Saturday, September 08, 2007

On Knowing God


"I was afterwards flogged and dressed as a mock king; wounds in the body, 1000. The soldiers who led me to Calvary were 608; those who watched me were 3, and those who mocked me were 1008; the drops of blood which I lost were 28,340."

-Excerpt, "A True Letter of Our Saviour Jesus Christ", Pieta Prayer Booklet

There is something oddly alluring about knowing the exact details of the dolorous Passion of Our Lord. When I first found a copy of the Pieta Prayer Booklet, stashed to the side of folders and other envelopes containing documents in my mother's closet (don't ask), I was instantly captivated by its wealth of promises, revelations, devotions and novenas. The Booklet was old, as evidenced by its crumbling, yellow pages; inside, written in blue ink and in flawless script, was a dedication from my grandparents to my own progenitors. At the margins of some pages, I found blue dots, the occasional underline, and even some liquid stains. It had obviously been used much.

Of course, now that I re-read those same words after a distance of some years, it becomes a lot harder to believe. The skeptic in me loudly wonders how Our Lord could have found the time to count, individually, the number of drops of blood He lost, or how He could, in that bitter hour, have survived such violence and 'live' to tell about it. The whole tone of the letter seems to clinical for me; it reads too much like a counting song, with a definition and certainty that seems so absent in real life, which is full of chaos, despair, and uncertainty. I still appreciated the deep piety and quiet intensity of the prayers, but deep down, I wondered if I could put much so much stock in a mere private revelation. After all, there were the heresiachs and demoniacs currently running the Vatican and who aim for the complete destruction of Tradition to worry about.

In my theology class recently, we started discussing the Resurrection of Christ. As you all know, many Jesuits have crazy ideas, and none are bred wilder and more insane than the controversial theologian Roger Haight, whose book, 'Jesus: Symbol of God' has been damned by the Vatican for its heretical pronouncements on the nature of Our Lord(and rightly so; even my teacher agreed). For Haight, Jesus was the Exemplar-- the homo verus, the genuine man-- Who is at once symbolic of the Father and yet at the same time is distinct from that which He symbolizes. Haight's Christology has been praised by most of the current crop of 'theologians' as a fresh way of examining Christian doctrine in today's post-modern era; he subjects two thousand years of Christian tradition as just another 'phase', a mode of understanding the Divine. In reaching post-modernity, Haight argues that a 'new way' must be devised to see these 'stale' things in a new light.

One of Haight's more 'solid' chapters in the book is the chapter on the Resurrection. In it, Haight argues that the Christ's Resurrection should not be seen as a mere resuscitation, nor as a purely spiritual phenomenon, a position which another liberal theologian, Gerard Loughlin, takes. Haight argues that, since there were no witnesses to the Resurrection event itself, it should not be seen as a purely historical event, but meta-historical. To some degree, I find myself agreeing; in the Philippines, and in many Latin American countries and even Madre Espana herself, a common title for the image of the Risen Lord is Cristo Resucitado, Christ resuscitated. This fails to grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection; it is just another miracle, albeit the greatest one Our Lord performs. If this is the case, then why wasn't Lazarus' resuscitation sufficient to trample down death by death?

The other extreme is the spiritual resurrection. Loughlin argues that the true locus of Christ today is in the action of the Church, His Mystical Body-- but this presence is merely spiritual. To me, this position is simply untenable; I like being made to believe things that are not readily believable. Besides, by this logic, then Elvis Presley is also 'resurrected' in his countless imitators. Consequently, I guess I should revoke my 'membership' in the Church and just hop into the Elvis bandwagon; at least, shiny, rhinestone-buckled shoes look good on them, as do large coiffures. On priests, not so much.

It is so easy to disbelieve these days. We have opportunists at every turn and every corner coming up with 'new research' (which is really nothing than the same old heresies rehashed for a more modern audience) to discredit Christianity. You need only wait for Holy Week and the preceding 'ber' months (that is, September to November) to hear another slew of 'Jesus was only human' hullabaloo from the same, trite, old sources. Of course, globalization also plays its part: nowadays, kids are more concerned with the latest bumble of their teen idols than they are with more important, social concerns. In the Philippines, this is especially true of Westernized rich kids, who have such a warped view of their wealth and such condescension for the concept of noblesse oblige that is not funny anymore. Church just seems to be at the bottom of everyone's priorities.

I would be lying if I said I have never been guilty of what I am writing on before. Truth be told, I simply hate doing chores. The concept of helping others seems more a burden than a duty to me, and I certainly don't like waking up at 6am on a Saturday morning to do that. I could always say, 'I am only human', but I guess that would be like slapping God in the face: in fact, now that I think of it, that answer has been at the forefront of much disbelief among believers. If we hold true to the Christian notion that we are all made in His image and likeness, and if we have such a miserable view of ourselves, the resulting image of God is miserable too. The God Who saves thus slowly morphs to Calvin's greedy, elitist despot, Who is absolutely aloof and is probably an entirely different Being than the God Who appeared to Moses in a burning bush.

But in the midst of all the suffering, the endless monotony and the dehumanizing rationalization of the world, there, in the middle, stands the Cross of Christ. When I see a crucifix, I cannot help but look at it; most of the time, my reasons are not always pious. I enjoy a finely crafted crucifix, because it pleases my aesthetic; I enjoy looking at one because it just seems so out of this world. In countries where Spanish or Portuguese (add Italian to the list as well) influences were especially dominant, crucifixes take on the most vivid and startling depictions. The corpus is pocked by bruises and oozing with rivers of blood from every wound imaginable; the breast, pierced by a lance, drips with gore, exposing raw muscle and the faintest sliver of bone; the head is brutally adorned by a crown of thorns, cruelly slammed onto His head by a reed. I have said it before and I will say it again: the sight of a crucifix is a powerful sight. It has the power to repulse and edify at the same time.

In Jesus, the events of the Old Testament are summed up and re-enacted with startling economy. In the theology department of the university, there is a painting of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, and in the background, snared by a fierce flurry of strokes, was painted the ram 'caught in the thickets'. Who is Jesus here? The answer is both. Indeed, the answer is all: for He, too, was prefigured in the bronze serpent, lifted up high by Moses for all to see, and He too was Job, upon whose frame were heaped the most bitter sorrows.

An interesting episode in the Resurrection narrative was when the apostles did not know they were already speaking to Jesus in the flesh. A face is not something you forget overnight, and a voice is not something that can be drowned in a sea of other voices. So how comes it that His own apostles did not recognize Him? Perhaps they did not really believe His promise at all, or perhaps they were expecting Him to come back to them a bloody mess. I will admit that I do not have a good answer to posit, and if my readers find it so, it has probably been said before by men much wiser than I. For me, the reason why the Apostles failed to recognize Him was because they did not really know Him at all. They confessed Him as the Messiah and vowed to follow Him wherever He would go, but that was about it. Their knowledge of Jesus only became complete when they, too, encountered their own deaths. But their demise should not be seen as something divorced from their persons; their demise was a natural consequence of who they were.

And just who were the Apostles? They were the men that Christ spoke to, but failed to listen; the men that He reprimanded, but continued arguing; the men He died for, but nevertheless remained glued to their despair. The Apostles' encounter with Jesus healed this rift. In the Resurrection, they were no longer just His inner circle, but have themselves been circumscribed by it. It is a strange thing that one could derive such comfort from reading about the tortures and humiliations of a Man who lived more than two thousand years ago, Who died one of the most violent deaths ever demised by His fellow man. St. Josemaria Escriva once wrote in 'The Way' that the Jesus we see in the Cross is not really Jesus; to see Him, we must first deal with ourselves-- by prayer, mortification and sacrifice-- and only then, when the scales from our eyes have fallen, can we truly behold Him in all His glory.

How does one begin to know God, then? The answer lies in the Cross. The answer lies in His Passion and Death. The answer lies in His wounds, the number of drops of blood He lost on the way to Calvary. The answer is in the Church. The answer is in His miracles, the great feasts and days of penitence. To begin to know the Risen Lord, we must first pore over His wounds, the sweltering, pus-infested, wounds from where His blood flowed out and from where the salvation of the world rained down. Then, and only then, when we have encountered Him in His humanity, can we appreciate Him in His fullness.

3 comments:

BioActiv Man said...

I find it interesting that you refer to "St. Josemaria Escriva" when his canonization -- which is not accepted by the SSPX -- was accomplished precisely by the same "heresiarchs and demoniacs" whom you allege have been running the Vatican lately. I don't see much consistency here. Demons don't canonize saints, you know.

Seriously, you like to bash Vatican II and what radtrads call the "Conciliar Church" with an abundance of labels, but I still have to see in your blog a serious, thought-by-thought exposition of your own position against Vatican II. I am under the impression that you simply like to bash things without trying to understand these in the first place. I am, in particular, reminded of your post, your "attempt at erudition", on Eastern icons.

Do you seriously believe that the actual letter of the conciliar documents -- which were signed even by Marcel Lefebvre and Antonio De Castro Mayer -- has anything to do with the aberrations that you (and I) so rightly abhor? Have you actually picked up a copy of the 16 Documents of Vatican II and read through it with reasonable comprehension? Far too many radtrad critics of the "Conciliar Church" pick up and then mouth all all sorts of things about Vatican II without really understanding what it says, using the proper hermeneutic and within the proper context.

Archistrategos said...

Friend,

I take it you've not heard of this thing called sarcasm?

This blog is hardly worth taking seriously at all-- most of what I post here are just my thoughts and observations. Yes, I write my entries with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And if you're read all that I've written so far, you will see where this "inconsistency" stems from (if you can even call it that).

What is your point by telling me I don't agree with Vatican II? That's pretty obvious from the start! I don't like that Council because it started a whole slew of bad aggiornamenti and other such things which I'm sure you already know. But I think that it was necessary in the end-- not so much as to make Catholicism more 'palatable' but to remove it from self-imposed rationalist isolation. I am hardly a radtrad; if you really read what I say, I am the most anti radtrad person there is. But I guess you don't have time for that because my "inconsistencies" are so glaringly appalling.

Why do I mention St. Josemaria? Because it was through his numeraries that I first encountered Tradition! (BTW, he also had some "rad-traddish" views; I know many numers who can attest to his absolute abhorrence of V2). I'm sorry if I can't please everybody with that post you're referring to, but it's hardly worth getting inflamed at.

I find it extremely ironic that you think I am so dead set on shooting down anything 'Conciliar' when you clearly have based your assumptions on what you you glean from a thirty second scan of whatever I write. If I don't ind that insulting, I guess it's one of the funniest things I've heard. Yes, I have read them. What's your point? Most of what I write here will be more readily accepted by the "Conciliarists" than by the radtrads!

P.S. You won't see a thought-by-thought, line-by-line analysis of the documents of V2 anytime here soon, because I frankly do not see much importance in it. I prefer this approach, however confusing it might be to some people.

Andrew said...

Dear Bioactive friend,

I fear that you have been overharsh on our dear Arch who just came back from vacation and is recovering from "a 'buttnumbathon' of cheesy Godzilla movies" =)

If you think Arch here is a radtrad, then I shudder to think what you consider those who are really on the fringe like the SSPV folks.

Because we are all loyal children of Mother Church and obedient to His Holiness, the Pope, that does not mean that we are not able to voice out our opinions and even, when the occasion warrants it, criticize some of the prevailing trends in the Church. Even His Holiness the Pope himself, when not speaking ex cathedra, is not above criticism although I would be very careful to utter it unless I have all the facts at hand and to always give his words the most charitable interpretation.

Although Arch says it in jest, some of the happenings at the Vatican, such as the tearing out of the Altar of the Chair, does make one question the motive of the person who approved it and what possessed him to do so, pardon the pun. Even from a purely artistic and aesthetic POV, such questions could, and should be raised and whether a better and less destructive alternative can be found.

But the crux of the matter is this. Though we all agree that much of what stems from Vatican II and carried out in its name is utter bosh, when the Church and the Pope affirm it and interpret it in accordance with Tradition, we owe this ordinary magisterium obedience, even when we disagree. That does not mean that the Council texts are perfect but they can be interpreted, developed and made clear as the recent CDF document on the nature of subsistit in testifies.

Obedience to the current occupant of the Chair of Peter and the current teachings of the Church, interpreted within Tradition, is the mark of the Catholic. Obedience to some future Pope, as yet unelected and to teachings as yet untaught but which surely will be upon the election of said future Pope is the mark of the 'We are Church' and 'Voice of the Faithful' folks.

Obedience and even sufferance differentiate one who is Catholic from one who is not, one who accepts in principle and in practice Roma locuta est, causa finita est and who who pontificates to and sits in judgement over the Bishop of Rome and Christ's Vicar on Earth whom they profess is subject to no one but God and should not be judged, except by them because they're right.

Anyway, just as we owe His Holiness the benefit of the doubt and should ponder his words with wit and charity, so too Arch.

Charity above all, friend. Though not at the expense of Truth. Feel free to question old Arch, but in charity. Surely no harm can come from that?