Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Defines Us

Giotto, Finding of the Child Jesus, Scrovegni Chapel
It is crucial to grasp what we are saying, so as not to immediately reduce everything to the problem of our mistakes or daily frailties, our instances of moral incoherence. In talking about the distance between intention and experience, the core is not primarily coherence, how often we err, but what defines us even when we err; the core issue is the content of our self-awareness, our real substance, what we actually pursue and love in action, what is essential for us. In fact, one can be incoherent and yet be highly focused on the essential, like a child–described so often by Fr. Giussani–who misbehaves mightily, drives his mother to distraction a thousand times a day, but at the center of his gaze there is no one but his mother. Heaven help anyone who tried to take him away from her! He would wail and scream; he would be inconsolable.   Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, Fr. Julián Carrón
Why do I tend to reduce things to the problem of my mistakes and daily frailties? Or why do I tend to reduce things to the problem of others' mistakes and daily frailties? What's that about? Control and power. See, if the problem has to do with my mistakes, then I can fix them. And if the problem has to do with your mistakes, I can shame you into fixing them. Instead of seeing the mistakes as sign that I'm ultimately not in control, I use them as the occasion to assert myself and my own power. This is why looking at problems in terms of my mistakes or your mistakes is an occasion of pride, of making ourselves into gods. The problem is not whether we make mistakes. It's a problem of where I choose to turn my gaze

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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."