Friday, December 28, 2012

The Facts of God

The basic form of Christian faith is not: I believe something, but I believe you... faith is not primarily a colossal edifice of numerous supernatural facts, standing like a curious second order of knowledge alongside the realm of science, but an assent to God who gives us hope and confidence.

Faith and the Future, 20-1

Reflection – Well, here I am in Halifax, after 30 hours of marathon traveling by car, train, cab, train, and car. The highlight of the trip was our train running out of gas in Montreal (I didn’t know they could do that!), and a wild cab ride through the city to (barely) make our connecting train to the East coast. The CCO Rise-Up conference begins this afternoon, so as promised, here I am resuming regular blogging in the meantime.

When Ratzinger writes the above reflection on the nature of faith as opposed to science, we have to be careful that we understand him rightly. There is a whole approach to faith, which in this same book he explicitly rejects, where religion has nothing to do with facts or historical events, but is simply a matter of emotion or ethics or aesthetics. All the dogmas and creedal formulations are mere symbols that help us towards an ethical or beautiful way of life.

No – God has indeed communicated to us certain things about Himself, and these are essential to faith. His triune nature, His action of incarnation ex Maria virgine, and all that Jesus said and did in His life, the whole historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection and its effect on humanity, the reality of the ascension and the gift of the Spirit to the Church—all of these are facts, not mere symbolism or myth. The human language we are necessarily required to us to express these facts is, of course, inadequate to the nature of God, but nonetheless, the revelation is real and the facts are facts.

Ratzinger’s point here is that all of these facts are not merely given to us in the sense that scientific data is given to us, as bare statements about the world which we either find useful or not, but which are nonetheless given to us as information about reality.

This is not the dynamism of faith. Faith is all about making a choice about this core relationship with this One who reveals Himself to us. God reveals Himself as Father—my choice is to trust Him and base my life on His love. God reveals Himself as Son—my choice is to recognize in the Son the way to the Father and the pattern of my own life as a son of the Father. God reveals Himself as Spirit—my choice is to cry out ‘Come, Holy Spirit’, to know and live my life out of the surety of God’s action and gift to me of His own self.

And so it goes. Every little bit of the facts, the data God reveals to us is for the sake of eliciting a response of trusting love and joyful obedience in us. Now at this point a voice from the peanut gallery can perhaps be heard. ‘Yeah, right!’ it seems to say.

Because of course it is the feast of the Holy Innocents today, isn’t it. And with that feast, right in the heart of all the joyful facts about baby Jesus and mother Mary and the noble awesome doctrine of the Incarnation—God becoming man, the Word taking flesh—well, suddenly we have a lot of other facts to contend with.

Dead babies. Murdered children. Lots of them. A violent, brutal world in which the weakest and most innocent, the vulnerable and the small are run over and torn apart by the cruelty of wicked men and the selfishness of our modern ‘civilized’ way of life. We look to our Church, where the facts tell us the Spirit has been poured out, and alas! More abused children, a betrayal of trust, and deep sorrow and rage.

These are all facts, too. And so we have the facts of God and the facts of man. That which God has shown us, and that which humanity shows us. And of course world and church are full of goodness and kindness and sympathy—it’s not all wicked cruelty. But there it is, and we all know it.

It seems to me that in the face of what we all know about the world and what happens to people, especially the small and weak in the world, we can choose to despair in God, in the ‘facts of God’ which at any rate do not seem to be strong enough to stop human evil from propagating. Or we can choose to take our stand on these facts of God, the promises of God, the action of God, the love of God in the world. Ally ourselves to it, commit our lives to receiving it, following it, and imitating it, and so become ourselves a ‘fact of God’ in the world. A saint, in other words.

Or we can cry and scream and curse the darkness and curse or deny God. We may need to cry or even scream at times, in the face of terrible evil and suffering. But always we are confronted with the choice to love, to turn to God, to take up the task, the burden, and the glorious mission of love in the world, and so be one with the One who bore that burden in full and has carried the whole world—all the suffering children, all the abused and the abusers who make them suffer—in his Sacred Heart to the heart of the Father, to be healed and raised up with Him in a new world where such things are no more, and every tear will be wiped away.
Happy feast day, holy innocents, and all us less-than-innocent ones, too.

Update: It appears that wifi access is going to be very limited this week, and the schedule rather full. I am currently working from a nearby Tim Hortons! So... talk to you all in the New Year, and meanwhile keep CCO Rise-Up in your prayers.

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