Dearly Beloved in Christ
We gather on this Holy Thursday evening to reflect on the meaning of communion, both the communion we receive each Sunday and the communion we feel when we gather as the body of Christ. This past Tuesday, the priests of this Archdiocese gathered with our Archbishop to celebrate this chrism mass, the mass where the holy oils are blessed which will be presented tonight when the gifts are brought forward. During his homily the pope used part of Pope Benedicts encyclical letter on hope that was released on November 30 of last year. I thought it would, therefore, be appropriate for us to spend our triduum reflecting on this encyclical and draw some life principles from it. One of the most surprising aspects of this encyclical is how applicable it is.
Tonight, our readings focus us on community and communion. The pope, in this encyclical, asks at one point if Christian hope is individualistic. We face this question, often, from our evangelical brothers and sisters when they ask us if we know that Christ is our personal Lord and savior. While the Pope doesn’t completely put aside the idea of personal salvation, he definitely reshapes the entire question. Using the theologian Henri de Lubac’s research into salvation, he points out that salvation has always been considered a “social” reality.” In other words, sin is what ordinarily drives us into a kind of personalism whereas redemption is the reestablishment of the person to unity with Christ and, thus, unity with the church. Think of the man whose sin is internet pornography. All through the day, the person is trying to be alone in order to indulge in the perversity of his sin. The frustration of his sin is when people do not allow him to have personal time to be alone.
So, in some ways, islation is the antithesis of salvation. So, how did we get things so turned around as to believe that holiness was something done in isolation whereas sin takes place in community? According to the Pope, this began with Francis Bacon who saw redemption as a restoration of the lost “paradise.” This restoration is done not in faith but a link between science and praxis. In other words, use of the scientific method. A student of Bacon believes that a solution is out there, it just hasn’t been found yet. We need experimental science to free us from all the world’s problems so that we can return to the redeemed state of Eden. This means that faith turns from the substance of hope into a faith in progress; things are getting better. I recently had a conversation with a student at Iowa State who was a student of Francis Bacon. He specifically asked about miracles and the substance of miracles. What if miracles are just unexplained answers to questions. In other words, what if, in the future, we find some kind of mud that actually cures diseases of the eyes when it is mixed with spittle. And, what if we find that this mud is only located in the Middle East around the Sea of Galilee. Even if we don’t find it in the future, who’s to say that it wasn’t present at the time of Christ. I had a certain sympathy for this kid because it seems like the logical step after a firm faith in the progress of science. The answer is out there, you just have to find it. There are two critical components to this view of progress; reason and freedom. The Pope says, “Reason and freedom seem to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community. The two key concepts of “reason” and “freedom”, however, were tacitly interpreted as being in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church as well as those of the political structures of the period.” In other words, you can either freely believe in reason or believe in the oppressive structures of the church.
Immanuel Kant changed the focus from a largely scientific atheism into a theological personalism by believing that the end result of this progress was the kingdom of God. Kant, therefore, pitted ecclesiastical faith (or the faith of the church) against a pure religious faith (a personal faith). Obviously, Kant saw that a pure religious faith is superior to the faith of church because it is personal and not encumbered with the communal. Kant even went so far as to intimate that Christianity could be so not worthy of love that God could reject it and allow for the brief reign of the Anti-Christ, a not so shrouded jab at the papacy.
At this point in the conversation, Pope Benedict advocates that, rather than make the mistake of Kant by pitting individual faith above the faith of the church, we need to have a dialogue. We need to help clarify what progress is: name that technological and scientific progress can be morally repugnant. To quote the document, “If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world.” We need to help clarify what reason and hope are. Reason is only reasonable if it is not based entirely upon our own experience. Reason needs to move past human experience in order to encompass all that is. And freedom needs to be understood less as my personal will and more in the convergence of wills. Still, this convergence cannot succeed unless it has a “common intrinsic criterion of measurement” as its foundation. In other words, freedom is in need of a moral compass for it to really free us.
Tomorrow, Good Friday, we will spend some time reflecting on what it is in particular that we are hoping in. And finally, on Easter Sunday, we will feel the hope of the resurrection in the person of an African slave.