Monday, December 03, 2007

In Hope We Were Saved . . .

Hardly anyone who has read Pope Benedict's latest encyclical has been able to resist the temptation to excerpt it or post musings about it, and I am likewise unable to resist this impulse.

For what it is worth, here are a few passages from the encyclical that struck me:
It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39).
In our Emmaus Road Initiative literature and elsewhere, we have said this:
Christianity spread through the ancient world in part because of the hope it awakened in a world engulfed in crisis. As the revelation of the Cross was freeing humanity from the spellbinding power of sacred violence and the myths and rituals that perpetuated it, the Resurrection was opening up a panorama of hope invulnerable to worldly disappointments. At the very moment when civil order seemed to be dissolving, and the barbarians were closing in on its besieged outposts, Christians – St. Augustine prominent among them – bore witness to a hope unlike anything the surrounding pagan world had ever known. In the 21st century, under similar circumstances, it will fall to those directly or indirectly inspired by Christianity to recover a hope capable of filling the vacuum left by the collapse of modernity’s na├»ve optimism, on one hand, and postmodernity’s erudition of despair, on the other.
In this encyclical, Benedict gives specificity to these general remarks.
Amid the serious difficulties facing the Roman Empire—and also posing a serious threat to Roman Africa, which was actually destroyed at the end of Augustine's life—this was what he set out to do: to transmit hope, the hope which came to him from faith and which, in complete contrast with his introverted temperament, enabled him to take part decisively and with all his strength in the task of building up the city.
In these remarks about Augustine, however, it is easy to recognize something of Benedict's own understanding of the responsibility that rests very largely on him at this moment in history. Augustine, he writes:
. . . once described his daily life in the following terms: “The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel's opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved.”
And in light of Joseph Ratzinger's earlier desire to return to the quiet life of a theologian, the pope's depiction of the Bishop of Hippo has the feel of a personal signature:
. . . Augustine dedicated himself completely to the ordinary people and to his city—renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people.
. . . And then there is this:
All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. . . . Yet our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world's future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures or by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope.
And finally this beautiful insight, one that serves as a powerful reminder to me of how many lives have spilled over into mine and how blessed I have been as a result.
Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse.
You can find the entire encyclical here.

I hope you have a blessed Advent.

1 comment:

James Cryan said...

Why does no one comment? I have much to say but fear that much of it will offend you. Augustine, for example, on so many levels he is what you so admire him for. His "Tolle Legge" is admirable in my humble opinion, since it brings him so directly to the Word but he comes to it with his pagan worldview and drags Aristotle and Greek antiquity along with it. Bad theology has it roots in Augustine - there you get infant baptism while Jesus teaches "Their angels behold the face of the Father in heaven constantly"