Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Apropos of the Unity Octave: From "Unity" to "ONE"

“For as many of you has have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male of female, for you are all one [εις: unum] in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3, 27-29).

Ratzinger comment: “It is important to take notice of the fact that Paul does not say, for example, `you are one thing,’ but rather stresses that `you are one man.’ You have become a new, singular subject together with Christ and, in consequence – through the amalgamation of subjects – find yourselves within the purview of the promise.” (Josef Ratzinger, “The Spiritual Basis and Ecclesial Identity of Theology,” The Nature and Mission of Theology, Ignatius [1995] 52).

Significant Change of Epistemological Perspective: (i.e., object of subject)

This appears to be a contradiction. We ask, “How can the many be one, and the one many? How do we resolve this?” The radical answer consists in re-evaluating what we take for granted, i.e., that we are observers of reality in a such a way that we stand outside of it. The great shift that must take place is to do what the theology of faith of the middle ages and modern physics have done: enter into the reality to be known by experiencing ourselves as part of it. This is the mother of all paradigm shifts that would put an end to the intellectual dead end in which modern philosophy from Descartes to the present day deposited us.

Besides his understanding of the meaning of faith in St. Bonaventure - where “the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of revelation,’”[1] the subject as image of God being the very revelation of God when “he” is activated as self gift - Josef Ratzinger has found a comforting confirmation of this epistemological stance in modern physics where the scientist does not stand outside the experiment as observer but enters into it as interactive with it. Hence, relativity and quantum mechanics arise within an epistemology cognizant that the observer experiences-self-experiencing-thing, and hence, having only a particular perspective.

Ratzinger comments that “The physicist is becoming increasingly aware today that we cannot embrace given realities – the structure of light, for example, or matter as a whole – in one form of experiment and so in one form of statement; that on the contrary from different sides we glimpse different aspects, which cannot be traced back to each other. We have to take the two together – way the structure of corpuscle and wave – without being able to find any all-embracing aspect – as a provisional assessment of the whole, which is not accessible to us as a unified whole because of the limitations implicit in our point of view.”[2]

The result of this experience of the self (subject) experiencing the sensible thing (object) from a finite and determined position within physical reality has suggested the “law of complementarity” in physics introduced by Niels Bohr. According to this, Ratzinger suggests that “The intellectual approach of modern physics may offer us more help here than the Aristotelian philosophy was able to give. Physicists know today that one can only talk about the structure of matter in approximations starting from various different angles. They know that the position of the beholder at any one time affects the result of his questioning of nature.”[3] The very nature of the questions that we ask depends on the experience of our own placement in the whole. Hence, Ratzinger asks “Why should we not be able to understand afresh, on this basis, that in the question of God we must not look, in the Aristotelian fashion, for an ultimate concept encompassing the whole, but must be prepared to find a multitude of aspects which depend on the position of the observer and which we can no longer survey as a whole but only accept alongside each other, without being able to make any statement about the ultimate truth…”[4]

The whole issue of “oneness” as opposed to being “united” is the issue of being an individual substance. Individual substances are “united” because they are considered to be “in-themselves” and not “in-another.” The connections between them are necessarily “accidental.” This notion of the individual as substance in itself is directly connected with first level experience through the senses and the resulting abstractive concept that is an intellectual cipher that points to reality as cipher. It is a result of standing “outside” of what is “observed” and naming it symbolically. The danger is that we impose on reality our way of knowing it. We see things the way we are, not the way real being is.

As there has been a development of the awareness of the existential reality of the subject in the last century, concomitant with the progressive collapse of rationalism and its spawn, ideology and the progressive collapse into relativism and nihilism, there is a revived sense of experience both of the sensible world and of the acting self. In this regard, Ratzinger mentions that "E. Schrödinger has defined the structure of matter as `parcels of waves’ and thereby fallen upon the idea of a being that has no substance but is purely actual, whose apparent `substantiality’ really results only from the pattern of movement of superimposed waves. In the realm of matter such a suggestion may well be physically, and in any case philosophically, highly contestable. But it remains an exciting simile for the actualitas divine, for the absolute `being-act’ of God, and for the idea that the densest being – God – can subsist only in a multitude of relations, which are not substances but simply `waves,’ and therein form a perfect unity and also the fullness of being.” He then emphasis the epistemological strategy that “the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that there is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics, that even here the result of the experiment, nature’s answer depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject.”

It is most suggestive to take thinkers like Bishop Berkeley and David Hume seriously in their understanding of sensible perception. For Berkeley, the esse est percipi seems to lead to the absurdity that he is the only one who exists. That the only reality is the self perceiving a supposed world, but that world may or may not exist in reality since perception is a subjective experience. We see colored shapes; we hear sounds; we touch surfaces although "on the other side" of the perception there may be only variations in quantity of waves and spaced particles. Is there any sound of a tree falling in a forest if there is no hearing to perceive it? Owen Barfield suggests: “Look at a rainbow. While it lasts, it is, or appears to be, a great arc of many colours occupying a position out there in space. It touches the horizon between the chimney and that tree; a line drawn from the sun behind you and passing through your head would pierce the center of the circle of which it is part. And now, before it fades, recollect all you have ever been told about the rainbow and its causes, and ask yourself the question Is it really there?”[5]

Barfield goes on: “Now look at a tree. It is very different from a rainbow. If you approach it, it will still be `there.’ Moreover, in this case, you can do more than look at it. You can hear the noise its leaves make in the wind. You can perhaps smell it. You can certainly touch it. Your senses combine to assure you that it is composed of what is called solid matter. Accord to the tree the same treatment that you accorded to the rainbow. Recollect all you have been told about matter and its ultimate structure and ask yourself if the tree is `really there.’ I am far from affirming dogmatically that the atoms, electrons, nuclei, etc., of which wood, and all matter, is said to be composed, are particular and identifiable objects like drops of rain. But if the `particles’ are there, and are all that is there, the, since the `particles’ are no more like the thing I call a tree than the raindrops are like the thing I call a rainbow, it follows, I think, that – just as a rainbow is the outcome of the raindrops and my vision – so, a tree is the outcome of the particles and my vision and my other sense-perceptions. Whatever the particles themselves may be thought to be, the tree, as such, is a representation.”[6]

Barfield then takes it a step further: “A representation is something I perceive to be there…. He now deals with perception: Perception takes place by means of sense-organs, though the ingredient in it of sensation, experienced as such, varies greatly as between the different senses. In touch I suppose we come nearest to sensation without perception; in sight to perception without sensation. But the two most important things to remember about perception are these: first, that we must not confuse the percept with its cause. I do not touch a moving system of waves or of atoms and electrons with relatively vast empty spaces between them; the name of what I touch is matter. Second, I do not perceive any thing with my sense-organ alone, but with a great part of my whole human being. Thus, I may say, loosely, that I `hear’ – all that I ever hear simply by virtue of having ears – is sound. When I `hear a thrush singing,’ I am hearing, not with my ears alone, but with all sorts of other things like mental habits, memory, imagination, feeling and (to the extent at least that the act of attention involves it) will.”[7]

Barfield concludes his point: “On almost any received theory of perception the familiar world – that is, the world which is apprehended, not through instruments and inference, but simply – is for the most part dependent upon the percipient.”[8]

The short explanation is the following: The only subsisting existent that I experience directly – i.e., without the distortion of mediation - is myself, I, in the moment of freee action, or self-determination. Everything else I experience through the mediation of perception such as sensation or conceptualization. And it is important to insist that it is the experience of I as being, and not consciousness. Wojtyla says, “In determining myself – and this takes place through an act of will – I become aware and also testify to others that I possess myself and govern myself. In this way, my acts give me a unique insight into myself as a person. By virtue of self-determination, I experience in the relatively most immediate way that I am a person.”[9]
As there is no perception of the rainbow without a perceiver, so also with the whole of sensible reality. We do not experience the reality of what is perceived in the senses. What we perceive is the perception. The reality that we experience is the I experiencing itself - as being - perceiving through the senses. We do not perceive the reality of the perceived, but the reality of ourselves perceiving. The being I experience when I sense something is I myself, the reality, from whom I transpose to the thing now sensed.

And this is the moment of the experience of "values." Good and evil are not abstract metaphysical deductions (although they can be as in the Summa of St. Thomas) but direct experiences of the self in the free act of self-determination. They are absolutes because they are direct experiences of being, the being of the self that is self-experiencing in the free act. This being of the self has been made in the image and likeness of God who alone is good "There is only one who is good" (Mt. 19, 17). Since God alone is total self-gift, in the tendency of the self as image, one experiences the consciousness of good and evil that we call "conscience." Revelation speaks to that tendency and calls it to act. Agape speaks to eros.

Newman explains this (in the Grammar of Assent) with regard to the experience of causality. I do not experience causality outside of my self in my sensible perceptions. When I see a red ball in motion hitting a green ball, and the green ball moves, I associate the motion of the green ball with the red ball. I do not experience causality through sensation. I associate. However, when I decide to move myself from here to there, I experience myself moving myself as cause of the motion. I then extrapolate that experience of causality from myself to the exterior.
Ratzinger says the same with regard to revelation. Until there is the experience and consciousness of going out of self to the person of the revealer, there is no revelation because there is veil removed, or no re-vel-ation. The experience of the self as image of God is part of the revelation of God to us. We must activate ourselves in our subjectivities to experience self as image, and in that activation, experience God. The major part of revelation is the activation of the self as “I am” in order to know Him who is “I AM.” Like is known by like, because ultimately knowing is being one being with another in some fashion or other.

This has been the epistemological move of modern physics. The observer introduces himself into the experiment and becomes part of it. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics became possible precisely by this insertion of the observer as part of the observed.

Hence, by necessity, with regard to the topic of unity, the subjective experience yields oneness, not unity because unity is the objectified perception of individuals, who/which stand in themselves as substances and are related accidentally. When one lives Christian faith as the moral act of self gift, one literally becomes “another Christ” and by transferring this experience to Christ, one is able to say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 15). This “becoming Christ” such that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor freedman, male nor female” because “you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3, 28), then we are not “united” but "one." This is the depth of the Unity Octave - "that they be one as we are one" - and some of the subjacent epistemology.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones,” Ignatius (1998) 108.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 123-124.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” op. cit. 124.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Owen Barfield, “Saving the Appearances,” Wesleyan University Press, (1988) 15.
[6] Ibid., 16-17.
[7] Ibid. 20-21.
[8] Ibid. 21.
[9] K. Wojotyla, “The Personal Structure of Self-Determination,” Person and Community, Lang (1993) 193.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Class: "Study Guide:" A New Language by Dr. Mary Shivanandan

Class: “Study Guide:” A New Language (A Study Guide on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body) by Mary Shivanandan.

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI can be characterized by their working on two tiers of experience yielding two distinct yet complementary forms of knowing: the experience of sensation of the external world, and the experience of the self in the moment of moral (free) action. The two levels of experience and knowledge – of object and subject - combine to yield the truth of Being as external world, as self, as Christ and as the Father. When one achieves the truth of Christ, and therefore the Father,[1] one has already entered into eternal life.
But, “No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him.” (Jn.1, 18). The question then is: how to know the Christ who was seen. There were only a few who saw Christ with their eyes who recognized Him. What did it take? Only those who were intimate with him and prayed with Him to the Father recognized Him: “And it came to pass as he was praying in private, that his disciples also were with him, and he asked them, saying, `Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered and said, `John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, that one of the ancient prophets has risen again.’ And he said to them, `But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, `The Christ of God’” (Lk. 9, 18-21).

Then - Cardinal Ratzinger explained that prayer is the first act of faith as response of self-gift to the revelation of the Father in the Son: “(W)e saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and, indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls `Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44)… Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, is nothing but relationship with God, the Father… Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which … is an act of love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him….”[2]

John Paul II was most explicit and articulate on the subjective character of revelation, and the subjective character of the prayer of response to this revelation. On the evening of August 14, 1991 at the Shrine of Jasna Gora he said:

“A. I am (the word) – I am’: behold the name of God. So responds a Voice from the burning bush to Moses when he asked to know the Name of God. `I am who am’ (Ex. 3, 14)…”[3] Then with regard to the New Testament and Jesus Christ: “This [“I AM” as the foundation of the Old Covenant] also constitutes the foundation of the New Covenant. Jesus Christ said to the Hebrews: `The Father and I are one’ (Jn. 10, 30). `Before Abraham came to be I AM’ (Jn. 8, 58). `When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM’ (Jn. 8, 28).”

This is the profound depth of Revelation. God’s very Name is the existential “I.” Man must respond with his “I” as our Lady’s “Yes:” John Paul II continued:

“Man was created in the image and likeness of God, to be able to exist and to be able to say to his Creator `I am.’ In this human `I am’ is all the truth of life and conscience. `I am’ before You, who `Are’” … You come here, dear friends, to renew and confirm to the very depths this human identity: `I am,’ in front of the `I AM’ of God. Look at the cross upon which the divine `I AM’ means `Love.’ Look at the cross and do not forget! May the `I am near you’ be the key phrase for your whole life” [4] (underline mine).

The “I” is the seat of experience. There is no such thing as “experience” where there is no self to do the experiencing, and being so, experience always involves consciousness.

* * * * * * * * *

An Aside: The Mission of Benedict XVI:

I forgot to mention the many documents that he left us -- 14 encyclicals, many pastoral letters, and others. All this is a rich patrimony that has not yet been assimilated by the Church. My personal mission is not to issue many new documents, but to ensure that his documents are assimilated, because they are a rich treasure, they are the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. We know that the Pope was a man of the Council, that he internalized the spirit and the word of the Council. Through these writings he helps us understand what the Council wanted and what it didn’t. This helps us to be the Church of our times and of the future.[5]

* * * * * * * * * * *

This experience of the self as Being and as “I” has never been isolated by philosophic thought, and yet philosophic thought is about nothing else. Wojtyla has found it by cumulus of life experiences (erlebnis) before setting out to discover himself as “I – Being” by using the tool of describing these inner experiences (“phenomenology”). The great trouble is that the experience is delivered to us as consciousness, and therefore readily confusable with thought and not as being. Hence, 400 years of the dualism of thought and matter, subjectivism and mechanism. The advantage of using Dr. Shivanandan’s work is the emphasis she gives to the experience of the self as the initial doorway to this new horizon and new language. Christopher West doesn’t miss it, but she gives more emphasis to it. And I would say, if one doesn’t pass through over this threshold, the dynamics of Being on this level are not understood, namely, to be = to be for; love and life are the same act; one finds self by the gift of self. On this metaphysical horizon, relation is not accidental to being but constitutive. This is not disclosed on the level of the experience of being by sensation where to be = to be in self (substance), and relation is accidental.

Just recently I was struggling with a doctor on organ transplants. He was arguing for brain death in macro organisms as the criterion for removal of cells (embryonic stem cells) from fertilized eggs in IVF “which” had lost integration between the few cells present in the embryo. I asked him if there was “anyone home” or was he sure that not. He did not understand. He was working in terms of mechanisms of functioning (the first level of experience), and I was asking if the totality of the organism – macro or micro – was an “organism,” i.e., one being. I was asking about the organism as "being." The question did not make sense to him.

I offered him Aristotle’s work on the De Anima: The biological organismic whole is greater than the sum of its parts because heterogeneous parts must have a third “something” that is the cause of their being “one” organism. The analogy that Aristotle makes is to the way we make inorganic things, like a sofa. There are the heterogeneous parts like wood, cloth, padding, etc. (The heterogeneity may seem naive, but it carries through to the depths).

“For to say what are the ultimate substances out of which an animal is formed, to state, for instance, that it is made of fire or earth, is no more sufficient than would be a similar account the case of a couch or the like. For we should not be content with saying that the couch was made of bronze or wood or whatever it might be, but should try to describe its design or mode of composition in preference to the material; or, if we did deal with the material, it would at any rate be with the concretion of material and form. For a couch is such and such a form embodied in this or that matter, or such and such a matter with this or that form; so that its shape and structure must be included in our description. For the formal nature is of greater importance than the material nature”[6] (underline mine).

We have seen that Aristotle, and Gilson commenting,[7] that we cannot give an account of an organism, i.e., a oneness made up of heterogeneous parts without recurring to the presence of a third something that is not a part and which is the cause of the integration of the irreducible heterogeneity. It must be borne in mind that a biological organism is precisely heterogeneous in its parts in order to be and to be self-moving. If there were not parts moved and parts moving (heterogeneity), the organism could not be self-moving without presenting a contradiction in the very experience of being a being.

It occurs to me that neither Aristotle, nor Gilson, would be “content” with a merely functional description of the parts of the couch because in so doing they would not be describing the “couch” as being. The reason “why” is due to the fact that “Man’s experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself.”[8]

That is to say, the experience that drives the mind to affirm that there must be an organizing “third thing” within the organism to account for the organism as “being” is the experience we have of ourselves as ontological subjects, or "wholes." And this experience has never been accounted for, precisely because it was masked and disguised as consciousness. Since Descartes to the present day, the self or “I” has been confused with thought, or emotion, but never with being. And if it was considered being, it was being as object or substance (a category), but never as a unique and unrepeatable “I.” This is new in history of thought and language.

Once discovered, it becomes a most powerful tool to cross over the threshold of sin into the pre-lapsarian experience before sin, that is reported in Genesis 2, and do an expose of the original anthropology, or meaning of man as he came forth from the hands of God as image and likeness.

[1] “No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt. 11, 27); “No on one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him” (Jn. 6, 44); and then knowledge as eternal life: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn. 17, 3).
[2] Josef Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 26.
[3] John Paul II, “Learn to Love Christ More Intensely,” L’Osservatore Romano N. 34 (1204) – 26 August 1991, 1.
[4] Ibid.
[5] From the interview with Polish Television on October 16, 2005:
[6] Aristotle, “On the Parts of Animals,” I, 1, 640b.
[7] Etienne Gilson, “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again,” UNDP (1984) Prologue 1, 16.
[8] Karol Wojtyla, “The Acting Person,” Introduction Analecta Husserliana D. Reidel Publishing Co. (1979) 3.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

More on "Fatherhood" As Power Engendering Communio: Opus Dei and the Church

The prototype of Communio is the revealed Trinity of Persons where the Father is not the Father and then engenders the Son, but is the very act of engendering the Son. Divine Person in this theological elaboration discloses itself as pertaining to a radically distinct metaphysical horizon, one in which Person is the very act of relationship. Person, then, is not substance who then relates accidentally as the act of a subject. Person as Subject is the very act of relating or “being-for” the Other. To be is not to-be-in-self, but to-be-for-other.

We have no direct experience of this except as an enlightenment of the mysterious relationship of spouses in conjugal union. The prime human experience of communio is spousal union or “betrothed” love. The intellectual grasp of this is not a “grasping” as in forming a concept or symbol of it in what we have come to call “intentional knowing.” Rather it is an experience of the “I” that has been disclosed by Karol Wojtyla to be a different kind of being than everything that we have come to experience through sensation and abstract conceptualization of that which is outside of us. It is the experience of the “I,” or subject itself, as “Being,” not as a kind of Cartesian consciousness or “thinking thing,” but as a consciousness of self that is “pre-conceptual” that arises from the experience.

On my reading, the first appearance of the terminology of the phrase “self-gift” occurred in “Love and Responsibility.” There, Wojtyla said: “Betrothed love differs from all the aspects or forms of love analysed hitherto. Its decisive character is the giving of one’s own person (to another). The essence of betrothed love is self-giving, the surrender of one’s `I.’ This is something different from and more than attraction, desire or even goodwill. These are all ways by which one person goes out toward another, but none of them can take him as far in his quest for the good of the other as does betrothed love. `To give oneself to another’ is something more than merely `desiring what is good’ for another – even if as a result of this another `I’ becomes as it were my own, as it does in friendship. Betrothed love is something different from and more than all the forms of love so fast analysed, both as it affects the individual subject, the person who loves, and as regards the interpersonal union which it creates. When betrothed love enters into this interpersonal relationship something more than friendship results: two people give themselves each to the other.”[1]

I think it is safe to say that the entire philosophical corpus of Wojtyla hinges on his sensitivity to this experience of the “I” that he has objectified phenomenologically and rendered ontological by perceiving the act of self-determination in the stages of pre and post, potency and act, in the execution of moral action (the first of which is the act of faith as disclosed in St. John of the Cross). Faith for Vatican II and Wojtyla/John Paul II is "Not simply a set of propositions," but "a living knowledge of Christ," "a truth to be lived out" (Veritatis Splendor #88). Faith is a spousal act in the Magisterium whose chief protagonist is Our Lady.

This experience of the self as “I – gift” in betrothed love that seeks to give an account of itself, and finds such an account in the Trinitarian theology of the divine Persons. As Josef Ratzinger once said: “the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, sot that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[2]

Created Communio Must Be Driven by Love/Affirmation/Grace

It is impossible for a human person, created in the image and likeness of the divine Persons, to make this gift of self without being related to by love. This is, in itself, totally mysterious, yet experienced again, and again, and again. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger explains:

“The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.

“Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable.”[3]

Communio of Persons: "Oneness of Heterogeneity"

By analogy to a living biological organism, the communio of persons is greater than the sum of its parts. We have seen that Aristotle, and Gilson commenting,[4] insists that we cannot give an account of an organism, i.e., a oneness made up of heterogeneous parts without recurring to the presence of a third something that is not a part and which is the cause of the integration of the irreducible heterogeneity. It must be borne in mind that a biological organism is precisely heterogeneous in its parts in order to be and to be self-moving. If there were not parts moved and parts moving (heterogeneity), the organism could not be self-moving without presenting a contradiction in the very experience of being a being.

The Church as Communio

By analogy, and in the light of the absolute need of persons made in the image and likeness of the divine Persons, the Church needs the pastoral love and affirmation of the Good Shepherd in order to be His Body. Recall that the Church in the person of our Lady is the Bride who receives the Word, the Bridegroom. St. John the Baptist reveals Christ to be the Bridegroom who defines Himself to be the Good Shepherd. He makes the literal gift of Himself on the Cross for His Bride, the Church, who, in the one-flesh union (spousal) of the Eucharist, becomes His very Body by becoming empowered to make like self-gift. Christ is the Head, the Church is the Body of the Whole Christ: “One,” not merely “united.” The love of Christ - Head and Good Shepherd – empowers us to make the act of faith, which is the gift of ourselves whereby we, as Body, form the Communio.

Opus Dei: “A Little Bit of the Church”

As “a little bit of the Church,” Opus Dei, like the “aboriginal configuration of the Church,” is made up of precisely laity and ministers. Both are “priests” (not ministers) in the sense that they share in the one priesthood of Christ in “essentially” distinct and irreducible ways by way of the distinct sacraments (with their ontological “characters”). On this reading, laity and ministers are heterogeneous components of the Communio that is the Body of Christ. The point to be made is that they are not able to live out this Communio or “oneness” of heterogeneous components unless they make the free gift of themselves. As we have seen, this cannot be done without the affirmation, love, direction and radiation of another, in this case, the fatherhood of the Prelate. Without the Prelate, Opus Dei cannot be the “little bit of the Church,” just as the Church cannot be the communio of the Body of Christ without the Love of Christ hierarchically communicated through the sacrament of Orders in the Pope, bishops and their presbyterates.

“Opus Dei is a prelature because it has a prelate directing it, possessed of sacra potestas. And, of course, because it has clergy and laity – its faithful people. But a gathering of priests and lay people does not produce the `organic unity’ of a `personal prelature’ unless it has a head, who brings unity to that grouping and makes it the compages apostolica …”[5]

“The power of Opus Dei’s prelate… has a jurisdictional content of an episcopal nature (even when the prelate is not a bishop). This is so, because the object of that power radically consists in moderating and regulating the constitutional `faithful/sacred ministry’ relation, which is the nucleus of the internal dynamism of the Church and of the `pastoral’ function of bishops. Opus Dei’s prelate carries out this function with regard to his faithful and clergy in order to serve the communio Ecclesiarum entrusted to the prelature…."[6]

“The kind of power its prelate has is explained by the theological nature of Opus Dei. He [the prelate] does not `need’ the fullness of the priesthood as bishop does, since his role, unlike that of the bishops presiding over local Churches, is not one of making the universal Church’s sacramental fullness present in a particular place (local Church). Rather, his role is to gather faithful and priests in Opus Dei in order to carry out its own particular apostolic mission, which is one of a universal scope. But, at the same time, it is very appropriate that Opus Dei’s prelate, since he has episcopal powers, should also have episcopal ordination.”[7]

The Father as Engendering the Communio

“What truly defines Opus Dei’s prelate is his `fatherhood,’ his role as a pastor who is a father to all the prelature’s faithful. That is why in Opus Dei he is usually called `Father.’”[8]

St. Josemaria once said:

“Christ Our Lord spoke many times about ships and nets, of seas and fish…, But haven’t you heard Him deal also with sheep and flocks? And with what tenderness! How He loved to describe the figure of the Good Shepherd! He makes us take note that the sheep follow Him with confidence, and they love Him and distinguish His voice from all others, and they know themselves cared for when he clusters them around Himself, within the pen or on the wide pastures…

“There are two classes of shepherds. The shepherd that goes behind the sheep, and leads them by getting the dogs after them, throwing stones at the ones who begin to stray and shouting at those who lag behind. There is the shepherd who goes ahead of the sheep, opening the way and removing obstacles, encouraging the flock with his whistling.

“I have tried to go in the lead always. Although on occasions it may have been necessary to correct and reprimand, and, even at times, to give a shout…

“Opus Dei is also the flock of Christ, with its Good Shepherd and its sheep. In the Work, there will always be a Father who can say: “I know mine and mine know me” (Jn. 10, 14), I know my sons and my sons know me. Because the Good Shepherd in Opus Dei who presides will always be: The Father, whoever he be.”

This is the meaning of "hierarchy" (sacred origin): Pope, bishop and the presbyterate

* * * * * * *
[1] Karol Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility,” Farrar Straus Giroux, (1981) 96.
[2] Josef Ratzinger. “Conscience and Truth,” Catholic Conscience Foundation and Formation, Proceedings of the Tenth Bishops’ Workshop, Dallas, Texas, The Pope John Center (1991) 20.
[3] Josef Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.
[4] Etienne Gilson, “From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again,” UNDP (1984) “Aristotelian Prologue” 1-16.
[5] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” op. cit. 52-60.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid. 56.
[9] From conversations and letters in the 1950’s.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Prelate of Opus Dei as "Father"

The Founder of Opus Dei once remarked: “Opus Dei is a little bit of the Church.”[1] The Church was designated as “The People of God” in the Second Vatican Council.[2] However, then – Cardinal Ratzinger noted that in the post-Conciliar years, the term “people of God” become the symbol of a politicized, non-hierarchical church. In the Synod of 1985, the term “Communio” had been inserted to better represent the vertical as well as horizontal reality of the Church, but this also suffered the same fate: a reduction to the purely horizontal. The Cardinal remarked:

“At that time [1969] everything centered on the “people of God,” a concept which was thought to be a genuine innovation of the Second Vatican Council and was quickly contrasted with a hierarchical understanding of the Church. More and more, “people of God” was understood in the sense of popular sovereignty, as a right to a common, democratic determination over everything that the Church is and over everything that she should do. God was taken to be the creator and sovereign of the people because the phrase contained the words “of God,” but even with this awareness he was left out. He was amalgamated with the notion of a people who create and form themselves. (3) The word communio, which no one used to notice, was now surprisingly fashionable—if only as a foil. According to this interpretation, Vatican II had abandoned the hierarchical ecclesiology of Vatican I and replaced it with an ecclesiology of communio. Thereby, communio was apparently understood in much the same way the “people of God” had been understood, i.e., as an essentially horizontal notion. On the one hand, this notion supposedly expresses the egalitarian moment of equality under the universal decree of everyone. On the other hand, it also emphasizes as one of its most fundamental ideas an ecclesiology based entirely on the local Church. The Church appears as a network of groups, which as such precede the whole and achieve harmony with one another by building a consensus.”[3]

Theological Background to the Notion of “Church”


The Hebrew word “qahal” was given to the liturgical assembly of the people back from captivity in the ruins of the Temple. Louis Boyer says: “At the first qahal when the covenant was made on Sinai, the people had responded with unanimous acceptance of the ten sentences of the basic Torah, and then the first sacrifices of the covenant were offered…. At the third great qahal, of the Scribe Ezra [which was the foundation of the Synagogue of later Judaism], it is the whole priestly Torah of the scribes which is read, the Pentateuch complete in its definitive form in exile.”[4] The qahal is the gathering of the Jews to hear the Word of God with their response that is the "berakah." As the Word of God is God Himself I AM speaking, it calls for the total response of each Jew as “I.” The God of Revelation is not a part of the whole of reality as its supreme manifestation. Rather the Revealing Creator is the Whole apart from Creation itself. Hence, the response demands the whole of the “I” of the believer. As a result, the action of faith-response known as the "berakah" was the call to the Jew to make a total gift of himself. So total was the response that the Jews formed a unique people, each of whom was self-gift. Bouyer wrote:

“Throughout the entire life of the pious Jew the piety of Judaism extends the ramifications of these berakoth, which are found in detail in the tractates with this title in the Mishnah and Toseftah. From the time he awakens, through each of his actions of the day, to the moment of his retirement and falling asleep, they consecrate the totality of his acts. And at the same time they consecrate the world in restoring it in praise to the Word which created it in the beginning, for each and every one of them are but so many acts of `acknowledgement’ of this Word as being the beginning and the end of all things… And it is thus that all of Israel believes it is accomplishing the promise of the book of Exodus: they will be made an entirely priestly people, a kingdom of priests, of consecrators of the entire universe to the one divine will revealed in the Torah.”[5]

This qahal of the Jews as a people is not the Greek “assembly of the people.” Ratzinger explains that with the Greeks only the men, not women and children, were protagonists in the assemblies. In the Jewish qahal, “even women and children, who in Greece could not be active agents of political events, belonged…”[6] The distinctive note here is that the grouping of the people came about by the response (berakah) of the whole person, man, woman and child, to the Word of God. This universality points to the radical equality of being subjects/selves: "I's." The distinctive note of the oneness of the Jews as a people, as opposed to the gentile grouping was the ontological response to a “thirdness” that gives them a constitutively relational bond, instead of an accidental one as in pagan (non-believing) political grouping.

The Church as the “Qahal” - a Con-vocation - of Christ (His “Habhuroth[7])

Ratzinger's hermeneutic on the St. Paul’s radical notion of faith shows how faith is the radical act of self-gift to death. One finds self only by the gift of self (GS #24):

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2, 20): “To explain [this]... as meaning that becoming and being a Christian rest upon conversion would still be much too weak a way of putting things. This is not to deny that such an interpretation is aiming in the right direction, but the point is that conversion in the Pauline sense is something much more radical than, say, the revision of a few opinions and attitudes. It is a death-event. In other words, it is an exchange of the old subject for another. The `I’ ceases to be an autonomous subject standing in itself. It is snatched away from itself and fitted into a new subject. The `I’ is not simply submerged, but it must really release its grip on itself in order then to receive itself anew in and together with a greater `I’

“In the Letter to the Galatians, the fundamental intuition about the nature of conversion – that it is the surrender of the old isolated subjectivity of the `I’ in order to find oneself within the unity of anew subject, which bursts the limits of the `I,’ thus making possible contact with the ground of all reality – appears again with new emphases in another context. Paul, with the help of the antithesis between the law and the promise, is pursuing the question whether man can, as it were, create himself on his own or whether he must receive himself as a gift. While doing so, he emphasizes quite vigorously that the promise was issued only in the singular. It is intended, not for a mass of juxtaposed subjects, but for `the offspring of Abraham’ in the singular (Gal 3, 16). There is only one bearer of the promise, outside of which is the chaotic world of self-realization where men compete with one another and desire to compete with God but succeed merely in working right past their true hope.”[8]

Ratzinger then tops it off with this eye-opening hermeneutic of Paul:

St. Paul says: “As in an organism there are many members working in harmony, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12, 12).

Ratzinger does the exegesis:

“Paul does not say `as in an organism there are many members working in harmony, so too in the Church,’ as if he were proposing a purely sociological model of the Church, but at the very moment when he leaves behind the ancient simile, he shifts the idea to an entirely different level He affirms, in fact, that, just as there is one body but many members, `so it is with Christ…’ The term of the comparison is not the church, since, according to Paul the Church is in no wise a separate subject endowed with its own subsistence. The new subject is much rather `Christ’ himself, and the Church is nothing but the space of this new unitary subject, which is, therefore, much more than mere social interaction. It is an application of the same Christological singular found in the Letter to the Galatians. Here, too, it has a sacramental reference, though this time it points to the Eucharist, whose essence Paul defines two chapters before in the bold assertion: `Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body’ (10, 17)… soma, may be translated as `one subject…”[9]

This is startling. We must understand that we are being invited to enter into a new epistemological horizon, that of the “I.” In this horizon, the being of the “I” is, as they say, “constitutively” relational (to distinguish it from the “accidentally” relational), in the sense that I, as image of the Trinitarian Persons who are nothing but Relation (“I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10, 30); "the Father is greater than I” (Jn.14, 29) “find myself… by the sincere gift of myself” (Gaudium et Spes #24). Hence, faith is a moral act[10] of the gift of the “I” to the revealing “I” of the Logos.

Hence, the Church, which is the “space” where this act of faith takes place is “One.” It is not “united” in an accidental way as individual substances would be in a political union. Rather, the unity of Christian believers is that they are “One Christ” as His Body. The relations are constitutive of who they are. They are not who they are prior to faith, just as the Persons of the Trinity are not who they are except in that the Father is the engendering of the Son, and the Son is the glorifying of the Father while the Spirit is the Love – gift of the Two.

Which brings us to the point. Where there is a relation between Christ and humanity as in “The Word was made flesh” (Jn. 1, 14) and Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as the prototype of spousal relation, there must be a third party – the Holy Spirit, grace, affirmative love as radiation of fatherhood (as we will suggest with the Prelate of Opus Dei) that empowers the possibility of the gift of self. That is, oneness is not possible without an engendering love to dynamize the self giving such that the result is a oneness that does not destroy the autonomy of the parts.[11]

There is also a oneness in the Church that is the spousal union of Christ, the Bridegroom, to the Church, Bride. Ratzinger comments:

“In the first place, we must remember that “communion” between men and women is only possible when embraced by a third element. In other words, common human nature creates the very possibility that we can communicate with one another. We are not only nature but also persons, and in such a way that each person represents a unique way of being human different from everyone else. Therefore, nature alone is not sufficient to communicate the inner sensibility of persons. If we want to draw another distinction between individuality and personality, then we could say that individuality divides and being a person opens. Being a person is by nature being related. But why does it open? Because both in its very depths and in its highest aspirations being a person goes beyond its own boundaries towards a greater, universal “something” and even toward a greater, universal “someone.” The all-embracing third, to which we return so often can only bind when it is greater and higher than individuals. On the other hand, the third it itself within each individual because it touches each one from within. Augustine once described this as “higher than my heights, more interior than I am to myself.” This third, which in truth is the first, we call God. We touch ourselves in him. Through him and only through him, a communio which grasps our own depths comes into being. "[12]

The Prelate of Opus Dei:

The relation of the common priesthood of the faithful to the ministerial priesthood is the work of the radiation of fatherhood of the Prelate. To be loved by him is part of the engendering Fatherhood of God which makes it possible to make the gift of oneself to the others. As “a little bit of the Church,” Opus Dei is “hierarchical.” This means that the Prelate and his presbyterate have a sacramental union – hierarchical - to Christ as Good Shepherd, Who makes the ultimate self-gift by giving His Life for His sheep.

“The hierarchical nature of Opus Dei, established in the Apostolic Constitution whereby I erected the Prelature, gives scope for pastoral considerations that are rich in practical applications….
“The organic convergence of priests and laity is one of the privileged areas which will give life and pastoral solidity to that “new energy,” whereby we all feel invigorated after the Great Jubilee. In this context I wish to draw attention to the importance of that `spirituality of communion’ emphasized in the Apostolic Letter.”
The mission of the Prelate is to bring about this “organic convergence.” Pedro Rodriguez says:
“Opus Dei is a prelature because it has a prelate directing it, possessed of sacra potestas. And, of course, because it has clergy and laity – its faithful people. But a gathering of priests and lay people does not produce the `organic unity’ of a `personal prelature’ unless it has a head, who brings unity that grouping and makes it the compages apostolica identified and regulated by John Paul II in Ut sit. In other words, that `little bit’ of the Church of which St. Josemaria Escriva spoke is a personal prelature because the Church supreme authority has entrusted its pastoral care… to a prelate. Within Opus Dei we find the constitutional dimension of the communio hierarchica. Because we find a prelate who belongs to the Church’s hierarchy and is the hierarchical head of the prelature.
“His jurisdiction extends to all members of the prelature, priests as well as lay people, but it is circumscribed by the specific aim and the apostolic mission that the Church has recognized and approved for Opus Dei….
“What truly defines Opus Dei’s prelate is his `fatherhood,’ his role as a pastor who is a father to all the prelature’s faithful. That is why in Opus Dei he is usually called `Father.’ The prelate’s role in the life of Opus Dei deeply configures the prelature…."

Conclusion: the mission of the Prelate as Father is to engender sons and daughters as laity and ministers so that that they replicate the aboriginal relation that obtained in the Church from the beginning. By his love, direction and formation, the Father must stimulate the self-giving of each faithful of the Prelature to exercise the priestly soul and lay mentality. That is, to mediate (priestly soul) between the self and God for the others by the free gift of self (lay mentality of self-determination) on the occasion of secular work. In this way, Opus Dei is “a little bit of the Church” with the apostolic mission of communicating this “aboriginal” spirit through the Church and civil society.

[1] Pedro Rodriguez, “The Place of Opus Dei in the Church,” Opus Dei in the Church Scepter (1994) 1.
[2] Lumen Gentium, Chapter II: “He [God] has… willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness. He therefore chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it… Christ… called a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit, and this would be the new People of God.”
[3]Communio 19 (Fall, 1992): 436–449
[4] Louis Bouyer, “Eucharist” UNDP (1968) 47.
[5] Idem, 48.
[6] Josef Ratzinger “Called to Communion,” Ignatius (1996) 31: “But there is a twofold distinction between the Old Testament qahal and the Greek plenary assembly of enfranchised citizens. Even women and children, who in Greece could not be active agents of political events, belonged to the qahal. A closely connected fact is that in Greece it is the males who determine by their decisions what is to be done, while the assembly of Israel gathers `to listen to what God proclaims and to assent to it.’ This typically biblical conception of the popular assembly is traceable to the fact that the convocation on Sinai was regarded as the normative image all later such assemblies; it was solemnly reenacted after the Exile by Ezra as the refoundation of the people. But because the dispersion of Israel continued on and slavery was reiimposed, a qahal coming from God himself, a new gathering and foundation of the people, increasingly became the center of Jewish hope. The supplication for this gathering – for the appearance of the ecclesia – is a fixed component of late Jewish prayer”
[7] J. Ratzinger: “Jesus too celebrated the Passover according to these prescriptions, at home with his family; that is to say, with the Apostles, who had become his new family. In doing so he was observing a current rule which permitted pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem to form companies, the so-called habhuroth,” who would constitute a family, a Passover unity, for this night. That is how Passover became a Christian feast. We are Christ’s habhura, hiw family, formed of his pilgrim company, of the friends who accompany him along the path of the gospel trough the terrain of history. Companions of his pilgrimage, we constitute Christ’s house; thus, the Church is the new family, the new city, and for us she signifies all that Jerusalem was – that living home which banishes the powers of chaos and makes an area of peace, which upholds both creation and us. The Church is the new city by being the family of Jesus, the living Jerusalem, and her faith is the rampart and wall against the chaotic powers that threaten to bring destruction upon the world. Her ramparts are strengthened by the blood of the true Lamb, Jesus Christ…” Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 104-105.
[8] Josef Ratzinger, “The Nature and Mission of Theology,” Ignatius (1995) 50-53.
[9] Ibid. 54.
[10] Veritatis Splendor #88.
[11] An Analogy: Aristotle’s argument for the soul (form, ousia, energeia,) as a third thing independent of the heterogeneous parts of an organism is the only possible explanation to account for the oneness of the organism as organism. The whole or oneness of the “organ-ism” is greater than the sum of its parts. There must be a sufficient cause explaining how heterogeneous parts can be “one being.” If we say chance or an infinite series, we end in the absurdity of saying there is no sufficient reason for the order that is accounted for. What is at stake in this is reason itself. Aristotle said: “For to say what are the ultimate substances out of which an animal is formed, to state, for instance, that it is made of fire or earth, is no more sufficient than would be a similar account in the case of a couch or the like. For we should not be content with saying that the couch was made of bronze or wood or whatever it might be, but should try to describe its design or mode of composition in preference to the material; or, if we did deal with the material, it would at any rate be with the concretion of material and form. For a couch is such and such a form embodied in this or that matter, or such and such a matter with this or that form, so that its shape and structure must be included in our description. For the formal nature is of greater importance than the material nature.” (Aristotle, “On the Parts of Animals,” I,1, 640b).
[12] Communio 19 (Fall, 1992): 436–449
[13] John Paul II, Address at an audience of participants at a seminar on `Novo Millennio Ineunte”, March 17, 2001.
[14] Pedro Rodriguez, op. cit. 52-59.

Monday, January 09, 2006

January 9, Birthday of St. Josemaria Escriva


The Essential Message: Call to Holiness – For All - in the Secular.

This transcends objective categories such as laymen, priest, professional secular work, church work, religious life with vows, charismatic communities, church movements, etc. While all the latter have to do with objective criteria such as states and styles of life, particular religious practices to be performed, vows to be taken, etc., the former has to do with the subject that has to be given to Christ on the occasion of the mundane and the small.

Small Things:

Benedict XVI on St. Josemaria Escriva and “small things”

This was mentioned below on the feast of the Holy Innocents. When Benedict XVI commented on the canonization of Josemaria Escriva, he recalled that “In the causes of canonization there is inquiry into `heroic’ virtue and we almost inevitably have a mistaken concept of holiness: `It is not for me,’ we are led to think, `because I do not feel capable of attaining heroic virtue. It is too high a goal.’ Holiness then becomes a thing reserved for some `greats’ whose images we see on the altars, and who are completely different from us ordinary sinners.” He then counters, “But this is a mistaken notion of holiness, a wrong perception which has been corrected – and this seems to me the central point – precisely by Josemaria Escriva.” He goes on: “And if, then, Josemaria Escriva speaks of the calling of all to be saints, I think that he is actually referring to this personal experience of his of not having done incredible things by himself, but of having let God work”[1](underline mine).

The point of “not having done incredible things by himself” means that he had struggled to do the little things extraordinarily well. I copy what was written below on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

“St. Josemaria would affirm: It is heroic to fulfill the acts of piety each day, punctually. It is heroic to pour ourselves out, working for others, never thinking about ourselves. It is heroic to finish our work well, when we are tired and exhausted. It is heroic to continue our ascetical struggle in the points indicated to us, with humility and determination. “You ask me, `Why the wooden Cross?’ And I quote from a letter: `As I raise my eyes from the microscope, my sight comes to rest on the Cross – black and empty. That Cross without a Corpus is a symbol; it has a meaning others won’t see. And I, tired out and on the point of abandoning my work, once again bring my eyes close to the lens and continue. For that lonely Cross is calling for a pair of shoulders to bear it" (Josemaria Escriva, “The Way,” #277).

The heroism asked of us is an everyday heroism of silent and hidden sacrifice. We can never feel vainglory for things so small. The sacrifice of deeds in very small things is the act of self-mastery whereby with God's love as "grace," we hone ourselves by service to others into the figure of "another Christ." We wash feet and by so doing affirm persons. With this, God makes our lives fruitful. We irradite fatherhood by engendering life ("life" as Zoë that is Trinitarian Life [Gift]). Since we act out of love, our sacrifice is a willing one that seeks no applause; we don’t even call it a `sacrifice.’ We receive each day’s annoyances without complaint, as coming from God’s will, with respect and love, with joy and peace. And we strive to fulfill the duty of each moment willingly, although it is hard, since it is God’s will for us.St. Josemaria wrote to his children: “My children, are you and I determined to live a life that serves as a model and lesson for others? Are we determined to be other Christs, to behave like children of God? It’s not enough to say it; we have to prove our determination by our deeds… Are you happy with how you have behaved up until now? You, who are another Christ, who are a child of God, do you deserve to have it said of you that you have come to do and to teach, facere et docere (Acts 1, 1): to teach others by your behavior to do all that is good, that is noble, that furthers the Redemption?”

Benedict XVI himself on “small things”

“The other sign which he has adopted and which, by concealing him more, shows more truly his intrinsic nature, is the sign of the lowly, which, measured cosmically, quantitatively, is completely insignificant, actually a pure nothing. One could cite in this connection the series Earth-Israel-Nazareth-Cross-Church, in which God seems to keep disappearing more and more, and precisely in this way becomes more and more manifest as himself. First there is the Earth, a mere nothing in the cosmos, which was to be the point of divine activity in the cosmos. Then comes Israel, a cipher among the powers, which was to be the point of his appearance in the world. Then comes Nazareth, again a cipher within Israel, which was to be the point of his definitive arrival. Then at the end there is the cross, on which a man was to hang, a man whose life had been a failure; yet this was to be the point at which one can actually touch God. Finally there is the Church, the questionable creation of human history, which claims to be the abiding site of his revelation. We know today only too well how little, even in it, concealment of the divine presence is abolished. Precisely when the Church believed, in all the glory of the Renaissance princedom, that it could strip away this concealment and be directly the `gate of heaven,’ the `house of God,’ it has become once again, and almost more than before, God’s disguise, with God scarcely to be found behind it. Thus what is small by a cosmic or even worldly scale represents the real sign of God wherein the quite other shows itself, which even in relation to our expectations is once again the completely unrecognizable. The cosmic Nothing is the true All, because `For’ is the really divine thing…”[2] (emphasis mine).

John Henry Newman on “small things”

“We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic – not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings – but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound – we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.

“I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say first: Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising; give your first thoughts to God; make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament; say the Angelus devoutly; eat and drink to God’s glory; way the Rosary well; be recollected; keep out bad thoughts; make your evening meditation well; examine yourself daily; go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.” [3]{The only thing I see missing is Holy Mass].

The Gift of the “I”

The key to understanding the power of the little thing is to understand that the little thing is the token of the total self, or the “I.” To make the gift of the “I” is to become another Christ. As recalled, the name of Jesus Christ is “I Am.” The Person of Christ is the totality of God, and we have been made in the image of God. Hence, we are capable, when grafted onto Christ by Baptism and Orders, to make that same gift – in the little quotidian things of the ordinary, secular day.

St. Josemaria once confided to his sons in a get-together in December of 1970 in Rome:

“The Lord is passing very close to you; I know it, although you don’t realize it. He is passing by quasi in occulto. Besides, without hiding himself, He is in your hearts, in these small battles which perhaps are not so small and that other times you made big with your foolishness, as I do. But I’m not referring to the interior life when I say this.

"Some day, when the years pass, you will see that Jesus has been very close to you; not only in the Eucharist, not only by grace. You have not had the occasion of seeing Him because I have tried that you not see Him, knowing that I want you to love Him with all your strength, with all your mind, with all your heart.”

The Gift of Self Must be Total:

Cardinal Jose Maria Bueno, speaking to St. Josemaria in Rome, suggested to him that if he continued directing things in this exacting way, with this demanding spirit, he would woon find himself with nobody. I thought then that if he were to use greater moderation, the service which the Work offered the different dioceses by providing spiritual nourishment and promoting a full dedication to the ministerial task, would reach more priests and be more readily accepted.

In the midst of these reflections I traveled to Rome, and among other things I spoke to him about I also told him all this. I said, "Look, Josemaria, it seems to me that you are a bit too demanding. When someone asks to join the Work you want him to give up everything – in fact what you want is that he should give himself completely. Isn’t this a bit excessive?"

Josemaria know how to listen, and afterwards spoke in a way that was both clear and convincing. And so his listener was incorporated, almost without realizing it, into that other supernatural sphere in which he himself moved, with surprising naturalness.

"Look" he said to me. "No. In Opus Dei we will not be either one more or one fewer than God wants us to be. And the calling God gives us is one of total, complete self-surrender, each one in his own state, with naturalness, but without concessions. When a priest comes to ask us to give him what we are able to give him, we give him the spirituality which we have: this is one of total self-surrender, without it being necessary for him to leave his place, but giving himself altogether. If I do not give him this, a spirituality which he can follow, what am I to give him? What can Opus Dei give to a priest? It is for this reason that the Work will concern itself with his spiritual direction and help him to live poverty, so that he should learn to be detached, not to possess what he has as if it were his own. And similarly with ecclesiastical science – if we do not ask of him a strict fidelity with regard to the content of the Faith and the Magisterium of the Church, what are we going to ask of hi, given that we have no school of theology of our own nor would ever have one.’ After these words or words to this effect, I ended up saying to myself, It’s true, it’s true. What else could be done, what less could be demanded?”

[1] Josef Ratzinger, “Letting God Work”, L’Osservatore Romano (special supplement) 6 October 2002.
[2] Josef Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 193.
[3] John Henry Newman, “Prayers, Verses and Devotions” Ignatius (1989) 328-329.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Epiphay 2015


528 The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Saviour of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. 212 In the magi, representatives of the neighbouring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. 213 Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Saviour of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. 214 The Epiphany shows that "the full number of the nations" now takes its "place in the family of the patriarchs", and acquires Israelitica dignitas 215(is made "worthy of the heritage of Israel").

The Star represents the search for Truth and the meaning of human existence through man’s created ontological tendency. It takes the Magi to Jerusalem where the star disappears. They  go, logically, to Herod as king of the Jews, who sends them to the Scribes as experts in the Revelation contained in Scripture. The Scribes send them to Bethlehem, but they, the Scribes who have expert conceptual knowledge of the birthplace of the Messiah, do not go. The Magi go, and find the God-man hidden in the humanity of a child. They receive the Revelation and make the gift of themselves in the form of giving the best that they have with them: gold, incense and myrrh.

Ratzinger comments: “In this text, we can see how the Catechism views the relationship between Jews and the nations of the world as communicated by Jesus; in addition, it offers at the same time a first presentation of the mission of Jesus. Accordingly, we say that the mission of Jesus is to unite Jews and pagans into a single People of God in which the universalist promises of the Scriptures are fulfilled that speak again and again of the nations worshiping the God of Israel…. In order to present this unification of Israel, and the nations, the brief text – still interpreting Matthew 2 [the Magi] - gives a lesson on the relationship of the world religions, the faith of Israel, and the mission of Jesus: the world religions can become the star that enlightens men’s path that leads them in search of the kingdom of God. The star of the religions points to Jerusalem, it is extinguished and lights up anew in the Word of God, in the Sacred Scripture of Israel. The Word of God preserved herein shows itself to be the true star without which, or bypassing which, the goal cannot found.”“What does all this mean? The mission of Jesus consists in bringing together the histories of the nations in the community of the history of Abraham, the history of Israel…. The history of Israel should become the history of all, Abraham’s sonship is to be extended to the `many.’ This course of events has two aspects to it: the nations can enter into the community of the promises of Israel in entering into the community of the one God, who now becomes and must become the way of all because there is only one God and because his will is therefore truth for all. Conversely, this means that all nations, without the abolishment of the special omission of Israel, become brothers and receivers of the promises of the chosen People; the become People of God with Israel through adherence to the will of God and through acceptance of the Davidic kingdom.”[8]
  Jesus Christ is the Meaning of “Man.” The Source for the Universal Truth “Person” Originates in the Experience Self as Gift in Secular Work (= Prayer).

This is derived from an understanding of how human nature was assumed by the divine Person as “his.” The human will does not will in Jesus Christ. He (divine Person) wills with “his” human will. It is a divine Person willing with a human will. That is, He wills as a divine Person wills, but it is humanly. Therefore, the freedom of self-giving that is the meaning of freedom is enhanced and becomes truly itself as image of God, not annulled, in Christ’s human will. So also, the experience of what it means to be “person,” the truth of human personhood, can only be found in the experience of Christ that is self-expropriation (gift).

Consider the case of the three wise men who have left their land, their power and their time to follow the star to the obscure stable in which they are confronted by a child, a young mother, a carpenter, shepherds and animals.
 Benedict asks: “How was this possible? What convinced the Magi that the Child was ‘the King of the Jews’ and the King of the peoples? There is no doubt that they were persuaded by the sign of the star that they had seen ‘in its rising’ and which had come to rest precisely over the place where the Child was found (cf. Mt. 2, 9). But even the star would not have sufficed had the Magi not been people inwardly open to the truth.”[9]

The conditions of being able to re-cognize the Child in the child are purity and detachment, whereby the self is dispossessed and liberated from itself. Only then can there be the experience and the cognizing in self of that tiny sensible figure who is then re-cognized as Creator of the world hidden in his creation.

Benedict XVI

“… In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself became man. To him the Father says: `You are my son.' God's everlasting "today" has come down into the fleeting today of the world and lifted our momentary today into God's eternal today. God is so great that he can become small. God is so powerful that he can make himself vulnerable and come to us as a defenseless child, so that we can love him. God is so good that he can give up his divine splendor and come down to a stable, so that we might find him, so that his goodness might touch us, give itself to us and continue to work through us. This is Christmas: `You are my son, this day I have begotten you.' God has become one of us, so that we can be with him and become like him. As a sign, he chose the Child lying in the manger: This is how God is. This is how we come to know him. And on every child shines something of the splendor of that "today," of that closeness of God which we ought to love and to which we must yield -- it shines on every child, even on those still unborn.”

Benedict then explains the Epiphany in this light:

“Let us listen to a second phrase from the liturgy of this holy night, one taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Upon the people who walked in darkness a great light has shone" (Isaiah 9:1). The word "light" pervades the entire liturgy of tonight's Mass. It is found again in the passage drawn from St. Paul's letter to Titus: "The grace of God has appeared" (2:11). The expression "has appeared," in the original Greek says the same thing that was expressed in Hebrew by the words "a light has shone": this "apparition" -- this "epiphany" -- is the breaking of God's light upon a world full of darkness and unsolved problems. The Gospel then relates that the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and "shone around them" (Luke 2:9). Wherever God's glory appears, light spreads throughout the world. St. John tells us that "God is light and in him is no darkness" (1 John 1:5). The light is a source of life. But first, light means knowledge; it means truth, as contrasted with the darkness of falsehood and ignorance. Light gives us life, it shows us the way. But light, as a source of heat, also means love. Where there is love, light shines forth in the world; where there is hatred, the world remains in darkness. In the stable of Bethlehem there appeared the great light which the world awaits. In that Child lying in the stable, God has shown his glory -- the glory of love, which gives itself away, stripping itself of all grandeur in order to guide us along the way of love. The light of Bethlehem has never been extinguished. In every age it has touched men and women, "it has shone around them."
“Wherever people put their faith in that Child, charity also sprang up -- charity toward others, loving concern for the weak and the suffering, the grace of forgiveness. From Bethlehem a stream of light, love and truth spreads through the centuries. If we look to the saints -- from Paul and Augustine to Francis and Dominic, from Francis Xavier and Teresa of Avila to Mother Teresa of Calcutta -- we see this flood of goodness, this path of light kindled ever anew by the mystery of Bethlehem, by that God who became a Child. In that Child, God countered the violence of this world with his own goodness. He calls us to follow that Child.”

The Epiphany of the Wise Men fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet: “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! You light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth… Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance…. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses." (Isaiah 60, 1-4).
The Universal Reach of the Promise (Beyond Covenant) to Abram: Not Just Jews But All Nations:

What does it mean? A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.

“Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel."

The King of kings and Lord of lords lies in a manger. “Lord, where is your kingship, your crown, your sword, your scepter? They are his by right, but he does not want them. He reigns wrapped in swaddling clothes. Our king is unadorned. He comes to us as a defenseless little child. Can we help but recall the words of the Apostle: `He emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave’?”[1]

The Meaning of the Feast: Jesus Christ, the Absolute Being, God, and King of all creation, is camouflaged in the flesh and poverty of an infant. Like is known by like. Only by lowering self to experience the self-giving that is the kenosis of the Logos, can one re-cognize Him who is pure self gift to the Father. The faith of Abraham and the true sons of Israel that is this self kenosis must be learned by all nations. The lowering of self can only be recognized by the lowering of self. The Wise Men did it. They represent all the gentile nations. In other words, one must become another Christ, a vulnerable and defenseless child, in the self gift of obedience that is faith, in order to have the "cognizing" that is consciousness of being another Christ, so that one become able to "re-cognize" Him in the ordinary events of secular life where He awaits us now. The lowering of the self in the acceptance of mercy is the task of this year of mercy.