Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Pope of the Moment


Everywhere in the history of religion, in various forms, we encounter the significant conflict between the knowledge of the one God and the attraction of other powers that are considered more dangerous or nearer at hand and, therefore, more important for man than the God who is distant and mysterious. All of history bears the traces of this strange dilemma between the non-violent, tranquil demands made by the truth, on the one hand, and the pressure brought to make profits and the need to have a good relationship with the powers that determine daily life by their interventions, on the other hand.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures,  98

Reflection – Well, on this Second Sunday of Advent we are focusing on John the Baptist and the call to repentance. We are meant to live in a holy longing for God’s coming, in a state of vigilant watchfulness, expectant hope, constant zeal for the kingdom of God and its growth in the world.

We have to take into account the sad reality that we do not always live like that. And Ratzinger pin points, I think, exactly what goes on in our hearts and minds when we allow our desire for God to grow cold and our longing for the kingdom to become a remote abstract notion.

It’s all these other powers and principalities, so to speak, who seem to be offering us a better deal, I guess. At least we sure are in a hurry to take the offer! It’s like all those shady operators who offer suspiciously good discounts and payment schedules and interest rates (No payments due for the first twelve months! No interest charged! Absolutely free!).

Well, we bite on that. And of course, besides the carrot of easy money and immediate returns on investment, there is the stick of coercion—social coercion and ostracization, ‘going along to get along’—all the ways the world uses to enforce whatever rigid orthodoxy the powers that be decide we should subscribe to today.

All of these things, if we let them have sway over us, are the immediate powers that can drown out the voice of God in us and quench the desire of God in us.

The ancient Gnostics posited a universe where God was ‘up there’ somewhere in the highest heavens, but separated from us by layers upon layers of hostile archons ringed around the earth. Liberation consisted of getting past these encircling archons by obtaining secret esoteric knowledge, so as to attain union with the One.

There is a thread of truth in this Gnostic cosmology. We do experience that ‘all that stuff’ gets between us and God, that the lure of riches and the fear of humiliation, rejection, persecution can pose a formidable barrier between God and us. And many seem to allow their lives to be ruled by the ‘archons’ of this present age.

Where the Gnostics went wrong was that their god was passive one, distant and removed, not really personally engaged in this battle. Our God has come down from the heavens and is with us, in us, around about us, continually. Yes, as Ratzinger points out, he is tranquil, non-violent, respecting of our freedom. But He is with us, nonetheless.

And it is not some esoteric knowledge or secret wisdom that wins the battle for us. We are not saved by knowledge, but by love. The call to love, to selflessness, to service, to laying down our lives for those around us—this is the constant call of Truth to us, the constant call countering the clamorous voices of the world, the flesh, the devil.

God may be, and often is, silent, hidden, mysterious. But the call to love in this moment is always here, always evident if we choose to give it our attention, the vicar of Christ in the present moment, we may call it. The Pope of the moment, so to speak.
 
And it is this call to love and our radical choice to pursue it that frees us from the degrading slavery to concupiscent desire and cringing fear in this world, free to open our hearts to the God who comes, who is here, who desires to establish his kingdom in and through us.