Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Forgetting Ourselves

[The foolish rich man of Luke 12: 16-23] strikes me as a very exact picture of our average modern attitude. Our technical and economic capabilities have grown to an extent that could not have been imagined earlier. The precision of our calculations is worthy of admiration.

Despite all the ghastly things that have happened in this age of ours the opinion is continually becoming stronger among many people that we are now close to the point of bringing about the greatest happiness of the greatest number and finally ushering in a new phase of history… but precisely when we seem to be coming close to humankind’s redemption of itself, frightening explosions erupt from the depths of the unsatisfied and oppressed human soul to tell us: ‘Fool , you have forgotten yourself…’

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, To Look on Christ: Exercises in Faith, Hope, and Love

Reflection – This book was published in 1991, compiled from previously given talks and homilies. I think the heady optimism Ratzinger refers to here has become a little threadbare in the ensuing decades and particularly in the past ten years. The 1980s are a long time ago, and not just in terms of big hair and leggings. From financial meltdowns to Ebola outbreaks, a resurgent Russia and the steady growth of the most radical and violent forms of Islam, it would take a most determinedly optimistic sort to believe that ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is just around the corner. Any day now! Eschatology now! Well, if not now, then… uhh…. tomorrow! Or not…

That being said, the fundamental attitude still is in place, namely that there is no happiness possible except that which we attain by our own efforts. If it cannot be a happiness for the whole of humanity, the kingdom of heaven on earth, then I will just grab as big a piece of the pie as I can get away with and make off with it.

This returns us to the precise position of the rich fool of Luke’s Gospel – once my barns are full, I can sit back and relax and let the rest of the world burn. Whether we are ‘social justice warriors’ determined to bring the final state of human happiness to pass by some type of political action or big greedy pigs concerned only for our own happiness, the same mistake is made, that happiness lies within human power of action, and that in fact there is no other happiness to be had except what we can fashion for ourselves in this world.

Of course my sympathies are more with the SJW types (I wouldn’t very well have joined Madonna House otherwise), but nonetheless it is a terrible trap, one that many decent and caring people have fallen into. We are supposed to care, deeply and passionately, about the sufferings of all humanity, and strive to do our bit, anyhow, to alleviate this suffering.

But if there is no God, no hope for redemption beyond this world and beyond our own choices and acts, if there is in fact no kingdom of heaven, then our care for humanity will either burn itself out and we will collapse into indifference, cynicism, and selfishness, or we will be prey to more and more extreme ideologies which comes at a very high price to our humanity.

Communism, fascism, and indeed radical Islam are all examples of ideological projects to create the kingdom of heaven on earth which inevitably entail killing everyone who seems to be getting in the way: the infidels, the subsersives, the Jews—whoever.

And we are not immune to this in our North American world. The ideology of the day on our continent seems to be that of gender libertarianism—if only everyone gets to express his or her (or whatever pronouns we come up with) gender identity and sexual preference without censure in absolute freedom, then we will all be happy. But to achieve that eschatological state of bliss, those religions that hold to a sexual ethos rooted in the complementariness of the genders and the sanctity of marriage must be silenced on this matter, must themselves be censured and censored by state fiat if necessary. And this is a growing sentiment in Canada and the United States.

All of this is based on this terrible loss of our true selves and the truth of human happiness, the summa bonum, the true greatest good of man and woman in God. Deprived of this, we are forced into desperate straits, into a frantic and futile quest for beatitude in this life, doomed to failure and yielding misery, despondency and rage.

Fortunately, the way back is always available to us, and the true kingdom of heaven, the redemption given by God in Christ Jesus is always ours for the asking, ours not for the taking but for the receiving as a gracious gift of God’s mercy and love, and so we are free and need not fall into the terrible traps of selfish greed, cynical apathy, or ideological extremism. The beatitude of God is as near to us as the choice to love and serve, pray and believe, in this present moment, and that is the great redemption from human folly and failure in this world.