Tuesday, May 11, 2021

There are many rooms in my Father’s House

I am not sure how the “unrepeatability of the human person” fits the theme of Karol turning to phenomenology, at least from this week's readings.  More so, I found these quotes of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and Roger Duncan’s paper curious: ”Wojtyla came to phenomenology, contrary to a popular assumption, entirely on his own” and “[The Acting Person] manifests an independent and ingenious reflection of the author’s own, expanding the issues of personal and social ethics, grounding them in an analysis evidencing a strong kinship with the methods of the phenomenological school” (Anna-Teresa Tynieniecka and Roger Duncan, Karol Wojtyla, Between Phenomenology and Scholasticism, page 487).  I know that Wojtyla studied Scheler in the early 1950s; is it possible that he was already practicing something akin to the “method” of phenomenology?

I am led down this path as I think about the idea that Wojtyla appeared to experience people in an unusually intense and present way, apparently deriving the “meaning” of the people he met intentionally.  Did he practice “something akin” to the method of phenomenology simply as part of whom he was?  Weigel speaks of “. . . ongoing pastoral concern and his sense of priestly ministry as a matter of ‘meeting someone wisely.’  Wojtyla’s openness in his encounter with others was a way to ‘see’ into his philosophy . . . Other philosophers remembered texts.  Karol Wojtyla always remembered persons”.  (George Weigel, Witness to Hope, page 129).

I think that Wojtyla’s style of relationship--developed in the quarry with other workers, in the Rhapsodic Theater with other actors, in the underground seminary with other seminarians, and at St. Florians with the Srodowisko—was quintessentially phenomenological as his subjectivity richly perceived and described the people he met and knew.  He then used his metaphysical training to provide meaning to their lives through the context of his intellect.  In a strange way I think he contextualized each person he met as “unrepeatable” and unique and, then, gave them the dignity of their personhood by receiving them, each and every one of them, as a gift.  He provided the drama of who-they-could be from his metaphysical perspective of who-they-were, allowing the best of each person to appear in receiving them as a gift.

Deep calls To Deep At The Thunder of Your Cataracts

So, why a triangle [the SanJuanist triangle]?  The three vertices are three major spiritual communities in the life of Karol Wojtyla: the Living Rosary mentored by Jan Tyranowski, Srodowisko where he fell in love with love, and Vatican II where he helped distill a meaning of love for the whole Church.  From these communities he developed three major understandings of love: the Trinity as the exemplar of love (and gift), the spousal love of man and woman, and love as the give of one’s self.  Michael Waldstein ties them together using the form of a triangle in part, I think, to highlight this distinctive connection that Wojtyla made between the three.

While I found Christopher West’s introduction to the Theology of the Body exciting (Christopher West, Naked Without Shame, 1999), it was my encounter with Dr. Waldstein’s analysis many years later that illuminated this foundational understanding that the love between man and woman could somehow reveal something about the love of the Trinity.  Moreso, that the telos of theosis was somehow revealed in conjugal love as well as the poetry of Saint John of the Cross.  For me it was a dramatic connection between my understanding of marital love from working with marriage and family clients and the goal of theosis.  Here was a new faith, a way of communing with God beyond the intellectual concepts that had formed my religious practice.  I still marvel at the concept, not only in its strangeness to my early catechesis but as a way to address a better way than the “peace and love” of the Sixties that was rooted in a sincere desire to love authentically yet provides a sound base from which to practice that love rather than devolving into simple carnal lust and hedonism.

All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

In my reading of contemporary articles, I recently came across a clear example of historicism.  This article by Eduardo Eccheveria examined the proclamation from the “Fundamental Text of the German Synodal Way” (Eduardo J. Echeverria, “The Faith Once for All Delivered”, https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2021/03/13/the-faith-once-for-all-delivered/).  Dr. Echeverria reported that the text states that revelation is limited to the encounter between a person and God : “The experience is revelatory, and not the content of faith, doctrines, creeds, confessions of faith, catechisms, and the like.” (Ibid.). Thus, anything beyond the encounter with God is not revelation: “St. Paul affirmed that ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ (Rom 10:17). What, then, has been revealed by His word? Nothing at all, according to the Text, because there is no revealed data, that is, no propositional revelation, mediating determinate knowledge of God, man, and the world, in other words, no revealed truth.” (Ibid.).

As John Paul II writes, “The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose.” (John Paul II, , Section 87).  Thus, according to Dr. Echeverria, the above “Fundamental Text” shows an underlying  historicism in its isolation of Revelation to the experience of any particular person, denying the capability to communicate Revelation between persons much less across historical periods.  This variant of Modernism highlights the cost of absolutizing subjectivity—that Truth can not be communicated beyond a particular person’s consciousness—and exemplifies John Paul II’s point  that ”the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now.”.  This philosophical narrowness limits access to the Truth and any hope for communicating it.

Thus, historicism denies the communication of Wisdom either across the ages or even between persons, since each person’s historical context is not identical.  In the end “this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth to which theology is called to respond.” (Ibid.)


Therefore The Child To Be Born Will Be Called Holy, The Son of God

I centered on the quote from Pseudo-Epiphanius when reading this last section of Fides et Ratio: “the literal translation of the text [“He noera tes pisteos trapeza”] describes Mary as ‘the intellectual table of faith which furnished the bread of life to the world’." (Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Mary and the Vocation of Philosophers, page 54).  Somehow the image of Mary as “table” (or “altar”, from the Latin) brings to mind the icon “Platytera”--“an icon of the Theotokos, facing the viewer directly, usually depicted full length with her hands in the "orans" position, and with the image of Christ as a child in front of her chest, also facing the viewer directly . . . Poetically, by containing the Creator of the Universe in her womb, Mary has become Platytera ton ouranon, which means: "More spacious than the heavens.” (“Panagia Platytera”, Orthodox Wiki, https://orthodoxwiki.org/Panagia_Platytera).  The theme is of Mary as the place, the platform from which Jesus is brought to the world.  This is a very sapiential image, the framework that connects the person to the Creator and the Creation.

This sapiential service of Mary orders our interaction with God by giving us the structure of the table.  As in the Platytera icon, we are called first to receive Jesus from the table: “David Meconi, S.J. observes that: “Mary exemplifies philosophy’s initial task to receive reality and not manipulate it.’” (Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Mary and the Vocation of Philosophers, page 54).  Mary does not analyze or reduce the reality of Jesus; rather she ponders Him as a mother gazing at her child and leads us to do so as well.  Her vocation was simply to allow herself to present the Divine Mystery: “Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God's Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative. (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Section 108).  She invites the philosopher to focus on fecundity as well as analysis in his thought.  Also, she gave herself to this simple vocation of being a platform from which God emerges to the world ”in giving her assent to Gabriel's word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel's truth its autonomy is in no way impaired” (Ibid.), inviting philosophers to the freedom of littleness by which God can be offered to the world.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Oh, Living Flame of Love Tenderly Wound My Soul

Buttiglione speculates that “Perhaps it was from Tyranowski that Wojtyla derived a natural tendency to read in St. John of the Cross a kind of phenomenology of mystical experience” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 45).  What I find intriguing is that Father Garrigou-Lagrange, who directed and influenced Father Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis on St. John of the Cross and the doctrine of faith, was “attempting to apply his knowledge of the Spanish mystic in defining a priestly spirituality which would fit the questions and problems of a world left devasted by the [Second World] War.” (Ibid.).  That devastation was far more than the physical destruction of infrastructure; rather the greater influence was the explosion of trauma in a generation whose parents endured the genocide of the First World War and its aftermath.

Why is this important?  We know that the common response to emotional trauma is some degree of long-term dissociation that leaves the sufferer both stunted in emotional growth as well as isolated relationally.  This dissociation expressed itself in the existentialism and nihilism of post-War culture for which the intellectual explanations of faith were insufficient to provide the emotional healing so desperately needed by that generation and its children.  I think that Karol Wojtyla discovered experientially this remedy of faith in God while enduring the horrors he experienced during the occupation by the German National Socialists, a faith he found through Saint John of the Cross, the faith that was the “only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God” (John Paul II, Master of Faith, Apostolic Letter, 14 December 1990, Section 2).

I think that Saint John of the Cross’s “message of a vigorous, living faith which seeks and finds God in His Son Jesus Christ, in the Church. in the beauty of creation, in quiet prayer, in the darkness of night, and in the purifying flame of the Spirit” provided the base for the fulcrum of Karol Wojtyla’s faith that he then expressed to others in service, especially in his vocation to the priesthood.  Wojtyla distilled the essence of the faith he meditated upon in the works of San John of the Cross that provided the healing for trauma by making available “the horizon of the mystical” (Ibid., Section 12) that allows the human person to commune with God in the prison of his dissocation: “St. John’s phenomenology of mystical experience takes man towards the irreducible core of the person, and shows the necessity of transcending this core toward that truth who is God himself, by responding to the initiative of God toward human beings.  This divine initiative, which traverses natural human structures, illuminates and, in a certain sense, makes the irreducible core of the human person experienceable” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 48).  Thus, Saint John of the Cross is the Master of Faith for the generations suffering from the devastating trauma of the twentienth century as he leads us out of ourselves through our inner caverns of feeling.

Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!

Come consumate our love
Tear through the veil of our union
If it be your will, come and rend
The veil of the temple!

Oh, lamps of fire
In deep caverns of feeling
Once obscured and blind
Are now leading
In the warmth and the passion
Of your love

(Saint John of the Cross, The Living Flame Of Love)

Sunday, February 07, 2021

If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light


“Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing.  Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.” (John Hittinger, John Paul II and the Exorcism of Descartes’ Ghost, page 191).  This summary of the difference between “modern philosophy” and the “ancients” supplies a useful starting point for describing the “obstacle for understanding faith and theology”.  Indeed, this focus on limitation and conditioning provides the paradoxical frame of describing faith in terms of “superstition”: “The belief in supernatural phenomina[sic], concepts, or figures; the opposite of logic or knowledge or facts.” (Urban Dictionary, 2021).  Paradoxical because the method of Descartes is to exclude any and all information that a person cannot greet with certitude, especially the perjorative “supernatural”, rather than to use one's rationality to know the truth.

It is this modern belief that reducing reality to some system of logic (and, consequently mathematics) as a base of certainty that misleads modern philosophers: “is faith also not cast into oblivion in light of the other great criterion for the modern philosophy—mathematical certitude?” (Ibid., page 196).  True, describing a small section of the “real world” with logic has utility scientifically.  However, mathematics is simply a “language” for describing what is thought to be observed rather than an anchor of truth.  It is the reification of a mathematical description, the “saving of appearances”, that produces this illusion of certainty.  Any greatly extensive mathematic description quickly becomes a world view in which flaws in its assumptions are hidden beneath the complexity of its deductions, as any writer of software models can willingly testify.  A mathematical model of “reality” thus is inherently darkened by its complexity and the limitations of its assumptions, an impediment to the search for truth.

I think this superstition of describing reality with certitude that comes about through filtering reality with the “emphasis upon subjectivity” and “the method of separation and reduction” is the true obstacle to the exercise of faith.  Not because these methods are not useful but because of “the ambiguity about the end or purpose” (Ibid., page 197) for which the method is use: “John Paul II detects impatience with mystery” (Ibid., page 194).  Indeed, it is this superstition of certitude that blocks openness to wonder and mystery, that comes from not acknowledging the insufficiency of human knowing simply through analytical and reductive investigations.  In the end, faith requires the humility of accepting the true boundaries of one’s interiority, the reality of one’s person.  The good news is that this provides the foundation for knowing other persons, including God, through relationship rather than remaining in the ignorance and isolation of the immature prison of one’s own consciousness, a way of knowing that allows reception of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

There are in life but two things


“After Descartes . . . the aspect of consciousness eventually assumed a kind of absolutization, which in the contemporary era entered phenomenology by the way of Husserl.  The gnosiological attitude in philosophy has replaced the metaphysical attitude: being is constituted in and somehow through consciousness.  The reality of the person, however, demands the restoration of the notion of conscious being, a being that is not constituted in and through consciousness but that instead somehow constitutes consciousness.  This also applies to the reality of action as conscious activity.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Person: Subject and Community”, 1976, in Person and community: selected essays, p 226).  This quotation of Wojtyla illuminates “one of the central questions concerning the world outlook (Weltanschaung)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976), “the problem of the subjectivity of the person”.  

What is the problem of the subjectivity of the person?  It is not with subjectivity, the interiority of a person, per se.  Rather it is with the basis of human action and, as such, morality. With Descartes proclaiming that being is dependent on consciousness, subjectivism alone becomes the foundation of human action rather than in combination with the objective “conscious being”: “the act of personal existence has its direct consequences in the activity of the person”.

How is this problem important today?  This question connects to another essential if “hoary”, question: “Why be moral?  Why should I do what I should, rather than what I would? Why ought I do what is right?” (Kenneth L. Schmitz, At The Center of the Human Drama, 1993, page 31).  In a culture founded on the “notion of conscious being” morality is a consequence of relationship between beings (since a “being” is defined by its relationships with other objective beings):  I do what I should because of its effect on others as well as myself.  The context is one of whether an act is consonant with “love”, with the gift of self, with Gods will.  In a culture founded on the notion of consciousness solely as basis of action, the “I”, the subject, is alone, an individual whose “should” is determined by what is judged best for “I” by “I”.  Here the context is one of individual “power”, in which the “should” is focused on using and taking what the “I” needs and wants. 

This difference is reflected in psychological and developmental aspects of human beings, with the contrast of the immature, self-centered stage of “me” with the more mature stage of “us”, the basis of the moral contrast between young children and mature adults.  More deeply, this is the contrast between the psychosis of isolation and narcissism and the more realistic position of the interconnectedness of all persons and creation.  The fundamental consideration is one of knowing reality, of knowing the Truth (cf., aletheia in the New Testament), for knowing the truth frees a person to love.  As Weigel states about the Lublin school of philosophy, “if our thinking and choosing lacks a tether to reality . . . raw force takes over the world and truth becomes a function of power, not an expression of things-as-they-are.” (Witness To Hope, page 133). 

Living from the fundamental notion of “being . . . constituted in and somehow through consciousness” leaves one at the mercy of power and of one’s quest for it: an empty and lonely worldview disconnected from reality.  One’s moral “should” is based on this need for the power to provide for one’s self, a morality implemented in rage and addiction rather than in love since the source of human happiness—a sincere gift of one’s self —is blocked by the isolation that is needed to maintain one’s gaining and holding personal power.  Thus, the problem of the subjectivity of the human person, as “the very basis of human ‘praxis’ and morality (and thus also ethics)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976) led to and leads to “mountains of corpses and oceans of blood” (Witness to Hope, page 134) when solved this way since other persons have no intrinsic value besides their usefulness.

“'Here am I, Captain of a Legion of Rome, who served in the Libyan desert and learns and ponders this truth--there are in life but two things, love and power, and no man can have both.' (an Roman inscription popularized by Malcom Muggeridge).

I have come to cast fire upon the earth

 “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism . . . an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects . . . as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real.” (John Paul II, Address to the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas, Section 6, 17 November 1979).

I think the profound announcement of the title of “doctor of humanity” given by John Paul II to Saint Thomas Aquinas is grounded in this openness and universalism of his thought described in the above quote.  Openness to the “whole” of reality is a very difficult endeavor and constantly disturbs one’s sense of security derived from the barriers of one’s hermeneutical filters.  It is not for the faint-hearted.

Saint Thomas wrestled with the great disturbance of his era, the arrival of works of Aristotle that had streamed into Latin during the twelfth century as a result of reconquest of parts of the Islamic empire.  The importance of these works and the seeming contradiction of parts of these texts with Christian revelation greatly disturbed the worldview of established theologians.  Many reacted against Aristotle’s thought, some to the extreme of banning it.  Saint Thomas instead used his freedom to study and integrate this challenging new system of thought that excited the younger generation.

Openness to reality itself is not sufficient for the appellation, "doctor of humanity", however; the core is the desire for the truth of reality, for aletheia, a desire to know God : “the [prevailing characteristic of the philosophy of St. Thomas” is that it is always in search of the truth . . . Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true.” (Ibid., Section 8).  This passion for truth is what truly makes Saint Thomas the teacher of humanity because all human persons are created in the image of God and, thus, desire to know Him the source of their being.  His heart burning within him, filled with love for God, Saint Thomas lights the path for the rest of us to help show us the Way: “knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, Lecture 6, section 812, translated by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. {relevant text: “John [the Theologian] was perfect in his nature because he was a lamp, i.e., enriched by grace and illumined by the light of the Word of God. Now a lamp differs from a light: for a light radiates light of itself, but a lamp does not give light of itself, but by participating in the light. Now the true light is Christ: “He was the true light, which enlightens every man coming into this world” (above 1:9). John, however, was not a light, as we read in the same place, but a lamp, because he was enlightened “in order to bear witness to the light” (above 1:8), by leading men to Christ. We read of this lamp: “I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Ps 131:17).  Further, he was blazing and impassioned in his affections, so he says, blazing. For some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love”}).

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Wonders of the Kingdom of God


I find Pieper’s essay (Josef Pieper, The Philosophizing Act) seductive as I am enticed to spend my days trying to live in the sunshine of mirandum—what could be better?  I find it helpful to remember that Pieper values the “workaday world”: “the utilitarian world, the world of the useful, subject to ends, open to achievement and sub-divided according to functions” (The Philosophical Act, page 64).  Indeed, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:10).  

The point, of course, is that looking to mirandum as a means to escape from the duties and drudgery of the workaday world leads me right back into that world and the “pseudo-philosophy …[that] does not transcend the workaday world” (Ibid., page 70) and “…will never pierce the dome”(Ibid, page 71).  The temptation to “control” wonder and marvel is the opposite of what it means to philosophize in its purest form: “…it means to look at reality purely receptively—in such a way that things are the measure and the soul is exclusively receptive” (Ibid., page 77).

This is essential because the transcendence that comes with mirandum is not something that I create but that is created for me, a gift from the Creator.  If my focus is on my producing the marvellous then I am not open to the vital part of reality and I am unable “to look upon the world as the creation of an absolute spirit” and not just ”a field for human activity, its material, or even its raw material.” (Ibid., page 78).  Doing so traps me in the workaday world and prevents me from perceiving the spiritual part of the world--I am not open to the gift of the whole of reality as I filter out the non-utilitarian aspect.

And if I am not open to the whole of reality I have no hope of transcendence: “the great, wide, not to say deep, world which is at first sight invisible, the world of essences and universals, is not even suspected; nothing wonderful ever happens in this world, and wonder itself is unknown or lost” (Ibid., page 101).  I am left without hope because I filter out the Creator who can rescue me from the “narrow insensitive mind, that has become narrow through being insensitive…” (Ibid.).  I am left in the hellish isolation of the “dome” where I “itch for sensation” which I attempt to scratch through the perverting of the workaday world, producing higher and higher levels of stimulation in the hope of finding mirandum.

I propose that in the end philosophizing requires trust in God.  I trust that God will offer me wonder in ways I can accept in my always too-narrow perceptual field, to safeguard me as I find myself lost in the workaday world,  and will offer me the suffering that changes my nous and that frees me from my isolation of the dome.  If I trust in God’s providence of mirandum then I have the real hope of the wonders of the kingdom of God.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen, Nobody Knows But Jesus


This is the text in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis that connects with this question how Christ united Himself with all human beings:  “We are dealing with “each” man, for each one is included in the mystery of the Redemption and with each one Christ has united himself for ever through this mystery.” (Redemptor Hominis, Section 13).  One of the concepts that has impressed me in this encyclical is that the Incarnation linked Jesus to all mankind, that he is connected to us through our mutual humanity.  In becoming human He became one of us, united with us in the weakness and humility of the human body.  In some ways this seems self-evident, yet I find it powerful to reflect on the commonality I feel with Jesus in his human body and bodily functions.

The more difficult idea, I think, is that through the Redemption Jesus is united to us.  This is hard because it is tempting to picture the Redemption as something that Jesus did “for” us, for me.  This notion leaves me with the image of separateness, with Jesus “out there” doing something for me “in here” as I cannot connect with the immensity and transcendence of His passion, death, and resurrection.  I had been taught about “offering up” suffering, though this is, again, so insignificant compared to the staggering level of efficacy and suffering by Jesus in his passion and death by crucifixion.

In his great genius John Paul II demonstrates the uniting of Christ with all human beings in the Redemption through human suffering, as described in his Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Dolores.  In it he explains: “In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed. Christ, - without any fault of his own - took on himself 'the total evil of sin'. The experience of this evil determined the incomparable extent of Christ's suffering, which became the price of the Redemption.” (Salvifici Dolores, Section 19). Thus, not only is Jesus united with us bodily in His physical humanity, he is united with us psychologically and spiritually in human suffering—he united with us in and within our experience of evil.

And, by redeeming our human suffering, he frees us to suffer voluntarily with Him, in His redemptive suffering, and, thus, enter into salvation, into theosis with Him through his Resurrection and Ascension.  As John Paul II so brilliantly writes: “This interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the result of a particular conversion and cooperation with the grace of the Crucified Redeemer. It is he himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through his Spirit of truth, through the consoling Spirit. It is he who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to himself. It is he—as the interior Master and Guide—who reveals to the suffering brother and sister this wonderful interchange, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption. Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator. To the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the Kingdom of God: the horizons of a world converted to the Creator, of a world free from sin, a world being built on the saving power of love. And slowly but effectively, Christ leads into this world, into this Kingdom of the Father, suffering man, in a certain sense through the very heart of his suffering. For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.(Savifici Dolores, Section 25)

Monday, October 19, 2020

A Light for Revelation to the Gentiles


The context of Simeon's "sign of contradiction" is the Presentation of Jesus, when the "ark of the covenant" (Mary, the Mother of God, the platytera, the one who is more spacious than the Heavens) carries the Shekinah, the glory of God, into the Temple to satisfy the purification laws.  The presence of God had not been in the temple for centuries, having left the Temple (as seen by Ezekiel) after it became unclean.  This was the point of the purity laws--protecting the temple of God from impurity and death so as to not drive away the Glory of God.  The purity of Mary is the vessel by which God comes into the Temple, the Messiah who drives away death and impurity by the power of his very Holiness.  He is the Sign of Contradiction for his Glory "speaks against" the impurity and sin of Israel.

Thus, as the Sign of Contradiction, Jesus brings the Glory of God into my life, exposing the darkness in my own heart.  He "speaks against" this darkness, not so much with words as with His Presence.  This leaves me dazzled with the choice that comes from seeing the Light, from knowing the Glory of God, the choice of opening myself to the life of the Trinity, to the Gift.  I am left with clarity: "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel".  I cannot pretend that I am "on the way", keeping myself together by self-approval and by avoiding conflict and suffering.  The Way is clear--I empty myself to receive the Gift and then empty myself to give the Gift.  This contradicts my life of mediocrity and exposes the pain that I have sought to obscure from myself, the longsuffering of my own emptiness and isolation.  This sign of contradiction is the Light that leaves me with a clear choice of completing the suffering of kenosis, a suffering which I fear and want to avoid and which leads me to hate the one who brings the pain of the Light unless, unless, I choose to embrace Him and His Cross.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

As if saving my soul were nothing more than learning how to live with myself in peace

" The disastrous misunderstanding: When a Christian imagines that “saving his soul” consists simply in getting himself together, avoiding those sins which disrupt his inner unity by shame, and keeping himself in one piece by self-approval. As if saving my soul were nothing more than learning how to live with myself in peace! Why is this disastrous? Because the worst evils may well have no disruptive effect on one’s psyche. One may be able to commit them and live in perfect peace. Society can offer plenty of help, in quieting one’s conscience, in providing full protection against interior disruption! A great deal of psychotherapy consists precisely in this, and nothing more."  Thomas Merton,  Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander.


In our time, faith is under attack not so much by militant atheism as by the belief that it is possible to live out a mediocre and decent life without too much effort or very many tensions”. Rocco Buttiglione, page 242 in “Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II


Two quotes on the same subject--living as a Christian brooks no mediocrity.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

To Thomas Through John


It is a way of thinking and dialogue with the concrete, founded upon the great tradition, but always in search confirmation and present reality. It is a form of thought that springs from an artist gaze and, at the same time, is guided by a pastor's care." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 8).

I resonate more with this quote from Father Ratzinger just a few pages later: "In the same way that his philosophy was made more concrete and lively through phenomenology--or through gazing at reality as it appears--so also the pope's relationship with Christ does not remain in the abstract of the great dogmatic truths, but becomes a concrete, human encounter with the Lord in all his reality." (Ratzinger, Joseph. John Paul II: my beloved predecessor, page 14).   I do so because I believe the life of Carol Wojtyla and of John Paul II was a life built on mystical experience. 

I think that Carol Wojtyla survived the horrors of Nazi occupation through a mystical encounter with Christ in those very sorrow-filled days as he was "guided" and "nurtured" interiorly through his reading of Saint John of the Cross--especially his mystical poetry--while still immersed in drama and the Theater of the Word at the Rhapsodic Theater. I think that Wojtyla in these years discovered that "[mysticism] is central to knowing the human person, and the tensions built into the human encounter with the infinite are the key to the drama of human life" (Witness to Hope, page 86).

As Father David Bird, OSB, so succinctly proclaims: "No one can become a saint without solving the problem of suffering. . . .Sanctity can never abide a merely speculative solution to the problem of suffering. Sanctity solves the problem not by analyzing but by suffering. It is a living solution, burned in the flesh and spirit of the saint by fire. . . . Sanctity itself is a living solution of the problem of suffering. For the saint, suffering continues to be suffering, but it ceases to be an obstacle to his mission, or to his happiness, both of which are found positively and concretely in the will of God." (Monks and Mermaids (A Benedictine Blog), 12 October 2013).  I think Saint John of the Cross helped Carol Wojtyla solve the problem of suffering in his own life and this solution, "burned in the flesh and the spirit", allowed Wojtyla to stay committed to the concrete "present reality" and "reality as it appears", to the pastoral rather than escaping into the more abstract ghettos of philosophy and drama.

This emphasis on experience, especially his loyalty to the experiences and lives of those suffering around him, was what eventually drew him to phenomenolgy while anchored to the rigors of Thomism through Saint John of the Cross.  As Michael Waldstein says so eloquently, "So Saint John of the Cross had Saint Thomas intus, within him.  By encountering John of the Cross as a young man, Carol Wojtyla encountered Saint Thomas in a particular form, namely, immediately, with a sense of the whole . . . with a vision of the whole provided by Saint John of the Cross that gave him, in some ways perhaps, a more connatural contact with Saint Thomas as a saint, within which, then, his Thomistic training took root." (Waldstein, Michael. On St. Thomas, Phenomenology, and John Paul II, Lecture at the University of Saint Thomas, June 15, 2011). 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Part of the Mystery of the Redemption

Clearly Father Carol Wojtyla understood priesthood as something more than a life behind the altar rail and the rectory door.  Certainly part of his desire for "accompanying" others in their growth in holiness was his enjoyment of social relationships, of being with people, and, especially, "young" people, of wanting to help them love as Christ loves.  

This was not the foundation of his call, though.  Just as he had risked all as an actor in the Rhapsodic Theater to help others escape fear and isolation during the Nazi occupation , he entered the priesthood understanding his vocation as sacrificial, as giving up his life for and with Christ to become a "steward of the mysteries of God":  "As Christ's instrument, the priest must be, like Him, a [sacrificial] victim (sarcedos et victima)." (Dulles, Avery.  The Splendor of Faith, page 110.)

As Weigel points out, for Father Wojtyla ". . . [accompaniment] was the way a priest lived out his vocation to be an alter Christus, "another Christ."  It was also another expression of his commitment to the spirituality of the Cross.  God himself had accompanied human beings into the most extreme situation resulting from bad human choices--death--through his own divine choice to be redeemer as well as creator.  That is what happened on the cross of Christ.  The cross was the final justification for a pastoral strategy of accompaniment." (Witness To Hope, page 106.).  And the purpose of accompaniment is to lead the other to the freedom that comes from them receiving redemption through Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross.  As Pope John Paul II wrote, "Christ is a priest because he is the Redeemer of the world.  The priesthood of all presbyters is part of the mystery of of the Redemption.  This truth about Redemption and the Redeemer has been central to me; it has been with me all these years, it has permeated all my pastoral experiences. . ." (Gift and Mystery, page 82).  The priest becomes the "steward of the greatest treasure of the Redemption, for he gives people the Redeemer in person." (Gift and Mystery, page 85) as alter Christus.

I propose that Father Wojtyla accompanied others paradoxically out of his rich and deep interior life, formed first by Polish romanticism and then forged in the suffering of the German occupation combined by his plumbing the Carmelite depths of Saint John of the Cross.  It was in this mystical depth that he found the thirst for prayer and holiness that provided the foundation for accompaniment as a priest: "priestly holiness alone is the soil which can nourish an effective pastoral activity, a true 'cura animarum'.(Gift and Mystery, page 89).  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity


In Act III of In Front of the Jeweler's Shop, Wojtyla addresses a major theme in marital and family systems:  sin patterns passed down through generations.  The most widely known of such studies is with "Alcoholic Family Systems", in which patterns of addiction replicate down the generations.  Wojtyla addresses the dilemma in attempting to heal such patterns with Teresa saying: "Monica soon mentioned her parents.  They were absent in spirit.  Monica's love grew outside of them, or in spite of them--that is what she thought.  I, however, knew that she grew out of that base which they had left in her."  This is the classic desire of the new couple, to heal by pretending that they are separate from the iniquity of their parents and Wojtyla makes this hope of escape explicit through Monica: "Ah, when are we going to begin to live our lives at last!  When will you be only Christopher, free from those associations?  I want so much to be yours, and there is only one thing constantly in my way--that I am myself."--if only I could leave myself behind when I marry, then I would be free of their iniquity!

Teresa addresses this dilemma from the parent's perspective:  "That evening I could not help realizing, Andrew, how heavily we all weigh upon their fate.  Take Monica's heritage:  the rift of that love is so deeply embedded in her that her own love stems from a rift too.  Christopher tries to heal it. . . . We live in them for a very long time.  When they grow up under our eyes, they seem to become inaccessible, like impermeable soil, but they have already absorbed us.  And though outwardly they shut themselves off, inwardly we remain in them, and--a frightful thought--their lives somehow test our own creation, our own suffering".  She accepts the humility of the iniquity that she has passed on to the next generation.  And she addresses the desire to pretend that one can escape the need for healing: "I must go up to them and say this:  My children, nothing has ceased to be; man must return to the place from which his existence grows--and how strongly he desires it to grow through love."

Wojtyla establishes the necessary process of healing through the new marriage and denies the pretense of leaving the iniquity behind: "Monica, what do you know about your mother's depths and your father's--Stefan's?  When the day of our wedding comes, you will emerge from between them. . . . So when the day of our wedding comes, I will come and take you away from them, a human being ripe for pain--for the new pain of love, for the pain of a new birth...".  Yes, she will emerge from her family of origin and join with Andrew and they will begin the new pain of love, the suffering that offers them the possibility of healing from their parents' iniquity, the optimistic frame of suffering redemptively that is a major part of Wojtyla's life and thought as gleaned from his own experience of suffering: yes to the hope of healing, the hope of loving as God loves, and to the pain of healing that has already been redeemed by Christ in his passion and crucifixion, and through which we can join Him in theosis.

One of the Greatest Dramas of Human Existence

Act I of In Front of the Jeweler's Shop shows human love that persists past death; Act II shows human love that fades in the midst of life. Act II is a study of the contrast of yearning for eternal Love and searching for human love, as Anna says "I don't know how it was that I felt ready to try and make every man notice me.  It might have been just a simple reflection of that longing, but I was convinced that no one could take that right from me."  Anna demands the right to make men notice her, to take and not to receive, to pursue the road of emptiness in search of fullness. 

Adam responds to her futility: "This is what compels me to think about human love.  There is no other matter embedded more strongly in the surface of human life, and there is no matter more unknown and more mysterious.  The divergence between what lies on the surface and the mystery of love constitutes precisely the source of the drama.  It is one of the greatest dramas of human existence.  The surface of love has its current--swift, flickering, changeable.  A kaleidoscope of waves and situations full of attraction.  This current is sometimes so stunning that it carries people away--women and men.  They get carried away by the thought the they have absorbed the whole secret of love, but in fact they have not even touch it.  They are happy for a while, thinking they have reached the limits of existence and wrested all its secrets from it, so that nothing remains.  That's how it is: on the other side of that rapture nothing remains, there is nothing left behind it.  But there can't be nothing; there can't!  Listen to me, there can't.  Man is a continuum, a totality and a continuity--so it cannot be that nothing remains!" The divergence is the problem as man cannot find a way to be free enough to search for the deep mystery of eternal Love, to swim free of the currents of the surface of love, for "deep to call to deep in the roar of His waterfalls" (Psalm 42:7).

Anna is lost in the currents of the surface of love, seeking to quench her loneliness.   How can she find her way to the everlasting water? Adam has the answer: the Bridegroom. He exhorts her to be His bride: "Ah, Anna, how am I to prove to you that on the other side of all those loves that fill our lives there is Love!  The Bridegroom is coming down this street and walks every street!  How am I to prove to you that you are the bride?  One would now have to pierce a layer of your soul as one pierces the layer of brushwood and soil when looking for a source of water in the green of a wood. You would then hear him speak: Beloved you do not know how deeply you are mine, how much you belong to my love and my suffering--because love means to give life through death; to love means to let gush a spring of the water of life into the depths of the soul, which burns or smolders and cannot burn out.  Ah, the flame and the spring.  You don't feel the spring but are consumed by the flame.  Is that not so?".  Anna knows in her soul that the way leads through the physicality of her body and the prospect of suffering, the way is to participate in His suffering so that she can also participate in His love.

In the end the way is through her husband, through his face. The way to receive eternal Love, for her is through "the face of the one she hates and ought to love".  This is the path of the bride, through her husband in his physicality, in the reality of human relationship.  Is this just? Is there not an easier way, a more solitary way that she can contro, a way that she can avoid the risk of suffering?

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Do You Believe in Signals


From In Front of the Jeweler's Shop, Act I, by Carol Wojtyla

"Teresa asked me today, 'Andrew do you believe in signals?'" I found this theme of "signals" difficult and continue to wrestle with it. Obviously it refers to the narrative about the "Biesczady night" when they were descending from the mountains, with Andrew "interested in Christine" and with Teresa reflecting "this did not spoil the pleasure of the ramble for me For I was always as hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple."  Thus Wojtyla sets the scene of distance between them, their impenetrability of boundaries.  He introduces the "call" and the attempt to respond by the boys in the group "Through the quiet, sleeping woods, through the mountain night went a signal".

Teresa's thought of that signal returns in the moment of Andrew's proposal: "That thought [about signals] returned to me today between Andrew's profile and the tower of the old town hall in our city--today between five and six in the afternoon, when Andrew asked me for my hand--then I was thinking about signals that could not connect.  It was a thought about Andrew and myself.  And I felt how difficult it is to live."  Wojtyla is clearly connecting the two moments together, joining them with the question "do you believe in signals?".  Earlier in the play and in their lives, Andrew was not open to her, he was " ...ready to follow sensation, strong, forceful sensation.  I wanted to regard love as passion, as an emotion to surpass all—I believed in the absolute of emotion." and Teresa was hard and unbending "hard as a tree that would rather rot than topple".  Yet, there was a signal that night on the mountain, a call that could not be ignored or missed despite their avoidance of relationship.  Both had heard it and yet they could not respond to it as they did not know what it meant, from whom or what it had come.

Is the signal a call from God to open oneself to the giving and receiving the gift of another?  Andrew admits that he had been seeking sensation rather than truth, rather than relationship "I went quite a long way before reaching Teresa, I did not find her at once.".  By the time of the "signal", he had matured and begun to seek truth: "gradually I learned to value beauty accesible to the mind" and became open to her.  Teresa, too, had matured and opened "I felt that somehow I was the right one for him, and that I supposed I could love him.  Being aware of that, I must already have loved him. But that was all. I never allowed myself to nurse a feeling that remained unanswered. Today [at the time of the proposal], however, I can admit to myself that I did not find it easy.".  Teresa thought of that signal at the time and place of their engagement "I was thinking about signals that could not connect  .It was a thought about Andrew and myself. And I felt how difficult it is to live." and it reminded her of how "hard" she had found the Biesczady night, of her suffering in the midst of the harmony of the night when "only man was off balance and lost", how off balance and lost she was.

I think that Wojtyla is proposing that despite the opportunities for relationship at the level of gift, of seeing and receiving the "other" as gift, that present themselves throughout life, that one must respond to God's "signal", His call to "radical gift".  That is, to respond to the signal communicating "an act of receiving in which the gift comes into being precisely from nothing" (TOB 13.3).  And Wojtyla recognizes that this response to the "signal", to the "call", is a "fiat", a "yes", rather than a forced choice.  And he emphasizes the reality of choice, of the possibility of missing the "signal": "For several years she had been walking by me and I did not know that it was she who was walking and maturing.  I recoiled from accepting what today is for me a most magnificent gift. Several years later I see it clearly that roads which should have diverged have brought us closer together. Those years have been invaluable, giving us time to get our bearings on the complicated map of signs and signals. It must be so. ... after all, I dreamed of throwing a bridge".