Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Here and Now

I continue to blog about the Holy Father’s  visit to Lebanon Sep 14-16, excerpting and commenting on his various talks there, which  provide a much needed perspective on the challenges of the Middle East in our day.

Ecclesia in Medio Oriente makes it possible to rethink the present in order to look to the future with the eyes of Christ. By its biblical and pastoral orientation, its invitation to deeper spiritual and ecclesiological reflection, its call for liturgical and catechetical renewal, and its summons to dialogue, the Exhortation points out a path for rediscovering what is essential: being a follower of Christ even in difficult and sometimes painful situations which may lead to the temptation to ignore or to forget the exaltation of the cross.

It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division. In the light of today’s Feast, and in view of a fruitful application of the Exhortation, I urge all of you to fear not, to stand firm in truth and in purity of faith. This is the language of the cross, exalted and glorious!

This is the “folly” of the cross: a folly capable of changing our sufferings into a declaration of love for God and mercy for our neighbor; a folly capable of transforming those who suffer because of their faith and identity into vessels of clay ready to be filled to overflowing by divine gifts more precious than gold (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-18).

This is more than simply picturesque language: it is a pressing appeal to act concretely in a way which configures us ever more fully to Christ, in a way which helps the different Churches to reflect the beauty of the first community of believers (cf. Acts 2:41-47: Part Two of the Exhortation); in a way like that of the Emperor Constantine, who could bear witness and bring Christians forth from discrimination to enable them openly and freely to live their faith in Christ crucified, dead and risen for the salvation of all.

Address upon signing the post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, St. Paul’s Basilica, Harissa, Sept 14, 2012

Reflection – ‘It is here and now that we are called to celebrate the victory of love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, service over domination, humility over pride, and unity over division.’ This is the meaning of the triumph of the Cross.

If we do not celebrate thus, we are at best saying that the Cross promises a future triumph—in the eschaton all shall be made well; then and only then can we love and live as we should. Here and now we are stuck in the world of Realpolitik and domination, factions and ambition. Somewhere else, sometime else, in some other place and mode of being, all this nice Cross stuff will prevail, but not here.

Few people consciously think this, but oh so many, I wager, live from it. It is fundamentally a Gnostic understanding of the Cross. Gnosticism identifies salvation with the flight from this world and its evil ways into some other elevated level of being. The world as we know it is inherently and irredeemably corrupt—getting out of it intact is our only hope. If the Cross merely holds out for us a promise that somewhere else we can love as we are loved and live a life of totality for God, then here and now there is no triumph, no victory, no resurrection.

This is not our Christian faith. Here and now Jesus is triumphant over the world. Here and now the grace and light of Jesus is penetrating this world and its darkness, healing this world and its brokenness, transforming the world and its lovelessness. The folly of it is that we only enter this transforming grace by surrendering to its demands, and only learn the deep wisdom of doing so after we have made that surrender. Beforehand, it looks like pure madness.

But this is it: here and now the grace of Christ is operating through the Church to extend his victory—the victory of love—to all corners of the world. The Pope is addressing the Church in the Middle East here, but it is a message that resonates for all of us. Here and now, here and now, here and now—the Cross is triumphant here and now, or it is not triumphant at all. And that is the enduring challenge of faith for Christians at all times and in all places. Do I believe this?

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