincing' that has its purpose not merely the accusation of the world and still less its 'condemnation' but its salvation." The Spirit leads us to conversion. Indeed, I grieve and repent when I see what we have done. "Conversion requires convincing of sin; it includes the interior judgment of the conscience, and this, being a proof of the action of the Spirit of truth in man's inmost being, becomes at the same time a new beginning of the bestowal of grace and love: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' Thus in this 'convincing concerning sin' we discover a double gift: the gift of the truth of conscience and the gift of the certainty of redemption." §31
It sounds complex; and perhaps it is. But there is a simple logic of liberation we see on the cross; the Paschal Mystery is an "intelligible mystery" that Pope John Paul II uncovers for us; I have never so clearly understood the link between the paschal mystery and the Feast of Pentecost as I have in reading Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit. I knew -- one comes after the other; Jesus said he had to return to the Father to send us this the Spirit. But why? Sin, Righteousness and Judgment.
The Spirit of Truth brings a "double gift" -- the truth of conscience and certainty of redemption. The double gift should be the personal center for renewal of our life and and our work and our institutions. Truth of conscience. Certainty of redemption. Now I ask you, can a university that calls itself Catholic dispense with the gift of God and live as if it were not given? Well then. Truth of conscience should be near the center of its teaching and student life; and certainty of redemption, the bright jewel of its curriculum!
The intelligible mystery is probed more deeply and made available to the faithful by Pope John Paul II's comparison and contrast of the "Mystery of Iniquity" and the "Mystery of Piety." For the next day, further ruminations of a layman who loves John Paul II.
Monday, May 10, 2010
In an earlier blog we discussed the core problem of secularism, the rejection of God and the diminishment of man, as explained by Benedict XV and Solzhenitysn. Pope John Paul II identifies this same rejection of God as the core of our woes today. In the gospel reading today Jesus speaks about sending the “Spirit of truth” – “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me” (Jn 15.26). In 1986 Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical on The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et vivificantem). It is a very rich and challenging document. John Paul II developed at some length the role of the Spirit in teaching human beings about the reality of sin. He said “the Council has made the Spirit newly ‘present’ in our difficult age. In the light of this conviction one grasps more clearly the great importance of all the initiatives aimed at implementing the Second Vatican Council, its teaching and its pastoral and ecumenical thrust. . . . [The] work being done by the Church for the testing and bringing together of the salvific fruits of the Spirit bestowed in the Council is something indispensable. For this purpose one must learn how to ‘discern’ them carefully from everything that may instead come originally from the ‘prince of this world’. This discernment in implementing the Council's work is especially necessary in view of the fact that the Council opened itself widely to the contemporary world, as is clearly seen from the important Conciliar Constitutions Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium.” §26
Pope John Paul II helped us to find our way through the post-conciliar age through his articulation of standards for careful discernment. As we sadly know, many jumped on a secular band-wagon or got caught up with the spirit of the age – to their own self-destruction or subversion of faith. Higher education was especially prone to the spirit of the age. What is the standard or test for discernment in the post-Vatican II era? It is to maintain a proper sense of religion, of man's relationship to God. The core of sin is the rejection of God as a reality in the world.
“The analysis of sin in its original dimension indicates that, through the influence of the ‘father of lies,’ throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating him: ‘Love of self to the point of contempt for God,’ as Saint Augustine puts it. Man will be inclined to see in God primarily a limitation of himself, and not the source of his own freedom and the fullness of good. We see this confirmed in the modern age, when the atheistic ideologies seek to root out religion on the grounds that religion causes the radical ‘alienation’ of man, as if man were dispossessed of his own humanity when, accepting the idea of God, he attributes to God what belongs to man, and exclusively to man! Hence a process of thought and historico-sociological practice in which the rejection of God has reached the point of declaring his ‘death.’ An absurdity, both in concept and expression! But the ideology of the ‘death of God’ is more a threat to man, as the Second Vatican Council indicates when it analyzes the question of the ‘independence of earthly affairs’ and writes: ‘For without the Creator the creature would disappear... when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.’ The ideology of the death of God easily demonstrates in its effects that on the ‘theoretical and practical’ levels it is the ideology of the ‘death of man.’ §38
If we back up we find that there is a denial of a fundamental truth at the core which Pope John Paul II calls an “anti-word” and sounds surprisingly similar to the ideology of most universities today:
“Here we find ourselves at the very center of what could be called the ‘anti-Word,’ that is to say ‘the anti-truth.’ For the truth about man becomes falsified: who man is and what are the impassable limits of his being and freedom. This ‘anti-truth’ is possible because at the same time there is a complete falsification of the truth about who God is. God the Creator is placed in a state of suspicion, indeed of accusation, in the mind of the creature. For the first time in human history there appears the perverse 'genius of suspicion.' He seeks to ‘falsify’ Good itself, the absolute Good, which precisely in the work of creation has manifested itself as the Good which gives in an inexpressible way: as creative love. Who can completely ‘convince concerning sin,’ or concerning this motivation of man's original disobedience, except the one who alone is the gift and the source of all giving of gifts, except the Spirit, who ‘searches the depths of God’ and is the love of the Father and the Son.” §37
Pope John Paul II named the demons that ravished Catholic higher education, including philosophy and theology -- a hermeneutic of suspicion, deconstruction, and a secularism that simply ignored the truth of God.
On Pentecost we must pray for the renewal of Catholic higher education, that its professors and administrators be permeated by the Spirit of truth and be convinced of the sin of secularism. Quite simply, there needs to be an act of repentance. Surely we can pray for this. C. S. Lewis once said that modern scientists need to repent for the will to conquer nature, which amounts to the will to conquer some human beings by means of nature (Abolition of Man, chap. 3). So too Catholic educators speak about "excellence" and service to students, but they have simply "forgotten God" and the historic faith of the Church appears to have very little bearing upon the curriculum and scholarship promoted by them.
Its affirmation about the truth about God and man is one reason that the thought of Thomas Aquinas is so strongly endorsed by the Pope in Fides et ratio.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
In an essay on Catholic universities, Fr Schall sounds the clarion call for renewal in Catholic higher education:
"The Holy Father and Cardinal Lustiger of Paris have proved again and again that university students can be their most ardent followers. The Pope in his travels never fail[ed] to give a careful address at a major university in the country or city he is visiting. 'The origin and purpose of this university (of Havana), its history and its heritage,' John Paul said in Cuba (L'Osservatore Romano, 4 February 1998), 'reveal its vocation to be a fountain of wisdom and freedom, an inspiration to faith and justice, a crucible where knowledge and conscience are fused, the teacher of a culture which is at once universal and Cuban. . . .
To the Bishops of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, John Paul II remarked (May 30, 1998): 'The Catholic identity of a university should be evident in its curriculum, in its faculty, in student activities and in the quality of its community life. This is no infringement upon the university's nature as a true center of learning, where the truth of the created order is fully respected, but also ultimately illuminated by the light of the new creation in Christ' (L'Osservatore Romano, 2 June 1998). He also remarked that students have a right to have what the Church actually holds to be taught to them, not merely the private opinions of the professors. . . . It might well be that bishops will think that access to the intellectual needs of Catholics is better served through other institutions that need to be formed and developed. It does seem to me that bishops should advise all students in college, Catholic or secular, to commit themselves to a basic core of readings while they are in college, with perhaps some well-developed on-line or taped presentation of major Catholic positions. At a minimum, students should be asked directly and with the seriousness of the Church's authority to read, while in college, the General Catechism of the Catholic Church, Augustine's Confessions, Josef Pieper - an Anthology, Chesterton's Orthodoxy, and John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Faith and Fides et Ratio."
We can just follow the fate of theology and philosophy in the universities to see the need for renewal. The requirements are reduced, the mandatum is ignored, the mutual influence of faith and reason diminished. For the most part, we still await the institutional implementation of the legacy of Pope John Paul II; I was heartened on this trip, however, to hear from Jude Dougherty, former Dean of the School of Philosophy, that the Catholic University of America still retains its four course requirement in philosophy. But as most institutions sputter and continue to reduce the presence of philosophy and theology, it is left in large measure to the individual professors, centers, institutes to seek the illumination of the "the new creation in Christ" and to read Augustine, Chesterton, Pieper, John Paul II. Please pray for the work of the Pope John Paul II Forum; and for Fr Schall who asked for our prayers.