Monday, April 04, 2005

Prophetic humanism

Posted by Hello In the wake of John Paul's death, there is a lot being said about John Paul and the iron curtain, or cliche of John Paul and the Chruch's "failure to make peace with modernity" (you're looking at it through the wrong end, my friend). I thought it might be interesting and useful to have a look at what the man actually said and wrote. He didn't just get by on charisma - although he had that too, as we can see in the picture above. Richard John Neuhaus described his work as "prophetic humanism," which as good a label as I've heard:
There is nothing more humanistic than the Catholic Christianity that he proclaimed and lived. The message centers in the astounding truth that God became a human being in Jesus Christ. You cannot get more humanistic than that. It is impossible to understand John Paul without understanding that his entire thought and being was grounded in the incarnation, the teaching, the suffering, death, resurrection and promised return of Jesus Christ. He was, through and through, an intellectual and philosopher. The school of philosophy to which he belonged, and to which he made many contributions through scholarly articles and books, goes by the perhaps obscure names of "phenomenology" and "personalism," but always his thought was Christo-centric, centered in the revelation of God in Christ. His humanism was thus very different from the kind of vacuously optimistic view often called humanism — for John Paul was not an optimist, and optimism is not a Christian virtue. Optimism, one might say, is simply a matter of optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don't want to see. John Paul was, rather, a man of hope — which is a Christian virtue.
The first three quotes are from the book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. The last one is from Draw Near to God. The first is, I think, my favourite in this set.
  1. The essential usefulness of faith consists in the fact that, through faith, man achieves the good of his rational nature. And he achieves it by giving his response to God, as is his duty - a duty not only to God, but to himself. Christ did everything in order to convince us of the importance of this response. Man is called upon to give this response with inner freedom so that it will radiate that veritatis splendor (splendor of truth) so essential to human dignity. Christ wants to awaken faith in human hearts. He wants them to respond to the word of the Father, but he wants this in full respect for human dignity. In the very search for faith an implicit faith is already present, and therefore the necessary condition for salvation is already satisfied.
  2. On my pastoral journeys around the world I always try to meet representatives of the Jewish community. But a truly exceptional experience for me was cartainly my visit to the synagogue of Rome. The history of the Jews in Rome is a unique chapter in the history of the Jewish people, a chapter closely linked for that matter to The Acts of the Apostles. During that memorable visit, I spoke of the Jews as our elder brothers in the faith. These words were an expression both of the Vatican Council's teaching and a profound conviction of the part of the Church.... The New Convent has its roots in the old. The time when the people of the Old Covenant will be able to see themselves as part of the New is a question to be left to the Holy Spirit. We, as human beings, try only not to put obstacles in the way. Forgive us, Lord, when we fail to foster genuine understanding between Christians and Jews.
  3. To save means to liberate from evil. This does not refer only to social evils, such as injustice, coercion, exploitation. Nor does it refer only to disease, catasrophes, natural cataclysms, and everything that has been considered disaster in the history of humanity. To save means to liberate from radical, ultimate evil. Death itself is no longer that kind of evil, if followed by the Resurrection. And the Resurrection comes about through the work of Christ. Through the work of the Reddemer death ceases to be an ultimate evil; it becomes subject to the power of life. The world does not have such power. The world, which is capable of perfecting therapeutic techniques in various fields, does not have the power to liberate man from death. And therefore the world cannot be a source of salvation for man. Only God saves, and He saves the whole of humanity in Christ.
  4. Many people today are disoriented and lost in search of genuine fellowship. Often their lives are either too superficial or shattered by brokenness. Their work often is dehumanizing. They long for an experience of genuine encounter with others, for true fellowship. Well, is this not precisely the vocation of a parish? Are we not called to be a warm, brotherly family together? Are we not people united together in the household of God through our common life? Your parish is not mainly a structure, a geographical area or a building. The parish is first and foremost a community of the faithful. This is the task of a parish today: to be a community, to rediscover its identity as a community. You are not a Christian all by yourself. To be a Christian means to believe and to live one's faith together with others. For we are all members of the body of Christ.... For fellowship to grow, the priest's role is not enough, even though he plays an essential role. The commitment of all parishioners is needed. Each of their contributions is vital.
Quotes shamelessly copied from the Patron Saints Index

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