February 26, 2018, Monday
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” —Gospel of John, Chapter 1, Verse 1
“There will never be another God, Trypho, and there has been no other since the world began… than He who made and ordered the universe. We do not think that our God is different from yours. He is the same who brought your fathers out of Egypt ‘by His powerful hand and His outstretched arm.’ We do not place our hope in some other god, for there is none, but in the same God as you do: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”—St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, c. 160 A.D. Justin Martyr attempts to show that Christianity is the new law for all men, and to prove from Scripture that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. The Dialogue utilizes the literary device of an intellectual conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew. The concluding section propounds that the Christians are the true people of God.
“Jeremiah thus speaks: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers’… If, therefore, God proclaimed a new covenant… for a light of the nations, we see and are persuaded that men approach God, leaving their idols and other unrighteousness, through the name of Him who was crucified, Jesus Christ… He is the new law, and the new covenant, and the expectation of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God. For the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham… are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.” —Ibid.
“Now, again, is the time — and still more importantly, for the danger of despair is even greater than before — when the gaze of the soul must be directed beyond the immediate occasion of the suffering to the consummation of all suffering as seen in Christ. It is now more than ever that we must count upon the force of love crucified. The Crucifixion must be allowed not only to do for us a work that we cannot do for ourselves, but also to do for those others whom we love a work that they cannot do for themselves, nor one that we can do for them.” —Dom Hubert van Zeller, The Mystery of Suffering. Van Zeller (1905-1984) was a Benedictine writer and sculptor, noted for writing about human suffering from a Catholic perspective. His 1966 autobiography, entitled One Foot in the Cradle, discusses his experiences serving in the monastery as well as his close friendship with Monsignor Ronald Knox, who would later dedicate one of his books to van Zeller. A deeply devout man, his sole possessions during his monastic life were a toothbrush and a typewriter. He once said: “Now, hope starts off by knowing that life is going to be difficult. It admits that, without grace, perfection is miles out of reach. It faces the idea of failure. It sees how there are bound to be disappointments and temptations all along the line. But it just goes right on trusting. A person who is strong in this kind of hope looks upon everything that comes along—even mistakes and serious failures—as being a chance not to be missed.”
Snow fell in Rome last night, for the first time in years.
So the city is shrouded for a moment in silence.
And silence is needed, to contemplate the situation we face, and discern what we must do…
We are now on the vigil of the 5th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation — February 28. (And the upcoming issue of our magazine, Inside the Vatican, will be a special commemorative issue to reflect upon the resignation and what it has meant for the Church, so you will not want to miss this issue.)
And we are soon to reach the 5th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope Francis — March 13.
Already, there are reports that the Pope will soon issue another encyclical, on Catholic spirituality in the modern world, and will also soon hold another consistory to name new cardinals. (link)
But even as Pope Francis prepares his new document and these new nominations, he is also navigating quite intense scrutiny and criticism — greater criticism than at at time in his pontificate.
Not a day passes, it seems, without some new controversy. Here is a (necessarily incomplete) summary, mentioning only five issues:
(1) China: the Vatican’s diplomatic initiative regarding the choice of bishops for the Church in China (the cover story of the February issue ofInside the Vatican);
(2) Sexual abuse coverup allegations: Archbishop Charles Scicluna, 58, has flown to New York and Santiago, Chile, at the request of Pope Francis to investigate allegations made against of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile; his investigation is now nearly complete (link)
(3) Financial corruption?: the controversy over a $25 million donation given by the U.S.-based Papal Foundation to the Holy Father, which was then sent to a dubious, deeply indebted Italian clinic, leading some to suggest impropriety (link);
(5) Looming schism?: the growing disparity in the Church’s pastoral practice, and therefore, ultimately (it would seem), also in her doctrine, in many moral and liturgical matters — ranging from the blessing of homosexual couples to the reception of communion in the hand (link) — all of it suggesting that the universal Church today faces a possible division, eve schism, that is, an imminent deep wound to the one Body of Christ.
Rather than go into greater detail on these matters, and others, I feel compelled to try, in these letters, to shift the focus away from these controversies — as important as they may be for understanding what is happening, or might happen, in our Church during these coming times — and to write, somehow, about more profound matters, if possible.
I feel I must try to shift the conversation toward the Logos, the center and summit of our hope.
What is important is not the individual controversy so much as whether we learn of the “Good News” of the existence and sacrifice of the Incarnate Logos.
Again as always before, we need to return to the Logos, to Christ, and not be distracted by anything else.
And it seems to me that now is an appropriate time.
So, how to turn toward the Logos, amid the turmoil and confusion of this world, and of the Church in our time?
By returning to Christ, by coming into His presence, wherever we are, whether in a chapel, in the Gospels, in prayer, whether in speaking or in silence.
By simply remaining in a posture of listening and implicit reverence.
But perhaps this is precisely the problem.
The human person, it seems, most often seeks to receive praise and glory, not to give it, to receive honor and genuflections, not to honor or genuflect (literally, “bend the knee”) before anyone else.
We regard such “submission” as unworthy of a man, or a woman.
We wish to have no “god” but… ourselves…
However, the truth is, if the highest reverence we give is to ourselves(!), we are giving reverence to a person… not truly worthy of reverence.
The sole being to whom a man or woman ought to give reverence is one worthy of such reverence.
The secular humanists may be quite correct when they argue that honoring or giving reverence to an imperfect human being — a king, a president, a general, a leader — is unworthy of true men and women.
But what if… what if the person were worthy, entirely worthy of honor and reverence?
Leaving aside the question of where we might encounter such a being, of how we might run into such a person in the vastness of space and time and our changing and passing world, we still could postulate, perhaps, that if we were to encounter such a being, then that being would elicit from us an ontological response, a response rooted in the understanding of our being and of the being before us who is worthy — a response rooted in the realization, the understanding, the recognition… that this other person, this being, is worthy.
And in this way we come to… the holy.
Holiness is the ontological characteristic which elicits this response, as in the Hollywood films where a light appears and the music rises in a crescendo to illustrate the presence of what is awesome, transcendent, numinous, divine…
The response to the holy is always a response of awe and adoration, because our souls were made to love and reverence and long for the holy.
The encounter with the holy naturally prompts our genuflection, our bowing of the head, but it is not an abasement of ourselves, per se, but an acknowledgment of a fact — that we are in contact with, in the presence of, what is holy.
I take it as axiomatic that we long for the holy, as a sunflower longs for the rays of the sun. Perhaps this needs proving, but I take it as a given, as a point of departure.
We seek for the holy throughout our lives, and we always wonder if we will ever find even a trace of it, in this fallen world…
What affirms that the world is not meaningless (logos-less) is… meaning.
What affirms that world is not total chaos, senseless and cruel is… a person who is rational, reasonable, and kind.
To meet such a person, such a being, offers the prospect of true freedom — because the person is worthy.
This is why Moses took off his sandals on Mt. Sinai.
It was not his self-abasement, it was his recognition of the nature of the presence before him, who had come to him to enter into a relationship with him.
This is the point: the mind, the soul (with a certain imprecision, I use both terms, and apologize for that) of a human being was not made for frustration and deception, but for fulfillment and truth.
Christ, the Logos of God, the Word of God, God’s self-expression, His very nature and self, his Son, is the supreme object of the mind, or soul.
Furthermore, as St. Paul has taught us so well, once this “object” (actually a subject, a person, a “Thou”) is encountered, and contemplated — once we have removed our sandals before Him… He starts to transform us, our minds, our souls.
We ourselves, our minds, our souls — are changed.
This is why we can rejoice — because we are not “stuck” with this wretched, limited, selfish, inward-focused soul, or mind, which deceives, continually, our very selves.
Rather, we can be “perfected,” indeed, “replaced,” through and by the Logos, which penetrates and heals, cleanses and renews, the soul, the mind, and orients the soul, the mind, toward truth, toward faith, toward hope, toward love.
This is the blessing.
This is blessedness.
Thus is the liturgy, in the Byzantine rite of St. John Chrysostom, we pray: “You made us worthy to partake of Your holy, divine, immortal and life-giving Mysteries. Preserve us in Your holiness that we may meditate all the day upon Your justice.”
And no blandishment of our oligarchs, whether in Europe or America, Russia or China, no proposal of money, or power, or authority, or even magic or technological “miracle-making,” can be more attractive than this self-transcendence accomplished by the Logos.
Nothing can draw us away in temptation from the Logos, once we have encountered Him, for He is the true lover of our souls, that is, of our selves.
Suffering, in this context, is not to be feared or fled from. Rather, it is in some mysterious way the necessary and even beneficial — that is, “good-causing” — means which leads us home.
The resurrection of Christ reveals that this earthly existence we experience so briefly, this realm, is not the final word.
Rather, all of it is to be transformed.
The power of meaning (logos) and unselfish love (agape) and expiatory suffering will transform the very atomic structure of our reality, as it were, and sanctify it in a “new age” to come.
This is the eschaton, the kingdom of God’s reign.
In expectation of this, the Church’s work is not “hocus pocus” (words derived, in mockery, from the words of the consecration of the bread, “hoc est enim corpus meum” = “for this is my body”) but precisely the preparation for the transformation of this world into something implicit here already (because creation is good)… a process we can in faith perceive, be aware of, but never grasp, due to our limitations of mind, to our occasional frustration and sorrow.
Our best choice, given these facts, is to prepare to be transformed by the One who comes to meet us… always comes to meet us… especially in the very darkest hour.
Our best choice to save our society, our world, in as much as it can be saved, is therefore “The Logos Option.”
What is the meaning of “The Logos Option”?
That we put not our faith in princes, in any human leaders, or human parties or movements, but only in the Word, the Logos, the Meaning of the universe, who has been incarnate, and continues to be in a certain real sense incarnate, present in the world, in his Church.
That is, to put our faith in Christ alone.
And therefore, we must not flee. We must stand where we are, and live where we are, and if required, die where we are, in our living and in our dying bearing witness to the one truth which is above all truths: that God is, that He is holy, that he is above all and within all, and that he is good, and loves mankind.
Father van Zeller wrote in his The Mystery of Suffering: “The Christian ideal is shown to us in the garden of Gethsemane: our Lord asking that the suffering might pass from him, while at the same time being ready to bear it if this is the Father’s will… The saints flinch as instinctively as others when the cross comes along, but they do not allow their flinching to upset their perspectives… All I can say is that had I been healthy all my life I would not have prayed [so well] or put myself in God’s hands.”
So let us choose the Logos option, and proceed forward in His hands, to the end.