Friday, January 30, 2009

The defeat of a kingdom

Massaccio The Tribute Money, detail
Diakonia According to Me (1):

In the ancient world, when a kingdom was defeated, then the god of that people was proven false. Israel was an exception to this rule, though. When Israel was defeated and sent into exile, the people continued to believe in their God. Why? What was the difference between their God and the other gods?


Sophie told me about something that happened to one of her friends, a boy who goes to a Catholic high school in Pittsburgh. Several of his classmates had been grumbling about the fact that it was required that they attend Mass before going on a field trip. This boy's classmates claimed to be atheists. So, then Sophie's friend was surprised during Mass when these same friends went up to receive Communion. He thought it was a miracle. But during the bus ride after Mass, he saw these same friends playing with the consecrated hosts in the back of the bus, and it made him sick and discouraged. He told Sophie this story to explain why he was lonely and alienated at his school. But Sophie told him (with great animation and passion) in response, "This is not a sign of Christ's defeat! It is a victory that he allowed himself to be mistreated like that! He is so strong that he even makes it possible for this to happen, and he allowed it so that you could witness it, so that you could feel this pain and know the reality of His Presence and the reality of how we can disregard Him! It's beautiful!"

As a wise friend recently pointed out, it is not a question of the glass being half-full versus half-empty, because the glass is always over-flowing. Christ allows these things to happen, even abominations against his very person (such as crucifixion), in order that we might see and recognize him. But in order to see and recognize him, it is essential that we first meet him. And to meet him, only one thing is needed.

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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."