Sunday, October 23, 2011

We See It Over and Over Again

[Reason] becomes human only if it is capable of directing the will along the right path, and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself. Otherwise, man's situation, in view of the imbalance between his material capacity and the lack of judgment in his heart, becomes a threat for him and for creation. Thus where freedom is concerned, we must remember that human freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom. Let us put it very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope. Given the developments of the modern age, the quotation from Saint Paul with which I began (Eph ) proves to be thoroughly realistic and plainly true. There is no doubt, therefore, that a “Kingdom of God” accomplished without God—a kingdom therefore of man alone—inevitably ends up as the “perverse end” of all things as described by Kant: we have seen it, and we see it over and over again. Yet neither is there any doubt that God truly enters into human affairs only when, rather than being present merely in our thinking, he himself comes towards us and speaks to us. Reason therefore needs faith if it is to be completely itself: reason and faith need one another in order to fulfill their true nature and their mission.
Spe Salvi 23
Reflection – So we continue our journey through Spe Salvi and what it has to say about human hope and modern progress. It is fascinating, and very telling, that the Holy Father focuses his discussion of hope on the question of human freedom: certainly, our true hope as human beings is that we enter into deeper and deeper expression of freedom in our lives.
What a lie this gives to those who speak of Catholicism as a repressive, totalitarian religion! The whole good of human beings, in the Catholic understanding, is found in total freedom. But this freedom cannot, Pope Benedict reasons, be a matter of everyone doing just what they want. This model of freedom is self-destructive, as what I want may prevent you from doing what you want; what you and I want together may prevent him and her from doing what they want… and so on. If this vision of freedom is the only one on offer, we are stuck… well, pretty much with the world we have now, where all are caught in a battle against all, and it’s winner take all and the divil take the hindmost. And, as the Holy Father say, we see this over and over again.
‘Freedom to’ do this and that has to be held in the deeper reality of ‘freedom for’ – what are we made for, what is the good of life, where do we find it, how do we attain it? Without this we degrade to the animal level of competition and mutually assured destruction. With it, we become human. And this humanity is a matter, then, of being on a pilgrimage of truth and love, justice and mercy. A pilgrimage towards what is real and life-giving, a pilgrimage towards God.
This is what he means when he writes that man without God has no hope. We have to be going somewhere that is bigger than our own selves and their needs and wants. But in the material universe there is nothing bigger than us, except in the unimportant matter of physical dimension. So if we are headed anywhere at all (that is, if there is hope) we must be heading towards something greater than the material universe, and this (as Aquinas would put it) all men call God.
But of course Pope Benedict would not be true to Joseph Ratzinger’s lifetime of reflection if he did not point out that this God we are on pilgrimage towards has Himself made a pilgrimage of sorts towards us. We could never walk to heaven on our little stumpy legs; instead, heaven has come to us, and this is where faith meets reason to make it possible for reason to attain the goal that alone makes reason meaningful and good.
Deep stuff here, eh? And as we look at a world where Gadhaffi is gunned down like a rabid dog, protestors ‘occupy’ any street they can get their hands on, stock markets reel and rock with the latest turn of events, and we all furrow our collective brow with uncertainty and anxiety—well, we have to go into these depths. We are living in deep waters right now; the world is in trouble. Maybe it always is, but we just see it really clearly now. But as the psalm says, ‘deep calls upon deep’—the deep waters we are treading call us to enter the true depths of God, faith, freedom, and hope. Only thus will we attain our safe harbour.

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