Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good Friday: Spe Salvi part 2: We hope for life after death.

Dearly Beloved in Christ

Last night, we began this three day celebration with Holy Thursday, the mass of the Lord’s Supper. I used the homily at that mass as an opportunity to begin reflecting on the Pope’s latest encyclical on hope. Tonight, I continue reflecting on that encyclical in the light of our present celebration of Good Friday.

The title of this encyclical is “Spe Salvi”, which is taken from the first few words of the Latin original “Spe salvi facti sumus”, which is translated as “in hope we were saved." The particular quote comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. The full quote in English is, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” The pope points out that redemption is always based upon hope, that the only way of living life to it’s fullest in the present is by having certainty of a goal that is worthy of the journey to receive it. One’s mind may go towards the book of JRR Tolkien called The Lord of the Rings. As Frodo is preparing to leave the safety of his home in the shire, he imagines that he will be forced to take the journey alone without the benefit of his friends Sam, Pippin, and Merry. Tolkien writes,

‘No! I could not!’ Frodo said to himself. ‘it is one thing to take my young friends walking over the Shire with me, until we are hungry and weary, and food and bed are sweet. To take them into exile, where hunger and weariness may have no cure, is quite another – even if they are willing to come. The inheritance is mine alone. I don’t think I ought even to take Sam.’ He looked at Sam Gamgee, and discovered that Sam was watching him.
‘Well, Sam!’ he said. ‘What about it? I am leaving the Shrire as soon as ever I can – in face I have made up my mind now not even to wait a day at crickhollow, if it can be helped.’
‘Very good, sir!’
‘You still mean to come with me?’
‘I do”
‘It is going to be very dangerous, Sam. It is already dangerous. Most likely neither of us will come back.’
‘If you don’t come back, sir, then I shan’t, that’s certain.’ Said Sam…I am going with you, if you climb to the moon and if any of those black riders try to stop you, they’ll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with, I said.”[1]

What is it that makes even the meek and mild among us able to carry out amazing acts of bravery such as being willing to follow a friend into death but belief in the importance of the final outcome? This type of belief is the substance of the hope on which Christians await their redemption. During this liturgy, we often focus on the cross and, while we must never seen in this cross anything less than an instrument of cruel torture and death, we must also keep in mind the hope that radiates from this cross of a man who, though sinless, was willing to give his life to wipe away our sins.

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton-Miffling publishers Boston, MA. c.1987 from Book one Chapter 3: Three is company

Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Thursday and Spe Salvi part one community

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.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Getting ready for one liturgy in three days

It's Triduum in the catholic church, a three day event in which we remember the giving over of the Lord's supper, the death of Christ, and the resurrection that sets us free.

The "traditional" way the Triduum begins is with the mass of blessing oils or the chrism mass. Most diocese are wise in moving this mass, including the Archbishop of Dubuque who celebrates this liturgy on Tuesday of this Holy Week. The Archbishop focused his homily on the Pope's latest document entitled "Spe Salvi". The focus of the document is on Christian hope and it gave me the inspiration to use it when I prepare my homilies for the next three days. So, prepare yourselves for homilies that incorporate the readings and are connected to Hope.