Monday, June 30, 2008

Concupiscence, True Communion, and Friends

It does not correspond to the personal union or 'communion' to which man and woman have been reciprocally called 'from the beginning,' in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction.  Further, it does not correspond to this unity of 'communion'--in fact, it is contrary to it--that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction.  Such a 'reduction' of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the 'nature' of the attraction in question.  Such a 'reduction,' in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and 'of communion,' through which 'the mane will... unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh' (Gen 2:4).  'Concupiscence' removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective 'of communion,' which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being 'makes use' of another human being, 'using her' only to satisfy his own 'urges.'
from Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II
Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90's.  It had a lot of influence especially on my generation.  This quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.  There is a total reduction of relationship between man and woman to sexual satisfaction.  The two friends who ended up marrying each other.  Their relationship started with sex.  When they hid the 'relationship' from the other friends, they where hiding them having sex.  To my knowledge, which is limited finite, and possibly wrong, they didn't go out on a 'date' until it was public knowledge that they were dating.  A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon sexual intercourse (sand).  This is what my generation saw each week.  This is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, where the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification.  The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which to many nowadays means a basis for a solid marriage.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Power of the Incarnation

Today is the memorial of St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr, so, I figured I put something up from one of our great Western Church Fathers.
"The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life.  For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him.  It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.  Men will therefore see  God if they are to live . . . 
God is the source of all activity throughout creation.  He cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures.  Yet he is certainly not unknown.  Through his Word the whole creation learns that there is one God the FAther, who holds all things together and gives them their being.  As it is written in the Gospel: No man has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.
From the beginning the Son is the one who teaches us about the FAther; he is with the Father from the beginning.  He was to reveal to the human race visions of prophecy, the diversity of spiritual gifts, his won ways of ministry, the glorification of the FAther, all in due order and harmony, at the appointed time and for our instruction.  Where there is order, there is also harmony; where there is harmony, there is also correct timing; where there is correct timing, there is also advantage.  
The Word became the steward of the Father's grace for the advantage of men, for whose benefit he had made such wonderful arrangements.  He revealed God to men and presented men to God.  He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which to make progress.  On the other hand, he revealed God to men and made him visible in many ways to prevent man from being totally separated from God and so to cease to be.  Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.  If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who life upon earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God."
from Adversus haereses by St. Irenaeus of Lyon

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Compassio and Immutability of God

God, then, has no need to 'change' when he makes a reality of the wonders of his charity, wonders which include the Incarnation and, more particularly, the Passion of Christ, and, before him, the dramatic history of God with Israel and, no doubt, with humanity as a whole.  All the contingent 'abasements' of God in the economy of salvation are forever included and outstripped in the eternal event of Love.  And so what, in the temporal economy, appears as the (most real) suffering of the Cross is only the manifestation of the (Trinitarian) Eucharist of the Son: he will be forever the slain lamb, on the throne of the Father's glory, and his Eucharist - the Body shared out, the Blood poured forth - will never be abolished, since the Eucharist it is which must gather all creation into his body.  What the Father has given, he will never take back.
from the preface to the second edition of Mysterium Paschale by Hans Urs von Balthasar

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Obedience as Union with the Will of the Father

It is true that the two things - 'not to do one's own will' and 'to do the will of God' - are strictly interdependent.  They are not, however, identical an neither do they have the same limits.  Not to do one's own will is not always, in itself, a saving factor, whereas doing the will of God is.  The positive reason for obedience goes much further than the negative one.  God can ask things not wit aim of making us deny our own will, but to test and increase our faith and charity.  The BIble defines the act that led Abraham to immolate his son as obedience (cf. Gn 22:18), even if the aim was not to make Abraham deny his will, but to test his faithfulness.  The aim of all is in fact to get human freedom to return freely to adhering to God, so that only one will, God's will, may reign again in the universe as was the case before sin appeared.  Through obedience we have, in some way, 'the return of creature to God.'  At the head of all biblical motivations for obedience, higher than faith itself, there is charity.  Obedience is the nuptial 'yes' of the creature to the Creator, in which the final union of the two wills, the essence of eternal bliss, is, however imperfectly, already at work.  'It is through obedience,' a Father of the desert said, 'that we are not only in the image of God but like to God.'  We are in the image of God through the very fact of our existence, but through our obedience to Him we are like to Him, as through obedience we conform ourselves to his will and, through our free choice, become what he is by nature.  We are like to God because we want what he wants.
from Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

The Seed of Hope

"Death is, then , no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation."  Whatever precisely St. Ambrose may have meant by these words, it is true that to eliminate death or to postpone it more or less indefinitely would pace the earth and humanity in an impossible situation, even for the individual would bring no benefit.  Obviously there is a contradiction in our attitude, which points to an inner contradiction in our very existence.  On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die.  Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view.  So what do we really want? Our paradoxical attitude gives rise to a deeper question: what in fact 'life?'  And what does 'eternity' really mean?  There are moments when it suddenly seems clear to us: yes, this what true 'life' is--this what it should be like.  Besides, what we call 'life' in our everyday language is not real 'life' at all.  St. Augustine, in the extended letter on prayer which eh addressed to Proba, a wealthy Roman widow and mother of three consuls, once wrote this: ultimately we want only on things--'the blessed life,' the life which is simply life, simply 'happiness.'  In the final analysis, there is nothing else that we ask for in prayer.  Our journey has no other goal--it is about this alone.  But then Augustine also says: looking more closely, we have no idea what we ultimately desire, what we would really like.  We do not know this reality at all; even in those moments when we think we can reach out and touch it, it eludes us. 'We do not know what we should pray for as we ought,' he says, quoting St. Paul (Rom 8:26).  All we know is that it is not this.  Yet in not knowing, we know that this reality must exist.  'There is therefore in us a certain learned ignorance (docta ignorancia), so to speak,' he writes.  We do know what we would really like; we do not know this 'true life;' and yet we know that there must be something we do not know towards which we feel driven.
I think that in this very precise and permanently valid way, Augustine is describing man's essential situation that gives rise to all his contradictions and hopes.  In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not now the thing towards which we feel driven.  We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for.  This unknown 'thing' is the true 'hope' which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity.  The term 'eternal life' is intended to give a name to this known 'unknown.'  Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion.  'Eternal,' in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; 'life' makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it.  To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way sense the eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more life the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality--this we can only attempt.  It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time--the before and after--no longer exists.  We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.  This is how Jesus expresses it in St. John's Gospel: 
I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and non one will take your joy from you' (16:22).  We must think along these lines if we want  to understand the object of Christian hop, to understand what it is that our faith, our being with Christ, leads us to expect.
from the Encylical Letter Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Correct Understanding of Obedience

Furthermore, from the word of God we learn that the virtue of obedience is more positive than negative.  Here too, with the passing of time and with the prevailing ascetic interest over the mysteric and kerygmatic, obedience is above all seen as a negative virtue or one of denial.  Its pre-eminence among the virtues is derived from the importance of the good that is renounced through it, that is, one's own will.  This good is greater than all the exterior things one renounces through poverty, greater than one's body, renounced through chastity.  But in biblical terms, the positive aspect - to do the will of God - is more important than the negative aspect - not to do one's own will.  Jesus says: 'Not my will but thine be done' (the emphasis being on the second part); 'My food is to do the will of the Father!' and, again, 'Here I am!  I am coming to do your will' (HEB 10:2).  Salvation, in fact, comes from doing the will of God, not from not doing one's own will.  In the 'Our Father' we ask that 'Thy will be done'; we are asking for something positive.  In the Scriptures we read that God wants obedience, not sacrifice (cf. 1 S 15:22; Heb 10:5-7).  We know, nonetheless, that he also wants to sacrifice in the case of Christ and that he wants it from us too... The explanation lies in the fact that of the two things, one is the means, the other is the end.  God wants obedience for itself whereas he wants sacrifice only indirectly, in relation to the first.  The sentence therefore means: what God seeks, in sacrifice, is obedience!  The sacrifice of one's won will is the means for conforming to the divine will.  To those who were scandalized at how God could find pleasure in the sacrifice of his Son Jesus, St. Bernard rightly replies: 'It was not the death that pleased him but the will of him who spontaneously died!'  It is not so much therefore the death of Christ that saved us, as his obedience unto death."
From Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Obedience of Christ

"The obedience of Jesus Christ to the Father is carried out above all through obedience to the written word.  When Jesus was tempted in the desert, his obedience consisted in recalling the word of God and keeping to it.  'It is written!'  God's words, under the present action of the holy Spirit, become vehicles of the living will of God and reveal their 'binding' nature as orders from God.  Herein lies the obedience of the new Adam in the desert.  After the last 'It is written' said by Jesus, Luke goes on to tell us that the 'devil left him' (Lk 4:12) and that Jesus returned to Galilee 'filled with the Holy Spirit' (Lk 4:14).  The Holy Spirit is given to those who 'obey God' (Ac 5:32).  St James says: 'Give in to God, resist the devil, and he will run away from you' (Js 4:7).  That is what happened when Jesus was tempted.  Jesus bases his obedience, in a particular way, on the words written about him and for him 'in the law, in the prophets and in the psalms,' which he, as man, gradually discovers as he advances in understanding and fulfilling his mission.  The perfect concord that exists between the prophecies of the Old Testament and the acts of Jesus, as seen in the New Testament, cannot be explained by saying that the prophecies depend on the acts (that is, that the prophecies were later applied to the acts already carried out by Jesus) but by saying that the acts depend on the prophecies: Jesus 'fulfilled' in perfect obedience what was written of him by the Father.  When his disciples want to oppose his capture, Jesus says: 'But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be? (Mt 26:54).  The life of Jesus seems to be guided by an invisible luminous treail formed of the words written for him; it is from the Scriptures that he takes the 'must be' (dei) which governs hi whole life."
from Obedience: The Authority of the Word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa