Friday, November 30, 2012

Nuclear Friars and the God of Jacob

We are living in a period of great dangers and of great opportunities both for man and for the world, a period that also imposes a great responsibility on us all. During the past century the possibilities available to man for dominion over matter have grown in a manner we may truly call unimaginable. But the fact that he has power over the world has also meant that man’s destructive power has reached dimensions that can sometimes make us shudder.

Here one thinks spontaneously of the threat of terrorism, this new war without national borders and without lines of battle. The fear that terrorists may get hold of nuclear and biological weapons is not unfounded, and this has induced even states under the rule of law to have recourse to internal systems of security similar to those that once existed only in dictatorships; and yet, the feeling remains that all these precautions will never really be enough, since a completely global control is neither possible nor desirable.
Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 25-6

Reflection – Ratzinger goes on in this passage to further analysis of the technological mastery of our age and how it has not been accompanied by a strong corresponding moral development. The answer lies there, in a spiritual and moral formation that alone can provide us with the wisdom to rightly use the powers our technology has obtained us.

It is what Catherine Doherty, the founder of Madonna House, always said in her typical pithy colorful way: “If St. Francis of Assisi had the atom bomb, nobody would worry!” The image of nuclear armed friars is, perhaps, an amusing one. But the point she is making is precisely what Ratzinger has made many times in his writing career: human life is not made secure by technical mastery, but by faith, hope, and love.

The whole question of fear and security is a crucial one today. Ratzinger wrote the above passage before 9/11 and the ensuing years when indeed, the ‘internal systems of security’ in countries such as the USA have approached levels unimaginable 20 years ago. And many, many people are basically just fine with that, with trading away freedom for an illusion of security.

And it is just that, of course—an illusion. The government simply cannot protect us from all violent contingencies, and its attempts to do so can only introduce levels of violence and oppression of their own into our lives.

The other great fear driving us today is the fear of economic collapse and global depression. This is probably a more realistic fear than that of terrorism. Even if there is another 9/11-style terrorist attack, horrible as it would be the direct victims would number in the thousands at most. A global depression would affect… well, everyone, more or less. And it does seem like something of the sort is in the offing.

Fear and security—it’s time to think long and hard about these matters. ‘Put not your trust in princes, in mortal man in whom there is no help. Take their breath, they return to clay, and their plans that day come to nothing. He is happy who is helped by Jacob’s God…’ (Ps 146:3-5). Or, ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4).

This latter quote is significant, coming as it does in the narrative of Christ’s temptation in the desert. When we are in the desert—that is, when our life is insecure and endangered, when resources are scant—then comes the great temptation to security by any means necessary. It is worth sitting with Matthew 4 in the context of our times, of global economic insecurity, war and the threats of war, terrorism and violence, possible looming persecution of religion in Canada and the United States. Put your trust in the God of Jacob. Live by the true word of God, not the spurious and ever-shifting words of politicians. Worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.

This is security, and this is the only remedy for fear. This is the only security possible in this world, to fix our minds and hearts so utterly on the kingdom of God and on His love and fidelity that ‘we shall not fear, though the earth should rock, though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea… nations are in tumult, kingdoms are shaken, he lifts his voice the earth shrinks away… be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth’ (Ps 46).

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