Friday, November 30, 2007

how Jesus said he would meet the Greeks

John 12:

[20]Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.
[21] So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa'ida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."
[22] Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus.
[23] And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified.
[24] Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
[25] He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
[26] If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.
[27] "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.

The Greeks were curious gawkers, gentiles who wished to study rather than follow. Christ's response to their request to meet him was to describe how he would truly engage the gentile world: through the Bread of Life offered to all in the Eucharist. It is His sacrifice that becomes the source of salvation for the Jews (who had the scriptural and covenantal understanding) and for the gentiles to whom the Word of God was proclaimed after it had been fulfilled.

Here is B-16's take on this Gospel passage:

Pope Benedict XVI
General audience of 14/06/06 (©Libreria editrice Vaticana)

Saint Andrew, apostle of the Greek world

The first striking characteristic of Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, is his
name: it is not Hebrew, as might have been expected, but Greek, indicative
of a certain cultural openness in his family that cannot be ignored… In
Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion, some Greeks had come to the holy
city… to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and
Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and
mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus… Jesus said to the two
disciples and, through them, to the Greek world: "The hour has come for
the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of
wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if
it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn12, 23-24). What do these words mean in
this context? Jesus wants to say: Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will
take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a
few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification
will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the
earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great
fruitfulness: in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of
myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be
a light for peoples and cultures…In other words, Jesus was prophesying
about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the
world, as a fruit of his Pasch. Some very ancient traditions see in Andrew…
the Apostle to the Greeks in the years subsequent to Pentecost. They enable
us to know that for the rest of his life he was the preacher and
interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world. Peter, his brother, travelled
from Jerusalem through Antioch and reached Rome to exercise his universal
mission; Andrew, instead, was the Apostle of the Greek world. So it is that
in life and in death they appear as true brothers - a brotherhood that is
symbolically expressed in the special reciprocal relations of the Sees of
Rome and Constantinople, which are truly Sister Churches.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

not the Obama kind

from Carl Olson:

Pre-Pope Hope

Communio, the theological journal that Joseph Ratzinger helped found shortly after the Second Vatican Council, has posted a 1985 article by then-Cardinal Ratzinger titled, "On Hope." It is well worth reading for its own sake, but especially so considering the soon-to-be presented encyclical by Benedict XVI on the theological virtue of hope. Here is an excerpt, to whet the appetite:

Hope rests first of all on something missing at the heart of the human condition. We always expect more than any present moment will ever be able to give. The more we follow this inclination the more aware we become of the limitations of our experience. The impossible becomes a necessity. But hope means also “the assurance that this longing will find a response” If this experience of a void, of a desire which carries one outside oneself, comes to move the person to despair over self and over the rationality of being, then inversely this hope can be transformed into a secret joy that transcends every experienced joy and suffering. This way a person is enriched by the very need which causes him to conceive a happiness that he would never be able to experience without this decisive step. Hope could accordingly be described as an anticipation of what is to come. In it, the “not yet" is in a certain way already here, and so is the dynamism that carries one beyond oneself and prevents one from ever saying, "Linger a while: you are so beautiful.”
This means, on the one hand, that to hope belongs the "dynamism of the provisional,'' going beyond all human accomplishment. On the other hand, that through hope, what is "not yet" is already realized in our life. Only a certain kind of present can create the absolute confidence which is hope. Such is the definition of faith given in the epistle to the Hebrews: faith is the substance ("hypostasis") of what is hoped for, the certitude of what one does not see (11:l). In this basic biblical text both an ontology and a spirituality of hope are affirmed. It is recognized today even in Protestant exegesis that Luther and the exegetic tradition which followed him are misguided when in their search for a non-Hellenistic Christianity they transformed the word "hypostasis" by giving it a subjective meaning and translating it as "firm confidence." In reality this definition of faith in the epistle to the Hebrews is inseparably linked to two other verses of the same epistle which also use the term "hypostasis." In the introduction (1:3), Christ is presented as the splendor of the glory of God and the image of the "hypostasis." Two chapters further on, this Christological and fundamentally Trinitarian affirmation is expanded to the relation between Christ and Christians-a relation established by faith. By faith Christians have become participants in Christ. Now everything is going to depend upon maintaining their initial participation in his "hypostasis." These three texts fit together perfectly: the things of this world are what pass away; the self-revealing God who speaks in Christ is what endures, the reality that lasts, the only true "hypostasis." Believing is leaving the shadowy play of corruptible things to reach the firm ground of true reality, "hypostasis"--quite literally therefore, what stands and that on which one can stand. In other words, to believe is to have touched ground, to approach the substance of everything. With faith, hope has gotten a footing. The cry of waiting wrung from our being is not lost in the void. It finds a point of solid support to which we must for our part hold fast.

Direct link to the PDF file.

Friday, November 16, 2007

are we the beasts in the Ark?

I wonder about this after reading Origen's take on today's Gospel:

Origen (c.185-253), priest and theologian
Homilies on Genesis, II, 3 (SC 7b, p.89)

The ark of the Church

Insofar as the meanness of my mind allows, I think that the flood which
almost put an end to the world in those days is the symbol of the end of
the world, an end that must truly happen. The Lord himself declared it when
he said: “In the days of Noah, men were buying, selling, building, marrying
and giving their daughters in marriage, and the flood came and destroyed
them all. So will be the coming of the Son of Man.” In this text it would
very much seem as though the Lord describes in one and the same way both
the flood that has already taken place and the end of the world that he is
pointing to in the future.

And so, in days of old, the aged Noah was told to make an ark and take
into it with him not only his sons and family but beasts of every kind.
Similarly, at the consummation of the ages, the Lord Jesus Christ, our new
Noah, the only “good and blameless man” (Gn 6,9), was told by his Father to
make an ark of fashioned wood, giving it measurements that are full of
divine mysteries (cf Gen 6,15). This is shown by one of the psalms, which
says: “Ask of me and I will give you the nations for an inheritance and the
ends of the earth for your possession,” (Ps 2,8). And so he built an ark
containing various shelters to house all kinds of animals. One of the
prophets speaks of these dwellings when he writes: “Go, my people, enter
into your chambers; hide yourselves for a brief moment, until the wrath is
past,” (Is 26,20). Thus there is a mysterious analogy between that people
which is saved in the Church and all those creatures, both men and animals,
saved from the flood inside the ark.

It's possible to see the story of the Ark as a parallel to the Apostles, Paul in particular, being told to go forth and make disciples of all nations - to bring them into "the barque of Peter". It was on Peter's boat in Luke 5 that Christ demonstrated his ability to call the multitudes (in this case fish) out of the sea and into the boat. And Paul went from place to place by ship, ultimately taking the Church Peter was entrusted with to Rome. And at Rome, this Ark - the barque of Peter - found its new iteration as it brought us beasts from all nations on board for the journey to and with Christ. This ties in with Henri de Lubac's description of the Catholic Church as Israel in the wilderness, carrying the Ark of the Covenant as a fellow refugee.

But anyway, we are beasts that were created on the 6th day, and Christ came to be the Word and Bread of Life for the beasts with the distinction of being made in His image.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars

Wisdom 7,22-30.8,1.

for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me. For in her is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered, beneficent, kindly, Firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, And pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle. For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness. And she, who is one, can do all things, and renews everything while herself perduring; And passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom. For she is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence; for that, indeed, night supplants, but wickedness prevails not over Wisdom. Indeed, she reaches from end to end mightily and governs all things well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mary and Hope (pt.1)

Faith, Hope and Love are the three divine virtues - meaning that people are not able to possess or exercise them with their own powers. They are gifts from the Holy Spirit, and can only truly be experienced or exercised through the Holy Spirit. The idea that Faith is a gift from God is at the heart of wrestling with being a Christian, and the how and why of our salvation. Love is also easily seen to be from God and through God, since so much of what people do for themselves causes other people to suffer. I hadn't given the divine nature of Hope too much thought until recently. What I've come to realize is that it is the most absurd and jarring of the virtues. That's when you know it's from God.

I was thinking about the joyful mysteries, and - as I've liked to do recently - I tried to strip away the sentimentalism that has become so attached to their iconic nature. I try to re-picture something like the Annunciation, and blind myself to the traditionally venerated imagery Catholics have in their consciousness. Images like this El Greco:

This painting attempts to capture the glory of the Incarnation and depict it in a way that assists devotion, and draws the heart towards the wonder of God's gift, and the perfection of Mary's humility by accepting it. As a devotional prompt, it succeeds. You've got Gabriel and his angel cohorts on clouds, the Virgin Mother is catching her breath from the shock. All very true and appropriate, but the whole scene is too idealized. In fact it's more a representation of the Glory of God, then the humility of man. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does serve to put this pivotal event- no, THE pivotal event - in human history somewhat out of reach for us. This meeting between Gabriel and Mary is inaccessible to most people based on their day to day experience. It is a picture that tries to depict the Incarnation as a grand spectacle of the Heavens and if we're honest about it, we'd have to say it falls well short of what God's perspective of the event actually was. All these types of paintings do. We don't view things from God's perspective, and that was the purpose behind the Annunciation in the first place. As John said, "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." Here's a picture that I'm absolutely, totally in love with. (Ann, you sooo saw this coming, didn't you?)
This depiction of the same event has the same necessary elements, but its perspective and accessibility are completely different. In Tanner's painting, Mary is experiencing the Annunciation in a way that is much more intriguing to our everyday experience. First, she's an ordinary looking person - made even more ordinary by the fact she's been woken from her sleep.

Everyone can relate to that moment of being forced out of sleep - how we look, and what our surroundings are more likely to look like. This is what Tanner captures so beautifully and the profound point it communicates is that the Annunciation happened to someone who would have appeared quite ordinary to all around her. Maybe even less than ordinary since she did not have original sin and was not self-promoting in any way.

Who woke her up? In depicting the angel Gabriel as bright and formless tear in space, Tanner has definitely updated the imagery to something more meaningful to modern imaginations than little fat babies, or heroes from Greek mythology. This is an encounter with a being who is not confined to the physical world. Gabriel, after all, stands in the presence of God. It would stand to reason that without serious disguise on his part, meeting him would be a singular frightening and confusing experience. Think of John in Revelation, who was so awestruck by the angel that he nearly bowed to worship.

So here is this simple, unassuming girl in her typical un-sterile, non-idyllic environment being roused from her sleep by a being that exists beyond her sensory limits. The look on her face is one of genuine apprehension, but not (as you might expect from the Angel's appearance) one of fear. That's an image of Mary which does not bring her down to our level, but instead presents an opportunity for us to enter into a contemplation of the Incarnation as it actually was communicated:

From God - To Flesh - In the World.

The world we live and breathe in. The world that is frequently confusing, often painful, and rarely glorious. However because Christ came into the world, it's physical phenomena (and the ways we experience them) are mysteriously sanctified. And this is where the virtue of Hope comes into play. Look at that scene and imagine the exchange from Luke taking place there:

[28] And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" [29] But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [30] And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. [31] And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. [32] He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,[33] and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;and of his kingdom there will be no end."

This young woman in Nazareth is being told that SHE has found favor with God. Not the Emperor, not the kings of the earth, not the priests of the Temple, but this young woman in her humble setting has found favor with God. And she is being promised the sum of all Israel's yearnings and then some!

Fast forward to the Visitation and you have Elizabeth saying, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Most images of this mystery are just as idealized as the Annunciation. What I enjoyed most about The Nativity Story was its depiction of this scene. The exchange has Elizabeth spontaneously abandoning her work to greet Mary with the Gospel words. While she's doing that people are mulling about them, concerned with their own activities, and they don't pay any attention. This pivotal greeting, and first acknowledgement of the Messiah (by another child in-utero) likely took place in front of a bunch of people who noticed nothing special about it. It was one woman talking to another. And in that meeting Hope is declared by Mary in the most beautiful and worthy prayer ever uttered by human lips prior to the Our Father. The Maginificat is the precursor to the Our Father in many ways since it is Mary's acknowledgement that God has chosen her flesh for his Son, and then Jesus in turn invites all flesh (including his mother) to call God "our Father".

to be continued...