We are in the dark about ourselves. When we act, we are groping in the dark, and may meet with a fall any moment. Here and there, perhaps, we see a little; or, in our attempts to influence and move our minds, we are making experiments (as it were) with some delicate and dangerous instrument, which works we do not know how, and may produce unexpected and disastrous effects. The management of our hearts is quite above us.
Under these circumstances it becomes our comfort to look up to God, “Thou, God, seest me!” Such was the consolation of the forlorn Hagar in the wilderness. He knoweth whereof we are made, and He alone can uphold us. He sees with most appalling distinctness all our sins, all the windings and recesses of evil within us; yet it is our only comfort to know this, and to trust Him for help against ourselves. Those who have a right notion of their weakness, the thought of their Almighty Sanctifier and Guide is continually present. They believe in the necessity of a spiritual influence to change and strengthen them, not as a mere abstract doctrine, but as a practical and most consolatory truth, daily to be fulfilled in their warfare with sin and Satan.
Parochial and Plain Sermons i 173-174
God’s presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us, but afterwards, when we look back upon what is gone and over.
Parochial and Plain Sermons iv 256
We are not our own, any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves; we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We cannot be our own masters. We are God’s property by creation, by redemption, by regeneration. He has a triple claim upon us. Is it not our happiness thus to view the matter? Is it any happiness, or any comfort, to consider that we are our own? … No, we are creatures; and as being such, we have two duties: to be resigned and to be thankful.
Parochial and Plain Sermons v 83-84
God knows what is my greatest happiness, but I do not. There is no rule about what is happy and good; what suits one would not suit another. And the ways by which perfection is reached vary very much; the medicines necessary for our souls are very different from each other. Thus God leads us by strange ways; we know He wills our happiness, but we neither know what our happiness is, nor the way. We are blind; left to ourselves we should take the wrong way; we must leave it to Him.
Meditations and Devotions 397
* all quotations taken from Erich Przywara SJ, The Heart of Newman (San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1997)
‘the “desire to see God” cannot be permanently frustrated without an essential suffering. To deny this is to undermine my entire Credo. For is not this, in effect, the definition of the “pain of the damned”? And consequently—at least in appearance—a good and just God could hardly frustrate me, unless I, through my own fault, turn away from him by choice. The infinite importance of the desire implanted in me by my Creator is what constitutes the infinite importance of the drama of human existence … this desire is not some “accident” in me. It does not result from some peculiarity,possibly alterable, of my individual being, or from some historical contingency whose effects are more or less transitory. A fortiori it does not in any sense depend upon my deliberate will. It is in me as a result of my belonging to humanity as it is, that humanity which is, as we say, “called”. For God’s call is constitutive. My finality, which is expressed by this desire, is inscribed upon my very being as it has been put into this universe by God. And, by God’s will, I now have no other genuine end,no end really assigned to my nature or presented for my free acceptance under any guise, except that of “seeing God”’ (Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, 54-55).
It is, however, of fundamental importance to notice that the story remains necessarily unfinished. We cannot,individually or corporately, complete the narrative so long as we continue on the journey. The story remains unfinished so long as the journey remains unfinished; so long as, individually and corporately, we continue to travel towards the wilderness, the desert of death.
It is, I suggest, this unfinished character that differentiates the language of hope from the language of both optimism and despair. Both optimism and despair know the answer, are clear about the outcome: they prematurely complete the story. Both optimism and pessimism, utopianism and cynicism, are implicitly totalitarian: they know too much about the future. Whereas the language of hope, the language of an unfinished narrative, retains an interrogative character. The grammar of the language of hope includes assertive and descriptive elements. But these are, in the last resort, subordinate to the grammar of interrogation and request. Unless the confession of Christian faith, the telling of the Christian story, retains its fundamental character as prayer, it loses its identity. We have no way of describing or predicting the outcome of the journey; of discerning what lies ahead, in the wilderness.”
- Nicholas Lash, Seeing in the Dark: University Sermons (London: DLT, 2005) 15.
1974 Massey Lectures
“Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we are reminded of the longing of disciples and ‘multitude’ alike for a saviour congruent with their projections and aspirations. There is no breaking-free from this web, because entanglement in it is inseparable from human being—the conditions of imperfect knowledge and imperfect communication, combined with the urge to structure and subdue the world and tame its contingency. And thus truth in this world is a stranger, essentially and profoundly vulnerable (so the Fourth Gospel reiterates again and again): its connection with or participation in the world involves rejection,crucifixion outside the city gates. Yet it has entered the world, it has allowed itself to be linked with the sphere of destructive untruth; and even if rejected, it cannot be annihilated. If Calvary shows the links between truth and untruth pulling the former down towards extinction, Easter shows us those same links, the same interconnectedness of the human world, reversed, so that truth draws untruth up towards the light. Our connection with truth, with Jesus,has led to the cross; his connection with us remains, indestructibly, to assure us that our betrayal is not the ultimate fact in the world. We may betray, but the world characterised by betrayal is now interwoven with a reality incapable of betrayal.God’s faithfulness has worn a human face, through Calvary and beyond. The incarnate truth, ‘risen from the dead’, establishes that faithfulness as the ground of inexhaustible hope in the world, even in the midst of our self-deceits. To know the full scope and the full cost of our untruthfulness, and not to be crippled, paralysed, by it is what is given by the risen Christ: memory restored in hope”
- Rowan Williams Resurrection, 35-6
Kierkegaard must be appropriated anew, but in a strict critique of that grows out of our own situation.Blind appropriation is the greatest seduction … Not everyone who talks of“existence” has to be a Kierkegaardian.
(Letter to Karl Löwith 13 September 1920 in Kisiel, Becoming Heidegger 98).
Protestant theology todaygenerally does not demonstrate the understanding of sin we have just outlinedand the understanding of the relation of God and man that this entails. And when,in the latest theological movement, it is once again made clear, it isdiscounted and resisted out of fear of the import of such an understanding. Inthis way, the Protestant Principle is once again betrayed.
f. What this means can be illustratedby a remark about Catholicism and Protestantism found in Kierkegaard’s journalof 1852 (II, p. 284ff.), the gist of which is briefly the following:
Just as Luther is Luther only on the spiritual ground of Catholicism, so is Protestantism only a corrective to Catholicism and unable to stand alone as normative. When Catholicism degenerates, then the “sham sanctity”of sanctimonious hypocrisy arises. But when Protestantism degenerates, then “worldliness without spirit” arises. What would appear as a result is a refinement in Protestantism that cannot emerge within Catholicism. For in Catholicism, when a representative of its principle degenerates into worldliness, he brings upon himself the odium [disgrace] of worldliness.But when a representative of Protestantism degenerates into worldliness, he is praised for his piety and honesty. And this is so because Catholicism is based on the general presupposition “that we human beings are all really scoundrels.”“The Principle of Protestantism has a special presupposition: a human being who sits there in mortal anxiety—in fear and trembling and great spiritual trial.”
(‘The Problem of Sin in Luther’, in Kisiel, Becoming Heidegger 194-5).
“[Thomas Aquinas] is not engaged in an inquiry, the resultof which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize,he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he canfind apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much thebetter; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding ofarguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but specialpleading. I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserves to be put on a level withthe best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times” (Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, 463).
“Enter these truths by believing, press forward, persevere. And though I may know that you will not arrive at an end, yet I will congratulate you in your progress. For, though he who pursues the infinite with reverence will never finally reach the end, yet he will always progress by pressing onward. But do not intrude yourself into the divine secret, do not, presuming to comprehend the sum total of intelligence, plunge yourself into the mystery of the unending nativity; rather, understand that these things are incomprehensible.”
- St. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate II, 10, ii; cited in St. Thomas d’Aquino, Contra Gentiles, I, 8, ii
Immaculate Mary: the imagination and seal of God’s optimism
Fr. Alberto Maggi OSM
Although it is not recorded in the Gospels, the beginning and end of Mary’s earthly life corresponds to the fulfilment of God’s project with humanity.
Created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 2:26), and called to become his children (Jn 1:12), human beings realize this likeness on earth through the practice of a love that resembles the Father’s (Lk 6:35), and their existence continues in the Lord on through the threshold of death (Jn 11:25-26).
By presenting Mary as the perfect model of this journey in becoming a child of God, the Church celebrates her entrance into earthly existence with the Immaculate Conception and her life in the sphere of God with the Assumption. Although these truths have absolutely no reference in the New Testament they belong to the deposit of Christian faith, they are born out of the intuition of the people rather than out of theological speculation.
By “Immaculate” the Church means that the entangling guilt which impedes the full communication of life between God and humanity does not weigh upon Mary. This condition is not static, given once for all, but rather is dynamic—the creature is invited to actively collaborate by the gift of God, attuning her love with the same wavelength of God, “he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and immaculate before him in love” (Eph 1:4).
Mary is presented by the evangelists as the tangible sign of that which God can realize with every creature who does not put obstacles in front of His love and instead lets His Spirit fill them. The Immaculate Conception is the seal of God’s optimism for humanity, the sign of how much He esteems humanity, and needs every person to bring His creation to completion and be Father to all humanity (2 Cor 6:18).
The abyss that separated humanity from God has been filled with the Immaculate Conception—the creature can be intimately united to her Creator.This full communion is possible for every person (Eph 1:4), and it is the fruit of a process of growth in the faith which has been lived out by Mary herself.The itinerary of Mary’s faith can be sketched by the arc of two great cycles or annunciations. Every annunciation is a call by God to the fullness of life, and in the life of Mary we encounter two important calls: i) the God of Israel turns to the girl from Nazareth; and, ii) Jesus, “God with us” (Mt 1:23), calls his mother. The first annunciation will culminate with the birth of the God-Man,the second with that of the perfect disciple—Mary. In the first annunciation,God, unheard by the priests in the Temple (Lk 1:20), turns to “that which the world despises” (1 Cor 1:28), a married woman from backwoods Nazareth (Jn 1:46), and asks her to become the mother of His Son (Lk 1:26-38). Fully trusting in God, Mary accepts the proposal which the divine messenger made to her and her acceptance is the profound formulation of life that was inside her and which now can liberate and cause growth.
The second call arrives in a highly dramatic climate: among the entire family who had characterised Jesus as demented (Mk 3:21-35). From the perspective of the religious leaders, the Galilean presents himself as one sent by God (Lk 4:18-21), and comports himself as an enemy of God, by transgressing the most sacred precepts and commandments (Mk 3:5-22; 7:15-23), while the religious authorities grill him as a heretical blasphemer and as demon possessed(Mt 9:3), according to the people he is only a crazy person to throw stones at(Jn 8:59).
The family’s request to Jesus “Your mother and brothers are asking for you,” is interrupted by Christ’s cold retort: “Who is my mother?…”
For Jesus, his closest friends were only those who follow him and like him live the will of the Father translating it into an unconditional love open to all, despite religious, moral, or sexual categories (Lk 10:29-37).
Mary has to decide: either to stay with her family, who thinks Jesus is crazy, and save her reputation; or to follow the son known for being“a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 11:19).
In Nazareth, the Virgin was entrusted with the invitation extended by the Lord and through her acceptance the Messiah of God was born. In this second annunciation, more heartfelt and mature, Mary responds again with a Yes to the invitation to the fullness of life, which comes from the God-Man and which generates a new birth: her own.
She will now be the mother reborn by her son—a new birth that comes “from above” (Jn 3:3), from He who, lifted up on the cross, will transform his mother into a faithful disciple (Jn 19:25-27). The first annunciation was crowned with the beatitude with which the gospels open: “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45); the second annunciation finds its formulation in the beatitude with which the gospels conclude: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29).
The birth of the Woman
While the annunciation in Nazareth culminates in Bethlehem,where the blazing light of the glory of the Lord wraps around the birth of the Son, with shepherds and magi in adoration (Lk 2:1-21; Mt 2:1-12), the other annunciation will be in the darkness of Jerusalem (Mk 15:33), where blasphemies and sneers accompany the death of Christ and the birth of the Woman (Mk 15:29-32; Jn 19:27).
The evangelist does not present a pain stricken mother under the cross, who stays close to her son even if he is a criminal, but rather as the courageous disciple that decided to follow the teacher, risking her own life, while the apostles, who had sworn to be ready to die for him (Mk 14:29-31), have cowardly vanished (Mt 26:56).
On Golgotha, rather than a mother that suffers for her child, John shows us instead the disciple that suffers with her Teacher, the Woman that shares in the pain of the “Man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3; Rom 8:17).Mary took up her cross and was placed next to the executed, against those who had crucified Him, forever siding with the oppressed and marginalized.
This was not easy for Mary.
To side herself with the crucified placed her against her own family and she had to break with the religion whose highest representative,the High Priest, had excommunicated Jesus (Mt 26:65; Mk 3:22). So, choosing the condemned, she had dared to put herself against the civil authorities that executed that Galilean as a dangerous revolutionary (Mt 27:38). At the cross, Mary actively adheres to the One who “overturns the powerful from their thrones” (Lk 1:52)—she stays with the victim of these powers and takes up her cross, that is, accepts it, like Jesus did, to be considered like the trash of society, so as not to be less than committed to being the presence of God’s love in the world (Mk 8:34).
The imagination of God
The cycle opened with the annunciation in Nazareth and closes with the image of the holy family united in an ever-growing love and with Mary who “treasures all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51-52). The other annunciation has its ideal crown in the new family of Mary, the community of Jerusalem,which continues to live out, together with all believers, the experience that began in Nazareth: the unheard God in the Sanctuary continues to effuse His life, the Spirit, to those marginalised from the Temple, to the community of Galilean heretics (Acts 1:14; 2:1ff).
In the end, Mary is “assumed” into heaven and she is the signature of God on the project of humanity that gets involved by the vital action of the Holy Spirit. This glorification is the destiny which Christ gave his brothers because, as Paul writes, those that follow the Lord “are seated in heaven, in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6), they are, like him, victors over death and they continue to live forever (Jn 11:25). For Mary, the assumption is the ordinary conclusion to an extraordinary life: from Nazareth she is always oriented toward life-enriching decisions, she entrusts herself to the imagination of that God who transforms everything into good (Rom 8:28), and turns stone into bread (Mt 7:9); a God that chooses the foolish things in the world to become an object of his love (1 Cor 1:27-30); and makes an anonymous young girl from an isolated village to be “proclaimed blessed by all generations” (Lk 1:48).