Here Is Gone

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee to we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Otsego Lake at NoonThus Catholics pray the Salve Regina. These lines reaffirm a traditional view of God the Creator who reigns over the created world. Through prayer the faithful beseech the Blessed Mother to elevate their prayers to God who, existing above and beyond time and space, does not suffer the faults, failings, and, ultimately, the finitude, of the world. The entire world belongs to God and the faithful, believing this, ask God through Mary to save us from accepting on face value that this world, with all its decay, is the only one.

Nothing surprising there—it’s a traditional view, one criticized by the likes of Marx, who believed other-worldly belief sanctioned all sorts of injustice, and Freud, who viewed all religious belief as self-deception, and the “New Brights” whom Father Robert Barron rightly criticized for their arrogance. The critics’ arguments rely heavily on the notion Sunday January 25th’s readings include in I Corinthians 7:31: “For the world in its present form is passing away.” Time, St. Paul chides the Corinthians, is running out. Those weeping or rejoicing should act as if they were not, for something new is coming.

Popular culture teems with songs about life’s illusory nature; “what you once thought was real has been shown to be unreal” sounds so philosophical, but the same point can be made quite catchy in so many ways. Traditional voices grasp this point, too. Buddhism’s Dhammapada reiterates frequently that the wise understand the world’s transience, but fools mistake the temporary as permanent. Even when surrounded by wisdom, the fool does not know, much like the spoon never tastes the soup (5:64). According to Heraclitus, we never step in the same stream twice. Still it is a hard message to take. Perhaps why that is why there are just as many songs seeking shelter or some safe harbor.

Recently Wesley Hill ascertained a “new new orthodoxy” that addresses just this particularly unwelcome reality. The twentieth century, filled with human-engineered bloodbaths, became the century of the suffering God, theologically-speaking. Not only do we humans suffer, but God does, too.  This became “the new orthodoxy,” and with it came a quick dismissal of theologies extolling divine impassibility. Hill recognizes in this rejection a thorny problem:

From another angle, defenders of the Church’s creedal heritage have worried that unqualified talk of divine suffering forfeits our reason for worshiping God as Other, as wholly and radically transcendent. If God is a fellow-sufferer with us, full stop, is God then no longer the one lauded by the Hebrew prophets as the Creator who is fundamentally unlike us?

Scripture’s testimony is clear: the God who creates in His own image, chooses Israel, and then become incarnate in Jesus—all life-affirmation actions God initiates—also possesses radical difference, infinite and qualitative as Kierkegaard and Karl Barth argued. In fact, Hill suggests, our salvation rests in God’s difference and transcendence, not immanence.

It is one thing to confess that God has seen and known firsthand what life is like in our prison cell. To be sure, there is a certain comfort in that confession. It is another thing, however, to know—as the early Church did—that in entering that cell, God brandished the key to unlock its door and lead us out. For the latter to happen, we needed not only a fellow-sufferer who understands but a Creator and Redeemer whose deity is made manifest in and through his humanity, whose power is revealed in his death and resurrection.

So maybe the Goo Goo Dolls are partially right when they sing “Here is Gone.” Hill’s review of the “new new orthodoxy” reminds us that God, though, is here, will be, and has been. The Salve Regina focuses the devoted mind and soul towards the ultimately Real, not the immediately-but-only-apparently real. “Here we have no lasting city, but we wait for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

You’re Invited!

This week (January 18-25) is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We are invited to pray for the unity of the Christian Family. Celebrated for more than 100 years, unity is more than just an ideal, for the Christian it is an obligation to be carried out in prayer and in shared commitment to building the kingdom of God.

icon_holyapostlesThe roots of praying for unity are fixed in Jesus’ prayer, near the time of his death, “… so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:21). The Catholic Church’s participation in ecumenical endeavors took new shape in the Second Vatican’s Council’s commitment to build stronger ties across Christian communities. Building on the work of the Council, St. John Paul II called the church to make unity an exercise of spiritual ecumenism, noting that the disunity of Christians weakens the credibility of the Gospel.

In an address to the church in Oceania he reflected “In the work of ecumenism, it is essential that Catholics be more knowledgeable about the Church’s doctrine, her tradition and history, so that in understanding their faith more deeply they will be better able to engage in ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. There is a need too for ‘spiritual ecumenism’, by which is meant an ecumenism of prayer and conversion of heart. Ecumenical prayer will lead to a sharing of life and service where Christians do as much together as is possible at this time. ‘Spiritual ecumenism’ can also lead to doctrinal dialogue or its consolidation where it already exists” (Ecclesia in Oceania, 23).

This reflection of St. John Paul echoes in the theme for this year’s celebration which is “Give me a drink.” Taken from John’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), it emphasizes the importance of encountering one another in dialogue and celebrating that all Christians drink from the common well of the life-giving waters of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In our encounter with Christians, in our dialogue, in our shared ministry of charity we learn the richness of one another’s tradition and we more easily see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus; who we are and who we can become. In the Decree on Ecumenism, written at the Second Vatican Council, the unity that can be found in Christ magnifies the invitation of this year’s celebration to drink of the water Our Lord has to offer.

Before the whole world let all Christians confess their faith in the triune God, one and three in the incarnate Son of God, our Redeemer and Lord. United in their efforts, and with mutual respect, let them bear witness to our common hope which does not play us false. In these days when cooperation in social matters is so widespread, all men without exception are called to work together, with much greater reason all those who believe in God, but most of all, all Christians in that they bear the name of Christ. Cooperation among Christians vividly expresses the relationship which in fact already unites them, and it sets in clearer relief the features of Christ the Servant….All believers in Christ can, through this cooperation, be led to acquire a better knowledge and appreciation of one another, and so pave the way to Christian unity.

Decree on Ecumenism, 12

Susan Timoney is the Assistant Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.