Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Parousia?

There is a classic formula that is taught to kids and which is held as the truth by adults, too: Love God, be good, make sure you get your sins forgiven, and then you will go to heaven when you die. This formula finds its most well-known Catholic expression in the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 150. Why did God make you?

A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
• Baltimore Catechism 3, Lesson 1

But the vision of the Baltimore Catechism lacks something essential:
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:8b-10, NRSV)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also alludes to this plan to gather or "sum up" all things in Christ:
669 [...] "The kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery," "on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom."

670 Since the Ascension God's plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at "the last hour." "Already the final age of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with sanctity that is real but imperfect." Christ's kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father's vine which bears fruit on its branches. The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit, who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God's scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.

1130 The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord "until he comes," when God will be "everything to everyone." [...]

This assertion, made quite forcibly in the CCC (written and completed during the pontificate of John Paul II), isn't present in the Baltimore Catechism at all (I have read it through, but if you'd like to see for yourself, here is a site where you can use a search engine to try to find what I'm missing). It does, however, resonate with the writings of Jean Cardinal Daniélou (example), as well as with those of Pope Benedict XVI, particularly in his Encyclical Spe Salvi:
His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us... In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgement has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul, [but] ...we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse... In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too[40]. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?


Marie said...

I've been thinking about this post since I read it earlier this morning. I realize that the view you are trying to correct is so foreign to me, even though I wouldn't claim to have had the most rooted communitarian mindset as my history, either. I think, in my Lutheran background, it was drilled into me that we needed to come together to church to hear the gospel. (I never understood why, but I knew it was insisted upon.) I also had a very strong denominational identity. At the very least, these probably caused me to avoid the idea of salvation as a "solo effort." Personal, yes, but isolated, not really. (Even though isolation described my experience pretty well before I turned 16.)

This makes me wonder if this type of mindset grows more easily when one's Catholicism is never challenged by the claims of other "isms" or is a majority kind of experience from which one tries to escape and make a world of one's own. Perhaps it is an attempt at personalization that serves less for the heart to respond personally to the Lord's call and more to shut out the "interference" of others.

Suzanne said...

What you write rings true, Marie. Thank you.

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."