January 26, 2013

Mystical Theology and the Truth about Humanity

Last year, the International Theological Commission released a document entitled Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria.  The commission distinguishes scientific theology from mystical theology, and recognizes a kind of secondary role for mystical theology in theological research.  In doing this, the commission is bringing back into the theological discussion a kind of contemplative knowing that modern thinkers have often held in disdain.  There is after all a prejudice against prayer living in the abstract idealism which drives mainstream culture to nihilism.  The Commission is inviting us to consider that the mystical knowledge given in contemplation is no anachronistic or sentimental exercise.  On the contrary, the life of the Church suggests that it is the only way forward toward what is genuinely human and fully alive in this world.

What is mystical theology?   Although it is reflected in the teachings of the Church and shines out whenever the Holy Bible is prayerfully read, this wisdom is not something accomplished or obtained primarily by intellectual effort or psychological feat.  Mystical wisdom is primarily a gift, something produced by the “object” of Christian prayer, an “object” who cannot really be reduced to an object at all – for God is ineffable mystery, a mystery of relationship, of love so full of meaning that any reverent effort to seek meaning in Him always falls into the silence of humble adoration.   Mystical wisdom is a living awareness of God’s presence in which one is made more and more vulnerable to the inexhaustible riches of his love.

Mystical theology is, in this sense, a kind of knowing that only love knows.  This loving awareness is a participation in the kind of knowing with which the Son knows the Father from all eternity. This interpersonal, relational, “I-Thou” knowing is intrinsic to Christian faith.  It is its directional element – the reason for which we believe.  To give us this wisdom is why the Father sent the Son into the world – it is this wisdom that saves humanity.

The Mystery of God revealed by Word of the Father is paradoxically more transcendent and more immanent than any deity conceived in the human heart or produced by the driving forces of human history.   This Divine “Subject” is the most unique “Thou” in the world because He is Trinity: One Uncreated Nature and Three Divine Persons whose life is constituted in the unseen glory of their eternal mutual love and knowledge which by their ineffable nature They share.  Everything that “is” comes from being known in this eternal love the Three Persons exchange with one another and beyond what is known in this love nothing exists. 

This mystery of love holds my human “I” and every human “I” in existence not only in this present life which is subject to death but in the possibility of new life which the full love and knowledge of which this present life cannot hold.  This is not simply a question of my own individualized “self,” alienated by sin from every other “self” as it is, but most especially of the ecclesial “I.”  

It is in the Body of Christ that new life establishes humanity in true communion with one another in Him.  Here, in this new life, each individual “self” has the opportunity to go beyond itself, to give itself in love and only in this self-gift can the human person discover the truth.  This truth is not reducible to facts or results - but it is the only thing that ultimately makes sense out of the facts and results of our lives together.   This truth which the Church proposes not only by its teaching but by its very life in the world is the same as that to which all branches of human knowledge are ultimately ordered if they are ultimately to be any kind of knowledge at all.   

What is this truth?  We are each and everyone love by an exceeding love.  It is by this love alone that our dignity and destiny is implicated in God in whose image and likeness we have been fashioned and restored.   It is in the Church that the alienation we suffer from one another and from God is over come.   God Himself is the animating principle of life for the immaculate Bride He summoned into existence and purified by His blood. Through her life in the world, a new life that comes from Him, He communicates the glory of His love to all creation.

Christian mystical prayer beholds with the eyes of the Bride He who has revealed Himself as “Bridegroom.”   Mystical theology is a kind of knowing or beholding or attending to this Ineffable Mystery in faith that only the bond of grace in the Church, Christ’s mystical body, makes possible.  It is only out of this ecclesial reality that any scientific theology finds the basis from which to proceed.   In no other religion does the object of belief, study, and contemplation coincide in such saving truth. 

January 21, 2013

Prayer on the Eve of an Infamous Decision

January 22nd is a day of penance.   Bread and water, a little less sleep and comfort and a little more prayer and sacrifice, renouncing noise and diversion to embrace sober silence and heartfelt tears, waking from sluggishness of heart to take up works of mercy - all of this is appropriate.  Prayerful tears leading to radical conversion constitute the only adequate response one can render in the face of even one purposely induced abortion.  How are we to respond to the more than fifty million instances of heartless brutality that have poisoned these last forty years?  How can we feel anything but shame over the inhumane industry which developed in our communities as a result?   We bear together the unbearable burden of this social misery and only God can rescue our humanity from being crushed by its weight.

On this day, we pray and fast but not without hope: Christian prayer offered with love and confidence has the power to overcome every form of violence and brutality.   This is because this kind of prayer, the prayer that flows from a broken heart, has the power to gain bold access to the Lord.  The Lord would not declare that those who sorrow are blessed unless He had committed Himself to comforting them by manifesting the transforming power of His mercy.

America needs Christians who care enough to pray with the blessed sorrow that alone brings Christ's healing comfort.  When the Supreme Court trampled the inalienable right to life, it burdened American life with the weight of violent uncertainties.  In a society where even the womb is exposed to the most heartless brutality and egregious atrocities, what hope is there that such a people will ever be able to grow together in authentic social concern or friendship?  And if any instrument of government believes itself invested with the authority to subjugate the sacred rights of the most vulnerable, how can the governed really have confidence in any kind of rule of law other than that which the politically and culturally powerful use to marginalize those whose rights are deemed inconvenient for the progress of society?  Not satisfactorily resolved, these perilous questions sink the whole American experiment into a pigpen of disingenuous political and cultural gamesmanship.

We must prayerfully grieve for our nation, for our communities, for our families.  American greatness is grounded in the humility that the light of faith reveals to those who seek God.  Only the faith of those who believe can help our society rethink again the gift of life under the rays of a kindly light.  Christian prayer magnifies this light under whose faintest glimmer true life, humility and greatness are together born.  But it can only do so with heartfelt tears (whether physical or not): God hears the contrite soul that pours itself out in humble need -- and for Christians offering such intercession is our greatest social responsibility.

If we would open our hearts to the the sorrow with which God aches we too would ache for the millions of babies, and children, and young people, and whole families which He willed to entrust to our care, but who are not here because of what we have willed.   We must weep over our own blind self-deception in believing that any decision regarding life is private affair.  We are all implicated in one another's decisions irrespective of whether we are male or female, friends or enemies, atheists or believers.  The decision not to welcome or protect life is always a social reality, the most inhumane form of social poverty that can inflict any family or community -- and God's heart can only weep over us for having fallen into such misery.

By prayer and fasting there is still the opportunity that we might be pierced to the heart.  It is still possible for us to know compunction over the fact that instead of protecting motherhood and supporting those whose desperate situations drove them to despair, we viewed their plight as an inconvenience that needed to be dispatched as efficiently as possible.   Sorrow can still drive us to the hope of prayer and by this hope to a new beginning.

If heaven is dismayed that we who have been blessed far beyond anything we ever deserved chose to be callous towards those who most needed our help, our encouragement, our love -- we still may yet be astonished by the mercy of God in which even the evil of our personal decisions finds its limit.  In prayer, the tears of faith access the power of God who in unimaginable mercy is waiting to heal the alienation and coldness of heart our own actions have brought on ourselves.   In such holy conversation with the One who knows the deepest truth of our hearts, baptized in holy tears of repentance and gratitude, the grace of a change of heart yearns to unfold and new possibilities that we cannot imagine await us.

January 16, 2013

A Culture of Life and Family Prayer

When Blessed John Paul II came to Denver over twenty years ago, he called on the young people of the world to build a culture of life and civilization of love.   He pointed to prayer, to an encounter with Christ, as the basis of this great undertaking.   One simple way to introduce prayer into our culture, one we have complete control over in the privacy of our homes, is the practice of family prayer.  Family prayer, no matter how informal or chaotic, is a moment of thanksgiving for the gift of life shared together, and a moment of love in which families learn how to bear with one another out of reverence for Christ and how to raise one another up to the Lord.  Genuine progress to life and love can only be realized by such prayer.

This is not to say that society has not been progressing without prayer -- but society without God only progresses through various circles of hell.  A loveless civilization has been progressing out of control for quite sometime, and in the process corrupting all that is holy and true about the American way of life.  Here, Obama Care and the HHS mandate to implement it are simply signs of another stage in the same evolutionary process that brought us Roe vs Wade.  Absolute power over life and death is a divine right, and our government has no fear of God in usurping this role.   A litany of court orders, executive orders, laws and regulations appeal to safety and security with emotive force and righteous indignation.  Each new invocation advances another lifeless and loveless cause, causes which if carefully marketed provide another pretext for the powerful to protect themselves from the dreams and aspirations of what they can only see as an unholy mob.

Prayer allows individuals to bind together as a people in freedom, prayerlessness allows a mob to bind the individual against his will.  The particular form of social progress we are currently enjoying in America goes hand in hand with the ever increasing cultural hostility to prayer we have accepted as a norm.  The more a society progresses down to a prayerless mob, the easier it becomes to manipulate.   Wihout prayer, the promptings of conscience which normally protect communities from implicating themselves in grave social evil are silenced.  This seems to be at work in our culture as we have moved away from prayer and pre-occupied ourselves with all kinds of political rancor and envy, news cycles and narratives.   Although abortion is not as popular as it once was, those we have invested with political or cultural power (for the lastest example, check out the efforts of the Governor of New York) are as adamant as ever about compelling the whole of society to participate in this evil, no matter the dictates of individual consciences.  In fact, compelling whole religious organizations to provide immoral services is now heralded as the next stage of social progress.

The less we pray, the more vulnerable we are to evil, and the weaker our witness to the greatness of our religion.  Like the criminals convicted at Nuremberg trials, people of faith are expected to act against what they know is right because the authorities have ordered them to do so.   When individual members of a society feel compelled to act against what they believe is noble and true, is it any wonder why that whole society should be burdened with every form of unhappiness and misery?  To live in such self-contradiction is to be damned.  No amount of convenience or luxury or diversion can address the weight of unacknolwedged guilt that haunts such a people or overcome the burning alienation from one another abusing and being abused by power causes.  If people of faith forsake prayer in the face of such evil, how can they offer a reason for their hope when such a word of hope is most needed?

For lack of prayer, the gift of freedom has become at risk in America.  A government, even if democratic, always progresses toward unholy forms of tyranny whenever it violates such basic goods as religious freedom, the institution of marriage, the rights of children to maternal and paternal love, and the right to life.  How can a society stand if it will not welcome and nurture the gift of life, if it will not reverence the holiness of marriage, if it will not allow people to follow their moral consciences?  And what kind of wealth does such a people possess if anxiety over it makes them afraid to take care of the most vulnerable and beautiful gifts God bestows?   As Mother Theresa once explained, it is a great poverty to think that a baby must die so that one might live as they wish. Yet a callous poverty is progressively robbing America of the noble destiny God has invited us to share.

Although many Americans have forgotten God, God has not forgotten America.   The noble calling He invites America to accept involves our becoming an even brighter beacon of human freedom than we have ever been before -- and this is possible even now under the current oppressiveness of our government.  Advancing a genuine freedom rooted in the truth demands that we not fear to seek and protect the dignity of the human person -- from womb to tomb.  This dignity can only be rightly seen and fully protected by prayer.

Prayer makes space for love.  This is true in the heart of each believer.  This is true in marriages.  This is true in families.  This is true in communities.   Love, in the form of social friendship, is the only foundation on which civility can be maintained. Real social friendship is not something innate or apriori in human nature.  It is something learned -- in fact it is the hardest thing to learn, because one cannot learn it except at the expense of his own life.  This is exactly why God sent his Son into the World - to show us how to love one another and God, and to give us His own power so that we might begin to relate to God and to one another in ways not subject to death.  Because family prayer (and the family rosary in particular) dispose parents and children to that unfathomable Divine Love Christ makes present in both our social and personal histories, the daily prayer of families together offers a remedy that may help America progress towards that culture of life and civilization of love God has called us to be in the world.

January 11, 2013

Grace Imbued Reason in the Womb of Wisdom

Reason in the womb of wisdom, this is how William of St. Thierry's Golden Epistle describes the intellectual life of a Christian who disciplines his mind according to the Gospel of Christ.  Such a disciple strains to see, to behold the wonder of what God is doing in the world, so that he might live with the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.  

This pursuit of reason can take many forms. The pursuit of reason can also take up the Holy Bible and all that God has revealed in the life of the Church.  It might also seek meaning in the beauty of nature through any number of sciences, as long as in which ever science it is reason seeks out what in fact exists.  The pursuit of reason can also take up the Holy Bible and all that God has revealed in the life of the Church.  Yet, even the most natural forms of such study are open to flashes of a higher contemplation.  Dedicated study of the truth whereever it leads, as one of the highest exercises of human freedom, disposes those who genuinely love the truth to even more marvelous moments of liberty.

Yet the truth that is sought in this way is opposed to all forms of vain curiosity or the desire to manipulate for selfish purpose or any other effort to selfishly attain power or wealth or influence.  When reason seeks out of the brutality of such human wisdom, it remains out of harmony with reality and in a state of self-contradiction - such enslaving wisdom cannot attain any real freedom.

Reality, what is, does not admit of manipulation because it is endowed with so much meaning a created mind limited to its own resources not only is not able to exhaust its mystery -- such limited reason is barely able to scratch its surface.  This is why a prideful and arrogant glance at reality never really sees true beauty and, as a result of this superficial observation, is incapable of wonder or adoration.  The only reason such servile reason ever attains is a futile grasping of what can never fully satisfy.  In the end, though it decorate itself in all kinds of data and the production of all kinds of results, such a pursuit never finds the firm ground on which alone humanity is able to be rectified, to stand tall.

God sent His Wisdom into the World so that human reason might be born in truth.  When reason pursues the truth with the first movements of humility, of faith, of love, of service to neighbor, of reverence to God, it is as if an embryo, the conception of a new form of life.  Striving to implant itself, to find the nourishment it needs to grow, grace moves such new embryonic reason to grace and from glory to glory: leaving behind what is safe and familiar, dying to old judgments that only hold it back, the converted mind seeks a new nourishment of which it is not yet familiar.  Such movements of graced reason find a place to rest only in the womb God has fashioned for it, the womb of His own Wisdom - a sacred place meant for life and love.    In the womb of Wisdom, human reason, like a fetus, is nourished for explosive growth in maturity and freedom.

Baptised in such wisdom, the Christian is born, the mind is renewed, and one discovers the confidence to offer bodily sacrifices which give true spiritual worship to God.   The Womb of Divine Wisdom, the womb where men and women learn by love and for love to see God's vision of things, this is where reason imbued with grace begins to delight in the truth for which it was made, the spiritual life is born, and the dignity of humanity is raised up. 

January 5, 2013

Epiphany: The Journey of Theology to Pay Homage

Should one appear to have understood the Sacred Scriptures or any passage from them, yet in this contemplation nothing builds up the double movement of charity to God and neighbor, one has not yet understood.  (St. Augustine, De Doctrina Christiana, I.36)

In his book to help teachers teach the Gospel of Christ, St. Augustine introduces a powerful rule into the work of Christian theology that needs to be rediscovered: theology must build up the life of the Church; a life characterized above all by love; love of God and love of neighbor.  Pope Benedict speaks of faith as performative, as involving an ongoing life changing encounter with Christ.   It is in the Christmas Mystery of Epiphany that this encounter was first made public, first offered to the world.  Theology as a scientific pursuit of saving truth can build up the life of the Church when it begins and ends with the wonder and worship revealed in Epiphany.

Scientific theology rooted in the wonder and worship of Christ affords theologians greater freedom to love.  We more readily let go of our harsh judgments toward our neighbor and toward God when we humble ourselves before the mystery of love revealed in Christ -- it is by this love and for this love that He is our Savior.  In this sense, mystical theology, that loving knowledge of God's presence in Christ, is more fundamental to the theological task than any of the important skills that sound scholarship requires.  Thus, the real task of those who want to understand what we believe as Christians is to strive to bring to bear that contemplation which welcomes love in the highest realms of human consciousness, even those scientific realms where the reason for our hope can be most fully communicated with one another.

To come to know this love is not the product of sentimental well wishing or the result of a calculated resolution to act differently – although this love is so amazing it constantly produces many good wishes and many more wonderful resolutions as it invades the soul.  This invasion of love we are referring to as contemplation is in the form of a gift rather than an achievement.   It is a love that is first received, welcomed, and surrendered to.   It is the ancient love at the origins of all that is and it is the ever new love to which all that is is ordered.   Those who know this love, not only with the mind, but even more with the heart, participate in the very life of God… this mysterious participation (the ancient Christians called it theosis) is why even their scientific theology always surpasses the theological efforts of those who have spent years in study but failed to make themselves or their students vulnerable to the mystery they strive to grasp.

Theology which seeks love, which allows itself to be vulnerable to love, begins in epiphany, in the manifestation of a mystery which transforms the whole world.  No other religion has anything like Christian theology in this respect.  Theology is the effort of the wise magi who follow the signs, the humble shepherds who heed the voice of heaven, the prophet who submerges the Word in the waters of this world, and the Mother whose compassion at Cana moved her Son to manifest the Father's glory.   They all beheld with wonder the mystery of surpassing love and in wonder allowed their lives to be taken by it.  This remains the task of theology today.

Theologians, like shepherds, kings, prophets, and the Mother of the Redeemer, must welcome the invasion of God into humanity manifest in Christ Jesus who, risen from the dead, is at work in the world today.  In this contemplation, they must not be afraid to allow divine humility to unmask human pride anew and to astonish us again with what could never have been anticipated: reason to hope.  This means that those who seek to understand their faith and strive to pass it on to others must not be afraid to take up their own spiritual pilgrimage to the Christ Child to pay homage with what gifts and poverty they might bring.

To pay homage is not only a physical journey but even more a journey of the mind which implicates the heart.   This effort of human reason is rooted in beholding the mystery of One who is so totally other, so totally unfamiliar to us and at the same time so close to us as to be the inexhaustible source of meaning in both the intimacy of our personal lives and in our relationships with one another as a society.  This meaning into which love leads human thought, this reason for hope when love and life seem hopeless, this divine harmony which takes up all human disharmony in the new exquisite canticle, this mediation is so noble, so beautiful, so captivating - it is worth laying down one's life for.  This is Christian theology - a journey of love that begins and ends in both wonder and worship.