Archive for the ‘Pope John Paul II’ Category

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Historical and Theological Humanity — Peter J. Leithart

August 6, 2013
Historical humanity is the humanity enslaved by sin, turned here and there by mixed motives, the humanity of domination and control, of objectification and shame. But the Bible begins with an account of a different form of human life, which John Paul labels the “theological,” according to which humanity is made in the image of God to be God’s covenant partner.

Historical humanity is the humanity enslaved by sin, turned here and there by mixed motives, the humanity of domination and control, of objectification and shame. But the Bible begins with an account of a different form of human life, which John Paul labels the “theological,” according to which humanity is made in the image of God to be God’s covenant partner.

Peter J. Leithart is on the pastoral staff of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology and literature at New St. Andrews College.

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Christianity has resources of skepticism that would make Nietzsche and Foucault blush. Read a few pages of Augustine or C. S. Lewis, and squirm as they surgically strip away the layers of self-justification and self-deceit and self-righteousness that you didn’t know you had wrapped on. They are true masters of suspicion.

At the same time, Christianity proposes that human beings are made in the image of God and proclaims, in Athanasius’ classic formula, that God became man so that man might become God. Pascal didn’t get it quite right: We don’t stand between angel and beast. We are sometimes bestial creatures who are destined to be raised above angels.

Holding this sort of optimism together with this depth of pessimism is a trick to say the least, and modern theology has usually bumbled it. The reason goes back to the way the early chapters of the Bible are read.

John Paul II’s theology of the body clarifies the significance of our reading of Genesis 1–3. When Jesus is asked about divorce, he doesn’t engage in pharisaical casuistry but instead points back to “the beginning,” thereby making a distinction between “historical man” and “theological man.”

Historical humanity is the humanity enslaved by sin, turned here and there by mixed motives, the humanity of domination and control, of objectification and shame. But the Bible begins with an account of a different form of human life, which John Paul labels the “theological,” according to which humanity is made in the image of God to be God’s covenant partner.

The Fall erects a boundary line between the two conditions, but the key point in John Paul’s analysis is that it is possible “in some sense [to] go beyond the boundary.” Jesus assumes that he and the Pharisees know something of what humanity was before hardness of heart made divorce necessary.

And this theological form of humanity is still normative. Christians can’t stop at the boundary. We can’t concede that there is only “historical man” in all his evil and shame and abuse. We can’t really understand the career of historical man, John Paul says, without knowing that it is a deviation from the original state of man. If Christians are masters of suspicion, we cannot only be masters of suspicion.

Few questions are more central to our current confusions about human sexuality than the distinction between historical and theological humanity. Defenders of same-sex marriage pile up the evidence that homosexual practices were tolerated and even celebrated by historical man, and if we can’t get past the boundary, that’s all we have to go on.

But John Paul’s point applies to every area of human existence. Unless we can penetrate the veil, we cannot really grasp our current condition and won’t have much hope for a future redemption. Historical humanity is a source of pessimism, but it will be a thoroughgoing despair unless we know that we didn’t start out this way. If the historical condition of humanity is just the way humans are, we can’t be delivered without ceasing to be human. That doesn’t sound like salvation. That sounds like genocide of the human species.

Liberal theology is incapable of holding Christian cynicism with Christian hope because it doesn’t recognize any real difference of historical and theological humanity. It doesn’t think we have any access to the condition of humanity at the beginning. All we have is a primitive etiology that has been disproven by sophisticates who can switch on electric lights.

Unfortunately, Evangelicals appear eager to replicate the liberal error. Today, many, perhaps most, Evangelicals still believe that Adam was an actual man, but there is a growing body of opinion asserting the contrary. Pete Enns acknowledges that in rejecting the historical reality of Adam he is disagreeing with the apostle Paul, but he argues that he retains those features of “Paul’s theology” that are “core elements of the gospel” — the universality of death and sin and Christ’s death and resurrection as “last Adam.”

If we leave Paul behind, though, how do we account for the contingency of sin and death — which, it seems, is a necessary premise if we are going to talk meaningfully about Christ’s victory over death and sin? Can we penetrate the boundary to gain any real knowledge of “theological” humanity? The Evangelical debate over the historical Adam might seem to be an effort to clear out a dusty, embarrassing relic of fundamentalism. Far more is at stake. What’s at stake is a basic premise of Christian anthropology and ethics.

John Paul II thought that the distinction between historical and theological humanity was one of the “core elements of the gospel,” insofar as it was a core element of Christian anthropology. Without it, we have neither an accurate understanding of the current human condition nor a realistic hope of redemption. We are left twisting in the wind, oscillating between untempered expectation for human perfection and untempered “realism” regarding humanity’s irredeemable immorality. Ask the next theological liberal you meet whether that’s a happy place to live.

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Karol Wojtyla Encounters St. John of the Cross – Michael Waldstein

June 12, 2013
This concept of the relationship between God and the soul, at once filial and conjugal, is based on two constant elements: [1] the adoptive communication of grace and [2] the power of love.

This concept of the relationship between God and the soul, at once filial and conjugal, is based on two constant elements: [1] the adoptive communication of grace and [2] the power of love.

In 1941, one year before he entered the underground seminary of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, twenty-one years old, and a student of Polish literature, had a profound encounter with St. John of the Cross. The Gestapo played an instrumental and, in retrospect, historic role in bringing about this encounter. Hitler stripped Polish parishes of most their priests in order to break the backbone of Polish religious and intellectual resistance.

Consequently, Wojtyla came under the spiritual guidance of a layman, Jan Tyranowski, who introduced him to St. John of the Cross. The young student was so struck by St. John of the Cross that he immediately learned Spanish to read the Mystical Doctor in the original:

“Before entering the seminary, I met a layman named Jan Tyranowski, who was a true mystic. This man, whom I consider a saint, introduced me to the great Spanish mystics and in particular to St. John of the Cross. Even before entering the underground seminary, I read the works of that mystic, especially his poetry. In order to read it in the original, I studied Spanish. That was a very important stage in my life.”

Seven years after this first encounter with St. John of the Cross, now twenty-eight years old and a priest, Wojtyla defended his dissertation on the understanding of faith in St. John of the Cross, directed by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, then professor of spiritual theology at the Angelicum. The dissertation, written in Latin, quotes the original text of St. John of the Cross in Spanish.

Looking back in 1982 at more than forty years of familiarity with St. John of the Cross, John Paul II says the following about his spiritual master in a homily delivered on November 4, 1982 (thus between TOB 99, October 27, 1982, and TOB 100, November 24, 1982):

“To him I owe so much in my spiritual formation. I came to know him in my youth and I entered into an intimate dialogue with this master of faith, with his language and his thought, culminating in the writing of my doctoral dissertation on `Faith in John of the Cross.’ Ever since then I have found in him a friend and master who has shown me the light that shines in the darkness for walking always toward God.”
[John Paul II, Homily at Segovia (Nov. 4, 1982)]

The main topic of Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis is faith as a means of union between God and the human person. Faith as a means of union is also the point John Paul II emphasizes in his apostolic letter Maestro en la fe (1990) dedicated to St. John of the Cross.

I myself have been especially attracted by the experience and teachings of the Saint of Fontiveros. From the first years of my priestly formation, I found in him a sure guide in the ways of faith. This aspect of his doctrine seemed to me to be of vital importance to every Christian, especially in a trail-blazing age like our own which is also filled with risks and temptations in the sphere of faith….

I wrote my doctoral thesis in theology on the subject of “Faith according to John of the Cross.” In it, I devoted special attention to an analytical discussion of the central affirmation of the Mystical Doctor: Faith is the only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God. Even then I felt that John had not only marshaled solid theological doctrine, but that, above all, he had set forth Christian life in terms of such basic aspects as communion with God, the contemplative dimension of prayer, the strength that apostolic mission derives from life in God, and the creative tension of the Christian life lived in hope.
John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Maestro en la fe to Felipe Sáinz de Baranda, Superior General of the Discalced Carmelites on the Occasion of the Fourth Centenary of the Death of John of the Cross (Dec. 14, 1990)

Had Wojtyla chosen the topic of love rather than faith for his dissertation, the evidence of the strong impact of St. John of the Cross on his understanding of spousal love would be more direct and clear.

Still, in his dissertation he does quote and analyze a text that seems to be an important seed of much of his later thinking about love and personal subjectivity.

O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light to their Beloved.

The sense of personal subjectivity, which is so important to Wojtyla, is powerfully expressed in this stanza: caverns of feeling with fiery lamps that spread warmth and light across the whole distance to the beloved. In his commentary on the last two lines, St. John of the Cross writes:

Since God gives himself with a free and gracious will, so too the soul (possessing a will more generous and free the more it is united with God) gives to God, God himself in God; and this is a true and complete gift of the soul to God.

It is conscious there that God is indeed its own and that it possesses him by inheritance, with the right of ownership, as his adopted child through the grace of his gift of himself. Having him for its own, it can give him and communicate him to whomever it wishes. Thus it gives him to its Beloved, who is the very God who gave himself to it. By this donation it repays God for all it owes him, since it willingly gives as much as it receives from him.

Because the soul in this gift to God offers him the Holy Spirit, with voluntary surrender, as something of its own (so that God loves himself in the Holy Spirit as he deserves), it enjoys inestimable delight and fruition, seeing that it gives God something of its own that is suited to him according to his infinite being.

It is true that the soul cannot give God again to himself, since in himself he is ever himself. Nevertheless it does this truly and perfectly, giving all that was given it by him in order to repay love, which is to give as much as is given. And God, who could not be considered paid with anything less, is considered paid with that gift of the soul; and he accepts it gratefully as something it gives him of its own. In this very gift he loves it anew; and in this resurrender of God to the soul, the soul also loves as though again.

A reciprocal love is thus actually formed between God and the soul, like the marriage union and surrender, in which the goods of both (the divine essence that each possesses freely by reason of the voluntary surrender between them) are possessed by both together. They say to each other what the Son of God spoke to the Father through John: All that is mine is yours and yours is mine, and I am glorified in them [John 17:10].
St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love

Wojtyla quotes key sections of this text and discusses them in some detail. The most important passage highlights the Trinitarian aspect of the transforming union between the soul and God.

This concept of the relationship between God and the soul, at once filial and conjugal, is based on two constant elements: [1] the adoptive communication of grace and [2] the power of love.

[Ad 1:] The soul becomes “God by participation’ and therefore by participation it possesses divinity itself;

[Ad 2:] and the will gives to the Beloved through love nothing less than that which it had received from him: the gift of participated divinity. Hence the soul gives God to himself and through himself because the motion of the Holy Spirit is continuously transformed.

Nevertheless, the one who gives is in fact the soul, which loves God in return to a supreme degree. Since its will is perfectly united with the divine will, it cannot carry out any other works than those that adhere to the divine will.

Consequently, due to the perfection of the transforming union, the soul’s will is entirely occupied in the same objectives of the divine will, namely, loving God and giving to him in love that which it has from him by participation — divinity itself, not only through the lover’s will, but as God loves, by the movement of the Holy Spirit.

With this, we reach the “Trinitarian” mystical teaching that was already mentioned in the Spiritual Canticle.
Wojtyla, St. John of the Cross, 230

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Gaudium et spes: Human Dignity And Atheism

November 15, 2012

The iconic devotional image called the “Man of Sorrows” shows Christ, usually naked above the waist, with the wounds of his Passion prominently displayed on his hands and side, often crowned with the Crown of Thorns and sometimes attended by angels. It developed in Europe from the 13th century, and was especially popular in Northern Europe. The image continued to spread and develop iconographical complexity until well after the Renaissance, but the Man of Sorrows in its many artistic forms is the most precise visual expression of the piety of the later Middle Ages, which took its character from mystical contemplation rather than from theological speculation”.Together with the Pietà, it was the most popular of the Andachtsbilder-type images of the period – devotional images detached from the narrative of Christ’s Passion. This particular Man of Sorrows is by Colijn de Coter, circa 1500.

19. The root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.

The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth.

Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion.

Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.

Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.

20. Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.

Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man’s hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.

21. In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated  and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence.

Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.

The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man’s dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives.

By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man’s dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.

Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life’s major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.

The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church’s teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly,  to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them.

Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer’s entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God’s presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel  and who prove themselves a sign of unity.

While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God’s temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.

Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: “Thou hast made us for Thyself,” O Lord, “and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”

22. The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15),  is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.

As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.

The Christian man, conformed to the likeness of that Son Who is the firstborn of many brothers, received “the first-fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23) by which he becomes capable of discharging the new law of love. Through this Spirit, who is “the pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14), the whole man is renewed from within, even to the achievement of “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23): “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the death dwells in you, then he who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also bring to life your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Pressing upon the Christian to be sure, are the need and the duty to battle against evil through manifold tribulations and even to suffer death. But, linked with the paschal mystery and patterned on the dying Christ, he will hasten forward to resurrection in the strength which comes from hope.

All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons in the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit; Abba, Father

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Gaudium et spes: The Dignity Of The Human Person

November 14, 2012

Breadline

12. According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.

But what is man? About himself he has expressed, and continues to express, many divergent and even contradictory opinions. In these he often exalts himself as the absolute measure of all things or debases himself to the point of despair. The result is doubt and anxiety. The Church certainly understands these problems. Endowed with light from God, she can offer solutions to them, so that man’s true situation can be portrayed and his defects explained, while at the same time his dignity and destiny are justly acknowledged.

For Sacred Scripture teaches that man was created “to the image of God,” is capable of knowing and loving his Creator, and was appointed by Him as master of all earthly creatures that he might subdue them and use them to God’s glory. “What is man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet” (Psalms 8:5-7).

But God did not create man as a solitary, for from the beginning “male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Their companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by his innermost nature man is a social being, and unless he relates himself to others he can neither live nor develop his potential.

Therefore, as we read elsewhere in Holy Scripture God saw “all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

13. Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One. Man set himself against God and sought to attain his goal apart from God. Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, but their senseless minds were darkened and they served the creature rather than the Creator.(3) What divine revelation makes known to us agrees with experience.

Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship to his own ultimate goal as well as his whole relationship toward himself and others and all created things.

Therefore man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. Indeed, man finds that by himself he is incapable of battling the assaults of evil successfully, so that everyone feels as though he is bound by chains. But the Lord Himself came to free and strengthen man, renewing him inwardly and casting out that “prince of this world” (John 12:31) who held him in the bondage of sin.(4) For sin has diminished man, blocking his path to fulfillment.

The call to grandeur and the depths of misery, both of which are a part of human experience, find their ultimate and simultaneous explanation in the light of this revelation.

14. Though made of body and soul, man is one. Through his bodily composition he gathers to himself the elements of the material world; thus they reach their crown through him, and through him raise their voice in free praise of the Creator. For this reason man is not allowed to despise his bodily life, rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and honorable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. Nevertheless, wounded by sin, man experiences rebellious stirrings in his body. But the very dignity of man postulates that man glorify God in his body and forbid it to serve the evil inclinations of his heart.

Now, man is not wrong when he regards himself as superior to bodily concerns, and as more than a speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man. For by his interior qualities he outstrips the whole sum of mere things. He plunges into the depths of reality whenever he enters into his own heart; God, Who probes the heart, awaits him there; there he discerns his proper destiny beneath the eyes of God. Thus, when he recognizes in himself a spiritual and immortal soul, he is not being mocked by a fantasy born only of physical or social influences, but is rather laying hold of the proper truth of the matter.

15. Man judges rightly that by his intellect he surpasses the material universe, for he shares in the light of the divine mind. By relentlessly employing his talents through the ages he has indeed made progress in the practical sciences and in technology and the liberal arts. In our times he has won superlative victories, especially in his probing of the material world and in subjecting it to himself. Still he has always searched for more penetrating truths, and finds them. For his intelligence is not confined to observable data alone, but can with genuine certitude attain to reality itself as knowable, though in consequence of sin that certitude is partly obscured and weakened.

The intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good. Steeped in wisdom. man passes through visible realities to those which are unseen.

Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming. It should also be pointed out that many nations, poorer in economic goods, are quite rich in wisdom and can offer noteworthy advantages to others.

It is, finally, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that man comes by faith to the contemplation and appreciation of the divine plan.

16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that.

For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths. In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.

In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin.

17. Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil.

For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,” so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him.

Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when, emancipating himself from all captivity to passion, he pursues his goal in a spontaneous choice of what is good, and procures for himself through effective and skilful action, apt helps to that end.

Since man’s freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God’s grace can he bring such a relationship with God into full flower. Before the judgment seat of God each man must render an account of his own life, whether he has done good or evil.

18. It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.

Although the mystery of death utterly beggars the imagination, the Church has been taught by divine revelation and firmly teaches that man has been created by God for a blissful purpose beyond the reach of earthly misery. In addition, that bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned will be vanquished, according to the Christian faith, when man who was ruined by his own doing is restored to wholeness by an almighty and merciful Savior.

For God has called man and still calls him so that with his entire being he might be joined to Him in an endless sharing of a divine life beyond all corruption. Christ won this victory when He rose to life, for by His death He freed man from death. Hence to every thoughtful man a solidly established faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God.

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Faith: A Perspective From Hebrews 11 – Derek Jeter

September 17, 2012

David is a life-size marble sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The sculpture was part of a commission to decorate the villa of Bernini’s patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese – the Galleria Borghese – where it still resides today. It was completed in the course of seven months from 1623 to 1624. The subject of the work is the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, which will allow David to behead him. Relating to earlier works on the same theme, it is also revolutionary in its implied movement and its psychological depth.

Hebrews 11 is a discussion of faith with citations from the Old Testament of those who served as exemplars of the faith.

The opening statement of Hebrews 11:1 is used often as a definition of faith “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen.” “Assurance” elsewhere translated as the “substance” of things hoped for, connotes that the faith in a believer’s soul, a gift of God’s grace, actually brings this reality into his existence for him. The things hoped for are all of those blessings, temporal and eternal, that make up the inheritance of the faithful, the deposit of faith that rests with the Church: fides quae creditor, the objective content of faith.

The “conviction of things not seen” is one of the recurring themes of Hebrews 11 as “the invisible.” The creation was made of things “invisible”; Noah was warned of “things not seen as yet”; Abraham’s inheritance was invisible at the time he went out; the eternal city is invisible. So it was also for the blessings of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as conveyed in succession to their sons, and always with regard to things invisible; and here it is recorded that Moses’ epic adventures of faith were achieved by means of a faith in the invisible God.

Thus, this roll-call of faith is presented for the primary purpose of showing the means of their triumph, faith in the invisible, which is but another way of saying faith in the supernatural. The modern Christian too is confronted with exactly the same challenge: Christ is invisible The result of Moses’ faith in the invisible God was that the king of Egypt no longer inspired him with fear, thus proving that the more people fear God the less they fear any man, however powerful.

The “conviction of things not seen” are also echoed in these words from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:6-13 about the wisdom of eternal life:

“The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

‘No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him’
But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”

John Paul II in Fides et Ratio comments on a twofold order of knowledge that the gift of faith creates within us, this “mysterious knowledge” that Paul was speaking of previously:

“The First Vatican Council teaches then, that the truth attained by philosophy and the truth of revelation are neither identical nor mutually exclusive: “There exists a twofold order of knowledge, distinct not only as regards their source, but also as regards their object.

With regard to the source, because we know in one by natural reason, in the other by divine faith. With regard to the object, because besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief mysteries hidden in God, which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known. Based on God’s testimony and enjoying the supernatural assistance of grace, faith is of an order other than philosophical knowledge which depends upon sense perceptions and experience and which advances by the light of the intellect alone.

Philosophy and the sciences function within the order of natural reason; while faith, enlightened and guided by the Spirit, recognizes in the message of salvation the “fullness of grace and truth” that echoes from John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

There follows in Hebrews 11 a number of citations beginning with a reference to creation and then moving in verse four to a consideration of Abel. In this and all subsequent references to the Old Testament exemplars the words are intoned “By faith…” I read a commentary on Hebrews 11 that reviewed not only what was in Hebrews 11 but on what was left out, “the glaring omission of the name of Adam, the mighty progenitor of the human race.”

God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called, “Adam, where art thou?” And where is he? He is lost, disinherited, sentenced to eternal death, tortured by the knowledge of what he should be haunting his pitiful consciousness of what he is. It is not of Adam that we speak, but of his race. “Where art thou?” The words live forever, calling people to consider, to view their hopeless estate, and to move toward that reconciliation that is possible through Christ.”

Our peril, and the peril of our race, is that the human intellect is free to either destroy itself or to reject God’s grace as the pitiful Adam did by trying to hide.  There is a great deal written about the relationship of faith to reason. My favorite, G.K. Chesterton, begins by telling us that

“Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought.” I would submit that we are part of several generations now that does precisely that; witness how our current secular orthodoxy embraces the relativism of the age.

Chesterton saw this happening, too, in his time. He pointed out that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a skeptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, “Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? Aren’t they both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?” The young skeptic says, “I have a right to think for myself.” But the old skeptic, the complete skeptic, says, “I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all.”

In Verse 6 the author of Hebrews 11 states “And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that seek after Him.” In Pensées 781, Pascal notes that in Isaiah 45:15, the prophet speaks of a hidden God: “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel.” Pascal explains the Hidden God concept in Pensées 149:

“If God had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence, as he will appear on the last day with such thunder and lightning and such convulsions of nature that the dead will rise up and the blindest will see him. This is not the way he wished to appear when he came in mildness.

Because so many men had shown themselves unworthy of his clemency, he wished to deprive them of the good they did not desire. It was therefore not right that he should appear in a manner manifestly divine and absolutely capable of convincing all men, but neither was it right that his coming should be so hidden that he could not be recognized by those who sincerely sought him. He wished to make himself perfectly recognizable to them.

Thus wishing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart, he has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not. There is enough light for those who desire only to see and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.”

Peter Kreeft in his commentary on Pascal elicits three answers as to why God is not more obvious:

  1. He wants to give us time to repent. Scripture says this in several places, Luke Chapter 13: 6-9: “Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He (the gardener) replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
  2. He wants to effect a true relationship with us, not one merely of intellectual belief but of personal faith, hope, love and trust. Dulles’ says that the principal act of Faith is to believe. Here is a thought from Kreeft that I love: “The propositions of lovers are different from the propositions of syllogisms.” So, you see it’s not all Reason in some sort of scientific, philosophical or logical sense. Romano Guardini tells a story of a friend to whom he would turn for help when being challenged by a scriptural passage or caught up in trying to understand his faith. The friend would tell him: “But Love does such things!” and they would both laugh, because they knew they were back to the truth.
  3. God is both love and justice; if he manifests himself truly it cannot be without love or without justice. His love led Him to save all who will have Him, and his justice led him to punish those who will not have Him. Thus He respects our free choice. He deprives the damned only of the good they do not desire. Hell is contained in God’s claim that “you will find me when you seek me with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13] This claim is not refuted or fairly tested if we do not fulfill our part of the experiment by seeking.”

    More than anything else, God wants us to care. It may be even more important than to know, “For it is the only way to know the most important things: yourself, your soul, your identity, your purpose, your destiny and your immortality. If we are indifferent instead of seeking we simply will not find, that is, we will not be saved.” I submit to you with all my heart an observation I just absolutely know to be true: Hell is not populated by passionate rebels but by very nice, bland, indifferent, respectable people wearing tasseled loafers and pants suits who simply never gave a damn.

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The Gospel Of Suffering – John Paul II

February 3, 2012

Before Rouault turned his attention to Christ-centered paintings, he painted series of works showing clowns, kings, and prostitutes as a way of commenting on the sad state of modern society. In Christ Mocked by Soldiers (above, from 1932) Rouault shows Jesus at the moment he is forced to play the clown king for the amusement of the soldiers, who crown him with thorns and place a reed “scepter” in his hands. In Christ Mocked by Soldiers, Rouault mocks the world itself, which he sees as prostituting itself for material things at the expense of its soul. “The richness of the world, all artificial pleasures,” Rouault lamented, “have the taste of sickness and give off a smell of death in the face of certain spiritual possessions.” By 1932, Rouault may have recognized, as did many others, the degenerating situation in the world that would eventually lead up to World War II. Rouault returns to the image of the bearded Christ here to emphasize the weariness of age rather than the innocence of youth of The Crucifixion. In his sixties himself, Rouault grew weary of the world and its self-destructive ways. Shortly before his death in 1958, Rouault destroyed three hundred of his own paintings, which would be worth a fortune today, as if to place them on his own funeral pyre and out of the reach of the materialists who valued them in currency instead of, as he did, in Christianity. From the excellent http://artblogbybob.blogspot.com/. See more of Roualt’s work there

A reading selection from John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris

Mary’s Suffering
The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ have handed on to the Church and to mankind a specific Gospel of suffering. The Redeemer himself wrote this Gospel, above all by his own suffering accepted in love, so that man “should not perish but have eternal life.” This suffering, together with the living word of his teaching, became a rich source for all those who shared in Jesus’ sufferings among the first generation of his disciples and confessors and among those who have come after them down the centuries.

It is especially consoling to note — and also accurate in accordance with the Gospel and history — that at the side of Christ, in the first and most exalted place, there is always his Mother through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering. In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakeable faith but also a contribution to the redemption of all.

In reality, from the time of her secret conversation with the angel, she began to see in her mission as a mother her “destiny” to share, in a singular and unrepeatable way, in the very mission of her Son. And she very soon received a confirmation of this in the events that accompanied the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, and in the solemn words of the aged Simeon, when he spoke of a sharp sword that would pierce her heart. Yet a further confirmation was in the anxieties and privations of the hurried flight into Egypt, caused by the cruel decision of Herod.

And again, after the events of her Son’s hidden and public life, events which she must have shared with acute sensitivity, it was on Calvary that Mary’s suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the Cross together with the Beloved Disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her Son. And the words which she heard from his lips were a kind of solemn handing-over of this Gospel of suffering so that it could be proclaimed to the whole community of believers.

As a witness to her Son’s Passion by her presence, and as a sharer in it by her compassion, Mary offered a unique contribution to the Gospel of suffering, by embodying in anticipation the expression of Saint Paul which was quoted at the beginning. She truly has a special title to be able to claim that she “completes in her flesh” — as already in her heart — “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions “.

In the light of the unmatchable example of Christ, reflected with singular clarity in the life of his Mother, the Gospel of suffering, through the experience and words of the Apostles, becomes an inexhaustible source for the ever new generations that succeed one another in the history of the Church. The Gospel of suffering signifies not only the presence of suffering in the Gospel, as one of the themes of the Good News, but also the revelation of the salvific power and salvific significance of suffering in Christ’s messianic mission and, subsequently, in the mission and vocation of the Church.

Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: “If any man would come after me… let him take up his cross daily, ” and before his disciples he placed demands of a moral nature that can only be fulfilled on condition that they should “deny themselves.” The way that leads to the Kingdom of heaven is “hard and narrow”, and Christ contrasts it to the “wide and easy” way that “leads to destruction.” On various occasions Christ also said that his disciples and confessors would meet with much persecution, something which — as we know — happened not only in the first centuries of the Church’s life under the Roman Empire, but also came true in various historical periods and in other parts of the world, and still does even in our own time.

Here are some of Christ’s statements on this subject: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”

A Particular Proof Of Likeness To Christ
The Gospel of suffering speaks first in various places of suffering “for Christ”, “for the sake of Christ”, and it does so with the words of Jesus himself or the words of his Apostles.
The Master does not conceal the prospect of suffering from his disciples and followers. On the contrary, he reveals it with all frankness, indicating at the same time the supernatural assistance that will accompany them in the midst of persecutions and tribulations ” for his name’s sake”.

These persecutions and tribulations will also be, as it were, a particular proof of likeness to Christ and union with him. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you…; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you… A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you… But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me.” “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

This first chapter of the Gospel of suffering, which speaks of persecutions, namely of tribulations experienced because of Christ contains in itself a special call to courage and fortitude, sustained by the eloquence of the Resurrection. Christ has overcome the world definitively by his Resurrection. Yet, because of the relationship between the Resurrection and his Passion and death, he has at the same time overcome the world by his suffering.

Yes, suffering has been singularly present in that victory over the world which was manifested in the Resurrection. Christ retains in his risen body the marks of the wounds of the Cross in his hands, feet and side. Through the Resurrection, he manifests the victorious power of suffering, and he wishes to imbue with the conviction of this power the hearts of those whom he chose as Apostles and those whom he continually chooses and sends forth. The Apostle Paul will say: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Those Who Suffer Together With Christ
While the first great chapter of the Gospel of suffering is written down, as the generations pass, by those who suffer persecutions for Christ’s sake, simultaneously another great chapter of this Gospel unfolds through the course of history. This chapter is written by all those who suffer together with Christ, uniting their human sufferings to his salvific suffering. In these people there is fulfilled what the first witnesses of the Passion and Resurrection said and wrote about sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Therefore in those people there is fulfilled the Gospel of suffering, and, at the same time, each of them continues in a certain sense to write it: they write it and proclaim it to the world, they announce it to the world in which they live and to the people of their time.

Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He discovers a new dimension, as it were, of his entire life and vocation. This discovery is a particular confirmation of the spiritual greatness which in man surpasses the body in a way that is completely beyond compare. When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.

This interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the result of a particular conversion and cooperation with the grace of the Crucified Redeemer. It is he himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through his Spirit of truth, through the consoling Spirit. It is he who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to himself. It is he — as the interior Master and Guide — who reveals to the suffering brother and sister this wonderful interchange, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption. Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil.

But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator. To the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the Kingdom of God: the horizons of a world converted to the Creator, of a world free from sin, a world being built on the saving power of love. And slowly but effectively, Christ leads into this world, into this Kingdom of the Father, suffering man, in a certain sense through the very heart of his suffering.

For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.

This is not all: the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed. As though by a continuation of that motherhood which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood — spiritual and universal — towards all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the Cross, and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this Cross, should become no longer the weakness of man but the power of God.

However, this interior process does not always follow the same pattern. It often begins and is set in motion with great difficulty. Even the very point of departure differs: people react to suffering in different ways. But in general it can be said that almost always the individual enters suffering with a typically human protest and with the question “why”. He asks the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. Certainly he often puts this question to God, and to Christ.

Furthermore, he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ.

The answer which comes through this sharing, by way of the interior encounter with the Master, is in itself something more than the mere abstract answer to the question about the meaning of suffering. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!”. Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my Cross.

Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy.

The Testimony of St. Paul
Saint Paul speaks of such joy in the Letter to the Colossians: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”(88). A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others, and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person “completes what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of Redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters.

Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world’s salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption. In that “cosmic” struggle between the spiritual powers of good and evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians, human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good, and open the way to the victory of these salvific powers.

And so the Church sees in all Christ’s suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of his supernatural power. How often is it precisely to them that the pastors of the Church appeal, and precisely from them that they seek help and support! The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly with the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness.

Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others. The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today’s world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world.

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Sharers In The Suffering Of Christ — John Paul II

February 2, 2012

In 1920, Rouault painted The Crucifixion (above) in the same stained-glass style with the same contorted limbs. The Fauves claim Rouault as one of their own for his bold use of color. The Expressionists count him among their ranks for Rouault’s tortured rendition of the human body, usually Christ’s. Rouault paints Jesus in The Crucifixion without a beard, whereas other works show the familiar bearded face. Michelangelo chose to paint the Savior of The Last Judgment as a beardless youth to allude to the Greek ideal, casting Christ as a new Apollo bringing light into the world. Rouault may paint Jesus here as the beardless youth to stand for the whole generation of beardless European youth that met their end in the trenches and fields of wartime folly in WWI.

A reading selection from his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris

I Know That My Redeemer Lives…
The same Song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah leads us, through the following verses, precisely in the direction of this question and answer:

“When he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring,
he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand;
he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul
and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant.
make many to be accounted righteous;
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors”.

One can say that with the Passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation. And it is as though Job has foreseen this when he said: “I know that my Redeemer lives …”, and as though he had directed towards it his own suffering, which without the Redemption could not have revealed to him the fullness of its meaning.

A Sharer In The Redemptive Suffering Of Christ
In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,. Christ, – without any fault of his own – took on himself “the total evil of sin”. The experience of this evil determined the incomparable extent of Christ’s suffering, which became the price of the Redemption. The Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah speaks of this. In later times, the witnesses of the New Covenant, sealed in the Blood of Christ, will speak of this.

These are the words of the Apostle Peter in his First Letter: “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with the perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.

And the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Galatians will say: “He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age,” and in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

With these and similar words the witnesses of the New Covenant speak of the greatness of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering of Christ. The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

The Eloquence Of The Resurrection
The texts of the New Testament express this concept in many places. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle writes: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh …. knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus.”

Saint Paul speaks of various sufferings and, in particular, of those in which the first Christians became sharers “for the sake of Christ “. These sufferings enable the recipients of that Letter to share in the work of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering and death of the Redeemer. The eloquence of the Cross and death is, however, completed by the eloquence of the Resurrection. Man finds in the Resurrection a completely new light, which helps him to go forward through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness and persecution.

Therefore the Apostle will also write in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Elsewhere he addresses to his recipients words of encouragement: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” And in the Letter to the Romans he writes: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

The very participation in Christ’s suffering finds, in these apostolic expressions, as it were a twofold dimension. If one becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened his suffering to man, because he himself in his redemptive suffering has become, in a certain sense, a sharer in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched with a new content and new meaning.

This discovery caused Saint Paul to write particularly strong words in the Letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith enables the author of these words to know that love which led Christ to the Cross. And if he loved us in this way, suffering and dying, then with this suffering and death of his he lives in the one whom he loved in this way; he lives in the man: in Paul. And living in him-to the degree that Paul, conscious of this through faith, responds to his love with love-Christ also becomes in a particular way united to the man, to Paul, through the Cross. This union caused Paul to write, in the same Letter to the Galatians, other words as well, no less strong: “But far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Through Faith The Cross Reaches Man
The Cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on man’s life and in particular on his suffering. For through faith the Cross reaches man together with the Resurrection: the mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery. The witnesses of Christ’s Passion are at the same time witnesses of his Resurrection. Paul writes: “That I may know him (Christ) and the power of his Resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

Truly, the Apostle first experienced the “power of the Resurrection” of Christ, on the road to Damascus, and only later, in this paschal light, reached that ” sharing in his sufferings” of which he speaks, for example, in the Letter to the Galatians. The path of Paul is clearly paschal: sharing in the Cross of Christ comes about through the experience of the Risen One, therefore through a special sharing in the Resurrection. Thus, even in the Apostle’s expressions on the subject of suffering there so often appears the motif of glory, which finds its beginning in Christ’s Cross.

The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection were convinced that “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God”(65). And Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says this: “We ourselves boast of you… for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering”(66).

Thus to share in the sufferings of Christ is, at the same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgment, those who share in the suffering of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom. Through their sufferings, in a certain sense they repay the infinite price of the Passion and death of Christ, which became the price of our Redemption: at this price the Kingdom of God has been consolidated anew in human history, becoming the definitive prospect of man’s earthly existence. Christ has led us into this Kingdom through his suffering. And also through suffering those surrounded by the mystery of Christ’s Redemption become mature enough to enter this Kingdom.

Suffering And Glory
To the prospect of the Kingdom of God is linked hope in that glory which has its beginning in the Cross of Christ. The Resurrection revealed this glory — eschatological glory — which, in the Cross of Christ, was completely obscured by the immensity of suffering. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to share in glory.

Paul expresses this in various places. To the Romans he writes: ” We are … fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians we read: “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen.” The Apostle Peter will express this truth in the following words of his First Letter: “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed .”

The motif of suffering and glory has a strictly evangelical characteristic, which becomes clear by reference to the Cross and the Resurrection. The Resurrection became, first of all, the manifestation of glory, which corresponds to Christ’s being lifted up through the Cross. If, in fact, the Cross was to human eyes Christ’s emptying of himself, at the same time it was in the eyes of God his being lifted up.

On the Cross, Christ attained and fully accomplished his mission: by fulfilling the will of the Father, he at the same time fully realized himself. In weakness he manifested his power, and in humiliation he manifested all his messianic greatness. Are not all the words he uttered during his agony on Golgotha a proof of this greatness, and especially his words concerning the perpetrators of his crucifixion: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”(70)? To those who share in Christ’s sufferings these words present themselves with the power of a supreme example. Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity. Proof of this has been given, down through the generations, by the martyrs and confessors of Christ, faithful to the words: “And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul .

Christ’s Resurrection has revealed “the glory of the future age” and, at the same time, has confirmed “the boast of the Cross”: the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man’s spiritual greatness. This glory must be acknowledged not only in the martyrs for the faith but in many others also who, at times, even without belief in Christ, suffer and give their lives for the truth and for a just cause. In the sufferings of all of these people the great dignity of man is strikingly confirmed.

I Can Do All Things In Him Who Strengthens Me
Suffering, in fact, is always a trial — at times a very hard one — to which humanity is subjected. The gospel paradox of weakness and strength often speaks to us from the pages of the Letters of Saint Paul, a paradox particularly experienced by the Apostle himself and together with him experienced by all who share Christ’s sufferings. Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”(72). In the Second Letter to Timothy we read: “And therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed”(73). And in the Letter to the Philippians he will even say: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”(74).

Those who share in Christ’s sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, in which Christ descends, in a first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross.

In such a concept, to suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man’s weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. This also explains the exhortation in the First Letter of Peter: “Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God”(75).

A Special Call To The Virtue
In the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul deals still more fully with the theme of this “birth of power in weakness”, this spiritual tempering of man in the midst of trials and tribulations, which is the particular vocation of those who share in Christ’s sufferings. “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life.

And indeed this meaning makes itself known together with the working of God’s love, which is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. The more he shares in this love, man rediscovers himself more and more fully in suffering: he rediscovers the “soul” which he thought he had “lost” because of suffering.

Concerning The Creative Character Of Suffering
Nevertheless, the Apostle’s experiences as a sharer in the sufferings of Christ go even further. In the Letter to the Colossians we read the words which constitute as it were the final stage of the spiritual journey in relation to suffering: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” And in another Letter he asks his readers: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”

In the Paschal Mystery Christ began the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice — sacramentally through the Eucharist — the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer. The words quoted above from the Letter to the Colossians bear witness to the exceptional nature of this union. For, whoever suffers in union with Christ — just as the Apostle Paul bears his “tribulations” in union with Christ — not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to but also “completes” by his suffering “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”.

This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings — in any part of the world and at any time in history — to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world.

Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension — the dimension of love — the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished.

Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.

Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world’s Redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this Redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ’s suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church — that body which completes in itself also Christ’s crucified and risen body — indicates at the same time the space or context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of “what is lacking” in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church”.

It is precisely the Church, which ceaselessly draws on the infinite resources of the Redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, which is the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. This also highlights the divine and human nature of the Church. Suffering seems in some way to share in the characteristics of this nature. And for this reason suffering also has a special value in the eyes of the Church. It is something good, before which the Church bows down in reverence with all the depth of her faith in the Redemption. She likewise bows down with all the depth of that faith with which she embraces within herself the inexpressible mystery of the Body of Christ.

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Jesus Christ’s Suffering Conquered By Love by John Paul II

February 1, 2012

 

Rouault’s The Flagellation (above, from 1915) shows the lingering influence of stained glass window design in the cloisonnist dark lines separating the fields of color. Christ stands at the pillory in the center of the work to take the blows of the soldiers. World War I raged as Rouault painted this scene of suffering, which may allude to Europe’s self-flagellation in the name of nationalism. Rouault’s works concentrate almost exclusively on the passion and death of Christ, with no images that I know of depicting the triumph of the Resurrection. Rouault identified with agony more than ecstacy, saying once, “The conscience of an artist worthy of the name is like an incurable disease which causes him endless torment but occasionally fills him with silent joy.” Perhaps Rouault allowed himself a moment of “silent joy” upon completing The Flagellation, but the emphasis was definitely on the silence.

A reading selection from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris

God’s Salvific Work
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” These words, spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very heart of God’s salvific work. They also express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, of the theology of salvation. Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering. According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to “the world” to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word “gives” (“gave”) indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this reason “gives” his Son. This is love for man, love for the “world”: it is salvific love.

We here find ourselves — and we must clearly realize this in our shared reflection on this problem — faced with a completely new dimension of our theme. It is a different dimension from the one which was determined and, in a certain sense, concluded the search for the meaning of suffering within the limit of justice. This is the dimension of Redemption, to which in the Old Testament, at least in the Vulgate text, the words of the just man Job already seem to refer: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last… I shall see God….” Whereas our consideration has so far concentrated primarily and in a certain sense exclusively on suffering in its multiple temporal dimension (as also the sufferings of the just man Job), the words quoted above from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus refer to suffering in its fundamental and definitive meaning. God gives his only-begotten Son so that man “should not perish” and the meaning of these words ” should not perish” is precisely specified by the words that follow: “but have eternal life”.

Man ” perishes” when he loses “eternal life”. The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but the definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity primarily to protect man against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are grounded in sin and death: for they are at the basis of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection.

When one says that Christ by his mission strikes at evil at its very roots, we have in mind not only evil and definitive, eschatological suffering (so that man “should not perish, but have eternal life”), but also — at least indirectly toil and suffering in their temporal and historical dimension. For evil remains bound to sin and death. And even if we must use great caution in judging man’s suffering as a consequence of concrete sins (this is shown precisely by the example of the just man Job), nevertheless suffering cannot be divorced from the sin of the beginnings, from what Saint John calls “the sin of the world,” from the sinful background of the personal actions and social processes in human history. Though it is not licit to apply here the narrow criterion of direct dependence (as Job’s three friends did), it is equally true that one cannot reject the criterion that, at the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.

It is the same when we deal with death. It is often awaited even as a liberation from the suffering of this life. At the same time, it is not possible to ignore the fact that it constitutes as it were a definitive summing-up of the destructive work both in the bodily organism and in the psyche. But death primarily involves the dissolution of the entire psychophysical personality of man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: “You are dust and to dust you shall return”(30).

Therefore, even if death is not a form of suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death. First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in Sanctifying Grace. In the wake of his victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body. Both are essential conditions of “eternal life”, that is of man’s definitive happiness in union with God; this means, for the saved, that in the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out.

As a result of Christ’s salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And even though the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor free from suffering the whole historical dimension of human existence, it nevertheless throws a new light upon this dimension and upon every suffering: the light of salvation. This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News.

At the heart of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” This truth radically changes the picture of man’s history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history both as an original inheritance and as the “sin of the world” and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him in a lasting way; and then in time, precisely through this all-surpassing love, he “gives” this Son, that he may strike at the very roots of human evil and thus draw close in a salvific way to the whole world of suffering in which man shares.

In his messianic activity in the midst of Israel, Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. “He went about doing good,” and his actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and seeking help. He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities, three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. And at the same time he taught, and at the heart of his teaching there are the eight beatitudes, which are addressed to people tried by various sufferings in their temporal life. These are “the poor in spirit” and “the afflicted” and “those who hunger and thirst for justice” and those who are “persecuted for justice sake”, when they insult them, persecute them and speak falsely every kind of evil against them for the sake of Christ…. Thus according to Matthew; Luke mentions explicitly those “who hunger now”.

At any rate, Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to him, but, more than anything, he became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death.

Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfill precisely in this way.

Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about “that man should not perish, but have eternal life”. Precisely by means of his Cross he must strike at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls. Precisely by means of his Cross he must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character.

And therefore Christ severely reproves Peter when the latter wants to make him abandon the thoughts of suffering and of death on the Cross. And when, during his arrest in Gethsemane, the same Peter tries to defend him with the sword, Christ says, ” Put your sword back into its place… But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” And he also says, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”. This response, like others that reappear in different points of the Gospel, shows how profoundly Christ was imbued by the thought that he had already expressed in the conversation with Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power; he goes forward in obedience to the Father, but primarily he is united to the Father in this love with which he has loved the world and man in the world. And for this reason Saint Paul will write of Christ: “He loved me and gave himself for me.”

The Fourth Song Of The Suffering Servant
The Scriptures had to be fulfilled. There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God. Among all these, particularly touching is the one which is commonly called the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, in the Book of Isaiah. The Prophet, who has rightly been called “the Fifth Evangelist”, presents in this Song an image of the sufferings of the Servant with a realism as acute as if he were seeing them with his own eyes: the eyes of the body and of the spirit. In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the Evangelists themselves. Behold, the true Man of Sorrows presents himself before us:

“He had no form or comeliness that we should look
at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible, in a certain sense, to identify the stages of Christ’s Passion in their various details: the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the spitting, the contempt for the prisoner, the unjust sentence, and then the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the mocking, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion and the agony.

Even more than this description of the Passion, what strikes us in the words of the Prophet is the depth of Christ’s sacrifice. Behold, He, though innocent, takes upon himself the sufferings of all people, because he takes upon himself the sins of all. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”: all human sin in its breadth and depth becomes the true cause of the Redeemer’s suffering. If the suffering “is measured” by the evil suffered, then the words of the Prophet enable us to understand the extent of this evil and suffering with which Christ burdened himself. It can be said that this is “substitutive” suffering; but above all it is “redemptive”.

The Man of Sorrows of that prophecy is truly that “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In his suffering, sins are cancelled out precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them upon himself, accept them with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.

Here we touch upon the duality of nature of a single personal subject of redemptive suffering.

He who by his Passion and death on the Cross brings about the Redemption is the only-begotten Son whom God “gave”. And at the same time this Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions; it also has unique in the history of humanity — a depth and intensity which, while being human, can also be an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only-begotten Son himself: ” God from God”. Therefore, only he — the only-begotten Son — is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man: in every sin and in “total” sin, according to the dimensions of the historical existence of humanity on earth.

It can be said that the above considerations now brings us directly to Gethsemane and Golgotha, where the Song of the Suffering Servant, contained in the Book of Isaiah, was fulfilled. But before going there, let us read the next verses of the Song, which give a prophetic anticipation of the Passion at Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Suffering Servant — and this in its turn is essential for an analysis of Christ’s Passion — takes on himself those sufferings which were spoken of, in a totally voluntary way:

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered that
he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Christ suffers voluntarily and suffers innocently. With his suffering he accepts that question which — posed by people many times — has been expressed, in a certain sense, in a radical way by the Book of Job. Christ, however, not only carries with himself the same question (and this in an even more radical way, for he is not only a man like Job but the only-begotten Son of God), but he also carries the greatest possible answer to this question.

The Word Of The Cross
One can say that this answer emerges from the very master of which the question is made up. Christ gives the answer to the question about suffering and the meaning of suffering not only by his teaching, that is by the Good News, but most of all by his own suffering, which is integrated with this teaching of the Good News in an organic and indissoluble way. And this is the final, definitive word of this teaching: “the word of the Cross”, as Saint Paul one day will say.

This “word of the Cross” completes with a definitive reality the image of the ancient prophecy. Many episodes, many discourses during Christ’s public teaching bear witness to the way in which from the beginning he accepts this suffering which is the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. However, the prayer in Gethsemane becomes a definitive point here.

The words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt”(45), and later: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done,” have a manifold eloquence. They prove the truth of that love which the only-begotten Son gives to the Father in his obedience. At the same time, they attest to the truth of his suffering. The words of that prayer of Christ in Gethsemane prove the truth of love through the truth of suffering. Christ’s words confirm with all simplicity this human truth of suffering, to its very depths: suffering is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders. He says: let it pass from me”, just as Christ says in Gethsemane.

His words also attest to this unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering which only the man who is the only-begotten Son could experience; they attest to that depth and intensity which the prophetic words quoted above in their own way help us to understand. Not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man. Gethsemane is the place where precisely this suffering, in all the truth expressed by the Prophet concerning the evil experienced in it, is revealed as it were definitively before the eyes of Christ’s soul.

After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, words which bear witness to this depth — unique in the history of the world — of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?”, his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 [21] from which come the words quoted(47).

One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father “laid on him the iniquity of us all.” They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.” Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the “entire” evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he breathes his last: “It is finished.”

The Cross of Christ
One can also say that the Scripture has been fulfilled, that these words of the Song of the Suffering Servant have been definitively accomplished: “it was the will of the Lord to bruise him.” Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water. In it we must also pose anew the question about the meaning of suffering, and read in it, to its very depths, the answer to this question.

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Reading Selections 2 From The Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris By John Paul II

January 31, 2012

The God of Job's comforters, who claim that Job's trials are punishment for his sins, is to Blake a false god, equivalent to the demiurge of the Gnostics. This was more of a distinction between Elohim (the creator) and Yahweh (the law-giver) than it was any direct influence of Gnosticism. For Blake, Yahweh was an imposer of laws upon a humanity that could never keep to them -- he appears in the 11th illustration as a cloven-hoofed apparition who menaces Job while pointing to the tablets of the covenant. In Blake's mythology he is analogous to "the Accuser of Sin", the specter, and Urizen. This particular print was based upon Blake's earlier monotype, Elohim Creating Adam.

The Quest For An Answer To The Question Of The Meaning Of Suffering
Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, about the purpose of suffering, and, in brief, a question about its meaning. Not only does it accompany human suffering, but it seems even to determine its human content, what makes suffering precisely human suffering.

It is obvious that pain, especially physical pain, is widespread in the animal world. But only the suffering human being knows that he is suffering and wonders why; and he suffers in a humanly speaking still deeper way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. This is a difficult question, just as is a question closely akin to it, the question of evil. Why does evil exist? Why is there evil in the world? When we put the question in this way, we are always, at least to a certain extent, asking a question about suffering too.

Both questions are difficult, when an individual puts them to another individual, when people put them to other people, as also when man puts them to God. For man does not put this question to the world, even though it is from the world that suffering often comes to him, but he puts it to God as the Creator and Lord of the world. And it is well known that concerning this question there not only arise many frustrations and conflicts in the relations of man with God, but it also happens that people reach the point of actually denying God.

For, whereas the existence of the world opens as it were the eyes of the human soul to the existence of God, to his wisdom, power and greatness, evil and suffering seem to obscure this image, sometimes in a radical way, especially in the daily drama of so many cases of undeserved suffering and of so many faults without proper punishment. So this circumstance shows — perhaps more than any other — the importance of the question of the meaning of suffering; it also shows how much care must be taken both in dealing with the question itself and with all possible answers to it.

 Man can put this question to God with all the emotion of his heart and with his mind full of dismay and anxiety; and God expects the question and listens to it, as we see in the Revelation of the Old Testament. In the Book of Job the question has found its most vivid expression.

The story of this just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings, is well known. He loses his possessions, his sons and daughters, and finally he himself is afflicted by a grave sickness. In this horrible situation three old acquaintances come to his house, and each one in his own way tries to convince him that since he has been struck down by such varied and terrible sufferings, he must have done something seriously wrong.

For suffering — they say — always strikes a man as punishment for a crime; it is sent by the absolutely just God and finds its reason in the order of justice. It can be said that Job’s old friends wish not only to convince him of the moral justice of the evil, but in a certain sense they attempt to justify to themselves the moral meaning of suffering. In their eyes suffering can have a meaning only as a punishment for sin, therefore only on the level of God’s justice, who repays good with good and evil with evil.

The point of reference in this case is the doctrine expressed in other Old Testament writings which show us suffering as punishment inflicted by God for human sins. The God of Revelation is the Lawgiver and Judge to a degree that no temporal authority can see. For the God of Revelation is first of all the Creator, from whom comes, together with existence, the essential good of creation. Therefore, the conscious and free violation of this good by man is not only a transgression of the law but at the same time an offence against the Creator, who is the first Lawgiver. Such a transgression has the character of sin, according to the exact meaning of this word, namely the biblical and theological one.

Corresponding to the moral evil of sin is punishment, which guarantees the moral order in the same transcendent sense in which this order is laid down by the will of the Creator and Supreme Lawgiver. From this there also derives one of the fundamental truths of religious faith, equally based upon Revelation, namely that God is a just judge, who rewards good and punishes evil: “For thou art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us… for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins.”

The opinion expressed by Job’s friends manifests a conviction also found in the moral conscience of humanity: the objective moral order demands punishment for transgression, sin and crime. From this point of view, suffering appears as a “justified evil”. The conviction of those who explain suffering as a punishment for sin finds support in the order of justice, and this corresponds to the conviction expressed by one of Job’s friends: “As I have seen, those who plough iniquity and sow trouble reap the same”(24).

 Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good that he has done during his life. In the end, God himself reproves Job’s friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence.

The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, as they are set forth by the whole of Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.

The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job has not been punished, there was no reason for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he has been subjected to a grievous trial. From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this testing as a result of Satan’s provocation. For Satan had challenged before the Lord the righteousness of Job: “Does Job fear God for nought? … Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face”. And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter’s righteousness. The suffering has the nature of a test.

The Book of Job is not the last word on this subject in Revelation. In a certain way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. But already in itself it is sufficient argument why the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not to be unreservedly linked to the moral order, based on justice alone. While such an answer has a fundamental and transcendent reason and validity, at the same time it is seen to be not only unsatisfactory in cases similar to the suffering of the just man Job, but it even seems to trivialize and impoverish the concept of justice which we encounter in Revelation.

The Book of Job poses in an extremely acute way the question of the “why” of suffering; it also shows that suffering strikes the innocent, but it does not yet give the solution to the problem.

Already in the Old Testament we note an orientation that begins to go beyond the concept according to which suffering has a meaning only as a punishment for sin, insofar as it emphasizes at the same time the educational value of suffering as a punishment. Thus in the sufferings inflicted by God upon the Chosen People there is included an invitation of his mercy, which corrects in order to lead to conversion: “… these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people.”

Thus the personal dimension of punishment is affirmed. According to this dimension, punishment has a meaning not only because it serves to repay the objective evil of the transgression with another evil, but first and foremost because it creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness in the subject who suffers.

This is an extremely important aspect of suffering. It is profoundly rooted in the entire Revelation of the Old and above all the New Covenant. Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man. Its purpose is also to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relationships with others and especially with God.

But in order to perceive the true answer to the “why” of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the “why” of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.

In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering, following the revealed word of God, we must open ourselves wide to the human subject in his manifold potentiality. We must above all accept the light of Revelation not only insofar as it expresses the transcendent order of justice but also insofar as it illuminates this order with Love, as the definitive source of everything that exists. Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

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The Risen Body Will Be Incorruptible, Glorious, Full Of Dynamism, And Spiritual

June 10, 2011

Fra Angelico, Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb in Cell 8

The Pauline Anthropology Of The Resurrection by Pope John Paul II From his general audience of Wednesday, 3 February 1982

Pope John Paul II explains the Pauline theology of the body with regard to the resurrection of the dead.

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FROM THE WORDS OF CHRIST ON THE FUTURE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY, reported by all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), we have passed to the Pauline anthropology of the resurrection. We are analyzing the First Letter to the Corinthians 15:42-49. In the resurrection the human body, according to the words of the Apostle, is seen “incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual.” The resurrection is not only a manifestation of the life that conquers death — almost a final return to the tree of life, from which man had been separated at the moment of original sin — but is also a revelation of the ultimate destiny of man in all the fullness of his psychosomatic nature and his personal subjectivity.

Paul of Tarsus — who following in the footsteps of the other apostles, had experienced in his meeting with the risen Christ the state of his glorified body — basing himself on this experience, Paul announces in his Letter to the Romans “the redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23) and in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:42-49) the completion of this redemption in the future resurrection.

In The Perspective Of An Eternal Destiny
The literary method Paul applies here perfectly corresponds to his style, which uses antitheses that simultaneously bring together those things which they contrast. In this way they are useful in having us understand Pauline thought about the resurrection. It concerns both its “cosmic” dimension and also the characteristic of the internal structure of the “earthly” and the “heavenly” man.

The Apostle, in fact, in contrasting Adam and Christ (risen) — that is, the first Adam with the second Adam — in a certain way shows two poles between which, in the mystery of creation and redemption, man has been placed in the cosmos. One could say that man has been put in tension between these two poles in the perspective of his eternal destiny regarding, from beginning to end, his human nature itself.

When Paul writes: “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:47), he has in mind both Adam-man and also Christ as man. Between these two poles — between the first and the second Adam — the process takes place that he expresses in the following words: “As we have borne the image of the man of earth, so we will bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

Man Completed
This “man of heaven” — the man of the resurrection whose prototype is the risen Christ — is not so much an antithesis and negation of the “man of earth” (whose prototype is the first Adam), but is above all his completion and confirmation. It is the completion and confirmation of what corresponds to the psychosomatic makeup of humanity, in the sphere of his eternal destiny, that is, in the thought and the plan of him who from the beginning created man in his own image and likeness. The humanity of the first Adam, the “man of earth,” bears in itself a particular potential (which is a capacity and readiness) to receive all that became the second Adam, the man of heaven, namely, Christ, what he became in his resurrection. That humanity which all men, children of the first Adam, share, and which, along with the heritage of sin — being carnal — at the same time is corruptible, and bears in itself the potentiality of incorruptibility.

That humanity which, in all its psychosomatic makeup appears ignoble, and yet bears within itself the interior desire for glory, that is, the tendency and the capacity to become “glorious” in the image of the risen Christ. Finally, the same humanity about which the Apostle — in conformity with the experience of all men — says that it is “weak” and has an “animal body,” bears in itself the aspiration to become full of dynamism and spiritual.

Potential to rise again
We are speaking here of human nature in its integrity, that is, of human nature in its psychosomatic makeup. However, Paul speaks of the body. Nevertheless we can admit, on the basis of the immediate context and the remote one, that for him it is not a question only of the body, but of the entire man in his corporeity, therefore also of his ontological complexity. There is no doubt here that precisely in the whole visible world (cosmos) that one body which is the human body bears in itself the potentiality for resurrection, that is, the aspiration and capacity to become definitively incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual. This happens because, persisting from the beginning in the psychosomatic unity of the personal being, he can receive and reproduce in this earthly image and likeness of God also the heavenly image of the second Adam, Christ.

The Pauline anthropology of the resurrection is cosmic and universal at the same time. Every man bears in himself the image of Adam and every man is also called to bear in himself the image of Christ, the image of the risen one. This image is the reality of the “other world,” the eschatological reality (St. Paul writes, “We will bear”). But in the meantime it is already in a certain way a reality of this world, since it was revealed in this world through the resurrection of Christ. It is a reality ingrafted in the man of this world, a reality that is developing in him toward final completion.

The Vision Of God
All the antitheses that are suggested in Paul’s text help to construct a valid sketch of the anthropology of the resurrection. This sketch is at the same time more detailed than the one which comes from the text of the synoptic Gospels (cf. Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-35). But on the other hand it is in a certain sense more unilateral.

The words of Christ which the synoptics report open before us the perspective of the eschatological perfection of the body, fully subject to the divinizing profundity of the vision of God face to face. In that vision it will find its inexhaustible source of perpetual virginity (united to the nuptial meaning of the body), and of the perpetual intersubjectivity of all men, who will become (as males and females) sharers in the resurrection.

The Pauline sketch of the eschatological perfection of the glorified body seems to remain rather in the sphere of the interior structure of the man-person. His interpretation of the future resurrection would seem to link up again with body-spirit dualism which constitutes the source of the interior system of forces in man.

This system of forces will undergo a radical change in the resurrection. Paul’s words, which explicitly suggest this, cannot however be understood or interpreted in the spirit of dualistic anthropology, (“Paul takes absolutely no account of the Greek dichotomy between ‘soul and body’…. The Apostle resorts to a kind of trichotomy in which the totality of man is body, soul and spirit.

All these terms are alive and the division itself has no fixed limit. He insists on the fact that body and soul are capable of being ‘pneumatic,’ spiritual” (B. Rigaux, Dieu l’a ressuscité. Exégèse et Théologie biblique [Gembloux: Duculot, 1973], pp. 406-408).

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