Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Breaking the Stronghold of the Self

I’m away this week doing ministry at a family camp not affiliated with Madonna House. As I did when I was at Cana Colony, I am re-posting some good old posts from my first month of blogging, before anyone knew I was here. Hope you enjoy these voices from the distant past of July 2011.

[Speaking of Church as Body of Christ we see that] the Semitic concept of the ‘corporate personality’ stands in the background; this concept is expressed, for example, in the idea that we are all Adam, a single man writ large. In the modern era, with the apotheosis of the subject, this notion became entirely incomprehensible. The ‘I’ was now a fortified stronghold with impassable walls. Descartes’ attempt to derive the whole of philosophy from the cogito – because only the ‘I’ still appeared accessible in any way – is typical in this regard. Today the concept of subject is gradually unraveling; it is becoming evident that the ‘I’ locked securely in itself does not exist…”
Called to Communion, 35

Reflection – Ah yes – individualism! The air we breathe, the ocean in which we swim, the first principle of life, at least in the formerly Christian West. In Madonna House, where we live what most people consider a fairly intense communal life, we’ve had a large number of Korean guests over the last ten years or so. They have enriched our lives in many ways--regular infusions of kimchi among them!

More seriously, we’ve had many opportunities to reflect on the differences between the individualistic culture of North America and the communal cultures more typical of Asia. What for us is an intensely, almost intrusively communal life for most of them barely registers as communal life at all. It has been good for us to learn and reflect that modern individualism (which we cannot help carrying within us, children of our culture that we are) is far from being the only way of being human in the world.

Individualism in fact poses a serious problem for the proclamation of Christ to the world. Ratzinger in this passage expresses it well: when the ‘I’ is everything, a fortified stronghold, the measure of all reality, the beginning and end of personal identity, then the call to find one’s deepest truth, one’s most essential reality in the Word and Love of Another is either an outrage or a complete cipher. How is it even possible to receive one’s life from another? I am I and Jesus is Jesus – both of us locked in our subjective realities. Isn’t it some kind of sick co-dependence for me to look to Him for everything? Shouldn’t I grow up?

The path out of this impasse with Christianity is the path out of individualism. We are in fact made for others; we are in fact made to experience our human dignity and freedom in our life with and for others. We are in fact constituted as a self, a person, a subject who can choose to love or not love, serve or not serve, by being first known, loved, and served as an object by the One who made us.
That this One who made us is so intensely relational, yet One, within His Triune Self,  implies that He has made us to be this one body, this one collective group, in Him. Yet it is not the collective we have rightly come to dread of the soviet, the communist collectivist Hell where the individual is crushed in the name of the spurious whole.

The collective of the Body of Christ, because it comes from the Heart of Love, dwells in this Heart, and is oriented always and everywhere towards this Heart, this love, crushes no one. In fact, it is the pathway to true life and joy, which we cannot experience as isolated individuals. We are made to be part of a family, a group, a society; only in God can this society be one in which our true and deepest selves flourish and grow to their full measure.

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