Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anathema - Not!

We were enthused that in an age which has rediscovered matter and this earth of ours and has no place for any flight to a world beyond, but loves the earth, cleaves to it, seeks to taste all its preciousness, and wants to live by and for the earth, the Church again did not respond with an anathema. Instead, she intoned a hymn to the earth and its permanence. Once again, she spoke more magnanimously and more forcefully of the earth’s glory than we ourselves would dare have done.

Dogma and Preaching, 113

Reflection – OK, Catholics – what event in recent Church history is Ratzinger referring to here? Any guesses? No?

It is the 1950 proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven that is causing Ratzingerian raptures here in this 1985 book. And it occurs to me that, with all the talk about dialogue on this blog lately, this particular passage is very illuminating.

Parenthetically, I do have to apologize to those readers who have been commenting on various posts. It is a bit ironic that I have been unable to respond to comments on the subject of dialogue, and hence unable to enter into a dialogue. It has just been a really busy time for me, with multiple time-sensitive projects and other commitments, and all I have been able to do for the most part is make my daily posts, which I accomplish before 8:00 a.m. most days, and then move on to whatever work the day holds.

Anyhow. The dogma of the Assumption as an example of the Church dialoguing with modernity. This may seem a bit odd and angular and not quite what we normally think of as dialogue. Although, some have argued that Mary is our deepest response to the modern world  and its travails.

But we see here what Ratzinger has in mind. The world of modernity is taken up with the here and now, with the earthly, with what is immediate and concrete and tangible. Talk of heaven and eternity seems to lack appeal to many—at least this was definitely the case in the mid-20th century. The optimism and worldly progress of the post-war years spilled over into the progressivism of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps this is changing; I certainly find lately that people are more willing to hear about heaven in our current less hopeful scene.

But there is no question that ‘modernity’ as a movement was taken up with the goodness of this world and this life, and the possibility of perfection and progress for this world and this life. And so the Church elevates to the level of dogma—declares it to be part of the ineradicable and binding deposit of faith—that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

Well, this is what you call creative dialogue, I guess! This is the Church weighing in on the goodness of the earth, the permanence of matter and the material order, the glory God has bestowed on concrete tangible reality. Mary is assumed bodily into heaven. God Himself has looked upon all that He has made and said, not only that it is very good, but that He has made an eternal home for it in the heavenly city.

No anathemas to the worldliness of our day, but instead showing how the ancient faith handed on in Sacred Tradition meets that worldliness and embraces all that is good about it. And I think this is indeed what the New Evangelization has to do along multiple lines.

Humanae Vitae, for example, was indeed the Church’s creative response to the sexual revolution. It has been ignored, derided, unread, distorted, lied about. But the document itself is a hymn to the goodness and dignity of human sexuality, to the intensely meaningful nature of the sexual act, and so to its divine ordering and structuring. Far from declaring an anathema of the sexual revolution, the Church honors what is good and true in this social movement… and calls it higher, to a deeper truth, a more secure goodness.

We have to be really creative and generous here, I suggest. The call is always to see what people are really saying, what they really want. There is a thirst for truth and goodness in every human heart. All the great sweeping movements of society and culture, all the ideologies and trends and belief systems have some core of truth and goodness in them. And Christians truly immersed in the Gospel can meet this core of truth and goodness and proclaim Christ there. Rather than condemning or mocking people—which is all too common in our Internet culture—we should understand why they think what they do, and propose a Gospel path to them to that same goodness and truth.

I will always remember the strong feminist—pro-choice, pro-gay—who came to MH and who I gave spiritual direction to. I gave her the book Daughter Zion to read, by young Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. It changed her life—an authentic Christian biblical feminist vision. She is now a very strong feminist Roman Catholic (and a thoroughly wonderful person)! That kind of thing, and Ratzinger has shown us the path of it his entire life.
We need courage, we need generosity, we need patience, and we need to know that the Gospel is true enough, strong enough, and big enough to meet every aspect of secular modernity with the faith, hope, and love of Christ.

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