Monday, November 23, 2015

Love: Agape, Offer for Others, Mercy, Friends, Family of Friends

The oblate cross given to each
Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate
at their oblation (vows) for life.
At the heart of the Catholic way of Jesus for us is love. Jesus Himself embodies love humanly. He personifies mercy humanly. This is evident in the bible and in the liturgy and in Church teaching. This is evident in His family of friends, the saints of heaven and purgatory and earth, past, present, future, especially His Mary and Joseph. This is the need of our heart and conscience and every misery.

Reading St. Thomas leads to his focus on love as offer of self for others, and, if faced with the misery of the others, mercy. In 1956, my third-year theology second semester at the Gregorian, my choice of a class in preparation for the written paper needed to obtain a license in theology was Bernard Lonergan on gratia operans in St. Thomas. Lonergan was my favorite teacher and Thomas my favorite theologian; that determined my choice easily. In studying gratia operans in the Summa, love in the context of grace attracted me, particularly I II, q. 110, a. 1, utrum gratia ponit aliquid in anima. To say God loves us means He makes us good, He makes us friends. The paper became "The Mystery of Grace and the Love of God." Love offers self for others. Love does not use others for self.

Some years later, in the wake of Vatican II and during my mission to Sweden as an OMI priest, my personal study on the side into Swedish Lutheran theology led me to discover Luther in the Heidelberg dispute of 1518 holding much like Thomas that God's love differs from our love, His love makes us good. My personal exploration into Swedish theology led me further to Anders Nygren and his Agape and Eros. Nygren's view distinguished agape, new testament christian love (lutheran love) as opposed to caritas  (catholic love), a compromise between christian and hellenistic love. Caritas brings to the fore mutual love of friends, dependent on grace changing our human hearts and lives and history. This intrigued me.

Later, pursuing a doctoral degree at the Angelicum, my choice for the dissertation was a comparison and contrast between Thomas and Luther and then between between Anders Nygren and Bernard Lonergan. This became "The Christian Meaning of Love, A Study of the Thought of Anders Nygren" (1976). My conclusion after reflecting on Nygren's Lutheran thesis of agape and his antithesis between Lutheran agape and Catholic caritas is to suggest a new lutheran catholic position. Love makes us good, love makes us friends. The love of God makes us good, makes us friends. Our love, graced by His love, makes us brothers and sisters good, makes us friends. His offer of self for us mercifully in our misery makes us offer self for others mercifully in their misery to His image and likeness. His grace changes us, transforms us, turning us from enemies to friends, from sinners to saints. His grace does not merely pass through us, does not merely cover us, but truly converts us, makes us anew, trustful and believing and hoping and helpful and loving justly and chastely--to be sure, always struggling to stay and grow so in our life and history.

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Paris,
cornerstone by Cardinal Guibert, O.M.I., of Paris.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Nygren also contrasts more radically Martin Luther and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), lutheran agape vs. atheist nihilist (humanistic relativistic) eros. He interprets Nietzsche (Ecce Homo, The Antichrist [1888]) as advocating a re-evaluation of all values, love of self against love of others, eros against agape. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, my religious congregation, celebrated the 150th anniversary of their papal approval and naming in 1976. Our founder St. Eugene (1782-1861), who lived during the french revolution and the napoleonic empire and their aftermath, is often likened to the bishop merciful to Jean Valjean in Les Miserables of Victor Hugo. For Nietzsche, misery was due to mercy and called for cruelty. The superman is cruel and so human, the human weakling is merciful and so inhuman. For Eugene, misery was due to cruelty and called for mercy. Cruelty uses the other for self. Mercy offers self for the other in misery. This was another impetus to my reflection on love as offer of self for others, as mercy for the miserable.

Love relates self to the other. Love that uses other for self is eros. Love that offers self for the other is agape. Love that offers self for the other in misery is mercy. Mutual love that offers self for the other makes friends and family of friends. One in mind and heart of two or three or more persons makes one community, a family of friends (Acts 2). One soul in two or three or more bodies makes a family of friends (the classical Greek description of friends: mia psyche en duo somasin). Caritas joins two or three or more persons as a community, a family of friends cherished and beloved.

Benedict XVI in Deus caritas est (2005) suggests erotic agape (passionate love). Jesus and His friends, especially Mary and Joseph, love and offer self for the others, especially in their misery, passionately and playfully and happily. This is their desire, their drive, their yearning to be gift, oblation, offering for our merciful Father, our Lover, and our beloved brothers and sisters by His Holy Breath, His Holy Love, with and like and through His Child, His Beloved Word, our Jesus of Mary and Joseph in His pierced Heart.
"Ecce Homo," by
Joaquín Martínez de la Vega (1845-1905),
via Wikimedia Commons

We meet Jesus wonderfully in the Gospels of Luke and of John and in the first letter of the latter. Jesus the good samaritan stops to help us robbed and beaten and half dead by the roadside (Luke 10). He comes to set us on fire with His merciful love (Luke 12). He hands over His body for us and pours out His blood for us (Luke 22).

Jesus thirsts for us in our thirst as we meet at the well of life and history (John 4). He gives us His new commandment to love our brothers and sisters together and singly as He loves us, to wash their feet in their need to be served (John 13). He wants us to be friends (John 15). He makes us one as He and His Father and His Breath are one, as He and Mary and Joseph are one, His family of friends to the image and likeness of His Family of Friends (John 17).

God is love, passionate offering of self for others. Our merciful Father sends His Child Jesus to us and through Him sends His Holy Breath in us who are miserable to make us His family of friends to Their image and likeness (1 John 4). Ecce Homo. We behold the man Jesus (John 19). He is our merciful burnt-up offering of self for us His miserable brothers and sisters. He is our way to be radically and fully human.
Father Don

Monday, November 16, 2015

Revelation, Attitude and Action of the Family of Friends

The Lower Church at the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth
November 18 this year marks fifty years since the constitution Dei Verbum, "The Word of God," was solemnly taught by Vatican II. Revelation is the story and song of us people and angels together and singly now in time and always in eternity. Revelation is the action of our merciful Father through His beloved Child, our Jesus of Mary and Joseph, by His Breath, revealing and gracing us to be His family, His city, His kingdom of friends (Jn 15, Ex 33), not isolation of enemies, opening His Heart for us. His action calls for our action, our graced free yes totally of mind and heart, not our free, sinful no. This is the new and final covenant.

"Lake of Gennesaret" by Nicholas Roerich, via WikiArt
The action of our merciful Father through Jesus by His Breath began with our creation, was renewed after our sin early on in our need with His promise of our redemption through Israel and the Messiah and the fulfillment through Jesus and His gathering His Church, the new Israel, for His world. His revealing and gracing action through Jesus in His Church is handed on through tradition and scripture. Tradition is the followers of Jesus hearing the apostles and breaking bread and sharing and praying together (Acts 2). This tradition was written in twenty-seven books, now called the scriptures of the New Testament, by six apostles and two apostolic men: Matthew, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude, Mark (connected to Peter), and Luke (connected to Paul). These human writers were inspired by the principal writer, the Holy Breath of Jesus from His Father. Because these writings are so inspired, they are truthful in their proclaiming the way of our salvation. They are interpreted humanly according to their aim, their form of communication, and as part of the whole of scripture, and as inspired by the guidance of the apostles and their successors the bishops, shepherds of the gathering of the followers of Jesus.

The New Testament scriptures include the identity and life and mission of Jesus and the identity and life and mission of His early followers and friends. They are historical in their truthfulness and faithfulness to the realities they express, not necessarily in details of the time and place of each event. They involve accounts of Jesus and His early followers, letters of some of their leaders, and the promise of their future and present. Jesus and His followers accepted the Jewish scriptures that are accounts of the creation of the universe and the human family, of our sin early on and the promise of our redemption, of the formation and development of the people of Israel, the promise of their prophets, the guidance of their sages.

The Garden Tomb, photographed by Phillip Benshmuel, via Wikimedia Commons
Scripture, the seventy-three books—forty-six of the Old Testament and twenty-seven of the New Testament—is at the center of the life and mission of the Church, the gathered and sent followers and friends of Jesus. They need to be made readily available to people with encouragement to hear and read them. They are a necessary source for our thought and prayer and service, for homilies and catechesis and theology. Word and sacrament go together.

The teaching of Vatican II on revelation is preceded by that of Vatican I, Dei Filius, "The Son of God." As John Paul II explains in his encyclical Fides et ratio, "Faith and Reason," revelation is viewed in Vatican I in its nature of transforming gift and in Vatican II in its role for our salvation. St. Thomas reflects on the act of faith inwardly as involving credere Deo, credere Deum, credere in Deum (II-II, q. 2, a. 2): believing God revealing, believing God revealed, believing in God revealed. To believe means to trust God revealing to us, to believe what He reveals to us, to live our trust and beliefs with love and justice and chastity. We trust and believe and live in God our Father and in His Child Our Jesus and in His Holy Breath. This is our outward confession and profession of faith in the Apostles Creed, in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed that we pray and sing often liturgically. This is our story and song. This is the meaning and goal of our life and history. As Their family of friends, we make ours the attitude of the Family of Friends that is our merciful Father and His Child our Jesus of Mary and Joseph and His Holy Breath, our Lover and His beloved Word our Jesus and His Love.
Father Don

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Synod of Bishops and the Church, Catholic and One, Apostolic and Holy

Jesus makes his friends and witnesses a gathering of people, catholic and one, apostolic and holy, His Church for His world, His brothers and sisters, past and present and future. The Synod of Bishops is a manifestation of this reality. Synod, etymologically from Greek, means "road together" (syn-odos).

The Church of Jesus is catholic and one. She is catholic, embracing people together and singly of each time and place, of each gender and race and color, of each nationality and culture and enslavement and language and history, of each age and ability and era and continent, of each originality. She is one, gathering and sending these people in the same way of Jesus for His world.

The Church of Jesus is apostolic and holy. She is apostolic, the movement of people hoped for and promised to Israel and the nations and started by Jesus Himself with Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene and Martha and Mary of Bethany, the apostles, especially Peter and John and Paul. His movement was begun at the time of the apostles and was guided by them and their successors, and is so now, the bishops with and under the bishop of Rome. She is holy, her goal is the family of friends of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, offering self for the others wisely and generously, trustfully and helpfully, humbly and mercifully, playfully and passionately and happily, to the image and likeness of the Family of Friends that is our merciful Father and His Child our Jesus and His Breath, that is our merciful Lover and His Beloved our Jesus and His Love. She is the gathering and sending of our Jesus from pentecost to the parousia. She is His movement of us people and angels with our earth and universe during our time and eternity, His bride with His word and sacrament and sacrifice for His world, crucified much by outsiders and often by us insiders.

The Synod of Bishops is a manifestation of the Church of Jesus, catholic and one, apostolic and holy. It was September 15, 1965, during the final period of Vatican II, when Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops as a way for the bishops of the world to advise the bishop of Rome in the future shepherding the church doctrinally and practically. Paul VI held four ordinary synods and one extraordinary synod, ordinary with members chosen primarily by the respective conferences of bishops, and extraordinary with members designated primarily as the acting presidents of their respective conferences of bishops. Their themes chronologically were the state of the church after the council, the relation between the conferences of bishops and the bishop of Rome cum et sub Petro (extraordinary), the servant priesthood and justice in the world, evangelization, catechesis.

John Paul II held six ordinary synods and one extraordinary synod. Their themes chronologically were the family, reconciliation, the interpretation of Vatican II twenty years later (extraordinary), laity, seminarians, consecrated and apostolic members, bishops. Benedict XVI held three ordinary synods. Their themes chronologically were eucharist, word of God, new evangelization. John Paul II gave the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on catechesis and Francis gave the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on new evangelization.

Francis has held two synods, extraordinary and then ordinary, on marriage and family. These synods follow the rhythm of see, judge, act (present practice, doctrine, future practice) during three weeks in October. We see the challenges of the present practice of people, we judge these challenges in the light of doctrine (the teaching of Jesus and His Church), in this light and fire we act to meet the challenges of people today. The doctrine of marriage and family is the teaching of Jesus and His Catholic Church for married couples and their children, for families. The practice involves language, words and deeds, symbols able to touch people today in their challenges.

The process of the synod is talks of members to the assembly and then the conversations of members separated into thirteen language groups. The members are guided by a working document prepared beforehand and translated into the needed languages. Press briefings are given each day in various languages. This process is completed with voting on a final report made from the deliberations of the language groups of bishops. Then sometime afterward, the bishop of Rome gives an apostolic exhortation responding to the synod advice provided by the bishops. In these last two synods, there are different views of whether the process has been open and free or controlled and manipulated. Concern has been expressed about the working document itself and about its various language translations or lack thereof, about the leadership of the synod and of the drafting committee of the final report and of the theologians doing the writing being appointed by the pope and not chosen by the members of the synod. The pope on his own streamlined the annulment procedures and formed a new central department of laity, family, and life.

A high moment at the end of week two was the listing of four new saints by Pope Francis. They include a priest from Italy, a consecrated woman from Spain, a married couple, the parents of St. Therese, from France. The last working day of the synod, the ninety-four paragraphs of the final report, given as advice to the pope, were approved by two-thirds of the 270 voting members, as needed for consensus. The largest number of negative votes was for the three paragraphs in the third part on the mission of the family today that deal with discernment and integration (§84, 85, and 86). The language of indissolubility was kept, of disorder not. We await as a result the response of Pope Francis to the advice of this two-period synod of bishops on marriage and family.

The revelation and grace of Jesus come to us humanly with our limits and in spite of our sins. We Catholic people and theologians and bishops and popes with our limits and in spite of our sins are blessed this human way that our merciful Father reveals to and graces us through His Child, our Jesus of Mary and Joseph, by His Breath, to make us His family of friends.

Father Don