More Scattered Thoughts On Obedience

God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov

It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.

A couple of years ago, Fr. Julian Carron made some stirs when he spoke of the heart as infallible. Of course this is not at all new in Christian tradition since God created the human person to desire the Infinite. Obedience, then, is first obedience to our hearts, that is, our fundamental experiences. Reason is not reduced to logical or scientific analysis. We all know what it feels when people try to systematize our desires. It just becomes suffocating. Pope Benedict, in his great Regensburg Address, proposes that we broaden our reason, that the reduction of reason comes from the attempt of dehellenize the culture. The attempt to dehellenize ourselves, seems to me, a form of reduction. There is a tendency to neglect the growth of culture and to go back to the theologies and lives of the past. Some place their hopes in the past thinking that all will be well. Of course there is a validity to going back to the sources. The 20th century theologians were suffocated by the manual theologians of the day because it got rid of the beauty and majesty of God; this is what happens when we try to systematize doctrine, systematize God and our lives. Even the Summa of Aquinas was not a fixed theology but a starting point; its intention is for beginners. Since the Reformation, there was an attempt at overthrowing traditions that got in the way of true faith in Christ. What they wanted was to get rid of the hellenistic influences and come back to the Biblical word, the inspired word of God. Of course I do not agree that we should just get rid of hellenistic influences. First of, Christianity was always hellenistic in that her foundations come from a people influenced by Greek life and thought. Martin Hengel has shown that second temple Judaism is hellenistic. To think of a pure Judaism without Greek influences is nonsense. Second, although some Church Fathers may be oversimplistic in their condemnation of Greek philosophy and other influences, we cannot deny that they too were influenced by Hellenism. There was always an admiration for true philosophers, those who seek wisdom honestly (cf. Justin Martyr 2nd Apology 13; Clement of Alexandria Stromata bk. 1 chs.2-7). But put these things aside, what is important to realize is that when people revolt against anything, it is a manifestation of the reduction of reason, of the heart. The drama comes about when the heart desires more and the content of faith must be accepted. This is really the problem of inculturation. As J. Dupuis pointed out, when the early Christians were formulating Christology after Christology, it wasn’t even hellenization but a de-Hellenization of content in a Hellenization terminology. Reason only works in a context, within a tradition, and yet desires to surpass that tradition. This is the drama of human thinking.

Magisterial teachings are insufficient for human life. What they are is a guide to surpass our limitations. It is an office which is an expression of salvation. Paul Evdokimov pointed out that in Hebrew, to save is to free. The Magisterium, then, is that which guides us to freedom. Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out,

[I]t will seem not only appropriate but necessary for the entire community of the Church to be equipped with a special organ to serve as a regulatory principle for maintaining the integrity of revelation; its function is to indicate any serious interference with the balance of the Church’s organism, any loss of substance or weight…The “teaching office” will react–like a seismographical instrument–when some substantial underground tremor threatens the totality or catholicity of revelation. (TD vol. 2 100, 101)

The teaching office, then, does not take away the dynamism of human life but preserves it. It is not preserved when human life is reduced to it.

What happens when the Church teaches us something incomprehensible? Take the doctrine of the Assumption. The point I will make is that there must be a foundation why the person is in the Church in the first place. Why is the person attracted to the Church in the first place? I know many Catholic apologists who have made a name for themselves for converting to the Church when they themselves have not left Protestantism. The problem here is not that they still have a legalistic or fundamentalist mentality, but that they never understood themselves in the first place; they are not certain of their hearts. I remember I asked an Anglican why he was attracted of becoming Catholic. He told me, “The Theology of the Body.” Of course I cannot condemn this since this is the attraction God is working with. However, it is clear that it is just insufficient. If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.

24 Responses

  1. My prejudices against Evdokimov aside, I loved this essay! I like this line in particular:

    “If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.”

    In my own life in particular, it has been the little things of Catholicism that have kept me Catholic, not the Popes, the encyclicals, or theological tomes. My granmother’s beaten-up, glow in the dark rosary teaches me more about the Church than many works of Catholic theology. I have learned that Catholicism is a great system based on a whole lot of little things. It is a way of life, not an ideology.

    Not to be at all polemical, I have to wonder how much of this rationalism is the institutional Church’s fault. In many places, there has been an all out war on the folk piety of the laity as I have discussed here and here on my own blog. The over-regulation and over-theorization of Catholic life coming out of the Second Vatican Council may have contributed to the idea that Catholicism is primarily a series of doctrines and regulations that we have to abide by, with very little positive content. Catholicism becomes “what we can get away with” in expressing our own personal creativity, detached from history and tradition. The overturning of the old Mass, the “cleaning up” of Catholic devotions in favor of more “Bible-centric” ones, and the sparse interiors of modern churches unwittingly contributed to all of this.

    To cite another Orthodox thinker, Aleksey Khomyakov, there is a certain extent to which the Christian people themselves are the guardians of orthodoxy and Christian truth. They accomplish this office with their own traditions that pass on a way of life that is two millenia old. It may not be the same as the Magisterium itself, but if Christianity is primarily a way of life, it may be in a sense far more important.

  2. What about someone who became catholic because of catholic theology, ie because they thought it was true. Christianity does have an intellectual life, and some are indeed called to it.

  3. Lee,

    If Catholic theology gives them certainty, then by all means come. The question is, how would it give them certainty?

    I don’t think theology does not have any value, but I do not think it is sufficient for certainty. What gives us certainty is an encounter.

  4. I would hasten to add, in my notoriously soft-Keefian way, that the Encounter of which Apolonio speaks is first and foremost to be found in the Eucharist, the Real Presence of the One Who Is Truth. Of course, once we grant that, there ensues a host of “doctrinal” and “theological” issues which simply cannot be shunted off from the “pure” encounter as such. I think religious phenomenology, perhaps of the likes limned here, as orthopraxis can only go so far. I became Catholic first and foremost because of the magnetic beauty qua disclosed glory and truth of the Eucharist; even so, there is no denying I had to come to terms with the actual theology of the Church in its Eucharistic communion (e.g., bishops, priests, supererogation, transubstantiation, vita in Christo per Mariam, etc.). This is why I am less able to draw a stark line between theology and devotion. As Fr. J. Hardon wrote in his Cathechism, Catholicism is the quintessential Both/And faith: both head and heart, mind and body. (I hope this admission does not invoke a torrent of homilies on the Golden Mean!)

  5. Eliot,

    Actually, I would say that the encounter must be a witness. Eucharist and witness coincide.

  6. Arturo,

    I would add that it’s not really a “way of life”, but a relationship. It is the divine in the human. Ratzinger a long time ago said that Christianity was no longer interesting. Has it lost its salt? That’s the problem we have today which can only be solved by God’s tender mercy. This mercy is expressed by those who witness to divine love, that is, those who are willing to give their hearts to God…even if that requires death.

  7. Apolonio:

    My life experience has virtually forced me to agree with the affirmations in this post. My personal acquaintance with Communion and Liberation has reinforced such insights for me. However, I still believe you’re drawing too sharp a line between academic theology and the ongoing personal encounter with the Lord that we ought to seek and have as members of the Church.

    When I was a young man, my reasons for remaining Catholic were primarily intellectual. I made a highly informed, adult decision to accept the faith I had merely been spoon-fed as a child. In the last three decades, the school of hard knocks has forced me to realize that was only the path toward the encounter you talk about, not the life of faith, hope, and love itself. But the intellectual side of the Christian life of faith remains very important to me. It remains so not as a means to keep myself convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, which would be immature and unrealistic, but as a Spirit-given mission to remove some of the intellectual obstacles to faith that seem to block some educated people from making the assent of faith. Such a mission would be worse than useless if I tried to carry it out without a real, daily, struggle to let the Lord take ever-firmer hold of me. But within the context of such a relationship, which must bear fruit in hope and love as well as faith, I believe that I can and ought to exhibit the beauty of the Catholic faith as a way of viewing reality.

    The upshot is that the sort of project I’ve been pursuing with DD can be seen as a way of doing what you say is the most important and necessary thing. The way this post is written does not explicitly allow for that.

    Best,
    Mike

  8. I am totally out of my league in commenting on this blog. Let’s get that out of the way now. And I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and my philosophical/theological education leaves plenty to be desired, too. But I take exception to a couple things here.

    If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.

    That remark strikes this convert as smug, although I’m sure Mr. Latar didn’t mean it this way. So my spiritual life must be a shining example of mature, full-orbed Catholic faith before I even bother seeking conversion? Well I guess I’ll just crawl back into the little hole of Reformed private judgment whence I came then.

    Or maybe not.

    The fact is that people come to the Church on all sorts of paths, and for all sorts of reasons. Far more important than how we come to be Catholic is that we remain faithful Catholics, no? Of course I totally agree that being Catholic is much more than dotting a few theological i’s and crossing a few dogmatic t’s. I’ve spent years now learning just how true this is, and I’ve got a long road ahead of me before it will be really true in my life as I’d like it to be. But the fact is I wouldn’t have bothered with the full-orbed and mature Catholic life of faith if I had not first been convinced of the truth of what the Church teaches. And I daresay I’m not the only one for whom this is true. So I think it unfair to wave a Dogbert-esque paw of “Bah!” in our direction because of the path God laid before us.🙂

    I don’t think theology does not have any value, but I do not think it is sufficient for certainty. What gives us certainty is an encounter.

    An encounter with what? Or whom? Does not the Mormon have an “encounter” in his “burning bosom” experience? Do not believers of all sorts of religious traditions have “encounters” to which they point as fundamental to their certainty about what they believe? Of course they do. And of course the point is that “encounter” is inherently subjective. That’s not necessarily to say it’s all bad, but it’s not sufficient, either. The Protestant no doubt argues that he has an “encounter” with the Word of God in Scripture, and Pentecostals certainly say that they have daily “encounters” with the Holy Spirit. But I wouldn’t want to be Protestant anymore, and I don’t think it’s doing justice to the Catholic Faith to say that it’s better for them to remain Protestant or Pentecostal if God uses the Truth to draw them closer to himself.

    “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen.” Certainty is something that follows from the supernatural gift of faith, not from an “encounter” (however that may be defined).

    Now back to the twilight of those who converted for the Truth (but who are seeking the Lord’s Face nevertheless).

    Peace,

    RdP

  9. Maybe this will just mean that my Neoplatonic slip is showing, but I think the problem ultimately becomes the unanswered one that it is uttered in the Gospel by Pontius Pilate: “what is truth?” Well, Christ didn’t go off on Pilate using Platonic forms or Aristotelian hylomorphism. He just stood and was silent. Maybe that is what the encounter is.

    I have nothing against learning the Faith, loving it for its logical coherence, or even debating it within certain limits. I personally am just really afraid that the intellectual truths will be contemplated through the prism of modern intellectual obsessions that have nothing to do with the the ancient Christian message itself. In other words, I think the modern idea of truth, even amongst some Catholics, is viewed more through the prisms of logical positivism, the Hegelian dialectic, Heideggerian dasein, and Cartesian doubt than it does with what Christian truth is supposed to be like.

    In the ancient world, all truth was initiatory. It is not just a matter of getting to correct argument down, of being particularly adept and skillful at being able to formulate a series of dogmas and their agreement between each other. Even in its intellectual aspects, it is more about purifying the mind in order to participate in superhuman (or supernatural) knowledge. Intellectual knowledge is part of it, but so is formation in ritual, symbolism, tradition, piety, and above all, virtue. In Christianity, we have the added aspect of divine grace.

    So I have nothing against anyone learning their Faith. I would just ask that we stop to contemplate what the essence of knowledge is in the modern world, and is it a healthy one. I speak only for myself. Apolonio probably has a different opinion on this.

  10. Michael,

    I think the first paragraph of my post tried to get at what you were trying to do with DD. The Magisterium does not have any teaching on the nature of development of doctrine, but that doesn’t matter. Again, the Magisterium isn’t there to replace one’s critical thinking.

    Clearly, I don’t think you would agree that (academic) theology gives you certainty. What is lacking in theology (not all of course) is experience. I think it is experience that unites the will and intellect. So my post in some way tries to unite orthopraxis and orthodoxy. What unites them is the heart.

  11. Reginald,

    I knew my post was going to get into people’s nerves and when somebody told me these things a couple of years ago, it got into mine too.

    Let me first speak about the nature of encounter. Pope Benedict said that Christianity is not an ethical choice or a system but an event. It is an encounter. What does this mean? It means that it is not something we think about but something that happens “outside” of us, something that is given to us. It is, in classical theology, grace. It’s stupid that people think of grace as some kind of magical power. It isn’t. It is seen in the human, in the natural. It is seen when a person is attracted to something.

    Now, specifically, an encounter is something that corresponds to the needs of the heart. The needs of the heart is objective not subjective.

    Also, as I said, an encounter is spefically an event between a witness and the receiver of that witness. I stress primarily on a witness because this is really where we can understand that encountering Christ is encountering a concrete presence, someone with a face. In other words, it is encountering the Church, the Church that is not abtract but the Church which you can identify with and can remember their faces.

    As for the Protestant, Mormon, etc., thing, someone actually recently told me that we should persuade someone who doesn’t believe in all what the Church teaches to go to Mass. Frankly, I think that’s stupid. I told her that she should love the other person instead and be a witness. Maybe this way she can be attracted to her and see why she is the way she is (this attraction is also grace). This way, she can understand the Mass better.

    Finally, the Word was made FLESH. Sorry, but a book is not flesh. How did the Apostles come to believe in God? By spending time with this man from Nazareth. You can get all creative about “supernatural gift of faith” as if that’s some kind of magical word, but the fact is, what the Church has taught about faith is that it comes from an encounter; it comes from the Church. How did you receive faith? From baptism. It was an event. In fact, it was an event that needed somebody to pour water on you. The supernatural is in the natural.

  12. Arturo and others,

    Here is an example of an encounter. I say this not because I know all the answers because I struggle about it every day.

    I recently moved in a house with my roommates. Now, this is the first time I’m living away from my parents. One night, I put the wrong soap in the dishwasher. Foam every where! One of my roommates saw and I was going to expect him yelling at me. Instead he was patient and he told me to help him clean the dishwasher. While I was cleaning, I kept saying, “Wow! This man has patience!”

    Why is this an encounter? Because it corresponded to the needs of my heart, the need to be forgiven. It also gave rise to awe: “Why is he patient with me?” Every encounter gives rise to awe. This is why Christianity is never boring. Does this man, my roommate, have to be patient with me? No. He could have easily been mad at me. At that moment, I saw that this is something *given* to me; this person was given to me at this moment so that I can be educated of patience. This is how CONCRETE grace is, concrete God is. Someone must have moved that man to be patient.

    This is why, in the end, our days are filled with gifts, filled with grace, filled with people God gives us. The question is whether we recognize it. When we do recognize it, we will be filled with awe. And this is where mission comes from. God fills us with awe to commission us. There is no mission without wonder. There is no mission without an experience of gift, of beauty.

  13. “Every encounter gives rise to awe… At that moment, I saw that this is something *given* to me; this person was given to me at this moment so that I can be educated of patience. This is how CONCRETE grace is, concrete God is. Someone must have moved that man to be patient…There is no mission without wonder. There is no mission without an experience of gift, of beauty.”

    With respect, Apolonio, as true as that might be, what of events that run so contrary to that which you have presented here?

    For instance, in Africa, where a poor starving child takes some little food off of the floor of a home who then is subsequently accused by the owner of that home as thief to where that poor child’s hand is chopped off for what was perceived as a criminal offense?

    Such an event and others as horrible as these I wouldn’t actually regard as a moment of awe inspired by The Lord.

    That is, I don’t think we can merely generalize each and evey encounter in a seemingly naive way as some bliss-ful instance of God’s divine providence.

    To systematically paint things in such a way that those instances of evil that befall the Innocent (e.g., the persecution of the Innocent at the hands of Evil) as well as those instances of benevolence that befall those who are evil (e.g., the villains of the world who only prosper off their sins rather than suffer for them) seems too optimistic a view for me and neglects certain harsh realities of real life.

    Obedience should not be done as a result of blind faith; at the same time, it shouldn’t be done as a result of some blind naivete as well.

    God bless.

  14. Corrigendum:

    With respect, Apolonio, as true as that might be [in your case]…

  15. Simply,

    I’m not sure how that pertained to what I was saying though. What you brought up is a good question in itself, though.

    First, I would say that although one can judge those things to of the Lord (since God permits evil), clearly an experience of evil such as the one you presented is an experience of a lack of mercy, of goodness. That’s what evil is. The child experiences something that run contrary to his needs like mercy and food, and this is really an experience of evil.

    Second, I defined what “encounter” means, that is, an exceptional event. So it is an event that corresponds to one’s needs and desires.

    Third, it is the experience of an exceptional presence that makes you judge that even in moments like suffering, there is meaning to it and one can beg to see more.

    Hope that helps

  16. Dear Apolonio,

    I think your analogy is a good one demonstrates well the human need for and response to grace. It also shows the role of free will.

  17. Now that I’ve had time to read the whole string, I want to add that the heart of the comment about theology is this: theology is a science whose object of study is God. Catholic theology is the greatest, handsdown without question however, theology’s primary task is to help us understand the nature of God as one and as communion. From that we understand ourselves as made in that image. We are individuals made to be in communion with God and with others. That’s where the encounter comes to play. A person that loves theology must love it because it tells of the one we love. It can’t be because of fascination the way that Mathematics is fascinating to the Mathematician. Without the person of Person of Christ to bring us into communion with the Almighty God – theology is an empty shell. Knowledge gained from theology ought to have effect on both the intellect and the will in order to move the soul toward love.

  18. Mary H.,

    “Knowledge gained from theology ought to have effect on both the intellect and the will in order to move the soul toward love.”

    This is an excellent point!

    However, the point that needs to be stressed here is the part about the assent of *both the intellect AND the will*.

    Apolonio made the remarkable point about how it shouldn’t something that is merely intellectualized (like some have), which I believe is what he meant by his statement:

    “If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.”

    However, I believe he may be neglecting (inadvertently) that the Intellect needs to be involved in the assent of Faith.

    If folks are merely becoming Catholic on blind faith alone; I would rather, in contrast to what Apolonio said here, have them remain non-Catholic.

    There have been so many folks that have blindly accepted the Catholic Faith without Reason at all.

    More likely than not, it is these that fall out of the Faith for most of the time because of what may well be originally a mere acquiescence to it.

    Yet, Faith & Reason are so intertwined in the Catholic Faith that one cannot possibly neglect either of the 2 before the whole thing likely falls apart.

    Still, I have but appreciation for Apolonio’s rather insightful statement:

    “Finally, the Word was made FLESH. Sorry, but a book is not flesh. How did the Apostles come to believe in God? By spending time with this man from Nazareth. You can get all creative about “supernatural gift of faith” as if that’s some kind of magical word, but the fact is, what the Church has taught about faith is that it comes from an encounter; it comes from the Church. How did you receive faith? From baptism. It was an event. In fact, it was an event that needed somebody to pour water on you. The supernatural is in the natural.”

    I like Apolonio’s thought here since it is indeed the Supernatural working in the natural that provides us with such Faith & Reason to begin with.

  19. Philos,

    Yes, well said. I think your points round out the conversation quite well. Its a matter of balance and all of us are unbalanced most of the time. I know I’ve gone from blind faith – to feely faith -to intellectual pride- and now I think I’m back to a faith that isn’t so blind as it is surrendered. I guess I had to go through those stages in order to find the balance: test everything and take the good, as it were. The fullness of faith does indeed take the intellect, the will, *and* heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
    (Sidenote: Jesus may have been referring to the will when he added “strength.” )

    Mary

  20. Apolonio,

    Now that talks have “broken down” on the DD thread, I’ve caught with some of the other posts on this blog and elsewhere. I very much enjoyed this one of yours. As I mentioned over at the FQI blog, something strikes me very right about this notion of encounter.

    If you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and do not waste your time in the Church.

    It has been in the last couple of years that I’ve begun to notice how true this is. Theology is important, but I can’t imagine staying in the Catholic Church simply because it has the best arguments. This is not to deny the role of reason in our faith, but we should recognize the limits of reason as well. I am always amazed at how many Christians argue as if their faith was based on pure reason, although they would flatly deny such a contradictory position. Obviously, I am Catholic because I find the arguments for the Church reasonable (it is not a blind assent), but if that is all my Catholicism is based on, I may have very well left already. I am in the Catholic Church, because this is where I have met Christ in a very real way.

    Certainly, Protestants and Orthodox have that encounter with Christ too, but it is in a different way (at least for many Protestants). I honestly can’t imagine being a Christian in a non-Catholic way. I can’t imagine my walk with the Lord without the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. This is a purely subjective statement, but this makes perfect sense. All encounters are subjective. For me to walk away from the Catholic Church would not just be trading in one theology for another; it would be a fundamental change in my relationship with my Lord.

  21. SimplyPhilos,

    I was thinking about your question on a person suffering; what happens when a person encounters something evil? Does that negate what I have said about encounter?

    Last night, I went to an event where Roger Scruton and my good friend Fr. Antonio Lopez talked about faith and reason. That question of yours was asked. Fr. Antonio Lopez answered this way (more or less):

    The fact of the matter is, you are being made at this very moment. You exist. Suffering does not annihilate you. Of course you can think that you are just a product of evolution. In front of suffering, either you say, “Okay, there is nothing” or “Somebody wants me here.”

    I thought that comment was beautiful (he said it more beautiful than I did). Even in suffering, we cannot deny that we exist. We exist therefore we are loved; our souls live by the loving gaze of God. Of course it is a mystery why Somebody wants us there. Nonetheless, that should provoke someone to beg.

  22. Mary,Simply,Mark,

    I believe that the remark I made, that if you are to become Catholic because of a theology, get yourself a book and don’t waste your time in the Church, actually strengthens theology. What I am saying is not to neglect theology nor condemned those who are interested in theology. In fact, I would say that God gave them those interest in theology just as He gave a mathematician’s fascination with mathematics. Nor was I saying that we should not have a reason for our faith. What I was intending to say is that reason is broader than what we have thought it to be.

    I have also been thinking about how we view faith as just a conviction or a firm belief in something. For me, faith is an encounter. It is the response to a Person. It is, as Pope Benedict reminded us, a habitus. That is why I don’t think reading a theology book is enough. Suppose I read a book about Ellen S. I then said, “Wow, she’s great. I am giving myself to her.” It kinda does not make sense unless I actually encounter Ellen S. Encountering Ellen S does not neglect what I have read about her, it just strengthens it; when I see her, she corresponds to me. This is what it is like with Christ. We must encounter him to give ourselves to him. We need to encounter a concrete person.

    Why a concrete person, why need a witness? Because the Word was made flesh. We need a witness because we need someone to follow; we need friendship and obedience is friendship (Giussani). It is not doing simply what the other says, but both freedoms are involved. This is really the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Some of us have an individualistic Protestant mentality about faith. I say: we encounter Christ in the Church, by following a witness, someone who knows us more than we know ourselves (Augustine should ring a bell here). In this way, we are not following an abstract Christ, but Christ the concrete universal.

    Finally, to add something about witnesses, it would be horrible if we replace Christ with a witness. This is interesting because a witness is someone who looks just like Christ and we think we don’t need anyone else. That’s horrible. A witness is someone who has a Presence, someone who points to a Presence. Neglect either the Presence or the witness from each other and you have an idol.

  23. Apolonio – I think we are all in agreement and understand the statement you made – it just prompted us to think about it.

    Here’s a quote from the GDC that I think goes well with this discussion:

    “Indeed the primordial mission of the Church is to proclaim God and to be his witness before the world. This involves making known the true face of God and his loving plan of salvation for man, as it has been revealed in Jesus Christ. To prepare such witnesses, it is necessary for the Church to develop a profoundly religious catechesis, nourished on the Gospel, which will deepen man’s encounter with God and forge a bond of permanent communion with Him” (GDC 23).

    Catechesis, like theology, is handmaids for the mission of the Church which is to bring people into a “permanent communion” with God. This has always been done through the encounter of a witness – because communion with “other” is an integral element of communion with God (and visa-versa).

    I’m tempted to get into the theology of sign/sacrament or the necessity of analogy in revelation – but I won’t🙂

    This has been a very nice conversation – Thank you! I’m really enjoying it.🙂

  24. Apolonio,

    Like Mary H. (by the way, MaryH, thanks again for your thought-provoking thoughts on the matter as well!), I like how you put this once again:

    “I have also been thinking about how we view faith as just a conviction or a firm belief in something. For me, faith is an encounter. It is the response to a Person. It is, as Pope Benedict reminded us, a habitus. That is why I don’t think reading a theology book is enough. ”

    Personally, I don’t view faith in such a static fashion.

    I agree with how the GDC (which I am heartily gladdened to see MaryH had made use as a source of reference as well in her own comments) had put it here:

    Faith is a gift destined to grow in the hearts of believers. (156) Adhering to Jesus Christ, in fact, sets in motion a process of continuing conversion, which lasts for the whole of life. (157) He who comes to faith is like a new born child, (158) who, little by little, will grow and change into an adult, tending towards the state of the “perfect man”, (159) and to maturity in the fullness of Christ. (GDC 56)

    It reminds me the manner in which St. Paul himself spoke in the following passage in 1 Cor 13:11:

    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.

    On the thought of Witness, there is no poignent message than the one Pope Benedict XVI delivered at WYD 2005 Closing Mass:

    Dear Young Friends,

    Yesterday evening we came together in the presence of the Sacred Host, in which Jesus becomes for us the bread that sustains and feeds us (cf. Jn 6:35), and there we began our inner journey of adoration.

    In the Eucharist, adoration must become union. At the celebration of the Eucharist, we find ourselves in the “hour” of Jesus, to use the language of John’s Gospel. Through the Eucharist this “hour” of Jesus becomes our own hour, his presence in our midst. Together with the disciples he celebrated the Passover of Israel, the memorial of God’s liberating action that led Israel from slavery to freedom. Jesus follows the rites of Israel. He recites over the bread the prayer of praise and blessing. But then something new happens. He thanks God not only for the great works of the past; he thanks him for his own exaltation, soon to be accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection, and he speaks to the disciples in words that sum up the whole of the Law and the Prophets: “This is my Body, given in sacrifice for you. This cup is the New Covenant in my Blood”. He then distributes the bread and the cup, and instructs them to repeat his words and actions of that moment over and over again in his memory.

    What is happening? How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood? By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence, from within becomes an act of total self-giving love.

    This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).

    In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life. Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word.

    To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being – the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption: what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.

    This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there, on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn.

    We are to become the Body of Christ, his own flesh and blood. We all eat the one bread, and this means that we ourselves become one. In this way, adoration, as we said earlier, becomes union. God no longer simply stands before us, as the one who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.

    I like to illustrate this new step urged upon us by the Last Supper by drawing out the different nuances of the word “adoration” in Greek and in Latin. The Greek word is proskynesis. It refers to the gesture of submission, the recognition of God as our true measure, supplying the norm that we choose to follow. It means that freedom is not simply about enjoying life in total autonomy, but rather about living by the measure of truth and goodness, so that we ourselves can become true and good. This gesture is necessary even if initially our yearning for freedom makes us inclined to resist it. We can only fully accept it when we take the second step that the Last Supper proposes to us. The Latin word for adoration is ad-oratio – mouth to mouth contact, a kiss, an embrace, and hence ultimately love. Submission becomes union, because he to whom we submit is Love. In this way submission acquires a meaning, because it does not impose anything on us from the outside, but liberates us deep within…

    Anyone who has discovered Christ must lead others to him. A great joy cannot be kept to oneself. It has to be passed on. In vast areas of the world today there is a strange forgetfulness of God. It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him. But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything. People tend to exclaim: “This cannot be what life is about!” Indeed not. And so, together with forgetfulness of God there is a kind of new explosion of religion. I have no wish to discredit all the manifestations of this phenomenon. There may be sincere joy in the discovery. Yet if it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product. People choose what they like, and some are even able to make a profit from it. But religion constructed on a “do-it-yourself” basis cannot ultimately help us. It may be comfortable, but at times of crisis we are left to ourselves. Help people to discover the true star which points out the way to us: Jesus Christ! Let us seek to know him better and better, so as to be able to guide others to him with conviction.

    This is why love for Sacred Scripture is so important, and in consequence, it is important to know the faith of the Church which opens up for us the meaning of Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church as her faith grows, causing her to enter ever more deeply into the truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

    Thanks Apolonio & MaryH for such a profound discussion of Our Catholic Faith!

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