Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sign of Signs

I got the title for yesterday's post, "Vocational Companionship," from this talk by Don Giussani. In it he provides a commentary on the Angelus that opens me more and more to the beauty of this prayer:

"Be it done to me according to your word." Mary accepted straight away, and this is the source of mysterious things which, if you are faithful to your path, the Lord will make you understand, more and more, more and more.
If we too could say what our Lady said - say what the Angelus says: our Lady's yes - with that total, global, deep persuasion that was in her, in the same way that a baby recognizes his mother without any hesitation when he hears her voice or sees her face - a little baby picks out his mother's face from a crowd of women and stretches out his arms to her -; if we could really live the way everything began, the first moment, the way it began with our Lady, the announcement of the angel - an exceptional presence, which imposes itself so much, which is so obvious to someone with a simple and intelligent soul as only God can intend and want to create in a creature -: it would be really beautiful!

This is how I want to live. I want to be faithful to my path. What is so astonishing to me as a live more and more according to the charism of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and now also the charism of Communion and Liberation, is that the path is given. It is not something I forge or map out in advance. Sometimes it even involves taking a step in the dark and trusting that my foot will come down on solid ground. Christ is the path, the Way, and also the Light by which I see the path. When I speak of "a step in the dark," I mean that the darkness is the limit of my own understanding.

The way he reaches us cannot be different, there is no difference between the way in which our Lady realized - so much so that she said yes immediately - and the way in which it happens to us.
The Gospel calls "an angel" that mysterious personality which spoke to our Lady, giving her that enormously strange message, but in such a way that her heart (she was about 15, 16 or 17) was immediately invaded. And this was made possible, conceivable, by the human structure proper to Judaism, which has been the vehicle in history of God's covenant with man, that is, of the way which God has used so as to be able to give himself, to be able to help men. It was the same way for Our Lady, the identical ultimate way in which God dealt with the Jewish people: identical. Throughout history he expressed himself through the leaders of the people and the prophets, because it was the leaders of the people that dictated to the people what they should do: the psalms... (the whole Bible tells what the Lord made known through the leaders and prophets). But with our Lady he was more direct, he actually placed himself before her. In the Gospel there's no detailed description of what our Lady said; it is simply clear that what was happening was a mystery, the source of what was happening was a mystery, but in such a persuasive way that, given the education that she had had, it was likely (it wasn't impossible, it wasn't unlikely). Our Lady just said yes, "Fiat."


"The way he reaches us cannot be different..." It is Don Giussani's insistence on the presence of angels, who face us and who communicate God's message to us in profound and dramatic ways, that sets my spine to tingling. The Gospel doesn't give us any physical description of the angel. Artists tend to depict him as a man, with wings. But we really don't know what Mary saw that day. So, what do we see? How do we see God's messengers, God's signs in the world?

"And the angel left her." What I want tell you, what I've just sketched out now, roughly, pointing out what happened to our Lady, happens to us! It has happened and it does happen to us! Not like a mechanical repetition, not like a rather formal repetition in which we insert, or try to insert the way we understand the thing. A seed, says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:36-37)... notice that a seed develops and then there's nothing left of it other than the memory of someone who keeps in mind all the factors of a history. This happens to us. Anyone who is called in Baptism is destined to be, in the world, part of that reality in which the factor of what the Gospel calls an "angel", what appeared to our Lady as an angel, is brought about in history. It's exactly the same process.
From whom did we receive the announcement that God became man? From our father and mother, from our parents. But along with them? From the parish, the groups in the parish centre, our friends there, from the atmosphere of a people which is Christian. The particular circumstances may differ in their details, but it is through that: for you the angel is this company of yours, that person, the Bishop and the Pope. The angel is called Church.

It is a scandal! If we're not even a little scandalized, then we're not thinking about what this means. If we don't say, 'But Scripture says 'he has made man little less than the angels...'" -- but look at your translation again. The Hebrew word that is sometimes translated as "angels" is "elohim" -- literally "divine ones." And in any case, it is a description of man even before Christ initiated his redemptive work in the Sacrament of Baptism, which completely transforms us through the power of the Resurrection.

I don't want to speed over this passage, or take anything contained in it for granted. It changes everything, the whole structure of the world! The angel is called Church -- rocked by scandal, with a chequered history, made up of persons who live and die -- the angel is called Church; the angel is this company of ours, led by the bishops and the Pope.

Now the problem is this ­ and with this I conclude -: in the apostles, faith in Jesus is understandable, but how can we know if Jesus is God or not, that God became man, that he is among us through this figure, this figure of a man, historically datable but without compare, lasting in the world (because the Church is Christ who is living right up to now)? And how do you have faith in the Church? You should already know the answer: through the vocational company; when the Church becomes a vocational company. This makes the relationship between man and woman a sacrament, a mystery.

Finally we come to this term, the vocational company. The vocational companionship is a very particular relationship among members of the Body of Christ, of which marriage is a type. We will "see" the angel when the Church becomes a vocational company. This is what the Sacrament of the Eucharist causes to happen in us: "Then as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing" (Euch prayer I -- the meaning of "every grace and blessing" becomes refined to its essence in the other Eucharistic prayers): "May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit" (Euch prayer II), "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Euch prayer III), "and by your Holy Spirit, gather all who share this one bread and one cup into the body of Christ, a living sacrifice of praise" (Euch prayer IV), "By the power of your Holy Spirit make them one body, healed of all division" (Masses of Reconciliation I), "Fill us with his Spirit through our sharing in this meal. May he take away all that divides us" (Masses of Reconciliation II), "Though the power of your Spirit of love include us now and for ever among the members of your Son, whose body and blood we share" (Euch prayer V).

And then the Don Giussani's talk concludes with the introduction of a new term, "house":

And this vocational company has the house as its first way of documenting itself - not only in a chronological sense, but also as the force which shakes us as the angel "shook" Mary, shook her heart. So this word ... carries the total meaning of our lives: either we learn through that company or else we don't learn at all. This is why the Bible would make us talk about the house as the place - according to all the analogies the term has - where God communicates himself in his humanity, i.e. he communicates himself as Man-God.

When we begin to ponder what he could mean by "house," we have to turn to all the ways the word is used in the Bible -- "House" of David, meaning the unbroken line of descendants who are connected by the bonds of blood; "House" of the Lord -- the habitation, the place where God's glory dwells, the place where we go up with joy; "House" of God, where Jesus was outraged at the money-changers; "House" of his own body, which he would rebuild in three days; "House" that we build on the Rock and not on sandy soil; "House" or temple of the Holy Spirit, that is, our bodies; "House" built of living stones, of which Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles are the foundation; "House" of the new Jerusalem, bedecked with jewels, in which a room will be prepared for us...

On the wall of every Memoris Domini (The living "memory of God," present in the world -- "Memory is the consciousness of a presence that has begun and lasts: memory is the consciousness of His presence.... Memory has become the most important word of our community: the community is the place where one lives memory. I would like to detail some aspects of this reality of the community, a word that indicates a companionship that is not born of the flesh or blood but from Christ, whose life is memory. As St. Catherine of Siena said: 'Memory has been filled with blood.' Our memory is filled with the blood of the cross and of the glory of the resurrection, because the Cross of Christ cannot be conceived without the resurrection" -- Don Giuss) house, those who make up its companionship place a sign, which says, "The house is the place of memory."

The house is here, a reality that God has made present on earth, and we can enter it with the help of the Holy Spirit. But how beautiful it is to enter together, with one's friends!

1 comment:

Freder1ck said...

I was thinking about this post. Ever notice in the Hail Mary how the announcement of the angel to Mary is picked up and continued by Elizabeth? Angel: Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.
Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."