Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Stay Human

Only [by ecclesial obedience] can Adam be overcome in us, too, and the way opened up to the new human life. In an age in which emancipation is regarded as the true heart of redemption, and freedom appears as the right to do everything I myself want to, and only that, the concept of obedience is, so to speak, anathematized. It has been excised, not merely from our vocabulary, but from our thinking. Yet this conception of freedom is the very thing that has made people incapable of living with one another, incapable of loving. It enslaves people.

Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 168
Reflection - So we've been moving through a little reflection on faith, being human, being sub-human, and related cheerful topics, quoting besides Pope Benedict such luminaries as W.H  Auden, Lily Tomlin, Leonard Cohen, and the DSM IV. I do try to provide some variety on this blog...
The deep question of our humanity, in this short excerpt from a truly spectacular book by then Cardinal Ratzinger, intersects surprisingly with the question of obedience, and specifically ecclesial obedience - obedience to the Church and its authoritative teaching.
This may seem like an odd leap to some (and of course, an offensive objectionable statement to any non-Catholics stopping by here for whatever reason. Hi, non-Catholics! Stick with me for a minute here...) Yes, obey the Pope or become sub-human - how's that for ecumenical outreach! Let's see if we can unpack this a bit.
The truth of our humanity means, we have explored, an openness to that which is bigger than ourselves, that which we have not and could not make. The immense mystery of another human person, the overawing and overwhelming experience of the cosmos as a whole, the mystery of Being, the meaning, purpose, goal, direction of all that is--all of this is beyond the scope of our physical sciences and our practical intellects.
And without some openness, some real lived encounter with this larger reality, we are in fact stuck in our own autonomy, our own egoism. Our own experience of being the biggest thing or the only thing or the thing that defines and masters all other things... including all other people. And love flies out the window, and communion, and sacrifice, and a host of other things that make life worth living and truly deeply human.
But how do we stay open to 'what is not us and is bigger than us'. It must be the way of obedience. To not be the master, the one who determines what is real/unreal, true/false, good/evil. As long as we are the ones deciding this issues in an autonomous fashion, we are still stuck in the ego, stuck alienated from anything bigger than ourselves.
There must be a way of obedience open for us. And it cannot be simply to obey whatever we have determined to be true in itself. That way lies self-delusion and a veiled autonomy. I believe in God and in Jesus and I will be faithful to Him alone... but has he appeared to you lately and told you what He wants you to do today? Or how to move in the year 2011 with its specific challenges and obstacles and questions?
To say 'I believe in God and in Jesus and in His constant guidance of us through His Church on earth' is a very different thing. Now we are busted out of the prison of the self. Now there is a tangible reality, an audible voice, a concrete Thing that is telling me what to do, what not to do, and what the Gospel of Christ means for us in the world today.
Ouch! That smarts! And it should smart, because it always hurts when our ego gets busted open. And yes, the Church is made up of fallible, foolish, sinful men who don't always get it right. But nonetheless to place ourselves in an attitude of obedience to this Church, always with all the nuances and limitations and definitions of that obedience in place--this opens us up to what is not us and what is bigger than us, what we have not and could not make.
And this makes our life human, frees us from the tyranny of the self, and opens us up to the grand mystery of love and communion in the world.

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