Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Reality's Deepest Meaning

Christ’s life, his way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience. Saint John brings out the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus for our faith by using various forms of the verb "to believe". In addition to "believing that" what Jesus tells us is true, John also speaks of "believing" Jesus and "believing in" Jesus. We "believe" Jesus when we accept his word, his testimony, because he is truthful. We "believe in" Jesus when we personally welcome him into our lives and journey towards him, clinging to him in love and following in his footsteps along the way.

To enable us to know, accept and follow him, the Son of God took on our flesh. In this way he also saw the Father humanly, within the setting of a journey unfolding in time. Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word and his bodily resurrection; it is faith in a God who is so close to us that he entered our human history. Far from divorcing us from reality, our faith in the Son of God made man in Jesus of Nazareth enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself. This leads us, as Christians, to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity.
Lumen Fidei 18

Reflection – I started blogging about this paragraph of the encyclical yesterday and got so interested in an earlier part of it, on how faith is very reasonable since everyone puts faith in people they trust, that I never got to this crucial material. And it is so crucial that I didn’t want to pass over it unremarked.

This paragraph is, I would say, the key to the whole encyclical. It is in fact the key to the whole of our religion, the whole Christian world-view. We are, if we are what we should be, wholly Christ-centered. The person of Jesus, his words and deeds, are the center of our life, what guides our choices, what conditions our whole understanding of virtually every situation, every problem, everything. Jesus, simply, has revealed to us the truth about life, the structure of reality, who God is, who we are, and how we are to get from where we are now—an existence conditioned by sin, death, frailty—to where we will be if we trust Him—an existence unconditioned by anything except the love of God.

Jesus—believing Him, believing in Him, believing that He is truthful—is at must remain the absolute center and total focus of our own personal lives and of our efforts to preach our faith, whatever form these take. It seems to me that this has been the consistent and fundamental message of Pope Francis these past six months of his papacy.

The last bit of this paragraph is deeply important, and worth spending a bit of time meditating on. I encourage people to really read it carefully. The Son of God, the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, the One who knows the Father from before time began, entered into our human reality, and so His perfect knowledge of God the Father is now accessible to us through Him, in a human way. And because Jesus is truthful and indeed Truth itself, our faith in Him grounds us in reality in a way nothing else can.

The accusation made against Christianity by some has always been that it makes its believers disengaged from the world, unconcerned about temporal affairs in favor of future heavenly bliss, accepting of the world as it is since the world as it is doesn’t really matter all that much. That the historical record of Christianity and the actual behavior of real Christians for 2000 years does not bear this out in the slightest doesn’t seem to address the objection too much, which is kind of funny when you think of it.

Christianity as a religion has on the whole been marked for two millennia by its care for the poor and needy on the one hand, and its constant building up (at times in a negative and distressing way) of a temporal institutional structure—churches, schools, etc. I’m still thinking about Rome and my experience there—whatever one thinks of all the magnificent architecture and art in that city, it does not give the impression of a religion detached from the temporal order, to say the least!

But the deeper objection, perhaps, is that all this mystical nonsense about Jesus takes us out of reality into some pie-in-the-sky fairy tale, and does in fact distort our presence and engagement in the world. I suppose the question hinges on whether or not Jesus really is ‘mystical nonsense’, and that of course is the whole matter of faith.

But let us be clear—the Jesus we believe in is a God who is so concerned for the world that He came into the world precisely to set it at rights, and the whole imitation of Christ leads us on that same path of service to the world, always knowing that this is not the final goal, that the order of reality called ‘secular’ – the here and now – is not the ultimate destination of humanity, but that God comes to us here and now to communicate his love so that we can let Him bring us to our final state of eternal communion with Him, and asks us to communicate that same love by lives of loving service to our brothers and sisters.

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