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".