Saturday, August 30, 2008

Get off that train!

from a Gospel Commentary for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap:

...During the Nazi persecution, many trains full of Jews traveled from every part of Europe to the extermination camps. They were induced to get on the trains by false promises of being taken to places that would be better for them, when, in fact, they were being taken to their destruction. It happened at some of the stops that someone who knew the truth, called out from some hiding place to the passengers: “Get off! Run away!” Some succeeded in doing so.

The example is a hard one, but it expresses something of our situation. The train of life on which we are traveling is going toward death. About this, at least, there are no doubts. Our natural “I,” being mortal, is destined for destruction. What the Gospel is proposing to us when it exhorts us to deny ourselves, is to get off this train and board another one that leads to life. The train that leads to life is faith in him who said: “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”

Paul understood this transferring from one transport to another and he describes it thus: “It is no longer I who lives, Christ lives in me.” If we assume the “I” of Christ we become immortal because he, risen from the dead, dies no more. This indicates the meaning of the words of the Gospel that we have heard. Christ’s call for us to deny ourselves and thus find life is not a call to abuse ourselves or reject ourselves in a simplistic way. It is the wisest of the bold steps that we can take in our lives.

But we must immediately make a qualification. Jesus does not ask us to deny “what we are,” but “what we have become.” We are images of God. Thus, we are something “very good,” as God himself said, immediately after creating man and woman. What we must deny is not that which God has made, but that which we ourselves have made by misusing our freedom -- the evil tendencies, sin, all those things that have covered over the original...

...“Denying ourselves,” therefore, is not a work of death, but one of life, of beauty and of joy. It is also a learning of the language of true love. Imagine, said the great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, a purely human situation. Two young people love each other. But they belong to two different nations and speak completely different languages. If their love is to survive and grow, one of them must learn the language of the other. Otherwise, they will not be able to communicate and their love will not last.

This, Kierkegaard said, is how it is with us and God. We speak the language of the flesh, he speaks that of the spirit; we speak the language of selfishness, he that of love.

Denying yourself is learning the language of God so that we can communicate with him, but it is also learning the language that allows us to communicate with each other. We will not be able to say “yes” to the other -- beginning with our own wife or husband -- if we are not first of all able to say “no” to ourselves...

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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."