Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oh Yeah?

We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6:51). Indeed, the teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: “Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (Jn 6:27). The question posed by his listeners is the same that we ask today: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn 6:28). We know Jesus’ reply: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29). Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.

Porta Fidei 3

Reflection – So we continue our weekly preparation for the Year of Faith beginning this October, marking the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

Here Pope Benedict holds out for us the enduring possibility of faith today, both as need and as realized fact. I am often struck in contemporary novels and movies at the opposite: the complete non-existence of faith on either level.

Faith, at least according to the producers of mass culture, is either unthinkable or extraneous or, often enough, repellent and dangerous. This is especially marked in the cultural offerings coming from Europe. God and faith in Him just are not viable options, at least not in many significant quarters.

And we know that this is true, not only on the screen and on the page, but in many people’s lives. An aggressive secularism, a relentless and determined excluding of divine claims and divine possibilities too often rules people’s lives.

Some herald this as a positive development, of course: humanity outgrowing its needs for myths and superstitions and invisible friends. Modern man is learning he no longer needs God for meaning, a commenter informed me a few posts back. To which I responded, basically, ‘oh yeah?’ OK, not my best argument ever…

But really, oh yeah? If there is no God, or if God is pushed so far to the margins of our lived reality that there may as well be no God, do we, can we still have meaning in life? Certainly we cannot have meaning in the universe itself. Meaning is a product of mind; if there is no Mind underlying the cosmos, there is no Meaning in the cosmos.

The secularist would say, I suppose, ‘who cares about that?’ I have a mind, and my mind will generate a meaning for my life. Meaning then becomes a tiny bivouac carved out in a vast sea (think of the size of the universe, and its emptiness) of meaninglessness. For example, ‘my life is about my children,’ some would say. Yes, but what is their life about? Well, whatever they want it to be. What if they want it to be something you find repulsive, or they find no menaing in life. Your bivouac just got obliterated, didn’t it?

‘My life is about my work.’ Well, even if you’re one of the lucky few who is working on something like curing cancer, that doesn’t do it, you know. Because if there is no meaning to life in the first place, why does it matter if cancer is cured? If we’re all just matter, then maybe the tumor has as much claim to existence as the person.

‘My life is about the love I put into it.’ Well, this sounds more persuasive. Except… what is love? A warm oogly googly feeling? A choice to treat people in a certain way? Where does it come from and where does it go? What if your love fails, or what if the object of your love fails you, betrays you. What if your love bears no visible fruit? And in a world devoid of deeper meaning, what fruit does love bear, anyhow? We all end up being food for worms – what difference does it make, really, if I love and care for people or hurt and us people?

All the while in all of this, God waits. A Person, a Love, a Truth that holds all our loves and all work, our children and ourselves, receives everything we are and gives everything we are and do being and purpose. I really don’t see how any godless quest for meaning can end in anything but tragic failure, and if someone can explain to me how it does they are welcome to try.

And it doesn’t have to, you know. God is. Meaning is. Truth is. And so our lives do not have to be tragic fruitless marches towards the grave. There is a bread that endures to eternity, and a living water that quenches our thirst. And this is what the Church and the Pope are inviting us to contemplate and proclaim in this upcoming year.

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